Tag Archives: pinball

Zen Pinball 2: Bethesda Pinball review

There’s been a lot of these novelty pinball tables for Zen Pinball 2. Game, TV and film franchises have seen their unique traits pinball-ised and gathered together on tables that faithfully represent the source material yet still function relatively realistically as far as pinball goes. However, it’s still a delightful treat to see some of these creations come to digital life, and the Bethesda set are some of the very best.

All three tables look, sound, and play splendidly. They are gorgeously rendered with aesthetic trimmings from their source games, realised in the semi-realistic style of Zen Pinball. Animated figures adorn the sides, top and bottom of the tables, interacting with other animated figures or the table directly. Meanwhile, the traditional pinball hazards are replaced with theme appropriate ones from the games they represent. In the Doom table a Cyberdemon fills the top right corner, the Lone Wanderer ducks and dodges at the bottom of the Fallout table whilst a super mutant wreaks havoc at the top, and the Skyrim table is teaming with dragons whilst a lone Dragon Born means to fight them from the left side. They all look terrific, sporting smooth animations and detailed textures, and some excellent sound effects. In some cases these details outshine their source, thanks to the wonderful Zen Pinball engine.

Every inch of each table has a little surprise for you, whether it’s the dragon that launches the ball on the Skyrim table, the bumpers on the Doom table unleashing the shotgun sound effect when hit, or the mini games played on a Pip Boy on the Fallout table. It’s all so charming, authentic, and in utter service of the games they’re based on.

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It goes even further with their dedication to the games that inspired them with the tropes they invoke that have no right to be in a pinball table but gives these particular tables all the more depth. Both the Fallout and Skyrim tables have you generate a character, picking SPECIAL stats and your combat class respectively. In the Fallout table, trapping the ball in certain pits is analogous to entering stores allowing you to purchase Rad-X, Stimpacks, and gear with earned caps. Meanwhile, the Skyrim table allows you to equip your character with new armour and weapons, which are shown on your character’s figure. Losing all your balls isn’t the end either, as you can choose to continue as the same character in further play-throughs, amassing more gear and weapons. Additionally, both RPG tables lets you choose different companions and factions; it’s very much the core o the original experiences recreated in pinball form.

However, the RPG features do break up the otherwise fast pace of pinball, with frequent stops and starts. Fans of the source material may still find these trappings amusing and interesting, but the pinball enthusiasts that simply want the table setting may find it frustrating.

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The Doom table is more pinball friendly. There’s weapon swapping on the character figure but it keeps to the fast paced action of pinball, which incidentally fits the FPS. Copious multi-balls, the super-heating of the ball to cause more destruction, and a heavy metal sound track represent the game wonderfully and add some extra aggression to the pinball.

The tradition of missions on Zen Pinball tables continues here, with things like shutting down the reactor on the Mars research station for the Doom table, completing jobs for the Railroad in the Fallout one, and even sleeping at the inn during the Skyrim table, which in turn advances the clock to give you a night-time version of the table. The mini-games are here too, tasking you with navigating a tiny dungeon with a ball by tipping the table, or bursting demonic sacks by bouncing the ball around a small arena with floating stones, or playing little games on your Pip Boy.

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Indeed, the Doom table feels the most cohesive, melding the Doom FPS with the pinball mechanics harmoniously and creating a fast table that’s visually interesting but mechanically familiar. The Fallout table skews more towards the Fallout RPG experience than pinball but is tight enough to allow the pinball shenanigans to work in-between the stops and starts. The Skyrim table suffers from a harsh design that can easily cause the ball to tumble straight down the middle and in-between your flippers, making it more frustrating than fun.

These tables based on Bethesda games are remarkably clever. They take the two experiences – the source game and pinball – and attempt to meld them, and they are mostly successful. However, some annoyances, especially to the Skyrim and Fallout tables, do hurt the pinball action a bit. But, my word, are they visually spectacular.

Thanks to Xbox and Zen Studios for supporting TiX

Marvel’s Women of Power for Zen Pinball now available

Zen Studios have released a new Marvel themed set of pinball tables, Marvel’s Women of Power, featuring some of the mightiest Super Heroes and Super Villains in the Marvel Universe.

The first of the two has thrusts you into an alternate Soviet-dominated reality in the A-Force table, featuring an original storyline where the destruction of a Cosmic Cube has formed a Soviet-controlled alternate reality. It’s up to you to keep the Cosmic Cube balls alive in the table’s Wizard Mode by directly controlling Black Widow and Madame Masque.

The second table is the Champions table. Here you must defeat Bombshell with Ms. Marvel in an original storyline where players must help Kamala and her friends as they take on Bombshell following a daring bank robbery. Utilize Squirrel Girl’s ‘squirrel army”’ to search for the criminal’s tracks and Spider-Gwen’s webbing to incapacitate your enemies.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Zen Pinball review

The latest pinball table pack from Zen Studios focuses on the latest Star Wars film, the Force Awakens, and delivers not one but two tables based on the blockbuster: Might of the First Orders and The Force Awakens, with the former focusing on the dark side and Kylo Ren and the latter on the light side with Rey’s journey following the events of the film. And of course, once again, Zen have knocked it out of the park producing two spectacular tables.

Both tables are overflowing with content. Both are seated within a highly detailed environment, with The Force Awakens being set into the sand of the planet Jakku with dilapidated starships and equipment adorning the desert. Meanwhile, Might of the First Order is on board a star destroyer within a fighter bay, with a viewing window showing off planets and hyperspace effects and the bay itself housing Tie fighters. Both look superb and are brimming with authenticity.

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Further content comes in the form of the events you can trigger by playing the tables. The Might of the First Order gives you mission that require you to hit particular bumpers and ramps, or go below the play field to a second layer with a mini pinball challenge. All the while the background will change depending on the mission, with the viewing window showing you entering hyperspace and appearing at new planets.

The Force Awakens remains on Jakku but follows the events of the film through its missions, with the occasional tie fighter flying overhead or chasing the Millennium Falcon, and a BB8 mini game on a separate field. It does approach spoiler territory as it retells the events of the film in its own pinball way, but is vague enough to avoid anything major.

The Force Awakens table is a very crowded and fast flowing table, with the ball travelling quicker around the ramps and coming back towards the flippers with some serious speed at awkward angles. However, it’s fast pace feels in sync with its missions and gives the table a unique personality that’s mirrored on the Might of the First Order table.

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The Might of the First Order table is slightly slower and far less crowded, feeling more meticulous and drawn out, very much in line with the villain’s slower paced grand plans. It’s far easier to see where you’re aiming on this table, with the ramps and bumpers kept to the top of the play field and the middle and bottom keep mostly clear. It makes a nice alternative to The Force Awakens table and allows you to pick which one suits you mood.

The classic Star Wars soundtrack and sound effects and the incredibly detailed and accurate visual assets pushes the authenticity through the roof, and whilst the voice actors aren’t from the film they do a great job impersonating the film’s cast. It’s a thrill to play these complex tables that Zen go out of their way to create with the reverence to the source material that they deserve. Once again, this pack of new tables for Zen Pinball FX 2 comes highly recommended.

Thanks to Xbox and Zen Studios for their support

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Zen Pinball FX 2: Balls of Glory review

Ball of Glory adds four new tables to Zen Pinball FX 2, each based on a different Fox animated comedy, and whilst the tables feature nothing particular new with their mechanics, excellent aesthetic authenticity truly brings each to life, resulting in terrific fan service.

Moreover, each table is also highly accessible. The majority of the challenges and missions are completed by shooting the ball up ramps, and the bottom half of the table is mostly empty, bar some superbly produced art work from the relevant show. They also all run at the same pace, with a fairly quick drop towards the flippers after careening around the bend of a ramp collecting points, making them fun and fast tables to play that are ideal for highscore competitions.

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Figuring out each table’s set of missions is also fairly intuitive, thanks to the elegant design, however, a few hidden features are worth looking up in each table’s online manual.

Wonderfully, each table achieves a level of authenticity that many of Zen’s tables don’t reach, with characters from each show – Bob’s Burgers, Archer, American Dad and Family Guy – voiced by their respective talent. However, these audio assets along with the music are pulled directly from each show rather than original dialogue being produced, but it’s been cleverly woven into the narrative of each table to match how it’s being played. The source material is also well represented and accurate, even covering jokes that ran over multiple seasons, making them ideal companions to their respective shows and a great nod to classic moments for the fans.

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Family Guy, American Dad and Bob’s Burgers switch up the usual, realistic art style of Zen’s typical tables by matching the cell shaded style of each animated show. As such they look very different from the usual tables and lose some of the charm along the way. As bombastic and feature rich as the tables usually are they looked as if they could exist in an arcade, however, these new ones reject realism entirely. That’s is except the Archer table, which more closely resembles the previous Zen style.

There’s still the unfortunately side effect of frequently repeated dialogue plaguing each table, a common occurrence with licensed tables but a largely unavoidable one, however, fans are unlikely to mind. Each one does such a terrific job of telling short stories through their missions while providing fast and fun pinball action that even the slightest interest in the shows will endear you to the tables. It’s another fantastic set of tables from the king of digital pinball.

Thanks to Xbox and Zen Studios for their support 

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Ant-Man Pinball review

Another Marvel movie release of course means another pinball table to add to Zen Pinball on the Xbox platforms. This time it’s Ant-Man, and thanks to unique mechanics and a seldom seen layout, it’s another superb table to add to your collection.

The Ant-Man table focuses its feature in the top half, leaving the bottom peculiarly empty. It results in fast ball movement and the occasional unhittable drops between the flippers, but it does make it a simpler table to fathom, as well as helping you concentrate when multiple balls enter the field. It certainly feels a little odd at first, but it’s a design choice that’s clearly appropriate to the table, and once you’ve experienced more of what’s on offer, this becomes abundantly clear.

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The Zen Pinball table standard of integrated mini-games built into the table reveal themselves as you complete objectives by hitting the ball towards the ramp-heavy top and the particle suspended in the upper right. And as expected they’re theme appropriate, fun and intense to play, whether it’s using bumpers to keep the ball active on the table, or shooting the animated, 3D Ant-Man as he shrinks and dashes around. They’re excellent rewards for your skill, dishing out copious amounts of points for you to tackle the leaderboard as well as achieving feats of pinball wizardry a real table never could – such as the empty bottom half peeling back to reveal a mini-game and separate field to play underneath.

The aforementioned particle grants points and shrinks each time you hit it, until it finally reaches ball size and comes loose, brilliantly acting as a second ball. A few well placed shots later and a third ball can enter the mix, ant sized and a nightmare to see, but a great way to rack up even more points. It all comes together to provide ample opportunities to hit the ramps and create combinations to unlock bonuses.

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It’s a fast table but one that’s full of easy to reach areas that reward you with tremendous points. The austere lower half aids with ball control, and thanks to its subtle lights, and colour scheme of red, black and blue, it’s an attractive and intuitive table to play. The odd low-tech traditional pinball sound effect sounds a little incongruous with the theme, but believable voice doubles for the film’s cast sells the authenticity nicely. It’s another great marvel table that should definitely be in your collection.

Thanks to Xbox and Zen Studios for their support

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Portal Pinball review

Zen Studios are certainly back on form. Their Star Wars: Rebels table was highly authentic and enjoyable, and their latest table, Portal, follows in its footsteps with just as much care and attention to detail as any other property they’ve turned into a pinball experience.

Indeed the Portal pinball table is smashing. Dialogue has been expertly lifted from Valve’s puzzle series and repurposed to fit this table and your actions within it spectacularly; with GLaDOS taunting you, Wheatley encouraging you, and the companion cube silently loving you. Moreover, the miniaturised GLaDOS and Wheatley, residing near the top of the table, look fantastic, GLaDOS in particular with her fully animated motion and reactions to lazers being refracted by cubes and aimed at her.

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Moreover, series protagonist, Chell, stands ready to the bottom left with her trusty portal gun, ready to create portals and re-appear above her starting position or across a light bridge to a platform on the right above the ball launcher. The ball launcher itself is a digital computer display of the power you can generate when launching the ball, however, on the launch lane are a set of collapsing tiles and portals, time your launch and get the right power and you can jump through one and start the round off with a nice score bonus. Indeed, it’s a visually stimulating and attractive, feature rich table.

However, it’s also a visually busy table, with the aforementioned features and table details that represent the minimalist and clean white Aperture Science labs as well as the darker, grimier foundations, all vying for your attention alongside the fast pace of the ball. The table is also complex, of course there are the portals which pop up where you’d otherwise see targets and drops, teleporting the ball to other parts of the table. They’re terrifically implemented to fit with the expected play of a pinball table but match the aesthetic and theme of Portal. Tight lanes mean hitting a specific one can be a challenge, even more so when physics altering goo is splashed onto the table. Add two extra flippers, one on the central lane and the other on the left, and the additional options to fling the ball around and rack up speed and points multiplies further. It all results in a fast and frantic experience that’s equally challenging and awe-inspiring.

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Fortunately, the missions can be completed in any order and you can choose which of the six to tackle each time you activate them, keeping the focus on fun pinballing action rather than narrow parameters and potential frustration. Overcome them all and you get to face GLaDOS in a final showdown.

The Portal pinball table is brilliantly authentic and oodles of fun to play while offering a stiff challenge for pinball veterans. It’s another spectacular example of Zen Studios capturing the essence and personality of a property and converting it wonderfully into a pinball experience. What will they think of next?

Thanks to Xbox and Zen Studios for their support

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Star Wars: Rebels Pinball review

After a slightly disappointing table for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Zen Studios had something to prove with its next release. Fortunately, Star Wars: Rebels re-captures the excellence the developer is famed for.

The Star Wars: Rebels table is wonderfully authentic, taking lines of dialogue, sound effects and music from the animated show and the Star Wars universe of films to truly capture the Franchise feel. Additionally, an orange and yellow heavy colour scheme, desert backdrop and 3D animated ships and characters adoring the table immerse you further in the Star Wars atmosphere. It’s all very thematically in sync.

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The table itself achieves an excellent balance between intuitive and challenging, offering up easy to hit lanes and targets but a fast ball pace. Again it fits the theme spectacularly, matching the action-packed fast pace of the source material. Mid-way up on the right is an easy to use third flipper for racking up the score by sending the ball back towards the bumpers. Meanwhile, the middle of the table houses targets for triggering events and an animated turbine that heats the ball up causing it to glow red, this is also where you can lock balls for the multi-ball scenario.

Each main character from the show has a mission you can take on by playing a mini-game. Whilst these are largely the same as with other tables, where you need to hit specific lanes and targets to achieve a goal, or are transported to a different play-field to hit targets, it’s once again in line with the theme and due to that authenticity feels different enough to quell any feelings of repetition, no matter how many tables you’ve played previously.

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Star Wars: Rebels is thematically excellent, fast paced yet intuitive table that certainly puts to rest any concerns of complacency from the developers. Being able to choose which character’s mission you take on helps you work through the table’s narrative and achieve those high scores without frustration, and overall the table’s lanes and targets are placed in easy to hit regions. The force is certainly strong with this one.

Thanks to Xbox and Zen Studios for their support

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The Avengers: Age of Ultron Pinball

Zen Studios once again brings a Marvel property to its superb collection of pinball tables in Zen Pinball FX 2, The Avengers: Age of Ultron table based on the recent blockbuster. But despite some mostly excellent table design, and effective and relevant events for you to shoot for within it, there’s a slight air of disappointment surrounding the table that Earth’s mightiest heroes can’t dispel.

Certainly the table looks the part. Iron Man’s Hulk Buster suit’s glove kicks things off by shooting the balls onto the table. Meanwhile, Iron Man himself stands at the top of the table ready to battle Ultron who is opposite him. Black Window stands at the bottom, similarly ready for battle, while Ultron’s robot army occasionally falls from the sky to do battle with her and the other Avengers by invading the table. Furthermore, the Avengers Tower adorns the table’s left flank with a tunnel available to shoot at during certain events, a highly detailed image of the heroes and Ultron make up the main stage, and burnt out cars make up the upper stage acting as bumpers. It’s an attractive and fairly intuitive table.

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As Zen Pinball veterans would expect, different scenarios play out as you hit the pinball around the table. It all starts off with a multi-ball prelude event that provides two balls for you to rack up the score before the main loop of events kicks in. Once it’s over, it’s then a matter of readying each Avenger by shooting the ball up different ramps, then unleashing them or storing them in the Avengers Tower, fighting off Utron’s robot army as they descend onto the table, then assembling the Avengers when Ultron attacks in full force. It’s a good set of objectives that fits in with the general story of Age of Ultron without spoiling the film, it is, however, a bit generic if you hoped to relive the film’s experience.

Two of the more standout moments from the table’s events is the first person shooting as Hawkeye and the aerial combat as Iron Man against Ultron and his army, otherwise the events are fairly standard ‘shoot for specific lanes’ affairs, but reading the table correctly and achieving the objectives makes for some truly impressive scores and intense pinball action. It’s a bit of a shame, however, that the top stage is so difficult to see from the default table tilt. This can be changed in the settings, along with the difficulty, but this deactivates the leaderboards, and with competition being the main driving force behind the experience, this feels like too much of a compromise.

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There’s also a concern about authenticity. Whilst the script seems spot on, none of the film’s cast reprise their role for the table. However, the voice actors chosen in their stead achieved a close enough match to minimise the distraction, until Thor speaks that is, who sounds absolutely nothing like Chris Hemsworth’s character. The aforementioned loose tie to the film’s story also damages the authenticity a tad.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Pinball table is great but one that can’t quite live up to the reputation Zen Studios have built for themselves. The other tables are so spectacular that a minor misstep damages a table more; events, visuals and mini-games are less inventive because we’ve seen them elsewhere; the direct link to a film property demands closer ties for authenticity; ultimately Zen are a victim of their own success.

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If you’re a Marvel fan then there’s no question about whether you should pick this table up, it’s a great Marvel inspired table. It’s a fun and entertaining experience to play that doesn’t fall into the trap of getting too complex despite a wealth of events to shoot for. However, its ties to the film are a little loose, and there are many other better tables available.

Thanks to Zen Studios for supplying TiX with a promotional copy

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Pinball FX2: Iron and Steel Pack

Zen studios have been creating incredible digital pinball tables for a number of years now, but recent tables have focused on licensed properties, bringing, for example, Marvel and Walking Dead tables to the ever-growing catalogue. The Iron and Steel packs sees the developer return to original tables, as with the Wild West scenario table, and their own property, CastleStorm. What’s more, they’re both terrific, delivering precisely the kind quality we’d expect from these pinball masters.

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Both the Wild West and CastleStorm tables expertly walk the line of complexity and accessibility, providing busy and nuanced tables full of options to fling your ball into, without completely overwhelming you with visual flair. That’s not to say there isn’t a heavy sprinkling of visual activity, both tables are beautiful and engaging on an aesthetic level. CastleStorm sees a large dragon perched on the top, blowing fire, and flying around, meanwhile, spinning revolvers on the bumpers of the Wild West table along with a saloon that the ball smashes through the window of, shows both tables’ flair for the theatrical. It’s wonderful to see these digital tables pull of tricks their real-life counter parts could never do.

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The Wild West table has a more symmetrical layout than that of Castlestorm, with tight middle lanes that take some skill to reach, but overall sits nicely in the middle when it comes to challenge compared to Pinball FX2’s collection of tables. CastleStorm’s challenge is similar, despite the asymmetry; it also features a mini-playfield that’s easy to reach but difficult to stay in.

The Iron and Steel pack features two stunning and compelling tables that are just as fun to play as any of the licensed tables Zen Studios have crafted. They don’t quite impress on the same level as some of their best Marvel tables, Guardians of the Galaxy in particular, but a return to original properties is refreshing.

Thanks to Zen Studios for supplying TiX with a download code

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Pinball FX2 – Free on Xbox One from July 31

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Zen Studios, has announced today that Pinball FX2 will make its debut on the Xbox One via the ID@Xbox self-publishing program on July 31st this year. With only a few weeks to wait, Pinball FX2 will arrive as a free download on Xbox One with nearly the entire Pinball FX2 library available on day one, including all Star Wars Pinball table packs, all Marvel Pinball tables, Plants vs. Zombies Pinball, and Zen’s original tables available for purchase, with future tables, including The Walking Dead Pinball, just on the horizon.

Pinball FX2 brings all the pinball action for which the franchise is known into the next-generation with 1080p graphics at 60 frames per second, worldwide tournaments, new achievements, and a slick new menu interface. Additionally, downloading Pinball FX2 on Xbox One nets you the Sorcerer’s Lair table for free.

“With the release of Pinball FX2 on Xbox One, we have closed the loop and can now offer our fans a complete virtual pinball experience, regardless of their system preference,” said Mel Kirk, VP of Publishing at Zen Studios. “We’ve got a lot of great things planned for the newest generation of consoles when it comes to pinball, so stay tuned for some awesome new stuff from Zen Studios.”

Prices for tables range between $2.49 and $2.99 for single tables, and $9.99 for table packs, available from the Xbox Games Store.