Over the years, Hungary-based Zen Studios have been responsible for a number of pinball games available to download from Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, which are also considered some of the best. After stepping out of their comfort zone to develop Punisher: No Mercy, and Planet Minigolf exclusively for the PlayStation 3, the studio is back with its most ambitious, license-driven game yet: Marvel Pinball. For those who own Pinball FX 2 for the Xbox 360, Marvel Pinball can be downloaded as additional content but for those who own a PlayStation 3, it is a standalone title.
Instead of dragging players through a trail of mind-numbing tutorials, Marvel Pinball drops you straight into the action, offering instant access to the game’s four themed tables. Each is based on a popular Marvel series including Spiderman, Iron Man, Wolverine and Blade, and have their own set of unique in-game set pieces and rules. As with regular pinball, your objective is simple: rack up the highest score possible with three balls and steadily crawl your way onto the leaderboards. Chances are, if you aren’t a big advocate of the whole score-chasing scene, there will be little incentive to play Marvel Pinball, apart from trying to unlock the game’s challenging gallery of trophies.
Each of the four tables are covered in icons which will light up under certain conditions; hitting your ball into one of these illuminated zones can trigger a mission, score a points bonus or chain a combo effect. Missions are broken down into multiple stages and require the player the hit specific points on the table to progress. For instance, on the Wolverine table, to engage in a fight with Sabretooth, you must first hit the two gates guarding his areas before you can attack. Once inside his zone, there is an “Annual Fight” counter which ticks down momentarily before your ball is spewed out. Repeating the same process will eventually drain the counter and Sabretooth will pounce on Wolverine, forcing the player to target pre-set slots to win. It’s an extremely specific chain of events which carries over to the other bosses and missions, likely to alienate pinball newbies. However, taking the time to read the rules for each table will give you the knowledge of how to overcome these events and win big. If the game is proving too difficult, there is also the option to tweak a number of the aspects for each table, though the only way you can publish a high score on the leaderboards is to use the default manufacturer’s settings.
The most refreshing aspect of Marvel Pinball is the social features which Zen have implemented. As you play one of the four tables, notifications will occasionally appear on-screen, telling the player how far away they are from beating their personal best as well as their friends’. It’s hindrance-free and truly intensifying, adding an extra layer of competitiveness, and as a bonus, players can also earn Team Force points. These are mainly for cosmetic purposes, and how many you acquire really depends on the number of people in your friends list who own the game.
Other social features include a panel which appears when cycling the menus; this will display where your friends are on the leaderboards as well as which trophies they have acquired and how many TF/Hero points they have earned. It’s a brilliant feature but completely wasted if you don’t know anyone who has also downloaded the game.
Local play and online multiplayer are available in Marvel Pinball, though they aren’t as engaging as the singleplayer component. The former is simply a score chase in which players rotate turns as soon as they lose their ball. In the online mode however, the game turns into a race, hosting up to four players whose scores steadily push them along a track towards the victory post. Game conditions such as the score limit and penalties can be applied, though they don’t have a hugely significant impact on the experience. It’s great playing the first few times, though there are no online rewards and only a single mode.
The tables themselves are designed beautifully, each one with its own artistic flare with Blade’s being most prominent, sporting day/night-time changes and some crazy lighting effects. Each table feels organic with a handful of characters from each series making an appearance, exchanging dialogue and offering their own special missions. The music is fairly standard, though it never gets to point where it sounds monotonous, thanks to the robust plethora of sound effects and occasional snippets of voice acting. Apart from the visual appearances, there is little in the way of fan service for Marvel zealots, though due to the arcade nature of the game, this can’t be held against Zen Studios.
Four tables won’t sound a lot to some, even with a unique array of missions and bonuses available, but fear not as Zen have plans to introduce new tables in the future, pinpointing several other icons of the Marvel Universe. In fact, there is a poll over the official website, with Ghost Rider, The Hulk, Captain America and the Fantastic Four awaiting your vote.
- Easy to pick up and play
- Colourful, well-designed tables
- Plenty of depth for pinball regulars
- More tables expected in the near future
- Intuitive, well-integrated community features
- Only four tables
- Social aspects only benefit a certain group of players
- Multiplayer modes are bare, offering no rewards
If you are an absolute sucker for pinball in any shape or form then Marvel Pinball is definitely worth a shot. The tables are beautiful, the score-chasing element is addictive and gameplay feels incredibly solid. The only thing holding the game back is the lack of content and the fantastic, yet narrow community features, which only work if you know friends who are also playing Marvel Pinball.