Review: Marvel Pinball Epic Collection Volume 1 (For Xbox One and PS4)
What is it?
This game from Zen Studios has a collection of 10 Marvel Comics themed pinball tables.A couple of the games are pretty closely tied to their movie counterparts (such as Ant-Man and the Avengers tables), but most are pretty faithful to their comic source material.
Here’s a brief rundown of what’s in the package:
The Civil War table ties in to the comic, and not the recent film. This is not a negative at all, since the comic didn’t pull any punches. (For those that saw the movie and are unfamiliar with the comic…here’s a spoiler: The registration act didn’t happen because of a dozen people getting killed in some foreign country…it happened when superheroes were duking it out with a super-villain next to an elementary school. The super-villain explodes…and….well….that’s the type of thing that can really mobilize a country to want superheroes to be a bit more accountable for their actions).
If you like comics at all, I would highly recommend Planet Hulk/World War Hulk…which has a table based on it in this collection. The short story is…Earth’s heroes get tired of Hulk always wrecking things, so they shoot him into space. He lands on a planet where he’s forced to become a Gladiator. Some bad things happen, and Hulk finds himself trying to get back to earth so he can beat up the heroes who sent him off into space. Nice, sweet, simple revenge…and a fantastic setup for a pinball theme.
The Avengers table is almost entirely movie-based, and has a neat “gimmick” where you choose your hero before plunging the ball. Each hero has a different specialty, similar to Stern’s Game of Thrones, or Wrestlemania….which adds quite a bit to the strategy.
Ant-Man is also movie-based, and has a generally decent “fake Michael Douglas” doing callouts. There are some neat tricks involving a shrinking ball, jump ramps, lower playfields, and other nifty toys.
Fear Itself is a table based on a comic that I’m not very familiar with, but it does have Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor going head to head with an Asgardian Deity called “The Serpent” and his badass gang “The Worthy.” (Apparently the Worthy is formed when superpowered folks like Hulk, Juggernaut, the Thing, and some other Marvel powerhouses come into contact with mystic hammers…which turns them into evil henchmen). Whatever…it’s a great setup for a pinball machine, so sign me up.
The five remaining tables (Spider-Man, Iron-Man, Doctor Strange, Blade, and Venom) are completely comics-based, and have nothing to do with the plots of their movie counterparts, outside of common villains, such as Whiplash in Iron Man. To me, this is a positive…since it allows for a much wider variety of usable villains, plot points, and game settings.
Is it any good?
There’s a great variety of tables here, and all have their own nifty tricks and gimmicks. For the most part, Zen Studios does a good job of avoiding unrealistic physics. There are certainly a fair number of gimmicks that couldn’t happen on a real table, but they never really overdo it.
Most tables are nice, wide-open flow-monsters, but the Venom table is really claustrophobic feeling, with most of the action taking place in the lower third of the playfield. There’s only a few narrow lanes to the upper sections, making the experience feel more like Black Knight 2000, Stern’s Lightning, or (in a small sense) Big Guns. Again, with 10 tables included, there’s something for everyone, and all games feel significantly different.
The audio-visual package for all games is solid, and DMD shows are straight out of the 90’s and early 2000’s. It is a bit of a disconnect to see some of these fantastic playfield gimmicks and lightshows, and then have a grainy one-color video clip on the DMD. Seriously, 95% of the planet doesn’t realize that pinball has (for the most part) moved on to bigger, more impressive full color displays. (Okay, I know Stern has resisted the longest, but we have ColorDMD to thank for helping us update those visuals).
Speaking of ColorDMD, I would have been happier seeing that style of display in these games…one that has its roots in the past, but is bright, colorful, and sets itself apart from the previous decades. I get that Zen Studios probably has a desire to hit the big “nostalgia” button for passing fans who probably haven’t seen a real machine in years…but there’s something oddly out of place when that ancient DMD sits next to such a futuristic table. (On the plus side…at least it isn’t a System11 Alphanumeric).
It did take me a while to get used to the controls, and while I did get the hang of it, it never quite felt as responsive as putting my fingers on a real pinball machine. One of my issues was being able to fully customize my controller…you are locked into using the Left and Right Trigger, or Left and Right Bumpers. The triggers are a bit spongy and have some give…so quick repeated flips are extremely difficult. Many times a ball would drain because I was just a bit slow…in a way that doesn’t happen with my own machines in the basement. I thought switching to the L/R bumpers would help, but oddly enough…this just felt a little awkward. The control issues were not game-breaking, but I would have liked to have had full customization.
The operator menu is almost completely copied off of the Williams WPC structure. I’m not knocking it, and I’m definitely familiar with its usage. It still works absolutely fine, although I doubt you’ll be doing lamp and coil tests much as you attempt to troubleshoot the nonexistent driver-board. (Be careful, though…changing the settings will disable the worldwide leaderboards, and achievements).
The game boasts a lot of neat features…but basically they boil down to high scores, and things we’d expect to see in a pinball anyhow, like “mechanical flippers”…which I’m still trying to figure out. It also talks of having a mode called “Local Hot Seat”, which is really just a fancy way of saying that if you start up a 2 to 4 player game, you get to wait your turn while others play.
Some of you care about achievements/trophies…and some of you don’t. I will say this…the game is pretty stingy with achievements, and each table only has two. (For the Xbox, each table has a 30 pointer, and a 70 pointer….making the game worth 1000 total). I would have rather had some smaller, easier achievements for each table, like a simple “Start a Multiball” or “Begin your first mode on Table X”.
Is it worth buying?
Absolutely yes…provided you aren’t a purist who refuses to play anything but the real thing. (There’s nothing wrong with that…but this game was never for you, anyhow. This game is for those of us that don’t mind pinballing from the couch every once in a while).
Most of my gripes are pretty minor or nitpicky, and this collection just has a great amount of value to it. It’s half the cost of a regularly retail priced game, which works out to about 3 bucks per table. It is evident that there’s a lot of thought put into the design and rules of each game. (If pressed, I’d say they probably fall short of the depth of some of the meatier Stern or JJP rulesets…but that doesn’t mean the games are “thin” by any stretch).
The game is priced right, and is perfect for pinball-lovers that own a PS4 or Xbox One. The Marvel Comics theme is done excellently, tables are easy to navigate, and the menus have a lot of handy background information (including fantastic “How to Play” sections). It’s a worthy addition to your collection.