Zen Studios' pinball renaissance on the Xbox 360 and PS3 is one of the best values in downloadable gaming on consoles this past year. Never better than when it's handling licensed tables—the kind you always wished you got at the pizza parlors of your misspent youth—Zen returned this week with another four in its Marvel Pinball suite.
Ghost Rider, Thor, X-Men and Moon Knight form the Vengeance and Virtue package, available for $10 in the Marvel Pinball game on PlayStation Network, or 800 Microsoft Points in Pinball FX 2 on Xbox Live. (Marvel Pinball and its four base tables, (Wolverine, Spider-Man, Blade and Iron Man), are free this month to PlayStation Plus subscribers, it should be noted.)
That's well and good, but getting the latest four will cost you $10. Is that worth forty of your virtual quarters?
Owen Good, who is immune to the Penance Stare because he has no soul to burn: When I play Zen Studios' Marvel tables, I'm taken back to my friend Richard's house in the early 1980s. We're invading his brother's Charles' closet, ransacking shoeboxes and pulling out copies of Ghost Rider and The Defenders and What If? from the plastic Merita bread bags protecting them.
There is an older-brother cool to these four tables. especially in Ghost Rider, whose loop-de-loop ramp and delightful shotgun prop would have made it the favored machine at our town's teenage hangout, by far. All tables suitably reflect their characters' themes, and not simply in setting down animated characters on their surface. I loved the big crescent bend—behind the flippers—of Moon Knight's major ramp. Ditto the ice-slide motif of the right-hand ramp in X-Men. When they bend reality, they do so delightfully, such as winding your ball up the Rainbow Bridge after unlocking Asgard in Thor.
Virtual pinball fans — who get the base Marvel Pinball game for free if they're PlayStation Plus subscribers this month—will find much to love in this package. Zen's design is consistently the best in virtual pinball, and Zen's at the top of its game when it's working with licensed tables. If you enjoyed Captain America or Wolverine, this collection is highly recommended. Yes.
Michael Fahey, the Fist of Khonshu: The brilliance of Zen's Pinball FX 2 Platform (and Marvel Pinball on the PlayStation 3) is that the interface contain spots for every new table that's released. That means if you're OCD like me you really have no choice but to pick up every new table that comes out, just for the sake of completion. Luckily for me the four new tables in the Marvel Vengeance and Virtue series are uniformly excellent, representing each character (or characters, in the X-Men's case) faithfully, conveying their complex makeup and motivations into some of the most colorful and crazy tables Zen has ever released. The Moon Knight table in particular is wonderful, conveying the madness of Marc Spector in it's convoluted construction, complete with current continuity's twisted take on Khonshu the Moon God whispering in his ear. I would have bought the pack just for the one table, so the rest are just icing on the cake. Yes.
Kirk Hamilton, who doesn't play pinball games on his Xbox but might have to start: So the whole Zen Pinball thing is a question mark to me; I'm the guy who had not really considered buying a pinball game for his game consoles. Well, until now. Because woah, Marvel Pinball looks awesome.
This seems like the kind of game I could play with my friends, just like the real pinball tables of my youth. The visuals look spectacular—and of course, while trailers can be misleading, these ones pretty much just show the game in action. Zen has a great reputation, so I don't doubt that the core mechanics will be fun and satisfying.
Back when Roger Sharpe saved pinball from New York Mayor La Guardia's infamous 30-year ban, I wonder if he had an inkling of what the future held. Probably not. Either way, I'm glad he stepped up like he did, because now I can finally give Zen pinball a shot. Yes.
Gut Check is an off-the-cuff impression of what we think of a game: what we'd tell a friend; how we'd respond on Twitter or Facebook or over a beer if someone asked us "Would you buy this game?" Our lead writer, who has played a lot of the game, decides. Other writers chime in for additional points of view.