Review: Epic Quest (Pinball FX2 / Zen Pinball DLC Table)

What happens when you combine the expected quality of a Zen Studios-designed pinball table with RPG elements, such as monster battles, gaining experience, and finding loot? The combination may sound a bit strange, but the outcome is far from it. In fact, Epic Quest is one of the best- and most original- tables to hit Pinball FX2 and Zen Pinball so far.

Title: Epic Quest
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Genre: Pinball Simulation
Price: $2.99 / 240 Microsoft Points

Pros: Addictive RPG elements add replay value to a solid table design, and Max’s stats are held over from game to game.
Cons: Some catchphrases try a little too hard; some shots require very precise timing and can be difficult.
Verdict: RPG and pinball fans will find lots to like in Epic Quest, which is arguably Zen Studios’ best effort yet.

Publisher provided code for review purposes.

 

Adding RPG gameplay to pinball isn’t a new concept. Pinball Quest, released by Jaleco for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1990, was highlighted by an RPG Mode. Earning gold by defeating monsters with the ball earned players the right to buy items that would help them on the quest to save a princess. The RPG elements were light, but it was a unique way to approach the tried-and-true pinball format. The game was challenging and fun to play, but there was never a sequel as it blended into the hundreds of other NES games at the time.

Epic Quest revisits the pinball/RPG combination. There are monster battles, items to upgrade stats, experience points to gain, and the opportunity to level up the table’s character, Max. Yes, there’s a princess, too; however, her presence only figures into references for multiball. The table has a medieval feel to it, seemingly influenced by Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Max spouts comedic catchphrases, some monster battles are prefaced by a puppet show depicting how the encounter started, and the overall feel of the table is very lighthearted. Don’t let that feel fool you, though; Epic Quest employs legitimate and addictive RPG qualities that will draw players in and keep them playing for a long time.

Monster encounters are triggered in a few different ways. There’s an orbit that sends the ball into a set of bumpers, which triggers an encounter when enough hits are registered. A shot up the middle can put the ball on a wheel that lifts it to an upper playfield, which then requires an accurate upper flipper shot to the left and down a tube towards a side area. That side area then has spikes, controlled by the flipper buttons, which can send the ball down different holes and trigger different encounters for each. Finally, there’s an outhole on the right side of the lower playfield which, when visited twice, activates an encounter. Each of these areas contains its own set of monsters to face.

In Epic Quest, unlike Pinball Quest, monster battles aren’t fought by hitting them with the ball as they crawl and jump across the table in real time. Instead, through an easy-to-learn series of available shots, battles are waged in a much different style. The left ramp is the Shield ramp, which is similar to a Defend option in a turn-based RPG. The right ramp is the Sword ramp, which attacks the opposing monster whenever that shot is made during an encounter. There’s a push target just to the left of the Shield ramp, called a Smash target, which can be struck to inflict damage. Max can also dodge enemy attacks via left or right shots around the table through spinners. If players take too long to make one of these shots and the timer counts down to zero, the monster will attack Max. As players make or miss these shots, hit points (HP) values for each are affected. As with any RPG battle, it ends when either Max or the monster runs out of HP. If Max wins, big points are awarded, along with an Experience Point (XP) bonus and lighting of the Loot capture hole. Unlike RPGs, though, losing the battle doesn’t mean the end of the game. Instead, Max can try to revisit the area that began the encounter and try to defeat the monster again.¬†When Max defeats a monster, a lock becomes lit via the Shield ramp. The ball is then held just above a spinner with different options, such as lighting a Super Jackpot ramp, extending a Ball Saver option, or lighting outlanes for an Extra Ball. When three balls are captured, Princess Multiball begins, and monster scores await.

Monster battles and leveling up are the main objectives in Epic Quest, but Zen Studios recognized that side quests are a part of any RPG and included a couple of extra objectives to work on. Repeatedly hitting the Shield ramp spots letters in the word BAT; once the word is lit entirely, Bat Frenzy mode challenges players to make certain shots within a certain time frame. Hitting the Sword ramp enough times spots letters in the word SWARM, which begins the Skeleton Swarm multiball mode. Most shots on the table are lit and score points while adding value to a growing jackpot shot, which changes location after being scored. Finally, there’s a 10 million point bonus for finding four Epic Items by defeating enough monsters. This objective will require lots of grinding and leveling up to accomplish, but the payoff- and the way the items affect your character’s stats during monster battles- makes it worth taking on.

One of the best parts of Epic Quest is that Max’s level and stats don’t reset when the game ends. It’s an experience that almost requires players to keep playing the table. With a maximum level of 100, there are many hours of gameplay and increasing scores that await for a simple $3 entry fee. As Max’s experience points build, so do Jackpot and Super Jackpot values, plus outhole bonuses. Max’s level also determines the strength of the monsters that he faces. Enemies will eventually have some sort of resistance, which makes them harder to defeat. If Max’s current weapon has an ice element affixed to it and the monster is resistant to ice, attacks will do less damage and more shots will be needed to defeat it. The fact that that certain elements of the table change and evolve as Max does is a big plus.

Epic Quest is the best table for Pinball FX2 and Zen Pinball so far. There are a few minor issues that I had with the table early on, in terms of ball trajectory from certain outholes and timing for certain shots seemed a bit touchy, but these issues were mostly rectified with experience and learning the table tendencies. I haven’t played a table that made me want to come back to it like Epic Quest before, mainly because of the addictive qualities of the RPG elements. My level is only in the mid-twenties after spending a weekend with it, so there’s still a lot of game to be played.

Don’t wait, brave pinball adventurers. Join me on this Epic Quest.

GrE Grade: A

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