It seems like every time Zen Studios sets off to create a new pinball table, they are essentially trying to outdo themselves. No single development team has done more over the last console generation to advance the virtual pinball genre then these chaps. Whenever they have something new to show it is impossible not to detect an unspoken undercurrent of “try and top THAT!” The most recent outing in their partnership with Marvel/Disney, Marvel Pinball: Civil War, is no exception to the rule. Much like the series of graphic novels that inspired the new table, the studio has managed to take pinball to ambitious new places in storytelling that many deemed impossible.
First of all, what exactly does it mean to tell a story through pinball? In at least a writing sense, it means that there is a concrete beginning, middle and end. In most cases, the only thing that a player knows for sure is that they will have a beginning and an end. The means through which a player travels between the two points tends to be relatively undetermined. Taking advantage of this assumption, the table sets the ground work for the storyline, by allowing players the option to start out each session with a manic exchange of multi-ball madness. During this mode, Iron Man and Captain America, each represented by one of the balls, are attempting to rescue children from the wreckage of a massive explosion, inadvertently caused by a altercation between several extremely powerful adversaries. Whatever score is attained before draining one of the balls becomes the baseline score that a player carries into the beginning of the game.
As a result of this unfortunate accident, there is suddenly a movement gaining steam among both the populace and heroes to force all those with powers to have to register with the government. In this case, the operative logic is that registration will force accountability throughout the forces of both good and evil. With this narrative structure in mind, players begin actual open play by having to choose sides between Captain America, who happens to be anti-registration, and Iron Man, who is in favor of the measure. Regardless of what character is selected the table plays relatively similarly, so there is no need to overly fret about the decision. The differences are mostly superficial, such as background music and the announcer/character dialog.
The crux of the table boils down to the player’s hero of choice attempting to win over the support of eight ancillary characters, the likes of whom include a couple of high profile names such as Human Torch and Spider-Man, and several other lower tiered heroes like Ms. Marvel, Tigra and Luke Cage. Gaining the backing of characters helps open up additional modes of acquiring allies, as well as kicking off interactive events that can modify the way certain aspects of the way the table can be approached. A perfect example of this is when an entire bumper will be lowered below the table and covered, opening up a ramp that was previously inaccessible via the lower set of flippers.
Further demonstrating the evolution of Zen Studios’ approach to table design, Civil War helps usher in the end of the brainless flipper smacking era. It is now critical to understand how each of the table’s components play into the goals and ultimately the plot of the game. Not taking the time to explore how pieces of the proverbial puzzle interact with each other will only result in failure. To top that all off, as prominent events of the storyline play out, failure doesn’t just result in hurt feelings, it can lead to the demise of heroes. On the opposite side of the coin, positive outcomes are also trumpeted to the masses, only with a bit more of a tonal nod to the heavy subject matter of the entire series’ run. Either way, understanding goals and hitting targets on a consistent basis will be the only way to continually light up the leaderboards.
A neat mechanical choice in the overall layout of the table was the decision to drain ramps in front of the lower bumpers, instead of the usual exit behind the bumpers. Instead of harmlessly sliding onto the flipper for a lackadaisical re-launch skyward, the result is a ball swiftly being jettisoned from the bottom of a ramp onto the flipper on the opposite side of the table. This seemingly minor change from the norm prevents players from being lulled into complacency by a long combo of ramp shots. Hopefully they will chose to implement this interesting tweak to the formula in more tables down the road.
Marvel Pinball: Civil War goes to great lengths to make even the most subtle nods to the events of the graphic novels. Not to spoil anything specific, but those that have a deep understanding of the underlying subject matter will find it to be a rich well of nostalgia and “ah-ha,” moments. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the voice work. While it is competent enough and was most likely heavily muzzled by the lore masters over at Marvel, it won’t take long for dialog loops to numb the overall impact of the storyline playing out. Let’s just say that the age old adage, “Less is more,” shouldn’t necessarily have been applied here.
At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader at a Zen Studios pep rally, it is hard to find much fault in any of the team’s most recent productions. Everything from the reboot of the Zen Pinball 2/Pinball FX2 franchises to their collaborations with Marvel and Popcap, have yielded instant hits. Marvel Pinball: Civil War continues the stellar tradition of frenetic pinball action that still forces players to use their gray matter and precise reflexes. It isn’t even worth taking a moment of pause before purchasing this download, no matter your platform of choice. (Yes, that even includes iOS!) Get out there and notch your place in pinball history. The leaderboards await…
A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.