Fake pins and balls + comic books = awesome?!
Admittedly, the moniker "one of the best uses of a licensed property" has been thrown around a lot by me over the last few reviews on licensed games. That's not particularly a blemish on my otherwise... um... spotless record, but more of a view of how these games have gotten much better lately. Marvel Pinball is the latest piece of downloadable content that makes use of a license property, and by God, it's easily one of the best... in 2011.
[image1]Pinball FX 2, Zen Studios' excellent and addicting pinball simulator has been a hit in the Xbox Live Marketplace ever since it was released for free last year. It's important to note how well the game performs, since for that platform in particular, Marvel Pinball is a package of extra pinball tables, while on the Playstation Network, it's a standalone download. Marvel Pinball carries over the same features of PFX2, from the extremely in-depth leaderboard system to the unique challenges that present themselves in each table. Simply put, if you love Pinball FX 2 already, there's no reason not to pick up Marvel Pinball.
Zen Studios has been very vocal with its fan community in regards to Marvel Pinball and opened a poll along with the famed comic book label in order to see which heroes would be featured in this download. The balloting worked so well that they've already started a new call for more tables that will be featured in a new download. The current winners that are part of this edition of Marvel Pinball include some obvious choices and a bizarre one.
Funnily enough, the bizarro table just might be the best one in Marvel Pinball. Among the fan favorites like Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Iron Man, Blade - of all the secondary heroes in the Marvel universe - was graced with a pinball table of his own. Like the overall brilliantly designed tables from the original PBFX2 set, the Blade table is awesome to play in, with a host of different missions and a bunch of little knickknacks that would have probably been impossible to program into a real-life pinball table, like a day and night cycle and a fully featured weapon store. Pinball is taken to a whole different level here, way beyond the simple notion of hitting a metal ball with flippers.
[image2]The other tables in Marvel Pinball are also a ton of fun. The Spider-Man stage has a complex network of rails and tunnels that really convey the sense of webslinging when you launch your poor little ball into them. Spidey's worst foes also make an appearance, each having their own little gimmick to make your game a living nightmare. The Green Goblin will try to spice your table with extra pumpkin bomb balls, while Mysterio switches your flipper orientation and Dr. Ock physically obstructs your way with his mechanical tentacles. That said, the Spider-Man table is capable of the highest scores in the game, so don't be surprised if you hit the 100 million point mark. It's supposed to be over-the-top, like the hero himself and in that regard, it's amazing indeed.
Iron Man and Wolverine close out the table selection, each with their own set of missions and quirks. Iron Man brings the technology side of Tony Starks' inventions into play, as you help him upgrade his tower, raise his stocks, and most importantly, defeat his buddies Mandarin and Whiplash during your missions. The Wolverine table is a tribute to Logan's warring life, with a physical clock that keeps track of how long he has 'til his next tumble with Sabertooth, a hulking sentinel who loves to step on our runt friend and even the Silver Samurai, who weirdly enough loves to trap your, err..., balls.
The table presentations are a mix of great art and effects with terrible voice effects. The art of the tables is ripped straight from the comic book panels and are vivid and well-rendered. Each of the tables has a unique style of lights and flickering fake LEDs that go nuts as you play, conveying the simulation of pinball very well. On the flip-side (see what I did there?), you'll have to endure some awful voice samples, especially on the Wolverine table. The Wolverine voice they picked sounds incredibly lame and not convincing at all. Tony Stark is at least saved by some humor in his deliveries that play with the drunken history of the character, even though it becomes slightly repetitive after a while.
With all the challenges and brilliantly designed tables, it's hard not to push just about anyone into playing Marvel Pinball. The friends list integration into the online leaderboards system is extremely well done and an example of smart use of competition between friends. For comic book nerds like our own Blake Morse and me, it's a sure bet and for people looking for a casual game to plop in-between their bouts of say, Call of Duty, Marvel Pinball (and Pinball FX 2 for that matter) make for some great pinball experiences on the HD systems. There is no better alternative out there.