Inside Pulse 12

Review: Zen Pinball 2: Ant-Man (Sony Playstation 3/Playstation 4/Playstation Vita)

Zen Pinball: Ant-Man
Genre: Pinball
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Release Date: 7/15/15

In the past few years, Zen Studios has grown their pinball table series, Zen Pinball 2, from a smattering of original content and video game based licenses into a licensed product juggernaut, as they can claim tables based on popular franchises as South Park, Star Wars and The Walking Dead alongside popular gaming franchises like Portal and Plants vs. Zombies. Their biggest license, and the one that’s gotten them the most mileage, probably has to be the Marvel Comics brand, as they’ve produced a whopping twenty one tables based on properties from that universe, between the movies, comic storylines, and movie tie-in tables. The newest of their tie-in table releases is Ant-Man, which is based around the Marvel movie of the same name, and aesthetically designed to match the film rather than the comics. As we’ve seen in prior tables, Zen Studios has a knack for taking a property and building a table to suit its concept in fun and interesting ways, and Ant-Man is honestly no exception to this. Whether or not you’ll want to add it to your collection is a different story altogether, of course, so let’s take a look and see if an interesting concept translates to a table you’ll want to play.

The Ant-Man table is a stand-alone release that takes the concept from the film and integrates it into a full pinball experience, as everything from Doctor Pym, Scott Lang, Scott’s daughter Cassie and Yellowjacket find their way into the table in some form or fashion. The table has an interesting visual presentation, both aesthetically and thematically, as it uses stylistically complimentary reds and blues that are easy on the eyes together and features a strong scientific motif. As with most Zen Studios tables, Ant-Man makes good use of the fact that it’s not a real table, meaning that all kinds of crazy things can happen, including Ant-Man moving around the table, Yellowjacket jumping into the action, shrinking energy balls appearing and more. The physics of the table are, by and large, as good as Zen Studios can make them, and for the most part you’ll find them to be quite solid, as your shots generally go where they’re expected to. The table, as with others in the Zen Pinball franchise, can be played alone or with friends, on and offline, as players compete against each other for top scores, either simultaneously online or by taking turns offline, so you can get your pinball on with up to four players if you want, either by passing the controller/Vita around or by taking it to them online.

The Ant-Man looks thematically exactly as one would expect a table based on the film to look, as it faithfully recreates the aesthetic of the film and makes good use of the notable elements in the table design. The table itself combines the title character’s color scheme with various scientific looking design elements to give off a very “science super hero” vibe, integrating the metallic aesthetic of a futuristic lab with characters from the film, meaning you’ll see Doctor Pym and Ant-Man on the table proper, and other characters like Yellowjacket pop up when needed. Aurally, the table is also a winner, starting from a strong background soundtrack that basically sounds how you’d expect a theme from a superhero film to sound; it’s not anything you’ll remember after playing, but it’s effective for setting the mood. The voice work is obviously being done by stand-ins rather than the performers from the film, but the voice work doesn’t sound out of place at all and helps to make the experience work well. The table also features a good amount of effects that mix in traditional pinball style effects with sounds that are more in line with the concept, such as shrinking sounds when various parts of the table are hit; these are little details, but they add up.

As with the various other tables and packages in the Zen Pinball series, the core gameplay in Ant-Man is very basic and easy to grasp: hold and release a button to fire the ball into the playing field, then press buttons associated to the left and right flippers to attempt to keep the ball in play and hit scoring areas of the table. You can also tilt the controller in the console versions, or the console itself in the Vita version, to perform actual “tilt” actions in the game if you want, though it tends to be easier if you use the stick. The table works equally well on all three platforms and the controls largely map identically from one to the other, so you’ll be able to jump between consoles with no learning curve if you happen to have all three systems available to play on. If you’ve played any pinball table in your life you already know how the basics of the game work, and Zen Studios has managed to replicate the experience more or less perfectly. The ball physics, while not one hundred percent accurate to real-life pinball, are among the best around at replicating the experience, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the ball will react here, as with any other table in the franchise, so you can make shots that would work on a physical table and expect them to work more or less identically here.

Now, of course, pinball tables aren’t just about keeping the ball in play, they’re about what you can do with the ball to earn the highest score possible, and Ant-Man has some novel ideas that help to do so. The table is open in the center almost entirely, relegating most of its ramps and targets to the outside edges of the table, which is mechanically to the table’s benefit, as it offers a bit more room for error in play. You’ve got a total of three ramps to aim for, as well as a few targets, and you’re given three total flippers (two at the bottom, one on the left-central side of the table) for moving the ball around as needed. The most obvious (and interesting) element on the table, visually, is the giant Pym Particle in the back of the table, but there are a few other obvious targets, like the Ant-Man helmet and the back left bumpers, so you’ll be able to pick out a lot of the basic scoring opportunities pretty quickly. There are also three skillshots to keep in mind as you play, for hitting a flashing rollover on launch, hitting the lab ramp almost instantly after launch and hitting the target behind the Pym Particle zone on launch. The kickbacks are a bit gimmicky, as while the right kickback simply works as intended (hit a target and a magnet whips the ball back out when you hit the right lane), the left kickback actually activates a sort of mini-game to save the ball that takes some practice. Otherwise, the rest of the table’s elements, such as earning extra balls and activating ball saves, are easy enough to understand and work with, even for less skilled players.

The gimmicks of the Ant-Man table are where it really works to get its concept across, and those are a bit more involved and interesting than you’d think at first. There’s a mini-game featuring the glass circle in the center that’s cute and plays well to the theme, as well as four significant missions to complete; most of these missions are target or ramp-based timed objectives, though one involves shooting paintballs at targets so it’s not all standard play. The table also has three multiball modes; two of these modes involve locking away balls in specific targets (the Ant-Man helmet and the spinning pod), though the third involves shrinking down the Pym Particle to ball-size, which releases it into the field for big scoring. Plowing through all of these modes will kick off Wizard Mode, which is (as you’d expect) the final fight with Yellowjacket, and is another multiball mode. It’ll take some time to see all of the novelties the table has to offer, as you’ll have to make some pretty solid shots to unlock and complete all of the missions and such, but there’s a great deal of fun in seeing what the table can do, especially since it’s not even remotely rooted in reality. I mean, shrinking pinballs and mini-games in the center of the table are pretty out there, so the table has some interesting gimmickry to show off at least.

Now, if you’re looking to get your name up on the metaphorical wall, you can take on the tables with their default settings, set your own high score, and compete with your friends and/or the world. The game also scores against your Pro Score and Team Score, with the former being a united numerical value that indicates your overall ranking across all of your tables, and the latter indicating your score combined with that of your friends’ scores across all of your and their tables, so, yeah, you’ve got three different scores to try and max out at once if you’re into that. For those who prefer to screw around with the pinball mechanics, you can jump into the Operators Menu, which allows you to adjust all sorts of settings on the different tables. You can play around with things like the tilt warnings, how many extra balls you have in stock, how many extra balls come out in some multiball sequences, how difficult the table is, what the pitch of the playfield is, and so on, depending on how involved you want to get in customizing the table to be easier or harder for you. This, however, disables leaderboard scoring, so bear that in mind. You can also, as noted prior, play the game on or offline with friends. Online play puts you up against one another simultaneously to try and either earn a specific score or the highest score after a period of time, and also allows you to punish players who lose a ball (since you have infinite balls to reach the time limit or winning score) with score penalties. Offline mode offers “Hotseat”, a simple “pass the controller” mode, similar to how a normal pinball table would handle multiple players, where you change player after a ball is lost, and split-screen play on the consoles thanks to the Zen Pinball 2 suite. The Vita does not for… obvious reasons, however, but Hotseat is available all the same. Online play and Hotseat support up to four players, while split-screen offers two player simultaneous support, so locally and online you have lots of play options.

The one thing you could probably say negative about the Ant-Man table is that, while it has a couple novelties that play up the concept, it doesn’t really do as much as has been done with other concepts in the past. It’s true the Zen Studios folks really only have the one film to go off of, so you can’t make something involved like the Spider-Man or Plants vs. Zombies tables or what have you, but outside of the Pym Particle multiball mode, the central mini-game and the left kickback, the rest of the table is just standard pinball. The table is also definitely built in a way that seems like it’s meant to appeal to both beginner and advanced players, which is interesting, but it doesn’t always work out for the best. The beginner aspects are outstanding, but the jump to the advanced aspects often require split-second timing, and prior tables have been better about easing players into their missions than Ant-Man is. The table isn’t bad, but it feels like it was made more because there was a moving coming out and Zen Studios wanted to recognize the character rather than because they had anything they were jonesing to do with the table, and it’s fine, but not their best work.

For three dollars, Ant-Man is a fine table if you liked the movie or just love Marvel tables (or pinball in general really), but if you’re a bit more selective about your tables, this one doesn’t do enough thematically interesting or weird to make it worth a look, and the learning curve here starts really low but ramps up fast. The table has a look and style that’s evocative of the film, and the pinball mechanics themselves work just fine, as is the norm. Further, there are a couple novel gimmicks that make the table feel like it’s got an idea of what to do with the character, and those gimmicks give the table a bit more novelty and life than it’d have otherwise. There are also the expected modification options as well as multiple multiplayer options, locally and online, and the table works across all platforms equally well for the most part. The table feels like it could have done more with the concept than it does, however, as outside of a couple gimmicks it’s just a normal pinball table, and while the table is balanced for both newbie and expert play, there’s a big gap at points between the two, which can be frustrating as you learn. If you like the film, or just a good game of pinball, Ant-Man does enough to make it work a look, but those looking for a little more from their tables might be best served checking out the demo first, as it’s got some charm, but not as much as tables that have come before.

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Ant-Man table for Zen Pinball 2 is a solid table that’s worth the price if you like the film, the character or just pinball in general, but it feels lacking in comparison to prior releases, so it’s not a good fit for everyone. The table is aesthetically and aurally interesting, and it plays exactly as well as you’d expect from the Zen Pinball 2 series. There are a couple of interesting gimmicks and the open central area makes this a solid table for less skilled players, and the table offers the same excellent online and offline multiplayer options and customization options as other tables in the series to give it a good deal of life beyond playing the table on its own. The table could stand to do more with its concept than it does, sadly, as there are only a couple really special gimmicks here, and the table attempts to balance itself between easy and hard play but has some high gaps that will be frustrating for learning players. Fans of the film, character or pinball in general will have fun with the Ant-Man table, but those who are more selective with their tables will want to try the demo first, as the table lacks the punch of its predecessors, and it’s hard to justify to those who want the best possible tables available.