Review: Marvel Pinball: Avengers Chronicles (Sony PS3)

Marvel Pinball: Avengers Chronicles
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Genre: Pinball
Release Date: 06/19/2012

Right now I have blisters on both thumbs and my right middle finger. How come? TOO MUCH PINBALL. I’ve always been a pretty big pinball addict and 2012 has been a crazy awesome year for digital pinball. In January, Zen Studios released a version of Zen Pinball for the 3DS. Then in February, they released a new table for the console version of the game, Epic Quest. Then in April, Farsight Studios came out with The Pinball Arcade, which I regularly play on my PS3 and Vita. However, the past week has been insane. The Pinball Arcade gained two new tables on June 12th (Medieval Madness and Bride of Pin*Bot) and it was the same day Zen Studios gave me four new tables for Marvel Pinball in the form of the new Avengers Chronicles collection. I spent several days not only playing all of these old tables, but replaying the original four Marvel Pinball tables because I had fallen off from the #1 spot since last I played. All that Marvel Pinball madness has led my fingers to the shape they are currently in. Guess I won’t be finishing Lollipop Chainsaw until they heal…

Avengers Chronicles contains four tables, although only one of these actually has an Avengers theme. There is Avengers (which is based on the movie), World War Hulk (Hulk Vs. The Illuminati: Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Black Bolt, and Namor), Fear Itself (one of the more recent big Marvel crossovers) and The Infinity Gauntlet (Marvel’s best company-wide crossover ever). You do have to have Marvel Pinball to play these tables, and much like the Virtue & Vengeance pack, Avengers Chronicles retails for $9.99, which is basically $2.50 per table. You can’t purchase these tables separately, as you can with Zen Pinball releases, so it’s all or nothing for you. The good thing is that all four tables are fun in their own right, and you’ll easily get your money’s worth if you purchase this DLC pack. For the trophy minded, each table contains three new trophies (World War Hulk and Infinity Gauntlet’s were the easiest for me to earn, FYI), for a total of twelve new ones to add to your set. Also remember that these tables will also add a multiplier to your Hero Score, meaning that you should be able to get the Gold Trophy for a 5,000 Hero Score pretty easily if you have all fourteen tables.

Each of the new four tables plays very differently from each other, yet contains the same basic table design that has become somewhat of a trope for Zen Studios, with the three lanes on the side of one flipper, two on the other, two flippers on the bottom and a third flipper up toward the middle of the screen on one side, combined with a lot of lane shooting for the bulk of the game’s action. On one hand, it’s impressive how Zen manages to constantly use the same field design and still keep things fresh, but on the other, when a gamer has a good idea how to play the table before they ever actually have, it probably means it’s time for Zen to get a bit more creative with the tables themselves instead of focusing on the mini-games (which is pretty much what all four Avenger Chronicles tables are about). Let’s take a look at each of the four tables, how to play them, and how they differ.

First up, let’s talk Infinity Gauntlet. It’s by far Zen’s deepest and most arcade-y table yet. The goal here is to defeat Thanos to prevent him from destroying half the universe, and you’ll do that through completing various challenges put before you. Each challenge plays pretty differently, such as the Reality Gem challenge requiring you to play the board upside down and reversed, which is pretty surreal. The Soul Gem has you play something skin to the mini game within a game board that Black Hole (an actual physical pinball table) had. The Mind Gem challenge causes your flippers to play backward, so pressing the buttons causes the flippers to go down instead of up. So on and so forth. All the challenges really make the board feel far more involved than the usual “get a ball down lit ramps to win” goals that commonly occur. At the same time, the challenges are so out there that you lose the illusion of disbelief that you are actually playing pinball, because the things Infinity Gauntlet does simply can’t be done with an actual pinball game. This means how much you love this table may depend on how much of a pinball purist you are. Personally, I love this table due to the theme, characters and originality presented here, but there are times when I would hesitate to call it a true pinball experience. If anything, this particular table highlights that the old days of a physical pinball machine are dead and gone, and the positives and negatives that go along with that reality. Infinity Gauntlet is the easiest of the four tables in terms of scoring and goal achieving, (I’m ranked second in the world right now!), but the sheer variety of things to do on it coupled with the potential for really high scores should make this an easy favorite, especially to casual or newcomers to pinball.

Fear Itself is easily the most original table Zen has put out for Marvel Pinball. It makes use of magnets (Well, faux magnets. This is a digital pinball game, after all), similar but still very different from the way Addams Family Pinball and the Powerfield from the old Twilight Zone machine (that Farsight is going to be bringing to The Pinball Arcade thanks to a successful Kickstarter.) did. The magnets primarily come into play with the two outlanes (lanes that can lead to your ball going out of play) where, if you are lucky or good enough, the magnets will cause the outlanes to act as one big ramp, propelling your ball out of danger and back into play. Of course, if the magnets aren’t on, or your shot isn’t true, you’re down a ball. You’ll also see the magnets hold the ball at certain times, like they did in the X-Men table if you own that, or in the aforementioned physical pinball games above. Because of this critical aspect of the board (and also looking at how low the scores are on Fear Itself compared to the other AC tables), this is going to be the hardest of the boards to get a high score on, rivaling Iron Man as one of the lowest scoring boards in Marvel Pinball. The game also features some rather strange mini games, like playing Pong against The Serpent. Again, these two tables seem to be saying “Look what we can do because we are a video game and not ‘true’ pinball.” It’s neither bad nor good; it simply is. I had fun with the table, but I think this will be a love it or hate it one due specifically to the use of magnets and pneumatics here.

The third table is World War Hulk, and out of all the tables in the Avengers Collection, feels a lot more like regular pinball. Again, you have the usual Zen Studios table design features, along with token mini games like “hit the ramps to save civilians before Hulk tears up New York City” or the battles against other super heroes that involve, well… hitting ramps and lanes to win. I really liked how old school this table felt, especially compared to Infinity Gauntlet and Fear Itself. Aside from the “arena,” the entire table is one that could be built and housed in a pinball cabinet if someone really wanted to put that much time and effort into things. It’s a wonderful table that diehard pinball addicts and casual fans alike can have fun with, without having to memorize location placements and triggers in order to net a high score. The arena is the most unique thing about the board, and it’s triggered by lighting up all the letters in the word “ARENA” to open it up. Once in the arena (and earning a bronze trophy for doing so), you get this incredibly charming mini game of pinball that reminds me of the old handheld spring loaded pinball games I could find as a little kid, mixed with a bit of pachinko style and flare for good measure. The end result is a mini game you’ll really enjoy, as it’s a very different form of actual pinball from the main table, but still pinball nonetheless.

The fourth and final table in this collection is the Avengers table. As mentioned earlier, it is based off of the movie released earlier this summer rather than the cartoon, and sports a similar lineup. The table itself is pretty bare bones to look at, featuring six ramps/lanes and the token Zen layout of three lanes by one flipper, two by the second and a third lone flipper up by its lonesome in the middle of the board. What makes the table really quite different is that the focus is on the balls themselves rather than table. You have six different balls to choose from, each representing a different Avenger, and each with its own unique abilities. The Hawkeye ball, for example, gets you more points will skill shots, the Hulk ball gets you more points with a power shot (hitting the base Loki is standing on in the middle of the field) and Captain America’s ball makes it easier to earn a ball save (and seems to temporarily trigger it whenever you bring the ball into play). Because of this, you can mix and match the order in which you use the balls for a noticeably different game (and score) each time. I found I did best when I started with the Hulk ball, and then once it was locked up, bringing in Captain America, and then finally Hawkeye. However, don’t discount the other balls. Iron Man gives you a nice multiplier, for example. It’ll be up to you to decide which balls work best for you, and in what order you want to play them in. You do only get three “lives” however, so having six choices doesn’t mean you’ll get six chances, unless you earn that many free balls from kicking butt on this table. The missions comprise of things like “fix the Quinjet” and “beat up Loki.” It’s fairly standard stuff, although once you get something like four balls into play at once, you’ll be thankful to have it happen on a very traditional sort of board. The Avengers table is another one that feels like classic ‘true’ pinball, and I really like that Zen gave us two tables that will appeal to purists and two that offer some pretty out there things that just couldn’t be done with an old school pinball machine.

Visually speaking, the boards all look wonderful. The character models look like they came right out of a Marvel comic. Older models like Iron Man and Wolverine look a bit dated compared to the new ones, such as Gladiator Hulk and Silver Surfer. The two best are easily Adam Warlock (look at that cape ripple!) and Thanos. The tables themselves are clearly defined and tend to have very vibrant colours, even in the more subdued boards like the Avengers table. It can be hard to tell is something is a ramp or a lane on boards like World War Hulk if you’re using a full table perspective (which you should), but fiddling with the free view cameras will clear things right up. Everything looks really crisp in this table collection and they are easily the best looking boards Zen has ever put out.

Aurally, the game sounds pretty good. All four tables SOUND like an actual game of pinball, with voice work and special effect noises laid on top. The voice acting sounds pretty good, with some tables having continuity between voice actors, such as Thor being the same in Fear Itself and Avengers, while Iron Man seems to have three different voice actors for three different tables, and the voice actor for Hulk on the Avengers table sounds nothing like the Hulk for World War Hulk. This is a very minor issue that shouldn’t be a big deal to all but the most anal fans, but then comic book fans can be pretty big sticklers for continuity. I really do like what’s here and the overall audio quality impressed the hell out of me. I played through Infinity Gauntlet four times in a row and heard new voice acting each time. That was pretty neat. Each table does have lines you’ll hear every single time you play, sometimes multiple times per ball, but there’s a lot here, especially compared to actual pinball tables, and Zen did a great job having the dialogue mean something rather than just be there for the sake of having background noise. The music for all four tables is equally excellent and I found myself humming tunes from the Avengers and the World War Hulk tables long after I finished playing them.

The controls are probably the weakest area of a Zen Studios game, but my gripes are minor. The physics aren’t one hundred percent accurate to how a ball would actually move, but it’s a digital recreation of pinball – it’s never going to be one hundred percent accurate, especially since none of these tables were ever ‘real’ pinball machines to begin with. For the most part, you won’t even notice the occasional wonkiness unless you eat, sleep and breathe pinball. What you WILL notice, though, is that sometimes the flippers don’t hit as hard as you want them to, or that there can be a very slight bit of lag between your button presses and the action occurring on the screen (we’re talking only a few frames), but that can be enough to cost you a ball. I’m also not a fan of using the Sixaxis motion controls for tilting. I’d much rather use the D-pad, especially after having that option in the 3DS version. It works SO MUCH BETTER. Again, these are all very minor gripes, but after fourteen Marvel tables and an equal amount of Zen/FX tables, I’d like to have seen these issues get tightened up or outright fixed by now.

All in all though, I’m very happy with Avengers Chronicles. The fact I can get four well made tables for less than the cost of a comic book each (there’s some sort of irony in that somewhere…) is wonderful. I enjoy all four tables, although I think Infinity Gauntlet is my favorite and Fear Itself is my least favorite, but they are all quality. I really like this set of four much better than the original four tables (Iron Man, Blade, Wolverine & Spider-Man) and moreso than the Ghost Rider/Moon Knight/X-Men/Thor set released in the final days of 2011. My favorite table is still the Captain America one. Avengers Chronicles shows off how Zen Studios is improving with each new addition to Marvel Pinball. Along with Farsight, Zen is introducing a whole new generation to the glory of pinball while showing old fogies like myself that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars upkeeping a single machine that only has one table on it when you can have dozens of tables for only $2.50 a pop. That’s awesome no matter how you look at. If you own Marvel Pinball, you need to hunker down at throw your money at Zen Studios for this compilation, because it’s top notch and it made me keep playing until my fingers bled. What more do you need to know? Oh, that’s right. When do we get the Giant Sized Man-Thing, Howard the Duck and Dr. Strange tables? They’ve all had movies too…

The Score
Modes: Good
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control & Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Good
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Marvel Pinball: Avengers Chronicles adds four new tables to your Marvel Pinball collection, bringing it up to a grand total of fourteen. Although it’s not quite the same the thing as sitting behind a real pinball machine, it’s still a lot of fun to play, and the four tables included here (World War Hulk, Fear Itself, Infinity Gauntlet and Avengers) are some of the best yet. If you already own Marvel Pinball , this ten dollar DLC pack is well worth picking up, and you’ll probably spend more time with it than you would with an RPG. At only $2.50 per table, the question isn’t whether or not you should pick it up, but why you’re not playing it right now.



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6 responses to “Review: Marvel Pinball: Avengers Chronicles (Sony PS3)”

  1. Bearded_Warrior Avatar

    Nice thorough review. And you do know that a Doctor Strange table was announced and will likely be released later this year, don’t you?

    1. Alexander Lucard Avatar

      Yep, although I have a feeling they’ll hold it until Zen Pinball 2 hits.

      The other two tables I’ve named are running jokes amongst the Marvel Pinball community.

      1. Bearded_Warrior Avatar

        Oh yeah. I’m well aware of the clamoring for a Howard the Duck table. I’m pretty active on the Zen forums and I’ve seen it mentioned several times on Facebook. I honestly hope that never happens. There’s about 20 other Marvel tables I’d like to see before even considering that one.

        1. Alexander Lucard Avatar

          I’d actually enjoy seeing one for the sheer weirdness, but truth be told, how many people have actually read Howard the Duck? I have an old Essential Omnibus, but I would rather have the Man-Thing table.

          I think it’d be fun to have a Marvel Monsters set around Halloween myself. Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night and maybe Midnight Sons or Frankenpunisher to round it out.

          1. Bearded_Warrior Avatar

            I’m not opposed to the occasional weird table. It’s just that there are so many other more popular characters that haven’t been tackled yet. Such as Daredevil, Punisher, Deadpool, Venom, or even Marvel Zombies. I’ve also been nagging Zen to make a table featuring classic Archangel (a personal favorite) and Apocalypse based around the Fall of the Mutants.

            It’s funny you mentioned the old Essential Omnibus. I have the one that features Howard the Duck and some other obscure characters. I also have the Midnight Sons series, unopened ;)

          2. Alexander Lucard Avatar

            I think a Fall of the Mutants table is a really neat idea. They could even shoehorn Thor and Power Pack in there as they showed up. The only problem is Zen seems geared towards current events rather than classic ones. Which makes sense for younger gamers, but I have a feeling pinball players are older gamers and thus want the comics that they read when they were younger.

            In truth I was always more a DC guy save for the Marvel Horror Comics, West Coast Avengers, Armour Wars and Roger Stern’s run on Cap so my concern is more a quality table instead of a mediocre one that just features a popular character like the Iron Man table.

            I AM surprised there hasn’t been a Punisher or Daredevil table. Maybe they just can’t think of a good concept?

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