Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Reviewer: Nick Stewart
Overall: 8 = Excellent
It seems silly to even provide Zen tables with much of an introduction at this point, as they’ve in fairly short time become the gold standard for digital pinball games. It’s barely superlative to say that if you’re even a slight fan of the genre, it should be an automatic reflex to simply pick up whatever table they happen to have on their New Release menu; this isn’t fan devotion, but simple law of averages, as virtually their entire Zen Pinball 2 catalog has proven to be fantastic. That hasn’t stopped them from trying something new, however, as Epic Quest finds them attempting to introduce RPG into their well-honed pinball mix, and it’s something that’s definitely in keeping with their tradition of quality.
Colored heavily with Monty Python-esque goofiness, Epic Quest is about one wannabe knight’s search for loot, glory, and maiden-saving. That’s as far as it goes with regards to story, but you’ll scarcely notice as you experience this table’s primary gimmick, which is its widely touted RPG approach. As you defeat enemies like spiders, vampires, and wolves by shooting simple ramps and targets, you earn new equipment that improves your attack and defense stats—thereby improving your odds against increasingly tougher baddies.
Once the game’s done, however, the quest itself continues; your equipment and stats carry over from one round to another, and the next, and the next, and so on. It’s a fascinating effort to infuse pinball with a kind of permanence, and one that actually makes defeat much less…defeating. Rather than failing to top your previous high score, defeat is little more than a gateway to further improvement of your stats. Not only does this take the sting out of losing, but it also creates more incentive to simply keep playing round after round. It’s a brilliant system, and one that’s done with the style and addictiveness you’ve come to expect from Zen.
The mechanics of the table are much more simple and straightforward than most of Zen’s other tables, which would ordinarily be an issue for a more standard single-serving-style pinball game. Most of the goals are achieved through more basic ramp and target shots than you might expect from, say, most of Zen’s Marvel outings. Still, the Groundhog Day-style fundamentals at the heart of Epic Quest easily distract from the game’s overall lack of complexity; indeed, a more convoluted table would make it much more difficult to take the cyclical nature of the game.
What may first seem disappointing or disheartening is something you come to appreciate after you’ve played your Nth round of Epic Quest; there’s just enough to keep you interested over the long haul, and that’s ultimately what this game is designed around: long-term play. Moreover, further levelling means ever-higher shots at ever-higher jackpots, which in turn can affect your ability to beat the pants off your Xbox Live rivals, if that’s your kinda thing. There’s no shortage of incentives to keep playing round after round of Epic Quest, and that’s as a high a level of praise as you can really give to any pinball table.
Though it may seem overly simplistic at first, there’s no denying that Epic Quest holds up exceptionally well over repeated play; and that’s a good thing, given that this innovative but straightforward take on creating an RPG pinball game is designed with precisely that in mind. There are a number of working gimmicks at play in Epic Quest—all of which work fantastically well—though the “carrying stats over from game to game” element is both its most prominent and its strongest. The silly humor that pervades the game keeps things light, and the sheer addictive entertainment value of grinding baddies for better loot never really gets old. It’s an interesting idea that probably won’t see too many imitators, but works well as part of the ever-growing menu of fantastic Zen tables.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)