(PlayStation 3 Review) Marvel Pinball: Avengers Chronicles

Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Genre: Pinball
Players: 1
ESRB: Everyone
Reviewer: Nick Stewart

Overall: 8 = Excellent

Despite being essentially the only game in town, Zen Pinball brings an awful lot of swagger with each successive release of its popular table packs. Its consistently high-quality offerings rarely fail to dazzle, and its numerous Marvel tables have definitely not been an exception. With a semi-steady stream of superhero-themed items rolling through as downloadable content, it perhaps should not be any surprise that an Avengers-branded table pack would drop not long after the blockbuster movie. Equally unsurprising is the fact that, as always, the Avengers Chronicles DLC is every bit as glitzy, flashy, and flamboyant as fans of Zen Pinball have come to expect.

Each of the four tables included in the Avengers Chronicles pack is heavily focused on well-known stories—and given its title and timing, the banner table of the four is, obviously enough, the movie tie-in Avengers. As per the film, this one focuses on the Avengers’ combined efforts to take down Loki, and as such, players are able to select one of the six different heroes before heading out into the field; this affects not only the color and markings of the ball, but also the bonuses and missions played by that “character.” This central conceit is by far the neatest part of this particular table, especially when multiball kicks in, allowing you to help your Avengers to assemble. In terms of sheer gameplay, however, this table offers a fairly straightforward experience consisting mainly of ramps splitting off the two halves of the upper portion. This diverges somewhat as each character’s missions kick in, but by and large, it’s mainly about tagging targets in the center or managing ramp combos. In keeping with the S.H.I.E.L.D. motif, the table itself has a fairly spartan appearance, though there’s no shortage of visual trickery and entertainment as your heroes bound around the periphery of the screen while you play. Still, once you move past the terrific individualized ball system, the simplistic core of the table makes it perhaps the least prone to replay.

Then you’ve got the Fear Itself table, a reference to the comic storyline of the same name, and just the first of a few reminders of how plot-focused this new table pack really is. In keeping with the story, the table centers around the tale of an evil Asgardian god known as the Serpent, who has broken free of his imprisonment and is set to wreak havoc on Earth with the help of minion-avatars known as the Worthy.  Naturally, it’s up to the Avengers as led by Thor to put a stop to them. This table’s visual style is likely the most appealing of the bunch, hewing closely to the comics with a focus on Asgardian motif; fans of the series are likely to appreciate that Captain America’s broken shield, cleaved in half during the battle for Earth, features prominently in the center, though others are likely to wonder about its significance. Much of the table is defined by molten lava and hardened stone, something that also features prominently in the gameplay: your efforts to defeat the Worthy, for instance, may turn the ball into a brittle hunk of rock that is prone to shattering. A broad semi-circular loop at the base of the table, dotted with magnets, allows for the ball to be launched across the field, making this a fun table with a lot to offer.

The Infinity Gauntlet, by far the most outrageous of the tables in this pack, involves working towards the defeat of the mad titan Thanos. Wielding the titular Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos has become omnipotent, erasing half of all life in the universe in an effort to court the affections of Mistress Death. In fact, it is his monument to Death that dominates the upper half of this powerfully colorful and elaborate table, whose cosmic scale is evident in every corner: planets float throughout, meteor dust shifts along the loops, and the Silver Surfer himself bobs along the base of the table.  The visually impressive set requires players to take out each of the six gems adorning the Infinity Gauntlet, something that also introduces this pack’s wackiest gameplay as Thanos bends the fabric of reality. Whether time slows to a crawl, or the board flips upside down and backwards, there’s no shortage of “what the—“ moments here, reminiscent of the Mysterio tricks in Zen Pinball’s Spider-Man table in the first Marvel pack. It’s goofy, unpredictable, gaudy, and highly entertaining.

And then there’s World War Hulk, where Mr. Big, Green and Angry returns to Earth with a handful of equally destructive friends, seeking justice for his exile into space—something which killed his wife and unborn child. His vengeance means punishing his former superheroic compatriots, leaving New York a giant pile of rubble;  the table is littered with downed ships, destroyed roads, and even a decapitated Statue of Liberty. This also means the color palette here is fairly uniform, leaving orangey yellows and yellowy oranges as the dominant hues. As a result, this table is the least visually appealing of the bunch, even with the ball bouncing throughout the well-crafted debris, and with various nicely animated heroes duking it out in the background. The audio here is especially irritating as well, with a rather erudite Hulk furiously growling his way through a handful of oft-repeated phrases. It’s a good thing, then, that the gameplay is strong, though like the Avengers, it is essentially a ramp-focused table. If you can get past the bland color scheme, there’s quality to be found here.

With the Avengers movie still fairly fresh in the minds of moviegoers, it can be fairly easy to dismiss any Marvel-branded games as cheap, opportunistic tie-ins. However, despite its blatant branding and timing, Zen Pinball’s new Avengers Chronicles table pack is anything but, offering players the same level of quality gameplay that has become their hallmark. While it might be unsurprising that the movie tie-in table is easily the weakest of the bunch, the other three connect heavily to some of Marvel’s best comic-book plots, and are all the better for it. The visuals are strong, the tables are creative, and the twists that characterize each one make for some great themed pinball.  It seems hardly believable that there may still be anybody out there who enjoys pinball and isn’t snapping up Zen’s DLC on day one, but if you needed any reassurance that the Avengers pack is worth your money, rest assured that it is; now go out and get it.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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