To Tilt or Not to Tilt?
Zen Studios’ excellent Marvel-themed console pinball title, Marvel Pinball, had already received much critical acclaim and positive reception from gamers when it simply included the initial run of pinball tables, featuring the likes of Wolverine, Spider-Man, Iron Man and Blade. With the Vengeance and Virtue DLC pack, Zen Studios has added a whopping four new tables to the mix, which – considering the original title also had four – is saying quite a lot. New contenders Ghost Rider, Thor, Moon Knight, and X-Men each add a unique flavor to the Marvel-flavored stew that, including other downloadable tables, now offers a total of eleven different pinball experiences!
The new tables continue to expand upon what Zen Studios have already proven: they can create a pinball video game that rivals the real thing in terms of feel, look, and sound. Each of the tables looks like you would expect a pinball machine in your local arcade to look, complete with all the bells and whistles (and blinking lights) that it should have.Ball physics are polished and flow naturally; while you can never predict where a ball will land in a given situation, for example when launching it into play, you can certainly anticipate your timing when pulling off tricky maneuvers with the flippers or engaging in any of the various quests each table has to offer.
Though the table mechanics behave as they would in real life, Zen Studios have taken advantage of the video game medium by adding plenty of visual and gameplay bonuses that simply wouldn’t be possible in the real world. Characters appear out of the set dressing on the peripheries of the tables at certain times, such as the frost giant Ymir coming out of his cave on the Thor table or Bushman stalking up behind an unsuspecting Moon Knight. The nominal heroes will also engage in physical battle with a host of their adversaries: Thor will fly across the table to grapple with his twisted half-brother Loki, while Magneto prefers to summon a spinning array of metal tiles to fling towards Professor X. Whether it’s a fire-breathing dragon, laser beams, or a magical road that leads to Asgard, these tables certainly step outside the bounds of what a traditional pinball table could offer to include as much fantastical content as possible.
Tabling the Motion
The tables themselves are lovingly crafted, and the care and skill that went into each one clearly shows. Each moment, each press of a flipper seemingly reveals something new; a new area, a new pick-up, a new way to rack up points. It takes quite a while to discover all the hidden secrets each table has to offer (the list of quests and activities on each table is massive!), and even longer to improve your skill to the point where you can participate in all a table has in store in one game. As certain events are triggered, the layout of the table can change slightly; ramps extend, raise, or lower, providing access to all-new areas. Each table’s source materials permeates throughout its design, including the characters, colors, sounds, and even the ball launchers (like an old-fashioned wooden catapult-like contraption in Thor’s board or a machine built from a hellish chain and metallic motorcycle wheels on Ghost Rider’s table).
Featuring a color palette pulled straight from its source material – lots of fiery reds and yellows on the Ghost Rider table, vibrant neons on the X-Men machine, with Moon Knight’s board saturated in cool blue and purple hues -, each table easily evokes a distinct visual reaction, and you might find yourself choosing a favorite based on which color scheme you prefer. I found the gamut of colors on Thor’s table to be the most pleasing to the eye, running from cool to warm and incorporating the whole spectrum, while Moon Knight’s stage at times added a cool ethereal ghostly trail to the ball.
A Disturbance in the Force
Unfortunately, the table design and color structure can, at times, detract from the overall enjoyment, too. Ghost Rider and Moon Knight were stark opposites, with the former table being incredibly busy and the latter seemingly a bit dull and repetitive, making for experiences I chose to spend less time with. Meanwhile, X-Men’s choice of neon colors (and lots of different ones!) made the table so visually busy that it was sometimes difficult to track the ball – especially when multiple balls came into play! Overall, these complaints, while valid, are fairly minor, and simply mean that it all comes down to personal preference.
A more noteworthy qualm I had was with the LCD screen in the top left corner of the screen. Displaying short animations during gameplay, instructions on how to accomplish various tasks, and your running score, I wish more had been done to make this screen more useful. The score and animations are fine – they’re not necessary to the gameplay, and a quick glance conveys all necessary information. But objectives and instructions for quests and boss fights are more of an issue. Plain text, unaccompanied by any voice-over (with as much chattering as the heroes and villains do during an average session, here’s an instance where we actually needed to hear them!) scrolls across the window or flashes on it for a brief moment. It’s difficult enough to find one or two seconds to look at the screen while the ball flies around the table, but if you don’t time it just perfectly, you stand a good chance of either not knowing what needs to be done to be victorious or losing your ball. No matter which table you play on, no matter what quest you attempt, the LCD display is a persistent problem worthy of mention.
The Final Verdict
Vengeance and Virtue takes the winning formula from Marvel Pinball and expands it with a nice selection of additional tables, each lovingly crafted and packed to the brim with hidden goodness to ensure plenty of replay value. Add to that the ne’er-fail addictive qualities of traditional pinball and even more Marvel characters than you can swing an ancient godly war hammer at, and there’s very little not to love. Some design choices may be off-putting to the eyes, such as bright colors obscuring the ball or a board busy and packed with flashing lights and moving parts, but in general a round of pinball has never felt so much like a true adventure! Online options are there, but due to a dearth of available players you’re more likely to just enjoy some local multiplayer or play with friends online who also own the DLC. Easy to learn but difficult to master, Vengeance and Virtue gives four new reasons to get into the pinball groove.