Zen Studios has built enough of a portfolio that it should be recognized as one of the better virtual pinball developers. While the original Pinball FX may be hit-and-miss with some players, Zen's work on Zen Pinball on the PlayStation Network and Pinball FX 2 on Xbox Live Arcade has shown significant improvements. It wouldn't be surprising if the creations were made into real tables at some point. Zen's work on original tables also caught the eye of the people at Marvel, who contracted them to make some tables. The initial pack started with Blade, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Wolverine — characters who are well-known in their own right and have recently appeared in movies. Captain America and the Fantastic Four joined later, but all of the tables were quite good with some intriguing gimmicks that added some new tweaks to the basic pinball formula. Marvel seems pleased, as it has let Zen create more Marvel-themed pinball tables in Marvel Pinball: Vengeance and Virtue, an add-on for Pinball FX 2 on XBLA and Marvel Pinball for PSN. This one is definitely a boon for pinball enthusiasts.
Like the previous Marvel pack, Vengeance and Virtue features four tables, each starring a hero or hero group that casual fans may recognize. The first table features the most recognizable characters in the pack: the X-Men. This one is packed with a multitude of ramps that may be borderline overkill for some. There are lots of bonuses here, and the trick shot is difficult to hit due to a lack of an analog plunger. There are plenty of quests and lots of interaction with Magneto at the top center of the table. While he won't activate all of the time, his magnetic repulsion of the ball at random angles adds some excitement. There are a few bonuses to go along with the quests, and it seems easy to get multiball, but it isn't a flawless table. There are extra flippers on both the left and right upper halves of the board, but they're so well hidden that you'll miss them. Also, the ball seems to have a bad tendency to go toward the pits on either side of the flipper board, causing abrupt ends to multiball sessions and bad losses of the ball. Still, it is an enjoyable table, and the possibilities for high scores will keep this in rotation for those who want to boost their pinball wizard score.
The second table features Thor, another character who should be recognizable because of a recent film. His table is mostly open in the middle, with bumpers on the left side and ramps at the uppermost corners. The upper middle needs to be hit three times before the Bifrost opens, and doing so initiates missions that show Thor fighting on the table against the Frost Giants, Lava Demons, Loki and the Destroyer armor. Getting the road to open is easier than initiating other quests in other tables, so expect some big bonus opportunities here. It still has a problem with keeping the bonus flippers hidden, so some quests may be more difficult to accomplish. There is constant chatter from Thor about Asgard and how great it is, and while it's fitting, it can get annoying when you hear it often during a high score run. Finally, this is the only table in the pack that doesn't feature a skill shot, so that may surprise newer pinball fans.
The third table, Ghost Rider, should also be recognizable from the movie a few years ago and the sequel, which is due in theaters soon. The table features a Lucifer figure that has a moving stopper, so it's a challenge to get the ball in his pit to activate a bonus or get a villain to appear. There are plenty of ramps and loopbacks, though your ball rarely makes it all the way up the center ramp, increasing the chance of it coming straight down between the flippers. The shotgun on the left side makes for a good gimmick since you can shoot pinballs from it into a small range of targets, and at least one enemy does a decent job of interfering with the ball a few times. The hidden flipper thing is still here, but it isn't so bad since there's only one on the top left of the screen. The more annoying aspect of the table is a Lucifer bet where you can either get 500,000 points and a ball save or 5,000,000 without a ball save. The trick is that he'll do a quick ball drop down the center of the table, and even a table tilt doesn't sway the odds in your favor, so this an immediate win in his favor unless you get lucky.
Only die-hard Marvel fans may recognize the final table. Interestingly enough, the relatively unknown status of Moon Knight has caused his table to be the most daring and exciting of the bunch. The basic elements of a pinball table are here, including a difficult skill shot and lots of ramps and entryways, though most only open up periodically. There's also a third flipper, and it stands out better here than in the three other tables in the set. The table starts with a much more intricate setup, complete with cut scenes. Multiball gives each ball a white hue, similar to how other tables handle multiball, but this time, all of the balls drop from a spaceship that's flying high above the table. Fighting with villains gives you close-ups of the introductions before gameplay resumes. Then there are the minigames, which let you use the LED screen to fighting thugs and use the Moon Knight figure to shoot at cut-outs of thugs with a pinball crossbow. It's this out-of-the-box thinking that makes the table so impressive.
Don't expect much of a change from a technical standpoint. The controls remain accurate, and the simple layout ensures no accidental tilts. The graphics shine as far as particle effects go, and the frame rate is silky smooth no matter what's happening on-screen. The bright colors hamper a few of the tables in that it's tough to see where your ball is during frantic moments, but you'll get used to it. The voice work may not be the same as the movies or animated series, but they work well, with only a few feeling slightly out of place. The only thing that'll remain puzzling is the scorn you get for losing the last ball, followed by immediate praise for getting a high score. Beyond that, fans of Pinball FX 2 and Marvel Pinball should know what to expect.
The recent tables crafted by Zen Studios show an understanding for basic pinball appeal as well as a willingness to try something that only video games could pull off. The Marvel Pinball: Vengeance and Virtue pack is no different, as even the weakest tables are fun in their own way.
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