The Marvel universe isn't a new one for the pinball wizards over at Zen Studios, so when the team announced it was working on a Marvel Civil War table for Pinball FX2, fan anticipation was high. Attempting to convert a major event in Marvel comics history into a playable pinball table is no small feat, and while Zen succeeded in capturing key moments of the story line, the actual gameplay isn't quite as good as some of the company's prior work.
If you're not familiar with the Civil War plot, it was a comic series that split the Marvel superheroes into two groups. Following a devastating event, which destroyed most of Stamford, Connecticut, the government required all superheroes to officially register and reveal their secret identities. The pro-registration side was led by Iron Man. The anti-registration side was led by Captain America. Both sides battled it out in an attempt to move forward with what they thought was best for all mutant-kind.
The Marvel Civil War pinball table kicks off with the Stamford incident. A comic-style animated news report describes the destruction, while a two-ball multi-ball round has you attempting to rescue survivors by completing loops. This continues until one of the balls drains. As soon as that happens, the flippers lock up and your base score is set. Subsequent games give you the option of starting with Stamford or simply using a previously earned high score and starting the game by picking your side.
You start the core of the game by choosing to play as Captain America or Iron Man. The goal is to gain followers by completing actions on the table and then getting into a face-off with your opponent. The number of followers you have before triggering a fight determines the difficultly of the fight. Although these battles are supposed to be a highlight of the table, they are actually one of its weakest points.
With the screen a dark shade of red, the table looks impressive, but trying to pick out a flashing red target isn't the most straightforward thing, especially when it's not the only light on the table. After playing a few times, you start to get a feel for where the ball needs to go, but it's a shame that it isn't obvious on the first go-round. This is an issue with most of the table's modes. Despite having a fairly structured setup, it's difficult to tell exactly what's going on just by looking at the board. The visual design is heavy on red and blue. It looks good and fits well with the overall theme, but the cost is gameplay clarity.
To accompany the gameplay modes, the table includes quotes from the story, which are delivered by Captain America and Iron Man as you progress. It's impressive enough the first time around, but because the events always seem to happen in the same order, a feeling of repetition quickly sets in.
Ignoring the license for a bit, the core table design in Marvel Civil War is one that leans toward precision play. This isn't a table where a casual player is going to excel. It's quite demanding when it comes to hitting targets and earning the big jackpots.
Looking at the table from screenshots, the open area in the center may look like it gives you a lot of freedom, but all of the lane and ramp shots are narrow. The center lane ejects the ball back at you with a decent amount of speed, so a single mistaken shot can result in your ball coming straight down, toward the center drain. Both side drains feature good-sized openings, which means uncontrolled ricochets are likely to result in a lost ball.
Compared to some of Zen's other tables, the main flippers seem to be slightly farther apart, though it's possible that's merely a perception issue. What's not a perception issue is the way in which the upper ramps drain into the lower table. Instead of dropping near the top of the lane and letting the ball roll down to the flippers, the upper level extends to the inner edge of the flippers. As a result, when the ball drops, it pretty much drops right on top of a flipper, giving you little time to accurately respond.
In and of itself, the more challenging nature of the table design isn't a bad thing, but when combined with the lack of clarity in the game modes, it tends to feel a little rough. For example, there are certain events that will cause Captain America or Iron Man to kick the ball through what is essentially an invisible ramp or, in another case, cause the ball to jump across the flippers on the upper level. These would sometimes trigger unintentionally, resulting in confusion. When you have a game that requires precision, player confusion is the last thing that should be happening.
If you're looking to challenge yourself and don't mind spending a bit of time memorizing the table and modes, Marvel Civil War isn't a bad choice, but it isn't among Zen's best. Realize that the balance between gameplay and design tilts more toward the design side. For the casual player, you're better off sticking with a friendlier table such as Ms. Splosion Man or Plants vs. Zombies.
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