Designed in conjunction with PopCap Games, the Pinball FX2 - Plants vs. Zombies table more or less nails all of the ideals of a licensed pinball game. Easy to grasp, fun to play, but somewhat difficult to master, there is something here for casual players and veterans alike.
For casual players, the open and accessible playfield design is a plus. Ramps are easy to hit, the side outlanes (the bane of any pinball player) are set up with narrow entrances, and kickback resets are fairly easy to earn. As a result, the majority of ball drains are due to player error down the center. This is a good thing, as it means there is a much greater chance of keeping the ball in play, and for a casual player, game time is more important than score.
Veteran players, on the other hand, will appreciate the multiple game modes that are available on the table. Progressively moving through all of them is a bit more challenging than simply hitting a ramp. In addition to the standard modes, there are five missions, including a battle against Dr. Zomboss, each of which requires precision shooting in a limited amount of time.
Like many licensed pinball machines, Plants vs. Zombies incorporates elements from the original game into both the playfield as well as the individual modes. It stands alone as a themed pinball table, though if you're familiar with the original game, you'll be impressed by how much of the mechanics the table designers managed to capture.
Things start off simple enough with the skill shot. Drop the ball on the scuba zombie's head to score some bonus points. After that, it's on to the playfield. Your goal here is to start collecting sun and lighting targets to score points. Once the sunflower has been woken up, sun icons will randomly appear on the playfield. Roll over the sun icons to collect them. These are important because they allow you to purchase flower power-ups.
On the left hand side of the playfield is a target hole that leads to the flower pot. Sink the ball in here to purchase the currently selected flower. You can change the flower by looping the ball around the back of the playfield before hitting the flower pot hole. Each power-up behaves a little differently, with some affecting the properties of your ball, some planting themselves in defensive positions on the field and others going into your stash for on-demand use during zombie infestations.
The zombies are what make the Plants vs. Zombies pinball game memorable, as they are a feature that could never be done in a real-life machine. Aside from the random bonus zombie, most of these critters appear when a mission is started. It's up to you to kill them by shooting them all. If any of them reaches the welcome mat, you fail the mission. A variety of zombies appear, both basic and armored. One mission even includes a fog effect on the playfield.
Various forms of multi-ball are present. The most common is started by lighting the mail targets and then locking the balls into the mailbox. This also triggers the table's only achievement. Another multi-ball is triggered by enabling the dancing zombies.
Other bonus modes include Crazy Dave's Twiddy Dinkies shop and the Melon-Pult. To enable Crazy Dave, you have to light crazy on the playfield and then drop the ball into the center hole. Dave's bluish-green hatchback drives out on to the field and blocks a ramp. Hit both rear lights to open the door, and shoot the ball in for access. Items can be bought from the shop with money, and each item rewards you with either a score or sun bonus.
Enabling the Melon-Pult places a zombie on the field. You have a limited amount of time to aim the Melon-Pult and fire.
Also of note is sound usage. All of the included effects and background music sound as though they were pulled straight from Plants vs. Zombies. The voice-over announcer's segments, while new, fit right in with the existing material. If someone were in the next room over, it would be easy for them to mistake this for the original game.
About the only real negative to the Plants vs. Zombies table is the limited number of missions. As noted, there are only five available, which is a bit on the low side when it comes to pinball. That's not to say they aren't fun or challenging, just that a little more variety would have been a huge plus. Still, with everything else the table does right, it's not enough to hamper overall enjoyment.
In many ways, playing the Plants vs. Zombies table feels a lot like playing Data East's Hook or Jurassic Park tables or the original Williams Indiana Jones table. All three of those physical tables were easy to grasp and encouraged new players, yet still featured goals that challenged experienced pinball wizards. The same is true here.
Ultimately, the Plants vs. Zombies table for Pinball FX2 is an excellent choice, no matter your skill level. Beginners will find a low barrier to entry while experienced players will enjoy the challenge of the trickier shots. At a mere 240 Microsoft points ($3 USD), you'll still have plenty of sun to spare.
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