Saturday, August 23, 2014

Zen Pinball 2 - "The Walking Dead" DLC (PS3/PS4/PS VITA)

These days the zombie apocalypse, or thoughts of it seem to be on everyone's minds. It has spawned real concern of a worldwide zombie pandemic amongst the peoples of the world as well as given us American citizens some noteworthy entertainment opportunities. Amongst the more well known zombie related entertainment offerings the televised series "The Walking Dead", which has it's own brand of zombies (aka, Walkers), seems to reign supreme above all else these days. It's practically everywhere you turn. Bookstores, DVD retailers, and department stores are all selling, and promoting items related to the popular franchise. The television series itself has gained some serious notoriety since it's debut, and has in turn inspired everyone from toy makers to video game developers to give their own personal spin on the long running, and still unfinished television show. Not long ago TellTale Games, also dazzled the Walking Dead fanbase with an interactive novel style game that took in account a new cast of characters, and survival situations not shown in the original series. We got to fall in love with the characters that TellTale provided, and watch in horror as some of our favorites lost their lives in a truly grisly manner. Ultimately TellTale's story concluded with young Clementine being left without the father figure she had found with Lee leaving the gaming community shocked in disbelief. Like the series, the game of the same name was episodic in nature, and offered many twists regarding the surviving civilians of the world's populous. It is this aspect of storytelling, and provided plot material that Zen Studios has harnessed, and utilized in a pinball tribute that is not unlike TellTale Game's own creation ...

Giving a proper nod to the well crafted "The Walking Dead" video game creation of developer TellTale Games, Zen Studios has constructed a "Zen Pinball 2" tribute table of the same name which takes in account all episodes of the digital novel style mini-series including the various events, locales, and characters who contributed to the dark story. When you first lay eyes upon the newly designed pinball table you will more than likely recognize all of it's features, assuming you played through the TellTale Games game. Clementine, one of the main persons of interest who tugged at the heartstrings of us all is immortalized as a 3D character element near the bottom flippers. She moves about, and reacts to certain events that are triggered as the player bings the pinball around the walker infested playing field. Lee, another fan favorite, and major roleplayer in TellTale's Walking Dead extension also debuts as a 3D model on this particular pinball tribute. At times he will defend Clementine, and the other voiced characters as zombies try to attack. Other times he will comfort Clementine with a game of soccer when the "Smile" spelling event is triggered.

Triggering events on this table, as you can probably imagine can be done in a variety of different ways including through the striking of targets, and ramp/lane access. After launching the pinball via the axe launcher (Yes, I said "Axe") you will find multiple lanes with light up words (Sniper, Swarm, Smile, Fortify) to access, as well as bumpers, zombie targets (a moving zombie pinball, walker hands, a walker coming out of a grate, and miniature attacking/advancing walkers), pit holes, and ramps designed like the interstate junctions of Georgia. There is even a 3D town model (Savannah, Georgia) with tiny walkers traversing the streets surrounding the playing field. You'll find that the town square in which the survivors fought for their lives still very much intact, as well as the barn where the cannibalistic family were trying to serve Lee, and his friends a human steak. As a mini-playing area (with it's own set of flippers) the table developer has also made the Everett Pharmacy/Drugstore (Macon, Georgia) a point of interest.

In the way of table art you will find that TellTale's artists decided to contribute to the table with their own unique brand of art which was first shown in TellTale Game's "The Walking Dead". Clementine takes front, and center beside Lee, and three other contributing characters. While not all characters are displayed through art, or 3D models you will hear several different voices which are voiced by the original voice actors/actresses. Amongst the voices you will hear Duck, Shane, and Kenny pleading for their lives as offscreen zombies are bearing down on their whereabouts. You'll even hear the familiar voices of Lee, and Clementine as they help each other through some difficult situations. In regards to the events that are offered you'll find that once you have spelled out each lane word via multiple passes, or have hit the correct target/s enough you will be prompted to either choose a course of action via an onscreen mini-screen, or take down zombies via a sniping (shooting gallery) mini-game amongst other things. Other such on-table event activities include the repeated striking of a moving zombie pinball on a darkened playing field, the fending off of a zombie/walker horde that's similar to the advancing zombies of the "Plants vs Zombies" Zen Pinball 2 table, and the striking of the zombie grate target as well as the striking of the walker hands which act as a ball capture the table's multi-ball event.

Zen Studio's tribute table, like TellTale's game is all about the choices you make. At times when selecting a triggered episode/event you will be asked to fight, help, or even save one of the other characters you have come to know along your journey. Like TellTale's game the choices pretty much remain the same, and like the before mentioned game the applied choices will ultimately affect the outcome of your playthrough. In the way of zombie related events there are certain on-table episodes/events that will have you defending another character for a 3D zombie model through precise table passes, and target strikes. One thing mentioned during my description of the table is that there is a walker popping up out of a grate on the playing field. This particular zombie target must be struck multiple times to be able to hit the hole that lies just beyond him. During the protect/fight choices the zombie coming out of the grate will also double as a means of taking the current enemy out. Aside from the zombie targets you will also be tasked with collecting supplies/rations via ramp, and lane passes.

As with any Zen Pinball 2 table you will also find helpful scoring features in the form of left, and right kickbacks, ball saves, and even skill shots. Scoring big on the table is unfortunately about as difficult as surviving a zombie apocalypse though. Whenever the ball nears the bottom lanes it will bounce about like mad often times escaping your flippers through the right, and left kickback areas. There's little you can do to avoid it as the triangular flipper bumpers will help tip the pinball over the side more often than not. For those of you looking to cash in on those extra skill shot points (1 million this time around) you will have to launch the ball quickly over to the left flipper, and then send it sailing up the church bell ramp before the red skill shot light goes out. I can tell you from experience that the skill shot is by far the hardest one to obtain yet. I imagine the one million point bonus has a lot to do with that fact.

In regards to my favorite platform for "The Walking Dead" table I couldn't really find a definitive favorite. Each table had it's pros, and cons. The PS Vita table for example dwarfed the playing immensely field during the lights out zombie events making it hard to tell what was going on. At the same time though accessing ramps, and getting the skill shot was easier on the PS Vita than on the PS3, and PS4. When it came down to the PS3, and PS4 versions of the table the lights out zombie events were easier to see, and the ramps/lanes were alright in regards to access, but the shoulder buttons proved to be a big issue in that the speed of the ball coming towards the bottom flippers on this table is ridiculously fast for the somewhat cramped playing field. I guess the only good thing coming out of owning the PSN versions of "The Walking Dead" table is that they are a "Cross-Buy".

Stuff I Forgot To Mention ...

I'm sure some of you are curious as to what special pinballs Zen Studios has included this time around. As I mentioned earlier on on the review there is a lights out, or darkened event where the table is plunged into darkness, and the moans of zombies/walkers can be heard. It's during this event that you'll be tasked with striking a zombie head pinball with your pinball as it moves across, and in front of the lanes and ramps. Hitting it each time will score you 100,000 points, and ending the event even more. Another pinball change comes with the "Smile" spelling event. It's during this event that you'll see the 3D model of Clementine dribbling a soccer ball near the main flippers. Once the event is triggered, and "Smile" is spelled out through multiple ramp passes the pinball will turn into a miniature soccer ball. Once this happens you'll have to pass the soccer pinball through the "Smile" lane.

Another thing I need to explain is the "Sniper" spelling event. Like the "Smile" event the "Sniper" event will require multiple lane passes with the pinball in order to spell out the word "Sniper". Once the word is spelled out, and the pinball passes up the lane again the shooting gallery mini-game that I talked about earlier will appear onscreen. In the sniper crosshairs which encircle the screen you'll see a crude 2D rendition of the Savannah square with open windows in the various buildings. At random times, and random places zombie targets will appear in the windows. You will have to shoot them without missing by strafing left to right with the appropriate shoulder buttons (L = Left / R = Right), and follow up by pressing the "X" button as the crosshairs line up with the target. The catch is that you have a limited amount of bullets, and with each shot you'll get close to the million point bonus.

The Verdict ...

My recommendation is going to seem a little odd after that last paragraph, but please hear me out. Visually, and audio-wise Zen studio's "The Walking Dead" tribute table is truly stunning. It's everything that TellTale's game was, and then some. The biggest difference between the games lies with the fact that this is a pinball table, and TellTales's game was an actual game. The choices you had to make during your playthrough of the TellTale Walking Dead episodes are still the same here, but must be taken on with a pinball, and flippers. What turns me off about the table's design though is that Zen Studios repeated an attempt to incorporate an automatically applied downsized view that dwarfs the playing field unnecessarily. They did this in the previous "Guardians of the Galaxy" table, and did it again here. The table downsizing really doesn't bode well on the PS Vita, and honestly doesn't do much for the PS3, or PS4 either. The added fact that the general speed of the pinball, and the bouncy nature of it near the kickback lanes makes it a tough table to get a high score on. In fact I'd say this is one of the most difficult tables to score on yet.

With that being said it's not a bad table overall. It's playable, and the fact that it's "Cross-Buy" really makes the purchase worthwhile (assuming you have multiple Playstation consoles). I imagine the table will cost around $2.99 as usual, and for DLC that is not bad at all. I loved the episodes I got to play of the TellTale game, and seeing it all come to life again on a Zen Pinball 2 table was pretty darn cool. The fact that it features locales from Georgia (the state I hail from) ranks up high on my "Awesome" meter. I'm gonna go ahead, and give this DLC my seal of approval. It has a few kinks, but nothing that can't be handled via some seriously strategic gameplay. Just be sure to learn the table, and how to hold the pinball with your flippers, and you'll do good.

The table DLC will be available on multiple gaming platforms on August the 26th including iOS, Playstation consoles, Xbox consoles, and Wii U. Be sure not to miss out! So for my top score is over 25 million.

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