Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Zen Pinball 2 - "Portal Pinball" (PS3/PS4/PS VITA)

Working in collaboration with the development team at Valve, Zen Studios has designed a pinball table that is more or less a tribute to the events that occurred in "Portal 2". For those of you who are unaware of the events that happened in said plot you'll find that the main protagonist, 'Chell' (a female Aperture Science Lab employee) awoke from a deeply induced sleep only to find Aperture labs abandoned, and in disrepair. Realizing that Chell was now awake the resident A.I., 'GLaDOS' ran Chell through the virtual ringer like a lab rat in order to test her logic skills. In order to escape, and make it to the surface Chell had to solve a series of mind bending puzzles using a portal gun which functioned as it's name suggests. The portal gun effectively opened up portals of a blue, and orange color allowing entry, and exit points through walls and other structures. With this tool Chell was ultimately able to trip switches, and guide lasers to activate once useless mechanisms as well as pass through said portals herself. In the midst of her trials Chell also met a seemingly friendly A.I. bot known as Wheatley who intervened trying to help her through the massive maze by giving her hints, and assisting her with some problem solving. Eventually though Wheatley became an opposing force himself, and posed threat alongside GLaDOS. Chell eventually made it to the surface only to find herself in a vast desert-like environment with only a companion cube to accompany her. Thus ending the sequel to the stellar first game.

Like 'Portal 2', 'Portal Pinball' features a lot of the things that the actual puzzle solving FPS video game offered up. The table itself is constructed very much like the Aperture Science Lab interior. It features adjustable cubes, excursion tunnels, hard light bridges, platforms, and other mechanical structures amidst an overgrowth of plant life all of which are each meant to test Chell's mental capabilities. In fact Chell stands not far from the main flippers ready to work her way through GLaDOS's provided trials, and training exercises. GLaDOS herself hangs down at the top left hand portion of the playing area amongst the pretzel shaped ramp where the bulk of table events are activated through the usual repeated pinball passes. She constantly reminds you of your failures via her voice-over commentary in a trolling way, and banters on about the fact that you that you will not be missed when you are gone. Along with GLaDOS comes the presence of the British sounding Wheatley in the dot matrix animation panels. He appears multiple times there as well as through various commentary driven tidbits scattered through the many table activated activities. As additional guest appearances you'll also find the robotic duo of ATLAS, and P-BODY returning for a triggered two pinball multi-ball event. By spelling out each of their names respectively through the appropriate ramp entries they'll appear standing upright, and side by side upon a floating platform at the upper right hand area of the Aperture playing field. Once together the multi-ball event will ensue with all of it's glorious point scoring jackpot opportunities.

Other table features worth noting include the turret factory bumpers at the middle right hand side of the playing with which an appropriate amount of pinball pings will spell out "Turret Factory", and raise up one of the towers for an entry into a secondary playing area that is not that much different than the "Rat Man's Den" Test Chamber. As far as portal action goes you'll find that the flippers which are each color coded in a similar way as the Portal gun's projected portals (Orange = Left / Blue = Right) will serve to open up actual functioning portals at various points across the Aperture building structure. For example holding the left main flipper in the upward position after striking the pinball will open up a small orange portal underneath the pretzel shaped ramp structure at the upper part of the playing field. Entering the pinball into the orange portal will transport the pinball to the extra blue flipper that is stationed at the center of the pretzel shaped ramp. I should probably mention that there are four flippers in total including the main ones as well as an orange one to the middle left, and the extra blue one on the pretzel shaped ramp structure that I mentioned before. As far as the orange portal is concerned it can can be used to score some combos supposing you can keep the pinball passing through ramps without pause.

Aside from those features you'll also find that two triangular bumpers located adjacent to the main flippers house two cubes which rotate when the bumpers are hit. When the two cubes are lined up in a certain way, and are activated through a pinball landed in the left side pocket ball capture that neighbors the secondary orange flipper a laser from the side of the table will shine through them, and trigger a couple of different scoring opportunities including one in which a pipe leaks blue repulsion fluids onto the pretzel shaped ramp. The other cube orientation will cause illuminated orbs to land on top of the turret factory bumpers adding significant point value boosts to the bumpers themselves. For those of you looking for simple scoring opportunities beyond that you'll find that there are a couple of ball capture features which have significant point values. One such capture, which launches the ball upwards after it's entry is located to the left side of the middle left orange flipper. It's the same capture pocket that ties-in with the cube/laser mechanism. The second ball capture is a ball lock mechanism located not far from a circular ball trap underneath the upper left hand portion of the pretzel shaped ramp structure. By gaining multipliers, and triggering certain Test Chambers via the elevator ball capture mechanism at the center of the upper playing field you can earn some hefty points by landing the pinball in said ball lock.

Another feature hidden amongst the intertwining, and looping ramp structure is in fact the elevator mechanism I just spoke about, and it acts as the main 'Test Chamber' selection hub. By striking the structure with the pinball it will raise up from the ground acting as a pinball capture. Once the pinball enters said elevator you will be able to choose from a select variety of different "Test Chamber" events (L & R trigger buttons) which will act as a means to eventually get you to the final battle against GLaDOS. There are six 'Test Chambers', or training missions in total, each of which are marked as you play through them via the lighted number panels located just above the main flippers. Amongst these Test Chambers you'll find "Rat Man's Den" in which a secondary playing field will appear allowing for point scoring in the millions. All you have to do to earn these points is direct the pinball/s you are gifted through the top serpentine pathways, and strike the targets just underneath said paths in order to light up several different marked targets.

There are actually two separate playing fields designed sort of like Rat Man's den within the 'Portal Pinball' table, one of which is activated separately through the 'Turret Towers' bumper event. Each variation comes complete with their own set of main flippers as well as targets of interest, and a serpentine looping of alleyways above them. The goals, and features in each forward facing playing field do vary, but for the most part you'll discover that the main focus will be to strike light up targets with the pinball, and pass the pinball through the serpentine alleyways, or into the provided targets of interest. Of course it goes without saying that there are a handful of other 'Test Chamber' events including one involving an excursion tunnel which makes a pathway for Chell to a blue portal as well as one with a hard light bridge as a theme, and one that incorporates Portal's patented thermal discouragement beam amongst others. Chell of course can interact with a couple of these Test Chamber trials/training missions through the appropriate on-table actions, and through the Test Chamber selection hub. It should also be known that there are sets of three alleys to the side of each of the main flippers. These alleys house animated icons that light up as the pinball pass through them. They also double as a means to spell words that coincide with certain table events, and 'Test Chamber' training missions.

As far as the launcher is concerned it is basically the tube-like structure in which the spherical Wheatley travels throughout Portal 2's Aperture building. Upon pressing the required button it will launch the ball at a rather fast speed making for one of the more troubling skillshot opportunities that Zen Studios has ever created. As you launch the pinball an orange portal will appear on one of three floating platforms set in place before the launching ramp. Your goal is to land the pinball into said portal before it disappears. It is definitely easier said than done, and after the first attempt the pinball will speed up upon launch requiring the player to be less aggressive with the launch button press.

When comparing the various Playstation console builds of the 'Portal Pinball' table I found that scoring on the PS3, and PS4 versions were more difficult than playing the same table on the PS Vita version. In fact it's probably geared towards more skilled Zen Pinball 2 players on the PS3, and PS4. While that may be a problem with some of you out there I feel it is fitting in that the Portal games were challenging themselves. If you are a more casual gamer and want to enjoy some easy high scores though I'd say go for the PS Vita version as it is much easier to send the pinball to the intended targets, because of the responsiveness of the Vita's top trigger buttons. If you own two, or all three Playstation consoles then you'll be fortunate enough to benefit from the cross-buy offer. This means that once you buy it, and  download it on one console that you can do the same on other Playstation consoles that you own. I highly suggest downloading it on the PS3, or PS Vita first though as it will make downloading it to the PS4 much easier.

The Verdict ...

I absolutely love this table! While I've never actually played the Portal games myself I did get to watch my nephew complete them, and in doing so I feel that Zen Studios definitely did the tribute table justice. Any fan of Portal that can get past the butthurt of not getting a 'Portal 3' game will definitely enjoy seeing Chell, Wheatley, GLaDOS, and the gang return once more to the gaming forefront. It is hands down a must for any Zen Pinball 2 player, and any Portal fan! The fact that it's cross-buy, and easily affordable makes this game DLC a no-brainer!

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