Sunday, July 12, 2015

Zen Pinball 2: Ant-Man (PS3/PS4/PS VITA)

Beyond what I've seen in the movie trailers I have absolutely no clue as to what the Ant-Man origin story, or continued Marvel lore entails. It's a given that the rogue protagonist who plays the role of the miniscule hero is gifted his abilities through the scientifically created suit, and helmet that he wears. In a similar way as the Iron-Man saga we are also presented with a hint via the trailers that a certain someone is out to steal the technology, and that they eventually do. Thus creating the series' villain, the 'Yellowjacket'. I imagine all sorts of shenanigans go on as 'Scott Lang (aka, Ant-Man)' changes sizes, and commands armies of ants to defeat his almost equally sized adversary. There will no doubt be a criminal aspect thrown in as well since Scott led a former life of crime before joining forces with 'Hope Van Dyne/Hank Pym' for the good fight.

For those of you looking for that usual Marvel history lesson fret not as I did do some online digging in order to provide at least a few factoids that relate to Ant-Man's source material. Those factoids go as follows ... Like many of Marvel's masterpieces 'Ant-Man' had his humble beginnings as a guest character in a series that was not his own. In September of 1962, in the pages of a comic book known as "Tales to Astonish #35" the original Ant-Man (aka, Hank Pym) made his debut appearance. Unlike the movie protagonist Hank created, and sported the unique size and strength changing apparatus as a scientific way to combat the world's many problems. You could say he was one of Marvel's geniuses in that respect.

Thanks to the initial trio of comic book legends (Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby) whom each contributed to the origin story of Ant-Man the pint-sized hero that was Pym was able to pave the way for other characters of interest to sport the same mantle through the years, but to a different affect. Originally Hank Pym was the scientist who crafted, and the Ant-Man suit/helmet combo, but through chance encounters Pym's legacy was passed on. In the Scott Lang continuation Scott effectively steals the suit to save his daughter only to be caught by authorities, and trained later under the tutelage of Hank Pym himself in order to turn his life around for the better. Of course it goes without saying that the epic saga did not end with Hank, or Scott, and has in fact been picked up to this day as an ongoing series in the ever-expanding Marvel multi-verse. In total there are four men (possibly more ...) who have each donned the Ant-Man guise according to their own unique situations. This includes Hank Pym, Scott Lang, Eric O'Grady, and Chris McCarthy. While the story is a continuation of sorts that has been built upon through the years other famed Marvel artists including 'Robert Kirkman' and 'Phil Hester' have also contributed their visual, and novel interpretation of the characters/situations at hand. With the success of the Ant-Man film, and the revival of the super-hero we may yet see more in the way of comic book spin-offs, merchandise, video games, and films. Let us hope so!

When it comes to the Zen Pinball 2 Ant-Man tribute table the playing field is nothing short of spectacular. It is more open, and user-friendly than many of the tables released before it. In fact the many scoring opportunities that you get with this highly affordable pinball experience will have you racking up points in the high millions if you don't get too careless ...

The base of the Ant-Man table carries with it Ant-Man inclusive art as one might expect. Just above the bottom main flippers is a torso image of the super-hero himself. It is done up in a more modern, and less comic book style, but is appealing to look at nonetheless. Above said image lies a technological tapestry of gadgets, and gizmos as well as a cameo of Hank Pym, and his female assistant. In the way of 3D bobbles, and accompanying animations you'll find a rotating extra large Ant-Man helmet to the middle left hand side of the playing field. You'll also find Ant-Man (Scott Lang) himself standing ready in suit, and helmet at the lower right hand side of the same playing field, not far from the main flippers themselves. Even good old Hank Pym gets his 3D model standing proud, and tall as he lectures Scott from the top left hand corner of the pinball table structure. New to the Zen Pinball 2 table mechanics is a 3D interactive particle ball that shrinks as you pass the pinball up the center, and into the ping targets behind it's caged enclosure. Once it is fully downsized via pinball strikes the particle ball pinball will fall through the cage bars, and be usable in a multi-ball experience that can reward the player millions of bonus points should they be able to pass it back up the center enclosure, and looping ramp junction.

In the way of ramps, bumpers, and half-pipes you'll find that they are mostly layered, and setup in a fashion that gives that double horseshoe orientation that I've talked about with some earlier tables. In the case of the ramps you'll find that the half-pipes are stacked above them, and that the half-pipes hug the inner sides of the table following the sides of the playing area back towards the flippers. With the exception of the center half-pipe that simply juts out dead center like a slithering snake. I say "ramps" loosely, but actually there is only one really noticeable ramp entrance towards the center particle ball enclosure, and it has horseshoe shaped lanes organized in a rainbow style fashion around it. Passing the pinball through these lanes, and ramps can offer up some high score bonuses as they tie-in with certain table events, jackpots, and the two skillshots that Hank Pym's voice describes before the ball launch. As far as the set of four themed bumpers that I spoke of earlier go you'll find that they lie at the upper left side of the ramp in a tight grouping that ultimately leads the ball back out through the barren center area towards the main flippers. It should be noted that some ramp/lane entries will take the pinball into the half-pipes, and allow the ball to be flipped upwards to the right hand side via a third middle flipper that is located beside the thin wall next to the exit part of the bumper grouping. If hit right it will pass into a right side half-pipe for extended combo opportunities. The more successful ramp, lane, and half-pipe passes you make without failing the greater your point reward will be.

Along with these mainstay features you'll find that "Hurry Up" events, and triggered events in general will open up different table engagements, some of which I've personally yet to trigger. There's actually a 3D yellowjacket/wasp that will fly in at one point from the left hand side of the screen as well as a center embedded playing field with rotating platforms which is made playable after you send the pinball down the right hand half-pipe, and into the elevator capture that raises to capture the ball. Once the ball is captured in said mechanism the 3D model of Ant-Man which stands adjacent to it will shrink, and begin the middle area bonus playing field scenario. Unlike most separate playing areas this one does not appear in it's own separate screen, but is instead played through the normal view. Once the pinball falls past the two treadmill-like platforms/flippers it will give you a bonus score according to how long you were able to keep the pinball up.

Another hidden area comes in the form of an imprisoned image of  Scott's daughter Cassie. It is located off screen to the bottom left hand side of the playing field, down below the left side of the left flipper. This puzzle style mini-playing area acts as a way to get your pinball back into play. It's a sort of ball save that is activated by a hit to a lower left hand target strike. The catch is that you must alternate pressing both flipper buttons rapidly once the pinball enters the trap until it reaches the upper exit hole. Doing this will give you a chance at redemption much like Scott was given a second chance by Hank Pym. Supposing you should fail to free the ball from the trap, however, it will count as a lost ball. Aside from that extra playing field feature you'll also find a right hand side ball capture that comes in the form of a gadget arm with a cylindrical magnet trap. This is a "Magna Save" that will trap steel pinballs that enter, and in turn will activate the save function of the right outlane (beside the bottom right flipper). Only the steel pinballs will work with it.

Other mentionable features, and events include a mechanical laser guided main launcher that is button press sensitive, and an Ant-Man target event which requires the use of flipper buttons for aiming as well as the "X" button for firing at said target. As usual you'll also find two large themed trapezoid shaped bumpers adjacent to each bottom flipper as well as light up "X" lanes that afford you things like ball saves, and score multipliers. Utilizing every target, and event to it's fullest will allow you to climb that leaderboard ladder, and improve upon your current highest score! Let me not forget to mention that there are also a total of three different skillshot opportunities. Two of which Hank Pym's voice-actor, and 3D model points out for you if you delay your pinball launch.

When it comes down to version preference I weighed the playability of the console versions, and the PS Vita one heavily. As usual the PS Vita version of Zen Studio's Ant-Man table is much easier to score on due to the more accurate shoulder button sensitivity, and finger pressure requirements. The PS4 version's inclusion of the Dualshock4 controller functionality/significantly hinders table progress, and ball handling unless you reassign the flipper buttons to "R1 & L1". Even then it's still it's not as easy to handle the ball as it is on the PS Vita. In regards to the PS3 the controller does feel a bit better than the PS4's in handling, but something about the onscreen ball speed, and movement differs from what the PS Vita provides making it slightly, but effectively less accurate for scoring. With that being said all three versions are cross-buy, and fun enough. If you buy the table for one Playstation console, and own one of the others I mentioned you can download it to the secondary console of choice via the dashboard "Download List". It's not that hard to do.

The Verdict ...

This is by far one of the most user friendly, and inviting Zen Pinball 2 tables I've played, to date. While the scoring on it may be slightly more complicated on the PS3, and PS4 it still makes scoring in general an easy task across all platforms just so long as you don't get hasty, or careless with your pinball supply. As far as the soundtrack goes you'll find an impressive thematic tune playing in the background as well as accompanying sound effects, and voice-overs that tend to mimic the voices of Hollywood actors. The voice-overs that come from Hank Pym's character, and Scott Lang (aka, Ant-Man) definitely seem to stay more true to the film adaptation of the given plot. In fact this table as a whole seems to be more of a film tribute than a comic book one. Hank's voice actor, for example sounds a lot like the actor Michael Douglas who takes on the role of Hank Pym in the theatrical release of Ant-Man. Even the table art, and 3D models are reminiscent of the film's re-imagining of the Marvel comic related events.

If you are a Marvel, Ant-Man, superhero, or plain old Zen Pinball 2 fan this table is absolutely a "must buy"!!! I cannot stress that enough. It's easily affordable as a standalone DLC add-on ($2.99), and will not break your wallet, purse, or bank account in the process of buying it. It's the type of DLC that offers you immensely more bang for your buck as it's something than can be enjoyed over, and over again due to it's impressive replay value. You could say it's the perfect example of a good DLC offering. Be sure not to miss out on it as it will be released this coming Tuesday for the lowly price of $2.99 (I think? That is the usual going price ...)! Also keep in mind it carries with it a signature PSN trophy for all you trophy hounds out there!!!

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