Thursday, October 29, 2015

Zen Pinball 2 - "Balls of Glory" (PS4)

It's not a normal thing for Zen Studios to step outside the comfort zone of their "E - T" rating spectrum in regards to the table themes they choose to take on. You can imagine my own personal surprise at the fact that they actually went after "MA" rated late night cartoons this time around. While the cartoons themselves are often times subject to media scrutiny, and looming controversy due to their overly explicit content the tables did seem to stray away from that mindset, and maintain the common decency which Zen Studios is known for. You won't hear cussing, or anything questionable in the way of quotes, but you will still find the often times unapologetic, and sarcastically dark humor associated with each of the four television shows embedded within. Among the lot, which you will be getting for a single affordable price ($9.99) are "Family Guy", "Bob's Burgers", "Archer", and "American Dad!". Each of which comes complete with character based scoring objectives, and features as well as events that tie-in with fan favorite episodes pertaining to the long running series. Like the cartoons that they mimic every table in the set comes to life with replicated character animations that look as if they were ripped straight from the shows themselves, and accompanying voice-overs that seems to have been contributed by each of the original voice actors, and actresses. It is truly fan service at it's finest. In saying that, and realizing that that's the case I've come to understand that if you've not followed the cartoons like me you'll be completely lost in the puns, memes, and comedic jabs that are thrown out at the gamers in a sort of massive assumption of common understanding. It's not necessarily a bad thing though.

When it comes down to it I personally found that the "Balls of Glory" set wasn't the perfect collaboration I'd hoped it would be. Between having a translation of character based events geared towards longtime viewers/fans, and the lack of an easily understood origin story presentation meant to get gamers interested in the shows it was an oddly conflicting experience. For one thing having little to no prior understanding of the shows associated with the tables kept me from making sense of certain things, and without that understanding the humor associated with a few of the shows often times fell flat on it's face for me like some clumsy clown. While this will not likely be the same for a lot of you it did honestly affect my opinions towards the tables as you can already tell. In light of it all I find myself a deeply apologetic to the content creators, and fans who will more than likely understand, and enjoy the tables more than I did. I hope you understand where I'm coming from with the following critiques, and that you take it all with a grain of salt. I will be able to deliver the functionality, and feature explanations as usual, but when it comes to the themes themselves I'll have to keep it vague as I'd likely end up confusing the heck out of you. It would be like a blind man leading an army of blind men, and women (for a lack of a better comparison).

Family Guy

Having not watched a single episode of this highly popular adult cartoon I still found myself quite amused with the voice acting alone, and the quirky animations that accompanied each of the table's lanes, ramps, and target driven events. The nonsensical ramblings of Stewie, Peter, Brian, and the contributing cartoon cast members actually had me laughing out loud at times. Mind you I couldn't make heads or tails of the episode references, but with basic internet knowledge I still appreciated it. Like most of the standard table setups the "Family Guy" table has a collective, and curved row of ramps up top with words upon them that must be spelled out with pinball passes in order to trigger specific table events. The words to be spelled out this time include the names of the main family members (Peter, Stewie, Chad, Meg, Lois, Brian). The table itself is done up like the family's home, and opens up with Peter tumbling down the stairs, and onto the playing field at the tail end of the 'Spooning St.' launch lane. The launcher being that of a male character in a wheelchair who is trying his best to hit Peter with the pinball for the increasing skillshot points. 

When it comes to 3D models Stewie, Brian, and Peter all make their stand at various entrance, and exit points. Stewie often times spouts his usual genius jabs at Brian, and Peter as he waves a zapper gun about at a left side pocket. Brian sits alone on the family's pink sofa prop along with his laptop often times standing up to state the obvious in a sarcastic tone, and speak woefully of his love for women. Peter also contributes both vocally, and physically by blabbering on, and making noises while moving crazily about in his side position near the third additional right side flipper. Additional character contributions come in the form of voice-overs for Meg, Lois, and Chad. There's even the portrait style family art grouped dead center of the table's playing field. The unique pinball feature this time around has the pinballs looking slightly like the main characters with similar color schemes. They appear respectively when certain target, and lane/ramp criteria are met. In the way of multi-ball events you'll find a chicken pop-up on one of the lanes which can be hit multiple times in order to bring out a chicken themed pinball as well as a Peter pinball with which you can score big. Passing the pinballs up the ramps, or clashing them together can earn you plenty of bonus points, and if you manage to do it enough you'll score points in the millions via the accompanying jackpots. 

Other lane, and ramp events include billboard targets associated with Lois, and the "Leafers". By knocking down these lane blocking character targets with the pinball during the event you will score an increasingly higher amount of points until the standing targets are all knocked down. As far as Brian's event goes it ties in with his love for women, and is associated with a specific left side lane that has a heart adorned love spinner on it. Of course passing the pinball up the ramp will score you plenty of bonus points if you can do it enough. Beyond that Stewie's triggered interactive event is by far the most interesting of the table I've seen thus far. Once the event is triggered the table transitions into a side-scrolling aerial combat shmup with Stewie piloting a stealth bomber that he aims to shoot down incoming military helicopters with. The controls are tied to the left, and right flipper buttons, and allow the Stewie piloted aircraft to move up, or down respectively. Pressing "X" will fire missiles. The catch to it all is that you have a heart, and life meter, and can only get hit a certain amount of times before the stealth aircraft explodes sending Stewie outward in a parachute. The enemy helicopters also fire missiles, so shooting them after their ammunition is spent is the key to completing the event, and earning it's millions of possible payout points.

In closing the 'Family Guy' table is by far my favorite of the set, and that should be of no surprise as it is the more popular television show of the foursome. Of course the easier, and plentiful scoring opportunities accompanied by the laughable quotes really makes playing on this table a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Fans will no doubt get more out of it than I did though.

Bob's Burgers

Looking like a cartoon burger themed representation of the real world Coney Island the pinball table that is, "Bob's Burgers", and it's accompanying TV family come to life as if they were drawn straight out of their own late night television show. From what I gather through the repeated one-liners, and sarcastic humor among the contributing cast of characters is that it's about a family run restaurant, and the things that go on as the family tries to maintain order. In a way it doesn't seem to be as humorous as the other included cartoon themed tables as the comedy is over-saturated by sarcasm, but in it's defense the table itself is adorned with a fun loving design that really pops. There are burgers, and condiments aplenty scattered about on various parts of the table's rather cluttered surface. Dead center of the table's playing field is the 'Wonder Wharf' amusement park sitting conveniently atop a collection of curvy in, and out ramps that double as event starters and jackpot lanes. When it comes down to the character name applications Bob, and Tina are each a separate row of bullseye targets while Linda and Louise take bottom and top multi-lanes in a segmented orientation. Even Gene's name is slathered about on the launch lane where the Mustard bottle dispenser launches the ball around the outside of the Wonder Wharf establishment.

Activities come in a decent variety, but due to the setup of the table's 3D features landing the pinball where you need it to go so that you can trigger said events is more than a trying task. In my time with the table (and I played it a lot) I was only able to trigger the night, and day table transitions, and a Wharf Rat lane target event where the point was to knock down each of the standing rat targets. I do know that there are events tied to each character, and that there's even a couple of multi-ball events including that of 'Trick or Treat'. The only other one that I landed though tied in with the cashier ordering lane where once you've passed through it enough you'd be tasked with sending the pinball up other lanes in order to make side-orders. I imagine there's a lot more to the table than meets the eye, but getting the necessary pinball passes successfully through is a grueling task. I will say that I love the tables design outside of the seemingly raised "Bob's Burger" sign which often times confuses the heck out of me as it looks almost like a 3D feature itself. Speaking of 3D features the father, and his children do make their on-table debut as animated 3D character models. The son, in particular stands as a restaurant mascot waving people in as he wears a burger costume, and shouts the company's slogan through a megaphone. All in all it's not a bad table, but the quotes did get annoying at times as did the frequent loss of balls due to the hard to achieve ball saves.

Archer

The "Archer" themed table is likely one of the most vacantly designed tables I've seen in Zen Pinball history. It is truly one of the most open tables I've seen in that it features a single curved ramp at the top left corner, an additional underneath loop around area in the same spot along with a set of raised bumpers at the upper right corner, and a handful of simpler targets scattered across the playing field as it's main places of scoring. The middle section is pretty much clear of obstacles outside of the slightly protruding circular platform that sometimes houses Archers black sports car. Sure animated persons of interest do pop in for brief cameos, and whatnot on the playing field, but the playing field itself is mostly void of the multiple ramps, lanes, and targets that you often times see. In saying that the only features that I think are truly impressive are the signature black sports car, and the alligator launcher which honestly seems slightly out of place as an added feature. The fact that Archer, and his female sidekick make an appearance as 3D models, and through accompanying voice-overs means little to me especially since the quotes that are given add little to the intended character portrayals. The female sidekick often times shouts out orders about not doing this, or that while agency bigwigs chime in on occasion to give that cliche James Bond appeal that goes along with the secret agent partnerships included within. Having had no prior viewing of the cartoon series beyond the trailers I felt totally lost to the obvious slapstick humor, and secret agent cliches. I suppose if you are into that sort of dry humor though it could be something of interest to you.

Table features come in an odd assortment this time around. Of course you have the 3D models I've already mentioned, but there's also a ringing telephone, a group of bumpers situated in the upper right hand corner with character faces on top as well as some busy table art showcasing agent Archer, and Lana along with their gadget guy (???) in the center of the playing area. The outside interior of the table sports that adventurous secret agent outing look with a trio of terrains including a backboard cityscape, a mountainous left side, and the bayou oriented right side where the alligator launcher, and accompanying hovercraft are situated. In the way of events you'll find yourself filling up operation funds by passing the pinball through the only two lanes, and joining center bridge among other offset targets of interest. Once you land the pinball in the trunk of Archer's rad sports car when that event is triggered you'll also get to enjoy an interactive back table brawl upon a moving train between Archer, and some generic villain character. Of course hitting the right targets means the difference between gaining the bonus points, or losing out on them. There's also a couple of worded lanes, and targets to pass through, and into in order to trigger other unique events. There's even a lab's robotic arm that acts as a ball capture for the table's multi-ball event. I know for a fact I've not experienced all that the table has to offer due to it's offsetting difficulty, but I still stand by what I said earlier in saying that it is one of the most open tables Zen Studios has made. That, and the statement about the humor being lost to those who have never seen the cartoon series holds true. I'd say that this table is definitely the least impressive of the set, and that it will only appeal to die hard fans of "Archer".

American Dad

Like the TV show of the same name the "American Dad" table comes to life in a virtual cornucopia of patriotic glory. As with the other tables in the set you will find that some of the series' mismatched family members are standing at attention at various places on the playing field. The Dad (aka, Stan Smith) is definitely there as is his blonde haired wife, Franny. Even 'Klaus' the goldfish gets a spot on the table in his fishbowl. Other characters make their debut appearances as character art only, and through the accompanying voice-overs as well as moving panel targets that are triggered by pinball related activities. You'll find Roger the grey alien as well as the nerdy son (don't know his name either), and the hippy-like daughter. The table theme looks like it's mimicking the White house, and CIA lawn with a complimentary turfed golf course, and various American flag patterns placed here, and there. There's even a family camper off to the left side near the standing, and moving Franny model. For some reason unbeknownst to me there's also a gold pile of crap sitting atop one of the triangle bumpers with jewels embedded in it. When hit it makes a nasty sharting sound that is kind of laughable if you are easily amused. On the opposite triangular bumper, near the main set of flipper sits a wrecked SUV. Roger, being the more well known character that he is gets his own two vacuum/suction hole event triggers that are located on either side of the 'Air Guitar' lane. This event ties-in with the "Wheels & Legman" story arch. Of course Roger voices the pretend "Wheels" agent while a CIA operative plays the role of his pretend partner the "Legman". One of the main CIA operatives in the series also stands near the "Wheels & Legman" setup, and will toss the ball back at you after it enters the suction holes when the event associated with him is triggered.

When it comes to Roger the 'Wheels and Legman" isn't his only tabletop contribution. You'll also find the persona mini event which has moving panel targets of Roger in different people costumes displayed upon them. When hit they'll give you a decent amount of bonus points in the half a million range. Another Roger panel target event comes in the form of the 'TearJerker' in which Roger's villainous alter ego the "TearJerker" appears as multiple raised Roger themed panels. Successfully hitting all of them without losing a ball will earn you millions of points. To the top left side of the playing field you'll find a corner curved wall, or lane that ties-in with the short lived "McFreely', and "Cop" word spelling event. Upon fulfilling what is required via several passes of the ball through the curved loop around structure you'll get to hear a radio broadcast regarding McFreely, and his speeding ticket. At the same location you'll also find an intersecting, and upward leading "Decider" ramp which once again ties-in with Roger. By passing the pinball up the ramp enough times will illuminate the word "Decider", and start the event that's tied to it. Completing said event simply requires the right lane, and ramp passes. Where is Klaus in all this, you ask? He sits at the upper middle of the playing field against one of the table's raised structures as a target. Hitting his fishbowl enough times will break it. I should also mention that striking the fishbowl Klaus is in will turn the pinball orange. When the pinball is thrown back enough times by the CIA operative in a separate event which I mentioned earlier it'll also turn yellow, or a sort of metallic/chrome golden color. 

The last event I was ale to trigger before the typing of this review was an ice skating event that transpired after hitting the "Franny" letter targets underneath the Franny 3D model. Franny basically has her hubby, Stan Smith join her in the middle of the table for some romantic time on the ice. When this happens the two character models will begin skating together as you try to sneak the pinball past them into the upper left hand lanes, and associated targets. Supposing you miss, and actually hit the skating couple each of them will slip up, and fall on the ice. Hitting them enough will end the event prematurely. Other than that main event, and the previously disclosed lesser events I've yet to see anything else of interest. I'm sure there's probably a multi-ball event somewhere in there, and that there are the usual score multipliers, and jackpots though. As far as my thoughts on the table go I kind of liked it. There was the usual issue of not understanding what was going on dialogue-wise, but the table was interesting enough, and scoring on it wasn't all that difficult. To me it ranks at 2nd place from greatest to least in this set.

The Verdict ...

At the end of the day I think Zen Studios put in a good effort to impress the fans of each long running cartoon series. I feel it's the fans that will better enjoy the tables, and not so much those who have yet to watch an episode though. Three of the tables are enjoyable enough to a certain extent for any gamer regardless of their cartoon viewing experience, but they will still be more appreciated by those who have come to know the plots, and characters involved. Aesthetically the tables are mostly appealing. The added voice-overs from the actual contributing cast, and the accompanying animated character models really make the tables shine in some situations, but grate against your nerves like nails on a chalkboard in others due to their repetitive nature. As far as a preferred Playstation platform goes I think you know I'm going to say it plays best on the PS Vita, because it does. The flipper, or shoulder buttons on the PS Vita make for better accuracy, and the tables actually look rather nice on the handheld console. Not to mention you can play them on the go. When it comes to scoring big on the PS4, or PS3 I'd strongly suggest using the "R1", and "L1" shoulder buttons as they don't require the deeper pressing that the "R2", and "L2" shoulder buttons do. 

As far as my verdict goes the set isn't a failure, but it isn't the perfect set by any means. Three out of four tables being decent to a guy who has little viewing background in regards to each associated cartoon is impressive enough to me to suggest it as a purchase though. Supposing you are worried about the possibility that you may not be able to relate to the provided cartoon comedy I can understand if you want to pass on this particular set. As I've said many times over it is a set that's geared towards the fans, and following viewers. Keep in mind that if you own multiple current-gen Playstation consoles (PS3, PS Vita, PS4) that this set is cross-buy, so you only need to buy it on one of the consoles in order to be able to enjoy it on the others!

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