Sunday, September 25, 2016

Zen Pinball 2 - Women of Power (PS4)

Up until this point Zen Studios has chosen the more well known, and older selection of MARVEL superheroes, and superhero tales to make as their focal point in pinball table design. They've chosen pivotal moments from past MARVEL histories, and timelines including that of the Hulk's exile to space, and even the 'Fear Itself' table which was about as "Metal" as I've seen a MARVEL product get. They even used single characters as the spotlight interest from time to time, and built said table around said character. Most former MARVEL fans can appreciate the attention to detail put in these older tables as they are more relative to those of us who have been with MARVEL in the past, but who have currently abandoned them for their awkward direction in both storytelling, and art. Myself included in that statement.

That having been said the "Women of Power" two table set isn't all that bad. I was intrigued by the "A-Force" table which included Black Widow, and Madame Masque as it's flagship characters. It looked, and seemed similar to a lot of the more male inclusive story spin-offs I've read through in the past. On the flip side of the same set though the "Champions" table completely lost me outside the fact that it's the one table out of the set with the easiest high scoring mechanics included. In fact today I landed a score of 143+ million in a 20+ minute playthrough. The inclusion of Ms.Marvel, Lockjaw, and the other female casting kind of turned me away from liking it regardless of this plus side. As I mentioned in my preview stream the characters, and the table felt too slapstick, or rather too comical to be considered what I think of as MARVEL. In a Scooby-Doo sort of way.

That aside both tables in their entirety look superb, and for the most part play excellently under the guide of skilled, and even amateurish control. Everything from the soundtrack to the voice-overs, and even the visual effects come together in a manner befitting of Zen Studio's advancing, and ever improving quality. For that very reason I find myself on the fence about either loving, or not liking what path Zen Studios has currently taken with their trek into MARVEL comics coverage. There's definitely an air of PC (Political Correctness) influence, and aspirations with the theme. I'm not saying it's bad to cover only super heroine inclusive MARVEL plots, but like the latest MARVEL films this too seems to be introduced for propaganda purposes by outside sources with their own agendas. God knows I favor the female characters over a lot of the male characters, because they've always looked cooler to me, but this gender divide and singular focus has got to stop in the entertainment industry. Seriously.

A-Force

If I were to pick a favorite table from this set it would definitely be the "A-Force" table. While it is objectively the more difficult, and challenging table to score on I feel as if Zen Studios really went the extra mile to get fans of MARVEL, and Zen Pinball 2 interested in the table's premise. The table itself revolves around the ongoing conflict with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra as one might expect. It is centered around the events regarding Black Widow's failed interception of the Cosmic Cube, and the resulting warp into an alternate reality where the Soviet Union was in control, and a villain known only as Titanium man rose as the main threat. When the table starts up you get to see both Black Widow, and Madame Masque in a free falling aerial fight for the Cosmic Cube artifact. Through textual dot matrix panels Zen Studios catches the viewing audience up on the scuffle as it visually unfolds. Once on the table we can see in place a modern-day yet cold war looking city with the red star insignia as well as a vehicular military presence, and the larger than life helmet of the Titanium man.

One of the immediate key points of interest that your gazing eyes will likely settle upon is the table art which is reminiscent of older MARVEL comics. It features the table's main heroines in a center cameo, and is surrounded by city buildings and structures of varying sorts. The ramp setup is composed mainly of background copper half-pipes, ramps done up like highway junctions, and a joining of both these elements at the lower left-hand side of the playing field. The main targets of interest include an "A-Force" magnetic block at the center of the playing field, the Titanium Man's helmet which doubles as a ball capture device, the A-Force tower, 3D models of Black Widow and Madame Masque as well as a helicopter which once activated via the mode's trigger will fly about above the table's playing field. A lot of the table action is suggestive outside of the inclusion of the 3D elements, but is effective in getting the point across, nonetheless.

As far as flippers go there are four flippers in total including the main pair at the bottom center, and the smaller two above them both towards the upper center area. The smaller flippers act as a means to combo pinball passes into the upper ramp junctions which loop around, and have entrances at either side of the upper half of the table. The launcher, for those of you who are interested is a military style handgun that could belong to either Black Widow, or Madame Masque. I'm not sure which? I do know however that you can achieve a combo'd skill shot by first firing/launching the pinball up, and into the proper peg divided lane at the top-back of the playing field. After this it will drop down, be caught by a magnetic effect, and then reach the extra left flipper which you can follow up with by flipping the pinball into the upper right-hand lane/ramp. It's any easy 2 million points than can be nabbed after each initial ball launch.

Of course there are plenty of events, or table modes to take advantage of as you enjoy the spectacle that is "A-Force". There's a helicopter multi-ball, the A-Force search mechanism which adds bonus effects for each random A-Force heroine that you find. She-Hulk for example will increase your score earnings in both the "Tower Defense", and "Titanium Bashing" modes. Captain Marvel, and Spider-Woman which are also featured in the previously mentioned table art cameo will effectively make completing the main modes easier. In a similar sense Thor's, and Wasp's discovery will also help ease your table woes by making the wizard mode easier to complete. In the "Restoring Reality" mode which is both Black Widow's and Madame Masque's main and mutual goal the flippers will be affected by Titanium man including a delay on the upper two flippers, and the loss of the main flippers. Ultimately allowing the heroine/s the capture of the proper Cosmic Cube, and the return to their known reality, or in the terms of this table entrance into the wizard mode where scoring is greatly amplified by your successful scoring efforts.

All in all there is a lot to do, and take in as you play through the "A-Force" table. It will definitely require some getting used to though in order to achieve a truly high score, but it is possible if played right. The only fault I found is that the center/main flippers seem to be spaced a little too far apart, and as a result you will often times unfairly lose a pinball down the center.

Champions

What can I say that I haven't already said? Well, I don't think I'm a fan of the "Champions" story arch or the table. The character interactions both through visual means, and spoken dialogue seems too slap happy for me. The table is filled with Scooby-Doo like sound effects, and humor that seems more fitting of a Saturday morning cartoon. I'm not implying that Zen Studios is at fault though, or that they misinterpreted the comic books. No, that's not it at all. I personally feel they probably hit the nail on the head, and that's kind of why I find myself not really enjoying the table. MARVEL's latest adventures surrounding a lot of their older flagship charactercreations, and newly founded characters have become more kid-friendly, and more PC for the lack of a better description. Long gone are the days of violent ass kicking, and new are the days of teen angst, and subliminal PC agenda pushing. I cannot for the life of me relate to these teenage super heroines. I can't. Let's move on though ...

When you first lay eyes on the animated opening of the "Champions" table you'll see the new Ms.Marvel's 3D model chattering on about her day's work at a Jersey City coffee shop while securing the store's lock box in her huge hands, and heading to the bank to make the daily deposit. Unfortunately for her Bombshell, who is making an escape after the robbery of the bank nabs Ms.Marvel's lock box as a bonus in her crime efforts. Ms.Marvel is knocked off her feet, and soon thereafter the game's objective is put into play. Her stretchy arm reaches forth to the bottom right-hand side of the playing field where an antique cash register which doubles as the table's launcher meets her comically sized hands. Ping goes the pinball!

As you launch the pinball, and flip it about you'll notice a large junction of walled alleys, and ramps at the back of the table. This, the three flippers, the table art which is placed at the center, and the standing tall 3D model of Ms.Marvel is most of what you'll be seeing as the scoring ensues. That, and the Jersey City buildings which make up the surrounding outer details of the table itself. Like the previous table the "Champions" table also contains a group cameo of the super heroines who are included in the modes, and as the 3D models. Those models mainly being Ms.Marvel, and Bombshell.

While the layout of the ramps, and pinball targets are strewn about in haphazard fashion they make scoring high an easy task. As you hit the appropriate lanes, targets, and ramps that coincide with heroine specific modes you will activate things like multi-ball events, a Sister Grimm dot matrix video mode in which you'll guide a pixel wand to capture sparks, and even heroine modes that change the effects of the pinball itself. An example being the 'Inhuman Energy' mode which is triggered by knocking out the "Inhuman", and "Energy" panels that block a center ball capture structure. Once this mode is triggered the 3D model of Ms.Marvel will pick up the pinball, and enchant it with "Inhuman" power basically changing it into a fiery version of itself, and doubling the scoring for a limited time. There's that, and the Hawk-Eye mode which turns the pinball into an aiming crosshair pinball with which you can strike down Bombshell's bombs that will appear on the playing field. The trick to making the most of this scoring opportunity is to pass the pinball through the right or left ramp before striking the bomb. Doing this will multiply the given score. In a slightly similar fashion Spider-Gwen's debut is also pinball related, or rather cobweb related. her multi-ball mode will have you trying score big with jackpot bonuses as well as attempting to stop bombshell in her tracks during the "Bombshell Frenzy" mode supposing Spider-Gwen's mode is active during that mode. As far as America Chavez's role goes she too will be playing a role in the apprehension of Bombshell. By that I mean you will be sending her after Bombshell via a direct hit in her coinciding mode.

Let's also not forget Squirrel Girl which graces the table with her presence in both voice as well as three vertical tube capture arcs that act as a mutli-ball event trigger. Each of which has a squirrel sign in the center, and features squirrel chatter when the pinball is caught by them. Another key point to the scoring on the "Champions" table is the "Bombshell Reunited" feature which basically allows you to repeat any mode to full completion in order to multiply your scoring opportunities when, and if you reach the wizard mode for the table. There's definitely a ton of major scoring opportunities on this table. Some of which extend beyond single modes of play. On a side note Ms.Marvel's abnormally large fists also double as the right, and left outlane ball saves (aka, Fist Saves). She'll literally stretch out her arm to the lower playing field when the pinball enters an activated fist save, and will retrieve it for you. Do mind the fact that she places the pinball right next to the corresponding flipper as it can mean a lost ball if you don't pay attention.

The Verdict ...

This MARVEL set is a hard one to judge for me. It's obvious I see things you might not, and that my tastes in MARVEL comics may not be the same as everyone else's. With that in mind I'll simply weigh the tables' functionality, and the artistic values that they each hold ...

Both tables in their on way reflect that high quality presentation that I've always valued as a Zen Pinball 2 fan. They each look impressive with their attention to detail, and sound equally as impressive with their accompanying soundtrack and voice-overs. In the "A-Force" table I particularly loved the intro cinematic. It set the stage for the underlying story, and helped the player to better gain an understanding of what the heroines' conflict was all about. While it wasn't all inclusive it did a good enough job getting me interested in the characters, and the story spin-off. So much so that I honestly feel inclined to possibly pick up the TPB of the comic series, and read through it. 

At the same time I felt less inclined to further read into or even research the "Champions" lore. The characters did not appeal to me even though their implemented design was good, and a proper reflection of the MARVEL source material. I felt a sort of disconnect with a majority of the table's details, and the simple plot that was the securing of the stolen lock box did not really impress me at all as an oldschool comic book enthusiast. The soundtrack which included cartoon-like voices, and slapstick sound effects really pushed this table appeal into the realm of the Saturday morning cartoons fanaticism. That having been said the table's structure, and targets of interest are extremely user friendly, and easily accessible. If you are seeking a table worthy of obtainable high score bragging rights this table is it. Which reminds me ... the "A-Force" table did have a fairly serious flaw. The center flippers seemed to be spaced a little too far apart making ball loss more frequent, and out of the players' control than it should have been. I hope there is a fix for the players' sake as it will no doubt (in it's current version) make for some frustrating moments. 

Now for the moment of truth ...

Do I think this set is worth having? If you can get past the underlying PC theme, and the intended audience focus of the comic book series in question these tables aren't all that bad. For the usual asking price of a two table set I'd dare to say they are worth your money. Zen Pinball 2 tables have always been the more reasonable DLC as they feel like actual expansions to a core game. Not only that, but the replay value is immense. So, "Yes" I think they are worth the asking price ($4.99?) despite the flaw, and despite my opinions against the one comic book's straying from the more serious nature of the MARVEL universe. This set will be available on the PS3, PS4, and PS Vita consoles come September 27th!

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