When I was a kid, my dad would take my brother and me on fishing trips. We weren’t the most outdoors-y people, so we always threw our fish back (if we caught any at all) and got lunch from a local restaurant. It was in these swaths of time that my dad taught me about pinball. It didn’t matter that your grilled cheese had arrived when you were about to earn an extra ball on the Demolition Man table.
I had played pinball in arcades before he really took an interest, but I was just interested in hitting the ball. It wasn’t until he showed me how he always got the higher score that I realized those ramps weren’t just neat: they were for missions. While Farsight Studios is concentrating on recreating the pinball tables I remember as a kid (and they’re great at it), Zen is busy creating the tables that everybody else would be making if pinball had stuck around. There is a more complex mission structure, and the designers aren’t afraid to go a little crazy. We’re moving beyond what is practical to do on a pinball table, and concentrating on what is fun to do on one instead.
Avengers Chronicles is comprised of four tables for $10. This is a fantastic value proposition. Pinball, unless you’re ridiculously good at it, is almost infinitely replayable, and getting new tables for only $2.50 each is a steal. They’re not available individually, but it’s hard to really fault them for that, since each table is so good. Besides, I don’t need the shortcomings of the XBLA infrastructure encouraging me to buy things twice (I can see and purchase all of the individual DLC for both LA Noire and Gears of War 3 even though I bought the DLC season pass for both).
The Avengers table is based directly off of this summer’s blockbuster film. You’ll be controlling each hero as you try to defeat Loki from the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier as it floats over a city below. There are ramps and missions for each hero as you’d expect, but the big draw here is that each hero is represented by a unique ball, and each unique ball plays differently from the others. It is nice to see Zen trying some new things to mix up the standard pinball formula. It takes a little while to figure out, and a demo mode or tutorial would show off the complex mission and unique ball effects nicely.
World War Hulk follows the events of the 2007 comic book series of the same name, and is great for those of us who like ramp combos. Ramps are my favorite features of pinball tables so this is one that I keep coming back to. The story being told doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I’ve never read any World War Hulk. Regardless, this table is a fun one with a lot to do, and Zen combines wonderfully the concept of well-placed shots with Hulk’s innate need to smash everything in his path.
Fear Itself is another table that focuses on Thor as he battles Serpent. This is a magnet-heavy table, which makes it hard to always know where your ball is going but a little bit more forgiving in terms of skill shots to get it there. There’s also a neat accelerator loop at the bottom of the table. I think it’s the weakest of the four offerings, but it’s by no stretch a bad table; it’s a good table packaged with three great ones.
The Infinity Gauntlet is the real star of the show here. As much as I said before that Zen is making digital versions of tables that would be made today (I would love a physical The Avengers table), Infinity Gauntlet is strictly a digital affair. I don’t think it would be possible to make a real table like this, and those additions are what make the table so much fun to play. Repeated strikes on the titular gauntlet which rests at the top left of the table will activate each of the gems contained therein. It sounds strange to say this about a pinball table, but I would feel bad if I ruined the surprise of what each gem does. All I can say is that Zen has outdone itself here and even if the table isn’t my favorite of the bunch, it is easily the most impressive of the four offerings, and if you somehow have the Pinball FX 2 base game but none of the expansion packs then this is the one to pick up. With every release Zen is iterating on its craft, and there’s not a dud table in this pack.
Pros: Interesting tables, unique balls on The Avengers, fantastic art on all of the tables
Cons: As tables get more complex, it becomes clear that a tutorial mode would be useful