Zen Pinball 2: Bethesda Pinball review
There’s been a lot of these novelty pinball tables for Zen Pinball 2. Game, TV and film franchises have seen their unique traits pinball-ised and gathered together on tables that faithfully represent the source material yet still function relatively realistically as far as pinball goes. However, it’s still a delightful treat to see some of these creations come to digital life, and the Bethesda set are some of the very best.
All three tables look, sound, and play splendidly. They are gorgeously rendered with aesthetic trimmings from their source games, realised in the semi-realistic style of Zen Pinball. Animated figures adorn the sides, top and bottom of the tables, interacting with other animated figures or the table directly. Meanwhile, the traditional pinball hazards are replaced with theme appropriate ones from the games they represent. In the Doom table a Cyberdemon fills the top right corner, the Lone Wanderer ducks and dodges at the bottom of the Fallout table whilst a super mutant wreaks havoc at the top, and the Skyrim table is teaming with dragons whilst a lone Dragon Born means to fight them from the left side. They all look terrific, sporting smooth animations and detailed textures, and some excellent sound effects. In some cases these details outshine their source, thanks to the wonderful Zen Pinball engine.
Every inch of each table has a little surprise for you, whether it’s the dragon that launches the ball on the Skyrim table, the bumpers on the Doom table unleashing the shotgun sound effect when hit, or the mini games played on a Pip Boy on the Fallout table. It’s all so charming, authentic, and in utter service of the games they’re based on.
It goes even further with their dedication to the games that inspired them with the tropes they invoke that have no right to be in a pinball table but gives these particular tables all the more depth. Both the Fallout and Skyrim tables have you generate a character, picking SPECIAL stats and your combat class respectively. In the Fallout table, trapping the ball in certain pits is analogous to entering stores allowing you to purchase Rad-X, Stimpacks, and gear with earned caps. Meanwhile, the Skyrim table allows you to equip your character with new armour and weapons, which are shown on your character’s figure. Losing all your balls isn’t the end either, as you can choose to continue as the same character in further play-throughs, amassing more gear and weapons. Additionally, both RPG tables lets you choose different companions and factions; it’s very much the core o the original experiences recreated in pinball form.
However, the RPG features do break up the otherwise fast pace of pinball, with frequent stops and starts. Fans of the source material may still find these trappings amusing and interesting, but the pinball enthusiasts that simply want the table setting may find it frustrating.
The Doom table is more pinball friendly. There’s weapon swapping on the character figure but it keeps to the fast paced action of pinball, which incidentally fits the FPS. Copious multi-balls, the super-heating of the ball to cause more destruction, and a heavy metal sound track represent the game wonderfully and add some extra aggression to the pinball.
The tradition of missions on Zen Pinball tables continues here, with things like shutting down the reactor on the Mars research station for the Doom table, completing jobs for the Railroad in the Fallout one, and even sleeping at the inn during the Skyrim table, which in turn advances the clock to give you a night-time version of the table. The mini-games are here too, tasking you with navigating a tiny dungeon with a ball by tipping the table, or bursting demonic sacks by bouncing the ball around a small arena with floating stones, or playing little games on your Pip Boy.
Indeed, the Doom table feels the most cohesive, melding the Doom FPS with the pinball mechanics harmoniously and creating a fast table that’s visually interesting but mechanically familiar. The Fallout table skews more towards the Fallout RPG experience than pinball but is tight enough to allow the pinball shenanigans to work in-between the stops and starts. The Skyrim table suffers from a harsh design that can easily cause the ball to tumble straight down the middle and in-between your flippers, making it more frustrating than fun.
These tables based on Bethesda games are remarkably clever. They take the two experiences – the source game and pinball – and attempt to meld them, and they are mostly successful. However, some annoyances, especially to the Skyrim and Fallout tables, do hurt the pinball action a bit. But, my word, are they visually spectacular.
Thanks to Xbox and Zen Studios for supporting TiX