Review: Aliens vs. Pinball

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Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen. Aliens vs. Pinball is here, and it comes packin’ an awesome set of new tables full of Alien franchise fan service. Sorry, Private Hudson, this is totally happening, man.

The Aliens vs. Pinball bundle consists of three tables for your Zen Pinball 2 or Pinball FX2 library, including one based on the Aliens movie, one based on the Alien: Isolation game, and one based on the Alien vs. Predator crossover franchise. Each table has a unique flow and set of mechanics that distinguishes one from the next.

Aliens is, of course, the headliner. An avatar of Ridley stands tall at the upper-center portion of the table, overlooked by the Alien Queen looming large along the entire top border. Upon first starting the table, you can choose to play missions in any order or have missions automatically follow the movie progression. Each of the ramps is named for a Colonial Marine, and hitting the ramps enough times to spell out the different names activates perks like temporary ball saves, scoring bonuses, and boosts to the sentry turret and squad defenses for mission events.

The table totally captures the campy 80s action-horror vibe of the film, exemplified by two particular missions. When Ridley and Newt are trapped in the med lab, you first have to hit the ball into Ridley’s flamethrower to set it on fire, then launch it up a ramp to trigger the alarm, at which flashing red lights begin going off and a multi-ball triggers with two balls modeled after facehuggers that need to be hit up certain flashing ramps to kill. Things get even more intense when the Queen unleashes her Xenomorph army, represented by blue drop targets that swarm down the table towards the flippers, which must be defended from taking damage or else the mission is lost. All the while a motion sensor sounds off and a sentry gun blasts away at the targets from the bottom-left corner as an automated form of defense. Even for a game of pinball, there’s a frenzied sense of panic that really gets the adrenaline pumping.

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With a short ball save timer, tight gutters, and a tricky mission access point, the Alien: Isolation table is the most demanding of the trio, which makes sense given the challenging design of Creative Assembly’s modern stealth survival-horror classic. Following along to the game’s story progression, the table’s mechanics revolve around Amanda Ripley’s cat-and-mouse game with the Xenomorph pursuer, as well as fights with hostile human survivors. The signature feature is the unique way the table synchronizes Ripley’s status with score calculation. Ripley has a health bar and limited ammo supply displayed at the bottom of the table. When the Xenomorph starts to prowl along the walkway at the top of the table, you have a limited time to hide the ball in a cabinet or trigger a noisemaker distraction, otherwise the alien will leap down at Ridley’s avatar at the bottom-left corner and bite a chunk out of her health bar. Keeping the health bar full is key to earning a high score, because the amount of points earned is based on Ridley’s health status. She never dies–and the game doesn’t end–if the bar is completely depleted, you just don’t earn vey many points until finding health packs to patch her up.

Similarly, different types of weapons become equipped as you work through the mission progression, but the guns only work against human attackers, represented by drop targets that pop up across the table, if Ridley has enough ammo. The hostile targets do rotate though, and if you hit them when their backs or turned, you score an instant stealth kill without the need of gunfire. Otherwise they need to be hit multiple times to eliminate.

On the Aliens vs. Predator table, the focus shifts to the perspective of a young Yautja powering up its weapons systems, rising up the hunter ranks, choosing sides with the humans, and ultimately facing off against the Xenomorphs. Hitting the bumpers repeatedly upgrades the Predator’s Plasmacaster. Activating the wrist blades switches the table into thermal vision while you attempt to hit various sliding and pop-up targets. Other events include a Vertigo challenge, in which the table view flips upside down as aliens attack from all directions, and a mission to power up the Predator’s cloaking device while playing with camouflaged flippers that are difficult to see. When it’s time for the main face-off to begin, the Yautja figure on the left side and the Xenomorph figure on the right animate their fight on top of the table as it unfolds.

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Another interesting aspect to the AvP table is its human alliance dynamics. Drop targets will periodically appear throughout various missions and rotate back and forth between showing a green side and a red side. Hitting the red side kills the target, while hitting the green side recruits the human as an ally. Killing humans results in an immediate score boost, but allying with them increases the benefit of end-game score bonuses. So choosing sides means the difference between playing the long game and seeking instant scoring gratification.

Zen’s table mini-games tend to vary in quality, but in this latest bundle all three tables have really fun non-pinball events. On the Aliens table, there is a runner-esque driving game in which you have to use the flippers to steer an M577 APC troop transport back and forth around obstacles while escaping down a tight corridor, with points awarded at increasing intervals the longer you survive without crashing. The AvP table’s Xenomorph trap mini-game involves rotating a circular disc with three notches in it to capture balls that fire rapidly from random directions. Lastly, the Alien: Isolation table turns one of the game’s inane hacking mini-games into an adaptation of Arkanoid.

Generating fear on a pinball table is virtually impossible, but Zen Studios has managed to replicate the sense of danger and tension of the Alien-verse about as well as can be expected, using dialogue, music, and iconic sounds direct from the sources for a level of atmospheric authenticity fans will defintely appreciate. The hissing and screeching of the Xenomorphs, the ping and blips of the motion sensors, the sound of steam spontaneously spewing from pipes, the Predator’s weird guttural purr and thermal vision activating, and the banter between the Colonial Marines–it’s all here. Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson pretty much steals the show with his bounty of memorable one-liners, one particular quote serving as perhaps the best game over dialogue ever.

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The only aural low point is the AvP table’s long-winded mission dialogue. The chatter on the Aliens table never gets old, even after hearing the same lines dozens of times over, but the voice-overs on the AvP table just don’t have the same personality to keep the dialogue from quickly wearing out its welcome.

Other than that minor grievance, I really have nothing bad to say about any of these tables. Each table is uniquely tailored to match the tone and thematic content of the Alien property it’s based on, and things like ramp flow, mission pacing, and overall difficulty are different on each table yet fair across the board. Collectively, the tables balance each other out beautifully, the Aliens table being the easiest to pump out consistent high scores on, the Alien: Isolation table presenting a higher degree of challenge with a scoring system that takes more practice to master, and the Alien vs. Predator table falling somewhere in between the two. It’s hard to imagine after so many iconic licenses, but Aliens vs. Pinball represents some of Zen Studios’ finest table design yet.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Perfectly captures the tone and atmosphere of the three Alien franchise properties
+ Excellent balance of mission variety and difficulty levels across the board
+ Private Hudson’s quips, man!

Cons:
– Dialogue on AvP table wears thin in a hurry

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PlayStation platforms, also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC/Mac, iOS, Android
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 4/26/2016
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: PlayStation Store, Steam, Xbox Marketplace

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!