Review: Balls of Glory Pinball

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It seems today, that all you see is violence and sex in video games. But where are those good old-fashioned values, on which we used to rely? Lucky there’s a Zen Studios. Lucky there’s a dev team that positively can do unique and interesting licensed pinball tables that make you laugh and cry.  

Ok. Enough of me trying to be witty and mashup the opening song to Family Guy with an introduction to Zen Studio’s latest batch of tables for Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX2, Balls of Glory. Four new tables are included with Balls of Glory highlighting Fox and FX animated shows, including Family Guy, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, and Archer. Zen Studios has a pretty solid track record of bundling several themed tables together, but the question remains: do the Fox properties get all the glory, or do these balls go down in flames?

One might think that since Fox’s Sunday night line up consists of Family Guy, The Simpsons, American Dad, and Bob’s Burgers that you would see America’s favorite yellow family in this bundle. (Maybe The Simpsons will get their own treatment in the next bundle?) But even with Homer’s family being swapped out for Archer, the line-up is pretty solid. Let’s run them down, table by table!

Archer

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The Archer table leaves me with mixed feelings. As with pretty much any Zen table, the main characters–Sterling Archer and Lana Kane–stand near the lower flippers, spouting off lines of dialog from the show and even acting out motions from the dialog pertinent to the actions of the game. Additional lines of dialog from Mallory, Krieger, Cheryl, Pam, and Cyril, as well ass moans from Woodhouse, play throughout without feeling overly repetitive. Unfortunately (in my case at least–and I’d gauge from those on my friendlist who have played the board as well) scoring points can be extremely challenging. I’m not sure if it is just a timing thing on my part, or if the rules of the table are so overly complex that I just can’t finish any one challenge in the allotted time in order to earn bonuses or jackpots. 

The table is fun overall, but not nearly as rewarding as some of the other tables in the pack. Trying to complete the Danger Zone challenge just feels clunky because aiming a gun by pressing the flipper buttons isn’t intuitive or natural feeling. Trying to blow up Yakuza targets is also an exercise in frustration as an alternate “bomb” pinball will appear, and the act of actually hitting the designated target without losing the bomb between the flippers (or the time running out) is almost as challenging as even getting the mode to activate. Trying to let Archer live out one of his fantasies of an all out fist-fight on the top of a moving train is also an exercise in quick-timing frustration that I’ve yet to even come close to mastering.

American Dad

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While I find the actual layout of the table in Archer frustrating yet still enjoyable because of the characters, I am at total odds with the American Dad table. I’m not the biggest fan of Stan or Francine Smith, but they are downright loveable when compared to the alien Roger. Roger’s quips play out far too often due to the placement of ramps and traps that trigger such utterances. Roger yammering on about being Wheels and Stan being Legman gets old fast–if ever there was an game option to mute specific noises, that would be the one!

Of course that isn’t the only Roger mannerism that appears on the table. His tendency to dress up as other characters allows for sliding targets to pop up for generous points, but lordy is the character over-focused on the table. Klause, the family pet goldfish, offers several different modes that are just as challenging to complete as the modes in Archer. Another shooting gallery where aiming is controlled by flippers is one example. My favorite is getting Stan and his boss, Agent Bullocks, to fight, which is done by shooting the pinball into the patch of round bumpers, each bounce equaling a punch between the characters. One of the weird things about the table is a ramp that circles down past the lower flippers. Sometimes the ball will drop into the pathway for the right flipper, while other times the ball zooms down the ramp and over to the left flipper. Nothing overly complex, but it tends to play mind games with me.

Bob’s Burgers

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While Archer’s table doesn’t have many ramps to shoot the ball up, and American Dad’s table has a few decent pathways to aim for, the Bob’s Burgers table features an overabundance of ramp ways. I can’t decide if I like the table for the design and mode options or if, like the Archer table, I just like the use of character voices. What is great about this table is that the different modes make sense as they are activated. Shooting the ball up a ramp X number of times unlocks a new action, which usually just means shooting the ball up different ramps with specific items lit up. For a little extra flavor, half of the modes are unlocked by triggering the table’s night mode.

Everything about this table just flows. Completing a mode in a given time doesn’t feel as rushed as American Dad or Archer because the ball just seems to respond better. I know that really shouldn’t be true, but it does feel that way. Trying to get Louise out of the Taffy Factory is a fun mode that uses the flippers to navigate without having to aim a gun. Cleaning up vermin in the form of pop-up rats is straightforward and fun as well.

Family Guy

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As much as it pains me to say it, my favorite table from Balls of Glory is Family Guy. It’s not that I don’t like Family Guy, it’s just that I was hoping I would have more fun with Archer than a cartoon I am embarrassed to watch with anyone else in the room. While there are just as many ramps as Bob’s Burger, they are spaced a bit differently, which requires a modicum of skill in order to control the ball in the necessary direction. 

Different modes trigger as character names are spelled out by sending the ball up the same ramp as many times as there are letters in the target name. Lois’s mode unlocks people she can “fight” by hitting them with a ball. One of Peter’s modes is a multiball “fight” with the Giant Chicken. Stewie has a side-scrolling shooter mini-game mode in which he battles attacking helicopters and then must face his nemesis Bertrand (which, for me, caused a weird glitch that you can watch here). Even with as many ramps as Bob’s Burger, there never feels like a dead spot that the ball inevitably races toward, which helps keep the game flow moving. Thankfully, there isn’t an overabundance of voice quip repetition either.

Balls of Glory is a mixed collection of solid and highly challenging tables, with some obnoxiously repetitive audio on one particular table. In general, there are almost too many characters, modes, ramps, and flashing lights, overwhelming the player with complexity from the opening ball launch. While that isn’t truly a bad thing, it does make it feel as if the tables are fighting with each other for attention even though all of them come together. There’s plenty of fun to be had in Balls of Glory, but I think each show would have greatly benefited from having its own set of two to three tables instead of having every aspect of the show crammed into a single table.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Great use of voice work (minus that of Roger in American Dad)
+ Family Guy and Bob’s Burger tables are complex but not overly difficult to master

Cons:
– Roger’s voice is grating and annoying
– Each table feels a bit overstuffed trying to cram in every aspect of its show

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSN (PS3/PS4/Vita), also available for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC/Mac, Google Play, iOS
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 10/20/2015
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.