Review: Marvel Pinball 3D

MarvelPinball3D

If the measure of a game’s success is defined by whether it makes you want more—as in more content, more sequels, more anything–then count the Nintendo 3DS port of Marvel Pinball as another score for Zen Studios.

This isn’t quite the same Marvel Pinball you downloaded in 2009, although it does consist of tables you’ve bumped and flipped before. Two of the four original tables–Spider-Man and Wolverine—have been swapped out for tables based on Captain America and the Fantastic Four, both of which were originally released as standalone DLC on the major consoles. Given the more modern feel and increased feature sets of the swapped tables, it’s a decision that makes both aesthetic and pop-culture sense (although it does make one wonder/worry if Spidey’s table is ever going to show up on the 3DS). Blade and Iron Man round out the $8 package. I’m glad to see that 2-bucks-a-table price tag holding firm.

Zen aficionados know the developers love to pack a metric ton of detail and structure into a very small space. The challenge in porting all that warp and woof to a handheld is shrinking to the size of the 3DS screen while keeping it both 3D and comprehensible for the twitch-flipper set. The Excalibur and Earth Defense Force tables, both mainstays of January’s port of Zen Pinball, showed it could be done seamlessly. The Marvel tables offer an even more sizable challenge, thanks to the abundance of animated heroes and villains that lurk above and on the edges of each table.

These have been handled expertly, too: He’s teenier, yes, but Baron Zemo’s pacing and firing death rays near the plunger on the Cap table is still menacing, and it’s still cool to have The Thing snatch up and bat the silver ball from the center of the FF table. Zen’s developers have even managed to navigate the challenges of the trickiest table in the package—the Blade table, which throws in a light/dark mode to make things difficult visually.

There aren’t many dogs in Zen’s Marvel library—now 13 tables strong–but they included one of the few clunkers in this pack. It’s Iron Man, whose table still doesn’t do justice to the Avenger who kick-started Marvel’s movie renaissance. Even with Whiplash cracking his tendril-whips across the vast open spaces in the center of the table and Tony Stark quipping and flipping on his suits, there’s not nearly enough in the way of special features to make this table stand out, and the structure, rife with ramps that obscure the ball from view, seems to lead to far more cheap ball outs than jaw-dropping pinball thrills. More than any other Marvel table, this is the one I’d love to see Zen take another swing at. Maybe there’s hope for a classic version. Or one based on the forthcoming Iron Man 3. (Hint, hint.)

The same minor drawbacks plague this package that dinged the 3DS version of Zen Pinball. Multiplayer is still limited to local hotseat and online leaderboards. The dynamic LED displays are still camped on the 3DS’s lower screen, where even a quick glance leads to a loss of focus and the end of your ball. At least with a table like Captain America, there’s a moment before each table mission begins where you can actually look down, remind yourself where you need to be shooting and not drain your ball.

Marvel Pinball 3D removes any doubts about feature drain between platforms. And makes it clear that ports of the Vengeance and Virtue and Avengers Chronicles packs really can’t come quickly enough.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Animated features in complex tables like Blade and Captain America ported intact
+ Reasonable price

Cons:
- Iron Man table still isn’t that interesting

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS via eShop digital download
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 6/28/2012
Genre: Arcade Pinball
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4 (local hotseat multiplayer plus online leaderboards)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.