Review: Pinball FX2 Iron & Steel Pack

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What with all the time Zen Studios has been spending grafting Marvel superheroes, Jedi Knights and other key pop-cult licenses (South Park, Walking Dead, etc.) onto signature video pinball tables, it’s been easy to lose sight of the fact that the studio hasn’t created an original, non-licensed table since 2012’s RPG-themed Epic Quest.

Our wait is now over, by a factor of two. With Zen’s Iron & Steel pack download for Pinball FX2 and Zen Pinball 2, it’s time to strap on the swords and break out the six-shooters. We’re going medieval and wiki-wiki-Wild Wild West.

We can start with CastleStorm, a table based on Zen’s quirky action-strategy game. Plenty of goofy touches dot the landscape here that echo the original game’s visual style, including a donkey ball-launcher and a ginormous fire-breathing dragon that’s perched in the upper left of the table. The table’s open and angular, facilitating lots of speedy combos and loops that can open up new play modes and send your score skyward like a fireball from a catapult—and provide an area for enemy berserkers to slowly march toward you in one table mission, just like they do in the original CastleStorm.

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It’s entertaining to don the mantle of Sir Gareth, taking on an oversized troll and trying to angle the ball into the upper mini-table, where deft flipper work means raining lots of fireballs down on the distant Vikings’ stronghold. But honestly, there were points where I actually found myself thinking that Excalibur, one of Zen’s early original tables, hit the medieval vibe more effectively. (Plus it had a jousting subgame.)

The second table in the pack is called Wild West Rampage. What with the cowboy hats, steam engine train and the swinging saloon doors at the top of the table, the first part of the title fits like a pair of leather chaps; the second’s a ten-gallon misnomer.

The table’s storyline involves a sultry bounty hunter (“Cindy, Just Cindy”) who sashays into a town ruled by a scuzzy and corrupt sheriff. Table missions involve tracking down outlaws, battling the sheriff’s posse, playing atop the steam engine and, if you’re especially skilled, blowing it up.

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The table’s filled with creative bells and whistles—there’s a spinning sheriff’s star, six-guns spin on the lower bumpers and shots up certain ramps explode out upper storefront windows, the way punched outlaws do in cowboy-movie bar fights. But it takes forever to trigger in-game missions and special effects, and they’re not necessarily that interesting once you unleash them—exploding barrels, anyone? The far right lane is an absolute ball vacuum—easily three-fourths of my ball outs took that well-worn path.

“This ain’t the town you’re looking for,” growls the corrupt sheriff when it’s game over. Unfortunately, in this case, he may be right.

Part of the problem with both of these tables is that Zen’s table library is so deep, varied and packed with amazing choices that we’ve seen versions of these special effects before. For example, I’ve played a bunch of better Zen tables (Moon Knight, to name one) in which a character on one part of the table leaps to engage in fisticuffs with another, like Cindy-Just-Cindy does in Wild West Rampage.

Much as I hate to say it, Zen may have finally reached the point where it’s being wounded/spoiled by its own creativity and success. While these tables aren’t awful—and they’re certainly not Iron Man—they’re just not as engaging or memorable as other offerings in Zen’s excellent library. Score ‘em only if you’re a completist or a giant CastleStorm fan.

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Pros:
+ CastleStorm table does a nice job of incorporating that game’s cartoony vibe, setting up multipliers that catapult your score

Cons:
– Not much about either of these tables packs a wow factor
– Wild West Rampage table effects take forever to unleash

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox One, also available on Android, iOS, PC/Mac, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 2/26/2015
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2
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.