Review: Portal Pinball

PortalPinball

Chell, GLaDOS, Wheatley and the gang are back together again. No, this isn’t Portal 3–this is Portal Pinball!

Working closely with Valve, Zen Studios has adapted the world of the Portal first-person puzzler series into its own pinball table for Pinball FX2 and Zen Pinball 2. The table is set inside the Aperture Laboratories Enrichment Center, GLaDOS looming large from the top-left corner and commenting along the way in her usual snarky, passive-aggressive tone. As you lose a ball or struggle to proceed in a Test Chamber, she’ll goad you with lines like “this isn’t that hard,” “you really don’t need to keep failing,” and “if at first you don’t succeed, fail five more times.” When you inevitably run through all three balls she’ll leave you with “it’s been fun, don’t come back.” Classic GLaDOS.

GLaDOS hogs even more of the limelight as you engage the Test Chamber challenges by flipping the ball into the elevator centered at the top of the table. Once through the door, you have a short amount of time to choose between one of six Test Chambers, each based on a different puzzle element from the Portal universe, including Advanced Portal Training, Thermal Discouragement Beams, Hard Light Bridges, Excursion Funnels, Sentry Turrets, and a trip to Ratman’s hidden den. GLaDOS then gives a little introductory spiel while an accompanying graphic appears on the giant paneled screen that makes up the back wall. As the necessary ramps and targets are struck to progress, a Chell avatar moves around the table while portals and various contraptions become activated. The gameplay genre is now pinball, but magically the table provides the same sense of progressing through a puzzle as playing an actual Portal game.

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If you somehow manage to complete all six Test Chambers, a final Wizard Mode showdown with GLaDOS will trigger. Good luck getting that far, though, because beating even one chamber is quite the challenge. You generally have to hit a couple lanes or ramps, then a switch, then a couple more lane/ramp combos, and then the elevator door to exit and lock in the win, which may not sound like much but when you’re playing it feels like a lot of hoops to jump through. I suppose my complaint is that there is no progression of difficulty from one chamber to the next. Each chamber follows the same basic steps rather than steadily building in difficulty from one chamber to the next. The best I’ve done so far, even with a top high score of 171 million (I was first place on the leaderboards for a bit, now I’m down to seventh and steadily dropping), is finishing two chambers.

Portal Pinball isn’t all about the Test Chambers. Many other fun Portal-tastic events await. By hitting the three bumpers on the right side of the table enough to fill out the letters “TURRET FACTORY” a door opens leading the way to a mini playfield concealed beneath the area of open space at table’s mid-section. (This is where the Ratman’s Den mini-game plays out as well.) Portal 2 robot buddies Atlas and P-Body star in a co-op multiball event that’s triggered by launching the ball through each robot’s respective loop enough times to spell out their names. And of course it wouldn’t be Portal without cake, so one of the ways to earn an extra ball is by hitting a cake target 30 times to gather the necessary ingredients.

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Overall, the Portal Pinball table is very well balanced. The lanes and ramps have a nice flow that keeps the ball moving without hanging up in any dead zones. I haven’t had any problems with either of the outlanes becoming unfair ball vacuums, which tends to be a common issue in Zen’s weaker tables. In fact, on a good run you’re given ample opportunity to activate multiple ball saves to protect against the occasional gutter ball.

Set off by GLaDOS’ signature sinister charm and table atmosphere that totally captures the tone of the puzzle games it’s based on, Portal Pinball has immediately claimed a spot in the upper echelon of the extensive Pinball FX2 / Zen Pinball 2 catalog, offering fun and challenging Test Chambers, mini-games that incorporate familiar characters and themes in interesting ways, and a smooth all-around table flow. Zen Studios has done the Portal name proud for sure. Now we can only hope that this is merely the start of an ongoing relationship with Valve, as I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to one day see pinball tables based on Half-Life, Left 4 Dead, or Team Fortress.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Nails the Portal to pinball adaptation
+ GLaDOS’ ever-present snark never gets old
+ Forgetting the Portal theme, this is just a fun, well laid out table

Cons:
– Test Chamber difficulty and rules maybe could have been a bit more varied

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS Vita, also available on Android, iOS, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 5/26/2015
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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!