Save America from Certain Doom in Marvel Pinball Captain America!
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Long before the World of Warcraft, Nintendo, and the Atari, there was Pinball. Before the internet cafes began popping up like mushrooms, and even before the coin-op arcade video games, Pinball was the popular pastime. Back then, the pinball table would provide a welcome escape, with the simple goal: Keep the ball in play and do not let it drop past your defences. Time would fly as you watched the ball smack against obstacles and streak up lighted ramps, and listened to the bells and whistles, trying your damnedest to keep the ball from dropping into the gutter. But with the discovery of videogames, and then the gaming consoles, pinball quickly fell to the wayside, forgotten…but not gone. Remember your first computer with its preinstalled games? We had the typical set of games that included Solitaire, FreeCell, Hearts…and Pinball. Even decades since its conception, we could still go back to pinball for the simple ‘let me shut off my brain’ entertainment on our brand-spankin’ new desktop computer.
Well, ZEN Studios has long-since brought a new generation of Pinball gaming to us by introducing the Pinball FX and Pinball FX2 platforms to the Xbox 360 and the Marvel Pinball platform on the PlayStation Network. Gone is the generic pinball table with easy goals; instead each Pinball table has its own story and set of missions to complete. ZEN Studios’ newest addition to FX2, Marvel Pinball Captain America, released recently just a few weeks from its namesake’s theatrical debut. So is this revitalized game worth your escapist time, or shall you stick to your usual mind-numbing videogames? I sat down to give it a whirl.
Inspired by Ed Brukbaker’s Captain America 65th Anniversary Special edition, Marvel Pinball Captain America is set in World War II, pitting the popular all-American hero and his allies, Bucky and members of the Howling Commandos, against the nefarious Baron Zemo, the Red Skull, and the Sleeper. While the basic pinball mechanics are still present (don’t let the ball drop!), game developers added mini-missions to the pinball table, alleviating the mind-numbing aspect of the classic Pinball game and keeping the player engaged!
You play as Captain America, and you’re on a mission to save America from Baron Zemo’s Death Ray and canisters of Adhesive X, with the Sleeper and Red Skull thwarting your every move. Shoot the ball up one ramp and your quest (should you choose to accept) is to find and free the Howling Commandos within the allotted time. Aim the ball to the upper right tunnel and you enter Zemo’s Castle, where you can choose to neutralize the Death Ray, clear the Adhesive X, or you can choose to fight against the Red Skull. Some of the missions are timed, whereas others are more reliant on your aim, as you must have spectacular skill to follow the instructions in the upper-left corner of the screen. Each mission yields a specific set of instructions, such as “aim for the lighted ramps” to punch the Red Skull, or “aim for the canisters” to disable the green goo that is Adhesive X. Those are just a select few of the mini-missions available. Admittedly, my pinball skills aren’t the greatest, so I stuck to the basic pinball premise!
Even without the mini-missions, the graphics and sound would be able to carry the game. The entire table down to the minute details are visually stunning and amazingly realistic, with the table gleaming in metallic colours and vibrant lights flashing in the lanes. Also, 3D characters are ever present on the edges of the table: The Cap and the Red Skull stand just a couple steps away from each other, gesturing and ready to throw punches per the Sparring mission. Baron Zemo will occasionally make an appearance for different missions, walking on screen at the bottom of the table to oversee his master plan unfold. One thing I really liked was the many options to change the view of the table: from birds’ eye view to a wide shot, to up-close and personal. One camera view even followed the ball around as it moved around the table, though that option proved to be a little disorienting for me! Another plus was the little numbers in the hundreds and thousands that would bubble up each time the ball hit something, making it easy to track what I should be aiming for to get more points. However, a small gripe I have is the instructions flashing up in the upper right hand corner. While some instructions allowed you to read through before the ball came back into play, at other times words would be flashing while the ball rolled around. It was extremely distracting, until I chose to ignore the instruction panel completely and just focus on the ball.
In addition to the striking graphics, the sound provides the perfect accompaniment. The usual pinball sound effects are crisp and realistic, exactly what you would expect to hear with a metal ball rolling around, streaking up lanes and smacking against things, with the flippers clacking against the sides or hitting the ball. Additionally, there would be sporadic sound effects like a plane flying overhead, gun shots or death ray beams mixed in. The patriotic music sets the mood, urging you to defeat these nasty invaders and save your country. While the music swells in certain areas, it doesn’t overpower the voice actors when the characters speak. Yep, that’s right, there’s voice acting in this pinball game! I could happily play for hours, listening to the music with Bucky exclaiming “Gotcha!” and other trusty side-kick quips, the Captain’s authoritative voice commenting on the situations (i.e. “Next time, I’ll have to be more prepared”), or even the Red Skull’s hilarious one-liners (“Now this will crush you!”) with the German Accent (and yes, although stereotypical, I was reminded of Arnold Schwarzenegger whenever the Red Skull spoke).
While I don’t follow comic books and can’t comment on the storyline or the ‘authenticity’ of the voice actors, I found Marvel Pinball Captain America to be extremely entertaining. It was easy to get hooked, with the realistic graphics, motivating music and amusing character dialogue; I didn’t even realize how much time had passed until my fingers started to go numb from being held in the same position! It was the self-competition that did me in: I was determined to get a decent (as in, not laughable!) high score. The game also encourages friendly competition amongst friends, with a list of your Xbox or PlayStation friends and their high scores (if they have Pinball FX or FX2) right at the beginning and end of each game. Given all of its awesome qualities – I mean, really, you wouldn’t think you could be this entertained by a pinball game of all things – and just my one major gripe about the in-game instruction box, I give the Captain America pinball table a much-deserved 4.75 score out of 5.
ZEN Studios’ Pinball FX2 is available for free on Xbox Live Arcade, while the Marvel Pinball Captain America Table is available for 240 Microsoft points and yields 50 gamer score points. If you’re really into Marvel superheroes and find that you enjoy Pinball games, the Marvel pinball table set is available for 800 Microsoft points and includes tables for Spiderman, Iron Man, Wolverine, and Blade.
To all you lonely Playstation players out there, try Captain America on the Marvel Pinball platform on the PlayStation Network! You can download Marvel Pinball as a standalone game for $9.99 which also includes the Spiderman, Iron Man, Wolverine and Blade tables, and the Captain America table can be purchased for an additional $2.99.
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