Review: Ant-Man Pinball (Zen Pinball 2)
By: Don Walton, Jr.
Marvel’s ‘Ant-Man’ is hitting the big screen on July 17th, and early reviews are pretty strong. Screenwriter Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) has been attached to the project for years, and with Paul Rudd in the title character role, the film is said to be packed with humor. Zen Studios is releasing their virtual pinball counterpart, the cleverly titled ‘Marvel Ant-Man Pinball’ just two days ahead of the film debut.
We’ll go over some of the table layout highlights first. The game features three standard flippers (two lower and an upper center/left flipper), a lower playfield with two pivoting button controlled paddles, a left drain minigame that rocks from side to side with the flipper buttons, a right drain automatic Magna-Save, a jump ramp on the far right a la ‘Fire!’ that leads to a floating magnetic centrifuge, three ramps (and also a wirerail-type ramp exactly like Theatre of Magic, but mirrored), a giant Ant-Man helmet that follows the ball (similar to Homer’s head in ‘The Simpsons Pinball Party’, but located just outside of the table), an under the table moving paintball cannon similar to the cannon on ‘Black Rose’, a hairpin loop, a loose ‘plastic’ ball that changes size (think of the menagerie toy in Cirque Voltaire), and three pop bumpers with the obligatory rollover lanes funneling down to them. Oh, it also has a shrinking ball (OF COURSE), but I wouldn’t nail that down to be a playfield ‘feature’.
The gameplay on Ant-Man is fast, but didn’t feel ‘cheap’ or overly difficult. If the ball goes side-to-side, you will need to recover as the outlanes can be vacuums, but there aren’t any unforgiving center drains or surprises that take advantage of the players’ reaction time. HOWEVER, the lower playfield with its odd paddle-like flippers is one shot and you’re done. It’s been very challenging to get the hang of. One of the coolest features is the shrinking particle ball. The ball is loose in a little cage, and the goal is to have it strike all five of the standup targets in the back of the cage WITH the particle ball. Hitting lit targets with the normal ball dims them. I’m not sure if it changes the progression, but the graphics definately go from lit to unlit. Each time the target bank is completed, the particle ball shrinks a little bit until it eventually just rolls out of the cage and starts a two ball multiball. Hitting the targets with the particle and then regular ball during this multiball causes a very tiny BB-sized ball to show up, leading to a three-ball add-a-ball multiball. Careful though, because if it drains, it’s gone.
The paintball game is a little odd, but fun when you get the hang of it. You’ll notice Ant-Man standing fullsized on the right of the playfield, but in this ‘Sparring’ mode, he shrinks down to an invisible size and runs around the table. A small red crosshair will appear to help you find him. At this time, you take control of the paintball cannon and move it from side to side with the flipper buttons. The goal is to hit Ant-Man over and over in various shots, but you only have a five chances, and there’s a timer running too. If you hit him, you get to keep that paintball. The first time, I didn’t even notice the cannon because it is camouflaged by the table. It wasn’t until that last paintball that I figured out what was going on. The second time around though, it made a lot more sense and I was able to nail him several times in a row before the timer ran out.
The voice acting is actually pretty good on Ant-Man. There is a Michael Douglas-style voice actor who gets pretty close to the real thing and offers a decent amount of prodding and advice. Ant-Man himself sounds a bit generic, but doesn’t go down the whiney Peter Parker path either. I love the custom soundtrack. It sound very ‘modern pinball-y’ to me, similar to the darker tones of Batman: The Dark Knight, or Stern’s Spider-Man. On the PS3 version, the sound effects were balanced and fun. Many Zen tables have had a single annoying tone somewhere in there, but not on Ant-Man. Well...MAYBE the sound of ant feet scuttering around is a little tiresome after a while. Many of the sound effects sound like they were ripped directly from 80’s video games. Not sure why they’re there, but they sound cool. It did make me wonder why some of the sounds haven’t ever changed from table to table over the years though. Why don’t the slingshots or pop bumpers sound different? Like blasts, or gun shots or whatever…? At one point, the pop bumpers made chime sounds like an old electromechanical pinball machine, but I couldn’t figure out what I do to cause it, or how it fit into the ‘story’ of the game. I didn’t see a reference to it in the table guide either.
One small gripe is that the left loop feeds the center of the left slingshot. In real life, I’m able to adjust the ball guide and have it feed the flipper, but not on Ant-Man. That means a nice smooth loop shot will cause your ball to go wild. And I could have sworn on past Zen tables that your high score initials were saved from game to game...not the case here.
Overall, the layout somehow feels a bit simpler than recent Zen tables...yes, even with ALL THOSE TOYS. That’s not a bad thing though. It’s easy to get lost of some of the more complex tables with 4-5-6 ramps on the playfield. Ant-Man keeps it simple, but plenty of fun shots and modes keep me coming back. I wish the tiny ball was used a little more, or a mode where everything is giant compared to the ball, but maybe that would change the perspective too much. My complaints are minor, and I’d say Ant-Man is among the ever growing tier of ‘must buy’ Zen tables. PRO TIP: Don’t sit on your flipper buttons! Keeping that upper flipper up gimps a couple shots. And if you’re playing on a Sony device, buy it on PS3 or Vita for a free PS4 upgrade! Forwards compatible, but not backwards. Check out Ant-Man on pretty much every platform ever the week of July 14th.
FOUR out of FIVE stars
Ant-Man Pinball was reviewed using a PSN code provided by Zen Studios.