Ever since I fell in love with Vicious Cycle's Puzzle Quest, I have wondered what other genres you could mash-up with a traditional role-playing game. Zen Studios' newest pinball table goes a long way to merge Pinball FX 2 with all the trappings of a classic role-playing game. The results are mostly successful, offering a little something for both pinball and adventure game lovers.
Epic Quest takes everything we know and love about role-playing games and adds an addictive game of pinball over it. We get quests to slay monsters, rid the forest of bats and save the damsel in distress. We fight spiders and ogres, upgrade our weapons in town, earn experience and ultimately beat all your friend's high scores. You've seen it all before, even if the unique structure is a novelty.
It turns out that the standard Pinball FX 2 rules are the perfect fit for an ambitious mash-up like this. Fans of Zen's other tables already know about taking on and completing quests for big point prizes (plus medals and achievements), so the idea of tackling RPG-esque missions shouldn't surprise anybody. Epic Quest adds yet another layer over the normal game, offering an exciting combat mechanic that sets this table apart from everything else Zen has made.
This table is teaming with enemies that will do everything in their power to kill you. This brings up two life bars (located on the table right next to your flippers) and a set of rules. A timer will count down the time until the monster attacks, giving you only a few seconds to plan your attack. Each ramp is assigned a different value, such as lane allowing to use your sword and one that is for the shield. The idea is to hit one of those lanes (or any of the other attack triggers on the table) before time runs out, thus taking some life off of the monster. Once you kill the beast you will earn some experience and continue with your epic quest.
All things considered, this shoehorned in combat mechanic works surprisingly well. It's not as deep as recent Final Fantasy games or anything, but it offers a unique take on the genre that has to be admired. Zen has even thrown in the ability to customize your character, a Monty Python-like buffoon who stands ready for anything on the left side of the table. You can upgrade his armor and weapons, which will influence the damage he administers and receives.
Like so many of Zen's pinball tables, things can be a little overwhelming at first. The board has more lights than Las Vegas, all of which ties into something worth exploring. A quick glance reveals all sorts of familiar locations to explore (the haunted forest, the mysterious caves, a farmhouse, castle towers, etc.), each with their own set of challenges to complete. If you're lucky, a new section will open up allowing you roll your pinball onto a young girl's spinning dress for big prizes.
It may take a few tries, but eventually you'll learn the layout and what is expected from you. Your epic quest only lasts the duration of three balls, which means that Zen's little RPG can't compete with the length of Final Fantasy XIII-2. There's also very little story to speak of. I'm not sure why I expected that kind of depth from a pinball table, but part of me was a little disappointed that Zen didn't go even further. They have a great idea, I want them to build on the potential and create something as deep and involving as Puzzle Quest.
Epic Quest proves to be one of Zen's easier tables, allowing novice players a chance to earn extremely high scores with relatively little work. Beating back the first batch of enemies is extremely easy and the point values are ridiculous, especially compared to some of Zen's recent updates. The table is full of action, but never so crowded that it leads to unfair deaths. This is a frustration-free table that you'll want to come back to time and time again.
Epic Quest shows that Zen Studios isn't afraid to experiment with fresh new ideas, no matter how goofy they sound. This is the kind of mash-up that shouldn't work, yet I find myself constantly looking forward to trying to best my high score. As much fun as it is, I wish the developers were more ambitious and turned this into a larger pack. Even with that minor gripe, I can't wait to see what Zen does for an encore.