Over the past year ZEN Studios has taken one of the original progenitors of video games, the venerable pinball machine, and turned it into a downloadable classic for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. The boards in Pinball FX2 work because they’re simultaneously only possible as
a video game, but also have a touch of uncanny realism that makes them feel like something you found in the corner of an arcade or amusement park. They have fantastic thematic elements based on Rome, Persia, the deep sea and most recently a host of Marvel superheroes, but there’s a weight and feel to these boards that’s distinctly nostalgic and real in a dime funhouse way. ZEN’s latest addition is the Mars table.
Now I’ll be up-front: the extent of my video pinball experience is the underrated Metroid Prime Pinball on the DS, and some 3D Space Cadet pinball from a very long time ago. Both of those had a far less realistic bent and I therefore got quite a kick out of them. How much you enjoy Pinball FX2 and Mars in particular depends on how much of a pinball purist you are.
Now I’m not saying Mars is entirely realistic—if it were then that would be missing the point. It has video-gamey features just like the rest of the FX2 tables. A space shuttle will roar in for two of the table’s missions, scooping up the ball and dropping it into the cargo bay. There’s also a robot spider that, when activated by some precise shooting, will save your ball from an untimely drop between the flippers and kick it back out onto the board. The various tubes and wire ramps will also return and accelerate your ball with flashy trails of blue and yellow light.
The table itself is somewhat utilitarian, using sci-fi trappings to liven it up. The bottom half, styled after the red planet, is mostly open and lends to planning and strategic shooting. There isn’t much clutter aside from the obligatory kickers and it’s easy to see the ball coming. The top half of the table has two main ramps, a chute and an extra flipper along the right side for top-table paddling. There are also the requisite bumpers (shaped like flying saucers) and high profile targets near the top.
The styling of the table is eye-catching and fits the overall theme well. Flashing indicators are actually holograms that hover above the board, and the sun storm mission has your shuttle dodging solar flares. Getting past all four missions is amply challenging and making it to the pyramid finale takes a quite a bit of practice, but insane difficulty is all part of the pinball experience. As you’re playing there is suitably spacey music that is at once soothing and catchy.
That said, Mars seems to fall short of its potential. I expected a little more out of a space-themed pinball table; Metroid Prime Pinball had you squishing bugs, bombing Metroids and even fighting bosses. I know there was an attempt at realism with the Mars table, but once a space shuttle touches down on your board, why not throw some robot rovers or launching rockets in there? A marauding Martian tripod would’ve been cool too. As for extras Mars has all the same features and score-tracking as the rest of the FX2 tables, and I really appreciated the now-standard camera options that let you pan out our track the ball up close.
All in all Mars isn’t a bad table by any stretch. If you’re looking for more raw pinball challenge and don’t mind a lack of spectacle then there’s plenty in this table to keep you busy, and for $3 it’s a pretty good deal. Just go in with realistic expectations and you’ll have fun with this one.
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