It’s time to battle the forces of evil one flipper at a time, as Blade, Iron Man, Spiderman, and Wolverine, seek elusive multi-ball victory against their arch nemeses.

Writing a review of a pinball title is a pretty straightforward exercise. In essence, said review is limited to discussions on ball physics, variability in scoring, and finally table character. Simply put, if the game doesn’t look, feel, nor play like a real pinball table…the tree never fell on the pinball. Or something of that ilk.

Despite this somewhat simplicity – and as Downtown Jimmy will second – I jumped at the chance to review Zen’s ‘Marvel Pinball.’ I’m a closet pinball obsessive, having played far too many – albeit exceptional – Little Wing PC titles the past couple of decades as evidence. This obsession logically extends to ‘Zen Pinball’s PSN suite, a well-received and still-growing game bursting with glitz, glamour, and pinball panache.

Zen Pinball is anything but perfect. To be frank – and several patches, pay-to-play tables in - I still find default table physics appalling, with far too much downward torque on the ball to convey realism. Meaning, Zen Pinball plays as if tables are tilted downward on astonishingly frustrating, 35-degree angles. Off-object deflections, flipper play reflects this, with Zen more a challenge to overcome said physics than unearth table goodies.

Moreover, Zen combo challenges and ramps are both positioned in often confounding locations, ones requiring mid flipper, semi-random hits to send in appropriate directions. Changing table physics penalizes via no trophies or online score updates. (Sigh.) Still, let the gods be praised that Zen Pinball is far enough removed from the shockingly unrealistic PSP’s ‘Pinball Heroes.’

Marvell Pinball, in many ways, is Zen Pinball 2.0, an upgrade to the franchise – by named development studio- now backed by some top-notch licenses. Reading the above paragraph, however, expectations were logically mixed for this new iteration. Even more so with fears that a snazzy license would poorly disguise even worse game play problems. (Are you listening, ‘Guitar Hero Van Halen’?)

Hot damn; it’s great to be pleasantly surprised. Flaws of Zen Pinball yore are nowhere to be seen, with Marvel Pinball’s table design, trajectory physics near perfect in execution. The game’s 4 character themed tables – Blade, Iron Man, Spiderman and Wolverine – are amazingly robust and original, and keep the good times literally rolling in search of new challenges and modes within.

Continuing the love, Marvel Pinball nailed its license to perfection. Comic book fans will elicit high levels of giddiness here, with each table sporting authentic homage to individual franchise’s heroes, villains, and the comic books themselves.

To elaborate, a table’s score challenges are comprised of ‘missions’ to defeat baddies, where completing a series of table tasks will unleash an attack-oriented challenge. Win this challenge, unlock others with increasingly difficult tasks…often including a second villain.

A clever feature of Marvel Pinball is how these villains – and your main character - are portrayed as giant 3-D, interactive versions of themselves. As game play progresses, these villains (and your hero) will interact accordingly through semi-interactive, physical gestures.

Especially cool is Spiderman’s Green Goblin attack challenge, one where the Goblin – trash talking throughout - swoops across the table dropping potentially exploding orange pinballs to fend off. Ditto for Blade, where vampire battle progression morphs the table into night mode.


The more one plays Marvel Pinball, the more he/she will appreciate its attention to detail. Voice-overs, music are wonderful, both capture the spirit of respective licenses perfectly. Related, tiny table details – as in how balls are launched, LED display nuances, verbal quips – are often brilliantly clever, terrific individualized representations of the licenses they’re drawn from.

Perhaps most importantly for a pinball title, Marvel Pinball plays fair. The tables – akin to its Zen predecessors – are not easy; death is always a flipper mishit away. Thankfully, Marvel Pinball adjusts accordingly, offering appropriate ball save opportunities when the odds are ridiculously stacked against you. For instance, reversing flipper controls (via a Mysterio: Spiderman challenge) is immediate death upon first recognition…and usually second and third as well…in 5 seconds flat. The game offers a fair shake of ball replays until the player adjusts accordingly via score attainment.

Also – and a pet peeve of mine – Marvel Pinball’s ramps don’t penalize for side rail, insufficient power hits designed to send a ball straight down the middle path of death. These mishits – and there will be many, as in ‘real’ pinball – can be compensated for through last minute flipper-to-flipper tap saves. Don’t get me wrong: there are no training wheels here. It’s good to know, however, that the course isn’t ripe with unknowing potholes or nails.

Finally, Marvel Pinball’s ‘hero’ and trophy systems are ridiculously original. Both are intertwined to ensure you keep coming back for more, likewise produce online bragging rights for your friends list to marvel (knee slap!) in. I hope other, more mainstream PSN titles – especially puzzle ones where completion times are factored in – adopt this trophy dynamic.

One minor Zen carry-over does rear its ugly head, that being the Goldilocks and the Three Bears, camera angle conundrum. So many camera angles…but none seemingly just right. A free flowing, intelligent camera appears the perfect solution, one still absent in Zen titles. (Psst…intelligent camera angles. Pass. It. On.)

This foible aside, I’d personally reach into your pockets – if legal in Canada to do so – pay the $10 in coin for you to play Marvel Pinball. This is a wonderful pinball gaming experience, an almost dream-come-true for those with a comic book bent.


Marvel Pinball is – hands down – the best console version of pinball to date, a steal at its $10 price point. The game’s wonderful use of licenses, correction of nearly all-prior Zen Pinball foibles makes this a must-buy, PSN purchase.

  • Dramatic improvement over prior Zen Pinball titles
  • Authentic Marvel license
  • Tremendous re-playability
  • Attention to detail is astonishing
  • Camera angles are close but no cigar
  • You haven’t bought this yet

Quote: "Marvel Pinball is – hands down – the best console version of pinball to date, a steal at its $10 price point. The game’s wonderful use of licenses, correction of nearly all-prior Zen Pinball foibles makes this a must-buy, PSN purchase."
Reviewed by Paul Stuart | 12.23.10


Marvel Pinball

Zen Studios

Zen Studios


US Release
December '10



Players 1