Isn’t Pinball Marvellous?

Memories of a misspent youth. Hours dissolved in wide-eyed meditation. Skin illuminated by the flashing lights of classic Pinball tables snuggled between pool tables and arcade cabinets. Hitting the flipper just right to nail that jackpot and the exhilaration of the frenetic Multiball while the dizzying lights flash at you with wild abandon. Ah the memories are fond indeed but they are not mine.  You see instead I would’ve been on one of those afore-mentioned arcade cabinets strategically allocating my scarce funds for shots on Street Fighter II, WWF Wrestlemania and maybe Spy Hunter (which was only 10p a go). I have a vague semblance of these Pinball memories from moments lived vicariously through others. I genuinely love Pinball but have probably spent one hour total on a real machine which was usually due to the magical amusements fairy bestowing upon me a random free credit.

Wolverine vs Sabretooth

Nostalgia aside, Pinball has found a much needed home in recent years on consoles, due in no small part to Zen Studios, who recently added the Vengeance and Virtue tables (Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, Thor and X-Men) to the already handsome Marvel Pinball on PSN.  The original tables on Marvel Pinball (which was free last month on PSPlus) are all notable by their quality and variation of table design. The Wolverine table is short and stocky just like Logan himself whereas Iron Man is wide and multi-faceted, mirroring Stark Industries, but also spacious, perhaps echoing the less-is-more design of luxury executive suites synonymous with global industry.  The whole bundle (four original, four DLC pack and two singular DLC tables) are varied enough so when you try them you will no doubt pick and stick with the ones that suit your preference best.  If you’re wanting high scores there’s the repetitious Spiderman or, if you prefer tricky shots and more of a Story/Challenge style, there is the X-Men table that is more objective driven.

As a fan of comics and of pinball, Marvel Pinball is a perfect combo for me and given the fact that Pinball FX was the #1 game on XBLA in 2011 it seems I’m not alone (Marvel Pinball is contained within Pinball FX 2 on 360). That said, there are a few changes and additions I think could make the game outrageously awesome, the first of which would be art.


The images contained between, and on, the covers of decades worth of Marvel published comics are some of the most iconic and staggering pieces of art I’ve ever seen; from Ditko’s Spiderman to Joe Mad’s (Darksiders designer) X-Men and everything in-between the art of Marvel’s back-catalogue is truly awe-inspiring.  When playing Marvel Pinball I can’t help but think how fantastic it would be if Zen were to drop the dated and now awkward looking dot-matrix display in favour of some dynamic hand rendered artworks from these phenomenal artists?  I imagine a big Wolverine snarling at Sabretooth like the cover of Wolverine #90 by Adam Kubert/Hildebrandt Bros, or perhaps show the Phoenix amidst the unrelenting blazing flames like the cover for X-Men Legacy #211.  My favourite thing about superhero comics is this type of imagery and there are so, SO many more. My other idea would be perhaps more dialogue and character animations on the table.  For me this would take the game past just a honouring pastiche of classic Pinball and moving into a type of Pinball that takes advantage of the video game medium.  I would genuinely love to see this and these, coupled with FULL trophy list is a must.  There are just so many gameplay possibilities that can happen during a game that would lend themselves well to an extended trophy set but also the trophies would in turn lead to gameplay sessions based solely on trying to unlock them.

Perhaps it’s just me and due to the amount of time I put in to these games perhaps leads me in to taking them too seriously and the majority of folk like their pinball as a quick, pretty arcade game to chuck on for something mindless to do for half an hour.  But for me Pinball and Comics is as perfect a mixture as strawberries and cream and the very foundation of good comics is fantastic art and while the animations do add a liveliness to otherwise static tables I think some some full screen flashes of 2D art during gameplay would take the game to a whole new level!

In the meantime and while I wait for the phonecall from Zen Studios to pay me for these amazing ideas, if anyone has any High Scores they want to brag about please do!

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2 responses to “Isn’t Pinball Marvellous?”

  1. Thirdrail avatar

    I agree with you completely. They’re still just scratching the surface of this digital pinball renaissance. There’s really no reason, aside from tradition, that the table art itself needs to be static. You could panel it like a comic and have a different “page” for each mission. (The best issues of GI Joe, for example, had no text whatsoever. You could certainly fuse that kind of storytelling with the existing narrative of a pinball table.) I’d also enjoy seeing more activities like the Doom Bot battle in Fantastic Four, where you’re targeting the actual robots as they fight with Ben. With the unlimited special effects budget of animation, you’re not really hemmed into abstraction like the designers of real pinball tables.

    But the art of creating comics is old and comparatively well explored when placed alongside the art of creating comic book pinball tables. There are only, what, 11 Marvel tables in existence on our whole planet. Zen is a hell of lot farther along with their art form than the original creators of Spiderman, Captain America, or the X-Men were at their 11th issues.

  2. Paul Rooney avatar
    Paul Rooney

    Absolutely! At first I was merely just postulating while playing, just thinking “Wouldnt this be cool?” type thing, but the more I think about it the more possibilities open up. Im not an expert on animation, but I know these comics very well and couldnt help think of those full page panels. They could also go really far and have whole stories told within the narrative as you put it. Fir example the Bridge in the XMen table (Always makes me laugh Scott saying “Iceman quick, make an Ice Bridge before anyone falls… ” and then assembling different characters to face Magneto, you can pick and choose which Xmen to assemble then have different Art/Dialogue according to who you called in and who you called them in with! Also, bring on DC!

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