Zen Pinball 2: Star Wars Rebels / Avengers: AOU review for PS4, Xbox One

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita, Mobile
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: Leaderboards
ESRB: E10+

Clearly, if you enjoy video game pinball, you?ve got some options nowadays. On one hand, you have The Pinball Arcade, which produces really great renditions of existing tables over the past few decades, covering manufacturers like Bally, Williams, Gottlieb, and Stern. And then on the other, you have Zen Pinball, which in turn covers conceptual tables based on various popular franchises, covering Marvel, Star Wars and more. Over the past couple of years I?ve found a lot to enjoy on both platforms, despite the two games offering up some slightly different physics and pinball sensibilities.

While there?s been a lot of tables released for Zen Pinball 2 over the past 12 months, I recently spent a bit of time playing through the two most recent tables, one for Avengers: Age of Ultron, the other for Star Wars Rebels. Both tables are pretty different from one another, which is a testament to how wildly different the various tables that Zen Pinball 2 offers up can be. That said, between the two, I found Rebels to be the most outstanding, unique, and fun table to play, really sort of putting to shame the lukewarm gameplay of Age of Ultron.

One area that the Zen Pinball tables really excel at is their willingness to embrace certain…unrealistic functions that actual pinball tables can?t replicate. A lot of times this come down to 3D models of characters or objects that fly wildly off screen or interact with the table in other ways. Certain tables can use these effects well, like Star Wars Rebels does here, while others, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, somehow manage to underperform in this area.

Avengers_Age_Of_Ultron_screenshot_02_logoThe Avengers: Age of Ultron table is a bit plain, with some lackluster movie inspired artwork that fills up the front end of the table, with a 3D Black Widow model that moves around the front of the table, and a Tony Stark / Ultron model in the back that doesn?t move around enough to be noticeable while playing. The only added 3D model effect comes from the Ultron robots you?ll occasionally be required to destroy that appear on the playing field during one of the many special modes this table offers up. It?s not a particularly exciting table to look at, nor play, but the reasons for that don?t stop here.

The table is mostly comprised of a series of different lanes to send your ball rocketing through, most of which will spell out a character name like WIDOW, or HAWKEYE. Filling out these names will then trigger a special mode that generally incorporates that character, but most of these modes feel identical in purpose, wherein you?ll need to aim your ball down a lit lane within a small timeframe. In order to make this table less frustrating for newcomers, there are selectable difficulties from the start, ranging from Easy to Hard, which can affect both score and the amount of time you have to complete these special modes.

Avengers_Age_Of_Ultron_screenshot_04_logoThe only other area of these table that stands out is the upper section, which has a secluded area that can trigger the ?Science Bros? mode for Iron Man and Hulk. Unfortunately this area is little more than a lone flipper and a handful of bumpers. It?s also remarkably hard to see into despite the variety of camera angles you can switch between.

On the positive side, I did like the idea of a two-ball multiball prelude to open the table up with, where you help Iron Man construct the Ultron A.I. It?s also somewhat neat to see it built as an optional thing, even though I?m not sure I fully understand why you would want to skip it. Also, if you manage to get the four-ball multiball for the final event, it?s so chaotic that you can?t help but smile at the mess, even if getting to this point is more frustrating and boring than it?s worth.

Grade: C

So yeah, the Avengers: Age of Ultron table is a dud. But thankfully Star Wars Rebels is not.

The Rebels table at first glance seems a bit small, especially in comparison to the overall length of the Avengers: Age of Ultron table. But what it loses in space it makes up for with focus and interaction, giving you plenty to do and look at throughout the colorful table. The visual style is reminiscent of a flight hangar, with a raised platform on the back of the table where 3D models of Ezra, Kanan, and the droid Chopper reside. At different points Ezra and Kanan may take off and hide, like when the Sith Inquisitor pops by to start maniacally spinning his lightsaber around.

SW_Rebels_screenshot_01_logoOther unique table interactions come from different cast members. While Sabine, the Mandalorian clad vandal of the crew, doesn?t have a 3D model represented, her presence is still felt via paint bombs and graffiti that can be sprayed on Imperial propaganda to the right of the playing field. Zeb, the gruff alien, has a special mode that lines up Stormtrooper cutouts for you to knock down. Hera and Chopper, the latter of which can occasionally fly around the table, will make use of the really cool Ghost starship model in top left area, which comes into play for their special modes as well.

The table is super colorful, brightly lit, and very easy to read. The compact size leads to quick shots and bounces, forcing you to really be mindful of where the ball is at all times, and it can be really easy to gutter a ball if you?re not mindful of position. But as long as you?re hitting those flippers, you?re generally going to get somewhere useful, with a few different lanes that run the gamut of the table, including a cage tunnel that runs across the back and right-hand side.

SW_Rebels_screenshot_03_logoOverall, Star Wars Rebels is easily one of my favorite Zen Pinball tables to date. It?s accessible for just about anyone, it showcases its theme quite well, and it?s really hard to stop playing. Progression is easy to see after just a couple hours spent playing, but there?s still enough depth and challenge to keep you coming back for more. While the Avengers: Age of Ultron table ultimately falls to showcase what makes Zen Pinball so unique, Star Wars Rebels actually excels at doing just that, and is well-worth the asking price.

Grade: A