689324_largerTo purists, the mere concept of video pinball may be wrong. But darling, Zen Studios makes it feel so very right. Time after time, they release detailed, deep, bright and blingy tables, and Marvel Pinball [Free] features some of their best work.

Their version of video pinball has 3D graphics, characters, stories, dialogue, twists and/or turns, and the kind of bonkers mechanics that just aren't possible in real life. Sure, they're defying the laws of physics, but if you're going to imitate real pinball, why not do it with some pizzazz? (You can't see it, but I'm typing with jazz hands.)

Before continuing, there's the IAP. Stay with me, it gets a bit obnoxious. So: Zen Studios has already released Zen Pinball [Free], which (in addition to one free machine), already features 14 out of 15 of the Marvel tables. Marvel Pinball only comes with one table, Marvel's The Avengers, and if you already own that table on Zen Pinball, then the only reason to get Marvel Pinball is to buy the Spider-Man machine, and it seems unfair to penalize diehards with a pointless admission fee. Every additional table is $1.99, the same price as if you'd purchased them on Zen Pinball. So the purpose of Marvel Pinball is dubious. That being said, you do get Marvel's The Avengers at half price, so that's something.

As for the tables themselves, they range from good to spectacular. Here's my favorites:

Marvel's The Avengers: As I mentioned, this is the default machine. And as the mandatory purchase, it's pretty good. Based on the Joss Whedon-directed film, you're tasked with battling Loki. All six Avengers from the film have their own ball, each with its own unique advantages. Though there's dialogue from the film, they didn't get the original cast, and it's a bit weird hearing Tony Stark's dialogue read by 'Generic Smart Alec #3.' But it's still a fun table, and a good introduction to the Marvel pinball universe.

Civil War: Based on the Civil War miniseries/cash grab, depending on who you ask, this was my least favorite of the four I played. It starts off well, with a disaster that leads to the superhero registration act. You then decide whether to take Iron Man or Captain America's side, and attempt to recruit heroes and sway public opinion to your side. I tried it out thinking the combination of heroes would make for a fun, diverse table. It wasn't bad, but compared to the other three, it felt lackluster. Serves me right for picking the table centered around a public policy debate.

The Infinity Gauntlet: This is the flat-out winner of the bunch, and the app's raison d'être. The plot is taken from the comic book miniseries of the same name, in which cosmic monkey dude, Thanos, controls some MacGuffins that make him all powerful. He erases a bunch of people from existence. Why? To impress a girl, of course. (Been there!) It's a smartly designed table, features some beautiful art, and has great sound design. But best of all, it takes full advantage of the source material's cosmic weirdness. There are so many delightful and disorienting moments that play around with physics,  time, and perspective in a way that's completely true to the comics. If I didn't have to write this review, I'd be playing The Infinity Gauntlet right now.

Spider-Man: With the look of The Amazing Spider-man, this is exactly what Spider-Man pinball should be. It's colorful, fun, a little bit shallow, and corny. Those are compliments. J. Jonah Jameson yells at you, balls can swing home to smooch Mary Jane, and you get to battle Mysterio, Green Goblin, and Doctor Octopus. This is the only table not available on Zen Pinball, so it's a little ridiculous it doesn't come with the app.

Every table has one thing in common: An uncommon degree of difficulty. Not rigged, like those '60s pinball machines with tiny flippers. These are complex and sophisticated boards, with tons of ramps, prompts, and moving parts. Every table does include its own table guide, but you're best off just aiming for whatever pockets or ramps are lit up, and just hope for the best. That's what got me to 28,000,000 on The Infinity Gauntlet. That, and luck.

I've got lots of affection for Marvel Comics and pinball, so seeing these tables brought a big, dumb grin to my face. IAP weirdness aside, this is an excellent package, and a great gateway drug for the pinball-deprived youth of today.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • GFYantiapplezealots

    Zen pinball is one of the worst pinball engines out there. It's like the ball is on rails and only travels on a few pre-determined paths. There's almost no physics going on with Zen Pinball titles. Horrible games.

    • JCman7

      Why do you say that? Are you just not good at the tables or what? Ive played every table in the Zen Pinball app and have gotten very high scores on most of them. The physics I think is great and it's not hard to figure out how to play. They are a lot of fun and the newer tables especially the Star Wars ones are absolutely fantastic. I guess I can see where you might feel it's not as realistic but the games are meant to be fun and a little different then normal pinball machines

      • stormchild

        The total lack of realism is the problem. The physics are not even close.

    • MonkeyChunks

      No it is not. I played almost every pinball game on iOS as well as on 360.
      The two best Pinball games in my opinion are the ones by Zen Studios and one called Pinball Arcade which is by same company who made Williams Collection.

      Only criticism I could think of is the subjective opinion that pinball games by Zen Studios are not reproductions of existing tables. They're more like fantasy pinball with moving shapes and animated scenery. But physics and graphics have always been excellent and games balanced.

      • stormchild

        The designs certainly are great. The physics, however, are not. I personally don't care whether Zen tables could exist in real life; if they do some tricks that aren't possible on a real table, that's imaginative and taking advantage of the medium. No problems there. But the games just don't feel like pinball in anything other than a loose, analogous sense, and for those of us who love real pinball, that's always been the reason these games don't grab us.

      • David Clarke

        I guess if realistic physics are what you're looking for, I don't know what to tell you. Zen Studios sure isn't keeping me from the Silverball Museum every other weekend. But then, nothing in the Silverball Museum is as insane as the Infinity Gauntlet table. So they both have their place.

        Zen Studios does what they do incredibly well, and that's make fun video pinball. If you need verisimilitude maybe it's not your thing.

      • stormchild

        Fair enough. I do appreciate the effort they put into designing fun tables. It's not that it has to be absolutely real…it's just that the feel isn't quite right. The ball feels like it has no mass, and as "GFY…" described it, it's like the ball is on rails and only travels down certain pre-determined paths.

        I read an article a couple years ago that talked about how the physics in Angry Birds are not at all realistic, yet they are tuned to be fun. Without insisting on absolute realism, I think the physics of Zen could be tuned in ways that make the game more fun. I'm willing the bet the developers are fully aware of this, and have already put a lot of hard work into it…but they've still got a ways to go (at least for those of us who like the feel of the real thing).

    • stormchild

      (This is directed at everyone who replied to the above…)

      The Seattle Space Needle gives you a hint where this person is coming from. Real pinball is big in Seattle, and nobody who's spent a significant amount of time playing real pinball would say the physics in Zen are "excellent" or even "pretty good".

      The real thing is fun because the basic mechanics are very carefully tuned to get them just right. As hard as this is to do on a real table, it's much harder on virtual tables, because you have to implement the physics too (whereas in real life you get those for free). Physics are far too complicated to just plug in all the numbers and algorithms (that's more math than any CPU can handle); you have to try to approximate only the aspects that are necessary to make the game feel real.

      Pinball Arcade succeeds because they have the real life tables to use as a reference to guide their decisions about how to tweak the physics. Zen clearly puts a lot of effort into their games, but without a real world reference, it's like they're painting in the dark. No matter how much effort they put into it, it's hard to imagine they will ever get the feel exactly right.

  • RunningWild

    So if I already have Zen Pinball, what am I missing out on essentially?

    • David Clarke

      The only machine you can't get on Zen Pinball is Spider-Man. And this just comes with Avengers, but half-off.

    • jsd

      If you bought all the Marvel tables for ZP then you're only missing Spiderman.

  • JCman7

    Due to licensing they can't include Spider-Man in the Zen Pinball app which really stinks, I want that table! Hopefully this app will go free so I can download that table but I doubt it. I will probably just end up spending the $.99 but I have spent over $30 on all the tables so far. They are worth the price tag.

  • jhamdotme

    I'm a fan of these Marvel tables, and I've bought all of the ones that are available inside of the Zen collection, just like I've bought nearly everything on the App Store that's even remotely related to pinball. It's too bad that we can't get the new Spider-Man table inside Zen, alongside all of our other purchases. It's available on the PS3 in Zen Pinball 2, what makes it different on iOS? But what are you gonna do? Stupid lawyers, am I right?

    But the single best pinball table on iOS right now, in my opinion, is Revenge of the Rob-O-Bot. It's been almost completely ignored by the gaming press, but there's an enthusiastic bunch of people discussing it over at the Pinball Arcade Fans forum. There, in a community full of some of the most discerning iOS pinball fans, it's almost universally praised. And justifiably so. The physics are spot on, it's beautiful, it's easy to understand but really really hard, and it's a lot of fun.

    It's supposed to be getting a pretty significant update pretty soon, with lots of new features. Hopefully Touch Arcade and others will cover it this time around, and it'll find the audience that it deserves.

    So, by all means, check out the Marvel collection and Zen Pinball, and The Pinball Arcade and Zaccaria. And if you've got a couple of bucks left over, and if you're even remotely interested in pinball on iOS, you should probably also get yourself Rob-O-Bot. It's kind of the best.

    • David Clarke

      Rob-O-Bot is very cool. It sounds and feels retro and awesome. Feels like pinball.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      We included Rob-o-bot in our best pinball games roundup for 2012 actually http://toucharcade.com/2012/12/25/best-iphone-and-ipad-games-of-2012-pinball/

      • jhamdotme

        I saw that, and that was great. But it was a single paragraph in a larger feature, and it was buried in a heavy-traffic end-of-the-year period. Maybe keep an eye out for the update that's supposed to be coming soon, and give it another look when that comes out.

        This game is truly great, and according to Game Center, it's getting less than a hundred players a week right now. I'm tops for the week, and if we throw out two obviously hacked scores, I'm squeezing into the top ten all time. I'm not particularly good, and I don't deserve to be ranked so highly. It's just that nobody's playing this, and that makes me sad. These guys deserve success, and I'd love to see them making more tables.

        I've seen Touch Arcade influence the fates of lots of games, and this one seems as worthy as any.

  • Joshua Yamada

    AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!

  • Greyskull

    I have Zen and a lot of tables, including 5 or so Marvel ones. I might buy this simply for the 1 dollar discount on The Avengers, which I haven't purchased. One good thing about Zen is that the tables don't come pre-installed with iaps to unlock them; the tables download when you buy them, saving a lot of space compared to (for example) the OOO Gameprom collections.

  • stormchild

    As much as I appreciate the effort Zen Studios puts into designing beautiful and interesting pinball tables (in fact, I would love to see them design a real life table, as they certainly have a lot of great ideas), the physics have always felt (and continue to feel) wrong, and for me that undermines the whole experience of playing them. It's hard to pinpoint the exact details — the way the ball bounces off different types of surfaces and angles; the acceleration/deceleration curves as the ball travels up and down ramps and rails and other contours; and so on — but the overall experience just *feels* unmistakeably wrong.

    Once you've played Pinball Arcade, it's pretty hard to enjoy any other pinball game. Granted, Zen does a much better job than Gameprom, but their games still fall well short of the mark. I can only guess that people who like Zen tables have never played a real pinball table. If you have, you'd know that Pinball Arcade is the only simulation that even comes close (and even then…it's still not quite the same as the real thing).

  • http://www.legendo.com/ Björn Larsson

    We're working on a new table for Pure Pinball called T-Rex Savage, it will be interesting to see if the physics approximation will be appreciated by iOS gamers. http://legendo.com/pure-pinball

  • http://www.legendo.com/ Björn Larsson

    We're working on a new Pure Pinball table for iOS called T-Rex Savage, it will be interesting to see if our physics approximation will be appreciated. http://legendo.com/pure-pinball

Marvel Pinball Reviewed by David Clarke on . Rating: 4