Over the past few years, Zen Studios has been converting entertainment properties into pinball form, with works like Star Wars, South Park, and Aliens all getting their own steel-orbed interpretations. But before adapting films and television shows, the Budapest-based developer found a way to rework celebrated game franchises- with Street Fighter II Turbo, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, Ms. Splosion Man, Plants vs. Zombies and Portal all getting their own launcher and flipper treatment. With the release of Bethesda Pinball onto PC, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and Xbox One, the studio has transformed another trio of titles, each imaginatively retaining the character and aesthetic style of their source material.
Echoing the role-playing rudiment of The Elder Scrolls series, the package’s Skyrim table begins with simplified character creation, as players select a race and preliminary attribute for their protagonist. Interestingly, players have the ability keep and level-up this character across multiple play-throughs, bringing a potential for persistence that’s unusual for pinball. While inspired in theory, the concept isn’t rewarding in execution, as games with different characters scored and played similarly. Another issue with the table are a few features that inevitably send the ball careening toward the drain or an out lane, potentially breaking the flow of a session.
But beyond these transgressions, if gratifying to see Skyrim in pinball form, with elements like an on-table castle watchtower and cobblestone lanes that recreate the distinctive texture work of the Creation Engine and an area on the playfield where players can learn the Dragon Shouts, the quantity of lore found on the table is commendable. Pleasingly, Skyrim’s main antagonist, Alduin the World-Eater, looms over the table, sporadically enflaming the table with a meteor storm while mini-games like lockpicking and cave exploration challenge score chasers.
Given the complexity of the Skyrim Table, the open space at the bottom and the staccato pace of the Fallout machine might seem off-putting at first. Following the use of a randomized character or the selection of gender and assignment of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points across seven attributes, the table cycles through a selection of companions, which each add their own bonus perk. Given the large area just above the drain whole and immediately above, play feels hectic, with players continually using the base flippers to fight the scourge of gravity. Firing the ball into a feature on the bottom left of the table, triggers a session of RPG shopping, with players able to spend their earned caps on radiation and injury reduction. Unfortunately, the exchange pauses all the action, and when you inadvertently hit the shop, it can take a few seconds to back out, disrupting the flow. Ideally, Zen should have placed the store in a remote part of the table.
But much like Skyrim, Fallout succeeds in visual design. The entire tables looks cobbled together with recovered pieces of rusting sheet metal and wire, emulating the junkyard, post-apocalyptic motif on the franchise. Another upside in the clever adaption of the V.A.T.S. system and factions, with the later tied to specific table goals. Another objective is located beyond the table’s signature vault door, where players collect bobbleheads in an effort to trigger wizard mode.
For Bethesda Pinball’s Doom table, another choice awaits, with players selecting one of two difficulty setting at the start of a game. “Hurt Me Plenty” commences a conventional game on pin with features such as kickbacks, ball saves, and extra balls awaiting activation. “Nightmare” shirks all of the assistance, offering a higher score bonus for those who think they can survive without any help. Admittingly, once you’re use the chain gun at the bottom of the screen to recover, aim, and then relaunch the ball back into play, the temptation might be lessened.
Unlike the Skyrim and Fallout tables which attempted to adapt role-playing mechanics for pinball, Doom strives to recreate the feel of a first-person shooter, which might even be a loftier goal. In some ways, the table succeeds, with sections where you spin sections of the playfield to an area where rotating gears are manipulated, all to keep the orb in play. In execution, these mechanics help to convey the feeling of switching between weapons, and help to keep each round lively. Sure, there are elements like ammo counts, health and armor levels, as well as missions, but you’ll probably find yourself less concerned with the minutia and more focused on hitting flashing targets.
One interesting wrinkle about missions is that they’re not timed, allowing players to simultaneously chase down several scoring opportunities. Another target is the duo of spinners that are an easy shot with the main flippers. Rotating these enough times bestows a random perks like a ball lock, making it a unswervingly valuable goalmouth. With a menacing Cyberdemon on the top of the table and a mode that casts the playfield in blood-red hue, the simulated machine does a good job at recreating the look of the game. And given the table’s metal-driven soundtrack, its sonic delivery is just as adept.
Bethesda Pinball has exceptionally lofty ambitions, trying to marry role-playing and first-person shooter mechanics with traditional pinball action. Unsurprisingly, mixing stats with the steel orb doesn’t always work. For one, it’s difficult to take your eye off the ball to view a meter or gauge. In Fallout’s case, the presence of shopping disrupts the flow of the game. But if you can overlook the package not quite making good on these aspirations, you’ll find a trio of tables that does evoke the look and sound of their source material. Perhaps for the inevitable Dishonored, Wolfenstein, and Prey pack, Zen Studios won’t veer toward overcomplication.
Bethesda Pinball was played on the PS4 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, and mobile
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Release Date: December 6th, 2016
Price: $10.99 via PlayStation Network, XGS, Steam, Google Play, and the App Store