Published on October 22nd, 2014 | by Joseph Saulnier0
The Walking Dead: Pinball
Already having tables based on Marvel superheroes and Star Wars, Zen Studios works its magic with another licensed property: The Walking Dead. Based on Telltale’s award-winning graphic adventure series, The Walking Dead Pinball (available for Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX2) condenses the characters, events and settings of the first season into a single table. The result is probably one of the fines Zen pinball experiences yet.
One of the greatest things about the table is the way it adapts the episodic structure and choice-driven story of TWD into its mission design. In the upper area of the table, a walker can be seen reaching out of a hatch. If you hit this walker three times, the hatch will close to reveal access to the mission hole. Upon entering the missions, you will be asked to choose from one of five episodes – which directly correlate with the Telltale series – and then one of a few events will occur. Events that will require you to make a choice. Look for help, or wait for night? Take the supplies, or leave them for the original owners? Save Duck or Shawn? Do you side with Kenny, or Larry? Do you reveal that Lee has been bitten, or leave it be? Once the either-or decision has been made, the mission will activate, and play will resume with one of a few different scoring objectives. If you successfully complete an episode, its title will light up in the progress tracker located in the lower center of the table, just above the flippers. But you have to be quick. Compared to other tables, the choices and missions for TWDP have shorter time limits – adding the appropriate sense of urgency considering the subject matter.
In addition to the main missions, the table offers a wide variety of side challenges and mini-game events. Some of these occur as part of the regular action, such as ongoing objectives to collect rations or gather weapons/ammunition by hitting certain ramps. There are also more elaborate mini-games, which are activated by shooting marked lanes enough times to spell out a word associated with the mission. For example, by hitting the ball up the “Sniper” lane enough times, you will begin a mini-game similar to a shooting gallery with a – you guessed it – sniper rifle. Activating the “Smile” lane causes avatars of Lee and Clementine to begin kicking a soccer ball, while the pinball turns into a soccer ball itself that needs to be passed through marked ramps – within a time limit of course. These are only the tip of the zombie pile – as it were – when it comes to the mini-games. By far, the most fun is “Swarm”, where the atmosphere switches from day to night and you must kill 15 walkers that are shambling toward the flippers.
Zen also did a fantastic job capturing the atmosphere of TWD games, as key locations from the series form the foundation of the table. Working from bottom to top, the left side of the table depicts Clementine’s house and backyard, the barn from the St. John’s Dairy Farm, and the Travelier Motel parking lot, while the entire right side of the table is lined by the city streets of Savannah, Georgia. A couple car from the train in episode three can be also seen extending down from the top of the screen. None of these locations play any type of interactive role, but a couple others do. A ramp going up the right side winds around the top of the table, tunneling through the Savannah bell tower and eventually letting out in the Everett Pharmacy, where a self-contained mini-table with its own set of flippers is located. Hitting the flippers into the walker targets inside the drugstore can open a hatch to the super jackpot, or activate a nighttime multi-ball phase.
The only drawback I see to TWDP is the audio. Sure, it’s great that the voice actors for Lee, Clem and other Season One cast members provided new dialogue specifically for the table, but the voice-overs are largely wasted on lines of dialogue that loop repeatedly, and, in general, fail to offer any real sense of storytelling or character depth. On the flip side – pun intended – the music and ambient walker groans and growls do add a subtle level of tension and urgency to the experience.
Setting aside TWD theme for just a moment, the table itself is laid out really well. The lanes and ramps have a good balance of being tricky to hit, while also maintain a smooth flow. This means the ball rarely gets caught up on edges or stuck going in one direction. The only downside is the placement of the bumpers. They are not as accessible as they need to be, especially since many of the episode missions require scoring a million points from hitting the bumpers or spinners only. The way the lanes and ramps are laid out always seems to funnel the ball around the bumpers, rather than providing a clear path to feed into them. When a mission is in progress, a magnetic field does appear within the bumpers to help attract the ball, but even with that little bit of help, completing certain episodes often seems to hinge not on skill, but a getting a lucky bounce.
Turning a narrative adventure series based entirely on choices and consequences – with little in the way of actual gameplay – into a game of arcade pinball might not sound like an ideal pairing. Somehow, though, Zen Studios has married the two very different styles together in magnificent fashion. With an engaging variety of missions, fun mini-game challenges, true to its source atmosphere and presentation, and an overall balanced table flow, The Walking Dead Pinball is deserving of a spot in your Zen Pinball 2 / Pinball FX2 collection.