Zen Studios launched Pinball FX3 in style back in September of 2017, making most of its back-catalogue being available to import, and releasing the brand new Universal Classics Pinball pack, which featured tables inspired by iconic films such as Jaws and Back to the Future. Sometimes though, you don’t need a fancy licensed table to deliver a quality pinball experience, and so the latest pack, Carnivals and Legends, includes two tables based on original concepts. Will it be all fun and games with these creations, or does the lack of a big franchise license actually let it down?
The first of the two tables, “Son of Zeus”, is inspired by Greek mythology and revolves around the legendary Hercules on a path to the top of Mount Olympus. In order to stop him on this journey, the furious Hera, whom we hear voicing her wrath many times throughout, throws numerous challenges his way that the player must help to overcome. Strictly in terms of modes, there’s a lot on offer; from aiding Hercules to fend off a giant snake, to whacking the ball at the many heads of the Hydra beast. Most of them are fairly simple to activate, which always helps. My personal favourite involves the multi-headed hound of Hades, Cerberus, whereby the ball is transported to a mini playfield underneath the main one and you must bash the heads until they disappear, before unlocking the gates of the underworld.
Visually, the mythological creatures are well animated – especially when the 3D model of Hercules gets into a scuffle with the snake – and the overall aesthetic suits the premise of the table. I particularly like the look of the volcano placed at the upper corner that transforms into the Titan known as Cronos, which leads to the necessity of shooting the ball in his face and mouth via another set of flippers.
I’m not completely convinced on the layout of “Son of Zeus”, mainly due to it having quite a short lower playfield, thus increasing the risk of losing the ball rather swiftly. It doesn’t help matters that the activation of the kickbacks is pretty tricku to pull off, given that the lights required to be lit are in a difficult area to hit. Other than that, it’s good to see there are a spinner and four ramps to target, as well as a kickout hole, to ensure enough options to fire the ball at and prevent monotony.
The other table in the Carnivals and Legends, “Adventure Land”, sets the scene immediately with a jolly audio track and a shed load of visual excitement; the sheer vibrancy of the colours is spectacular and really is a treat for the eyes. This is a funfair table, and given the backdrop, the table appears to be inside a mock-up gift shop that you’d expect at such a place. The table is full of fairground attractions, odd contraptions and occasionally balloons, with a ticket system in place for initiating certain game modes. Zen Studios have captured the magic of a carnival/funfair atmosphere without a doubt, but the modes featured are a tad confusing initially.
As is the case with a majority of tables, there’s a time limit or time sensitive input needed from the player and whilst the mini-games are easily activated, it takes a few goes to figure out what’s needed to succeed. For example, there’s a mode which sees a cart spin round on a wheel and you must hit the trigger as it passes the lit up part of the ramp. Firstly it doesn’t always register the correctly timed press, but without spending time reading the instructions you wouldn’t know what to do and by doing so you’ve probably missed the first light. Then there’s the Sky Eye which spins round and when a certain ramp is hit, it’ll ask you to fire the ball with either of the flipper buttons to lock the ball into this Doctor Octopus/helicopter hybrid toy’s arm – I still have no idea how to manage achieving this using skill instead of pure luck.
The thing is, the enjoyment levels barely suffered at the hands of these drawbacks, because there’s so much going on that the failure is almost instantly forgotten as you whack a ball using one of three flippers – the main two and then a middling one on the right – towards a target to blow up some balloons. Even firing the ball up the ramps is more fun than usual, with a habitrail in the shape of a loop-the-loop style structure following one specific ramp. To add to the fairground feel, a big wheel rewards you with a prize upon completion of a mode.
Overall, the Carnivals and Legends double pack is a welcome addition, and though it may lack a recognised license from the likes of Marvel or Universal Studios, the tables here possess enough character to thrive as original creations. Whilst “Son of Zeus” goes for the more serious tone and a tougher set up, full of mythological greatness, “Adventure Land” is the epitome of fun and games, despite the initial difficulties in grasping the game modes.
Both tables are very good on their own merit and should definitely be added to your Pinball FX3 collection if you have any slight interest in either Greek gods or carnivals!