The pinball genre on Xbox One is all but sewn up by Zen Studios’ arsenal of licensed tables featuring huge franchises from the world of TV, film and gaming. It’s nice to have a change though occasionally, and when developers Shine Research emerged onto the market with Zombie Pinball, with a cracking price point and a promise of ‘super addictive gameplay’, I figured it’d be a welcome breath of fresh air. Is it as addictive as one could hope for? Can I barely tear myself away from it to eat and drink?
The answer to both is a big no, because flippin’ heck, it’s brutal in every which way possible.
Zombie Pinball is actually the third offering from Shine Research to arrive on the Xbox One, with Babylon 2055 Pinball and Quantic Pinball being its predecessors – as if that isn’t warning enough. But all games should be judged on their own merit and Zombie Pinball presents itself very differently, with the undead being the theme of the day.
There are seven tables in total, however, only one is unlocked from the beginning. Upon loading up the first table featuring a zombie pirate, the colour smacks you in the face with its luminous green vibe. Despite the background being a dim purple, the green is so vibrant that you barely notice anything else, even the ball… which is the same damn green colour. And that’s the first problem as it’s incredibly difficult to follow the movement of the ball due to the amount of green in the table, on the trail of the ball and in the special effects as the ball hits bumpers etc. Green, green, green, bloody green everywhere!
Add to that the huge, utterly pointless, moving zombie caricature that hangs over part of the table that the ball regularly traverses through and you’ll start to see why it’s so tough to track it. There are so many distractions for your eyes. It’s like a rave; there are lots of flashing lights and no one has a clue what’s going on, but the peace of mind is that the end is always in sight – in this case, after all five lives have been lost.
From what I’ve gathered, there are quite a few modes to activate on each of the tables and, in truth, it’s very easy to start one at random by hitting drop targets, before getting the ball to the big white circle they protect. Half the time it’s very unclear what the mode even is though and the other half, well, it’s astonishing how bad some of them are. Take the giant skull that spawns above the flippers, meaning almost every attempt to hit the ball at it sees it rebound into the abyss to lose a life. Even when a load of mini bumpers sprout up, including one covering the drain, the ball still manages to find a way to escape the table and squirm around the bumper to its death.
One of the better types is the Ghost mode, involving the hitting of ghosts flying around the table, but this is very tough to get started and needs a lot of successful shots to light up different sectors. I feel that the Party mode that throws a ton of multicoloured balls into play and the flaming balls of the Fire mode could’ve been enjoyable, had it not been for the overenthusiastic visual effects forcing you into panic flipping mode as you can’t see where the balls are.
Then there’s the actual layout design, seeing more focus on a wide playfield than the usual elongated pinball table. That’s not a problem, unless the lanes and targets are placed at silly angles so the ball bounces off the entrance ways frequently and comes hurtling back towards the drain, which is commonplace in each of the tables I’ve experienced in Zombie Pinball.
To unlock the rest of the tables you must earn Bloody Stars through both general play and Bloody Challenges. Garnering the large amount of Bloody Stars required for just a single table is a real grind, unless you take on the Bloody Challenges. Each challenge, of which there are 70 in total, can throw you onto a table with the aim of reaching a set point total, hitting a specific area or activating a certain mode. On paper, they’re simple objectives, but when skill is required, nothing is simple in this game.
You see, I’m relatively handy at pinball, but I had to unlearn every ounce of skill obtained from my time on other pinball games to cope with the physics here. The ball moves in mysterious ways and can lag or stutter at any point, as well as seemingly well-timed hits by a flipper going awry and not ending up where it should. The flippers are lacking in responsiveness too, with a flipper sometimes not moving at all.
It’ll take an absolute ton of mediocre scoring games of pinball on the initial table to unlock the second, and it’s really not worth the hassle. The awful colour issues and mode related problems are present throughout, so all you’re really getting is a different layout to suck at and an alternate zombie creature overhanging the table.
Whilst Zombie Pinball has the right idea in trying to bring something new and fresh, the implementation is awful. Whether you point fingers at the hectic visuals, foolish mode design choices or terrible gameplay mechanics, absolutely nothing entices you to play one more game, let alone the many it’ll take to unlock more tables. Throw in the annoying backing track and poor voiceovers, and no good can come from playing this game – unless you’re glutton for punishment that is.
Are Shine Research masters of pinball? Certainly not, but they are masters of their own downfall. So steer clear and put that £3.99 you would’ve spent to better use.