Marvel Civil War is the latest Marvel themed pinball table by Zen Studios. Based on the comic storyline of the same name, Civil War allows players to choose between the Pro-registration and Anti-registration groups, with their sides story playing out on the pinball table.
The Civil War table is comparable to the other Marvel tables in both size and scope, offering a packed table combined with larger then life characters engaged in battle. Unlike the other tables, though, many of which have multiple opponents against the featured hero character, Civil War highlights the fighting Pro-reg and Anti-reg movements through their respective figureheads, Iron Man (Pro) and Captain America (Anti).
Taking up positions on opposite ends the of the table, it’s their dialog, and ultimately a physical fight between the two, that drives the narrative of the Civil War forward. The table also features a TV at the top that plays through comic stills as news of the conflict is reported, as well as a scoreboard, for lack of a better term, that displays 8 characters, like Spider-man and Luke Cage, who played a large roll in the comic conflict. These 8 super heroes and their allegiances are the main objective of the table; securing/not securing their help either adds or subtracts time during the tables fight sequences.
The Civil War experience is finely tuned, and designed for more precise play then then other tables in the Marvel line. It also begins with an optional multi-ball play, meant to signify the Stamford Incident, in which a mutant named Nitro completely destroyed a few city block with an elementary school at the epicenter of the blast. This section ends when the first of the multi-balls comes out of play, and the high score is saved and added at the beginning of every subsequent play through.
Other changes are a bit more subtle, and a less welcoming. The two main ramps that bring the ball back towards the paddles travel above the alleys where other tables drop the balls, instead choosing to drop them almost directly on the paddle itself. This leaves little time to adjust or even stop the ball, which is especially inconvenient given the precise nature of the table. The paddles are spread farther then other tables (scant millimeters to be sure, but enough to make a difference), causing some questioning when it comes to the correct receiving paddle on longer plays.
Civil War is a high tech mixture of silvers, reds, and blues. They come together on a very busy play surface, and combined with the intense musical score accompanying the board, the colors and tech look really set the scene for this massive all-star fight. While they serve to highlight the opposing sides, the colors seem muted and lacking when compared to the other tables Zen has released.
During play, the table presents a number of unique visual highlights, the most stunning of which, happens while collecting recruits for your chosen side. The board will go into ,what I refer to as, “hyper mode”, where the background goes almost black, highlighting the paddles and ball in a shifting, glowing light. With one snap, the ball then propels itself flawlessly up and down the ramps, connecting with every paddle on the board save for the last in the upper right corner.
In a weird shift, though, it uses this same lighting effect for the Cap and Iron Man fights, which really makes finding the appropriate ramps with which to continue the battle really difficult, especially on smaller screens.
I had some struggles with this. I really like the direction they went in exploring the narrative of the civil war, referencing direct character actions like Spider-man unmasking himself, or the clone of Thor killing Goliath. Combined with the banter between Stark and Cap, and the occasional “news update,” the whole package adds to the overall seriousness of the table itself, mirroring the needs of the Pro-reg movement for control in the precise and unforgiving nature of the table play.
It’s this focus on the precise that takes away from my enjoyment of the overall experience. Having made the mistake of thinking that I had to purchase the Marvel Pinball game to play this, I also got to experiment with some of Zen’s other creations. The four I played, Blade, Spider-man, Wolverine and Iron Man, were all very focused and superb, with Wolverine and Spider-man being the standouts. I look back on my time with those tables, with the fantastic colors and clear overview, and am just left wanting for… more from the Civil War.
All the tables I mentioned were easy to get into, and quite difficult to master. With Civil War, it’s hard to get your footing down enough to even feel competent in what you’re doing or aiming for. Having played it for 7-8 hours, I am still at a bit of a loss as to what exactly determines when you gain an ally, or which moves lead to the opening of the safe house. It may just be my own ineptitude at pinball, or just the serious nature of the table itself following the heavy narrative, but Civil War was not as joyous an experience as the other tables I purchased.
Civil War is a very serious table set against the back drop of a very serious story. While not as fun, per say, as the rest of the offerings Zen Studios has made in their Marvel line, those looking for a challenge will no doubt find it and more among it’s bumpers, ramps, and paddles. While not the best Zen has put out, it’s still worth the $2.99 asking price for a chance to explore this comic story line.