Zen Pinball 2: South Park Pinball

Seventeen years of political humor, celebrity slandering and fart jokes have done very well for South Park. Comedy Central’s popular comedy series has explored avenues outside of television, such as video games, books, and a feature film. Pinball only seemed like the next logical step. In truth, this is the second time South Park has been adapted into a themed pinball machine, but the old Sega machine doesn’t offer the same level of interactivity and dazzling special effects typically afforded to Zen Pinball digital tables.

The South Park pinball pack comes with two cardboard-styled tables. One is a variety table that features different characters and packed with numerous visual and audio references. The second table is themed around Butters Stotch, South Park’s most loveable punching bag. Each table comes with its own set of bonuses and missions designed after various set pieces lifted from the show’s run.

The South Park’s Super Sweet Pinball table is the weakest of the pair. The main perpetrator is the busy, cluttered look of the surface artwork. I sit about six feet away from my TV and the artwork often obscured individual lights, bonus progress indicators and other pertinent table notifications. Also, because the table’s standout color elements, I found that my eyes had an easy time of losing track of the ball. The numerous bits and bobs, a curtain that displays South Park one liners for example, are very distracting. That said, I’m kind of surprised at how low key the table looks in terms of prop usage. Cutouts of Stan, Kyle and Cartman are used to initiate bonus rounds, while the small handful of other characters are simply window dressing. Other props include the South Park Elementary School bus and Canadians Terrance and Phillip who stand atop bumpers that, when struck, cause them to fart and giggle in a manner of which they are accustomed. With so much going on, the only person who benefits from the details and flourishes are bystanders. You can switch the camera angles to make the action easier to see, but for someone who relies on the overhead view because of their horrible pinball reflexes, the table design gets in the way.

Humor plays a significant part of any South Park adaptation and while Super Sweet Pinball offers no shortage of gags, I’m a little disappointed that most content was pulled from the show’s early seasons. This is not a terrible crime by any stretch, but hearing the banshee cries of Ms. Crabtree, who has been absent from the show since 2008 (and her original voice actress dead for fifteen years), is jarring. Additional VO from the show’s ancient first season, with its low fidelity recording and unseasoned voice work from Matt and Trey, makes the product sound very dated. As a side note, those looking for South Park's trademark raunch will be disappointed.

Thankfully, where the Super Sweet Pinball table stumbles, Butters’ Very Own Pinball Game picks up the slack. Framed around the nervous little boy who has been arrested, nearly killed by his parents, fooled into believing he was the last boy on earth, sacrificed to a statue of John Elway, worked the talk show circuit as Boy With Balls On Chin, disguised himself as a girl to infiltrate a slumber party, and is the alter ego of the nefarious Professor Chaos. Many of Butters’ wacky adventures serve as the table’s missions. Butters’ Very Own Pinball Game is significantly more organized than Super Sweet Pinball, offering a design that is comfortable, engaging and easy to manage. The audio material is considerably more fresh, as the scenarios are taken from episodes set long after South Park hit its stride technically and comedically.

Zen Pinball’s South Park offering isn’t perfect but it will serve as a lovely addition to its already robust catalog of tables. Super Sweet Pinball is largely forgettable in the face of the much more enjoyable and engaging Butters table. My hope is that more South Park tables will become available as there is great potential for some amazing table ideas. For example, how amazing would it be to create a table based on the amazing “Imaginationland” trilogy? Or better yet, why not design something around South Park’s most lovable buffoon, Randy Marsh? Until then, Super Sweet Pinball and Butters’ Very Own Pinball Game will have to suffice. They’re not terrible, one definitely makes up for the shortcomings of the other, but they won’t dramatically change your Zen Pinball experience.

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.