How better to start the new year then with a brand new set of tables from those crazy table makers at Zen Studios? Well, ok, let me walk that back a little. These aren't new tables. I mean, they're new to me, as I've been playing them for only the last couple of weeks, but they've been available for purchase since the end of October.
What tables, you might ask? If I said the words Ball of Glory pinball pack, would you then know what I was talking about? No? Oh, that doesn't really tell you a lot does it. Ok, no problem. We'll start simple and move on from there.
Following in the footsteps of their Star Wars packs, the Ball of Glory pack is a grouping of four pinball tables all around a central theme. Where Star Wars obviously gravitated towards the sci-fantasy series, Balls revolves around a series of animated Fox properties: Family Guy, American Dad, Bob's Burgers, and Archer. Each table is themed to the specific show it covers, and features numerous aspects of the cartoon's and their not so varied voice casts. Being as there are four, and because I really don't want to start with American Dad, I have decided to tell you about them in the order I have ranked them, from Glorious to... well, not.
Topping the list is Bob's Burgers. By far the best feeling table, Bob's is one of the best tables that Zen has developed thus far. With ramps that criss-cross Bob's grill and eventually lead back to the Ferris wheel on Wonder Wharf, every shot you take feels like it does something, whether it's raising your jackpot, killing a pop-up rat, or cleaning up the dreaded “green mold” (Linda rains down bleach as you run over the spots with your ball). Starting the various pinball quests, those collections of special actions that end in big point gains, is a joy and most are easy to follow, so you spend more time collecting points instead of spending the entire time period wondering which shots your supposed to take. Add to that an inspired collection of show snippets, be it Tina trying to serve guests much to her father's chagrin, or Linda screaming that she's going to save her family every time the ball is saved, and the whole table feels like a loving send up of one of the best animated shows currently on TV.
Following close on it's heels is the FX branded Archer table. The second table to feature the vocal styling of H. Jon Benjamin, who also voices Bob's Burgers' patriarch and burger maestro, Archer is a collection of some of the show's best moments. While it's two main characters, Sterling Archer and Lana Kane, are featured prominently at the bottom of the table, with Archer making various appearances in different scenes during play, the rest of the cast is mainly relegated to voice cameos. It's a bit of a let down, as the interplay of the show's various characters is the only reason Archer is as good as it is, but the table itself plays well enough that a missing dolphin doll or Krieger holo-anime girlfriend doesn't ruin the experience. Play wise, Archer manages to roll out one of the best and worst table features in his spy car, by both using it and its ample trunk as a ball capture device, while simultaneously refusing to fill it's space on the board with nothing useful or interesting once activated.
Coming in a third is the Family Guy table. The first of the Seth McFarlane vehicles, Family Guy reminds me of Zen's Iron Man table, with its series of ramps filling the majority of the table like giant horse shoes surrounding the mascot of the show's bar, The Drunken Clam. It also features the absolute easiest skill shot in pinball today, as Joe, who serves as the plunger that launches the ball into play, nails Peter, sending him to the floor for a solid minute of Family Guy's “hit me in the knee” gag. While that can serve as both a feature and possible low point depending on your love of both pinball and the show, the rest of the table is a joy, with Zen deploying some of their best ball designs since the multiple Avengers tables they have put out. The highlight for sure is the dual-ball Peter vs the Chicken fight, where a Peter ball (dressed in his clothes) and a Chicken ball fly back and forth across the table, while you try and throw them into whatever random items, from trash cans to box stacks, pop up out of the table itself.
The final and least enjoyable table of the bunch belongs to American Dad. While I never spent any period of time with the show, the table's over reliance on Roger as the main gag, along with the near constant hammering of his Legs and the Wheelman fantasy, drives away any reverence for the material, leaving what's left feeling extremely half-baked. The table itself is also a mess, with markers for where the table wants the ball to go being hard to find amid the background noise. Some questionable ramp placement as well as a circling track along the bottom of the table that picks and chooses which side the ball drops on just adds up to disappointment.
Of course, your main source of enjoyment for any of these tables will really come from your love of the properties themselves, as I am sure that someone, somewhere, who is really into American Dad could and probably would come away with a different taste in their mouth than I was left with. As far as I am concerned, though, I came out on top with not only three of the four tables providing a fun reason to jump back into Zen Pinball, but finding what just may be my favorite table of all on offer in Bob's Burgers. That leaves the package, as a whole, as entirely worth it, and another set of great additions to Zen's ever growing library.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!