Get Your Supple Wrists Ready

HIGH The Doom table has some amazing music straight from the latest release.

LOW The Skyrim table looks dull, even with a cool dragon on it.

WTF The UI and menus in Zen Pinball 2 are ugly!


Did you know there are only two companies left that still make pinball machines? Stern, who’s been around since the ’40s, and Jersey Jack Pinball, a newer company focused on making high-end collector machines with modern technology. Both companies only make a few hundred cabinets a year, and most are bought by private collectors. In light of this and the dwindling presence of pinball machines across America, the odds are that many of you, like me, haven’t had many chances to play actual pinball machines. Luckily, developers like Zen Studios have stepped in to keep pinball alive in digital form, creating a new generation of pinball wizards who might never have touched a real table.

Their latest release is Bethesda Pinball, a collection of three tables based on different Bethesda titles — Doom, Skyrim and Fallout 4. These new additions join an ever-growing collection that includes tables based on Marvel comics, Star WarsPlants vs. ZombiesThe Walking Dead and many more.

Let’s start with my least favorite machine in the trio, Skyrim. Of the three, it’s the most complex since it contains a character creation sequence, stores, currency, dungeons, inventory management and loot drops. It’s neat, but I felt overwhelmed starting out — for instance, I understand how agility helps in an RPG, but in a pinball game, its purpose left me confused. After reading the electronic manual included, I understood what the Skyrim machine was trying to do, but I didn’t enjoy it.

To me, pinball is at its best when the table is fast and exciting. Having to stop to manage inventory or shop for an item kills any sense of chaos or speed. I just didn’t click with any of the extra RPG elements that Zen Studios added to the table. I know that Zen Studios has been making tables built to do things that a real pinball machine can’t do, but Skyrim is a great example of this concept getting in the way of the action.

What’s worse is the fact that the playfield isn’t interesting to look at. The table is covered in dull colors and feels empty, and I found myself getting bored quickly. The ramps and shots also feel off, or too easy, and there’s a lot of time spent waiting for the ball to return to the flippers, which (for me) is a big no-no. The dragon that flies around is neat and I liked hearing the Skyrim music, but this table was lackluster.

The Fallout table suffers from many of the same problems as the Skyrim table — a few too many systems and features. But, what saved it for me were the details found on the playfield.

Like Skyrim, Fallout also has a character creator, but it’s much easier to speed through thanks to a random button. The RPG elements here are less intrusive as well, although stopping to buy items at the shop still has a negative impact on the speed of the game. Those things aside, actually playing in Fallout is really good. The table feels fast, and the time between shots is small enough that I never felt like I was waiting.

It’s also really nice-looking, too. The table looks like it was built out of materials from the Fallout world, and one favorite feature was the large Super Mutant watching the player, who mocks and threatens the player. Occasionally, other creatures and enemies will pop up for the player to fight and there are Vaults to ‘explore’. When a game ends the Super Mutant pulls out a mini nuke and blows everything up!

The final table in this trio is also the best — the one based on 2016’s incredible shooter DOOM.

Visually, this table is the most striking. In the upper right-hand corner of the playfield is a giant Cyberdemon. Every Time the player launches their ball (using a chainsaw, no less) he shoots at it and roars. Getting it past him is considered a skillshot and the ultimate goal is to destroy him. The Cyberdemon, like the rest of the table, looks incredible. Other enemies pop up too, and all of them look like they were ripped right out of DOOM proper and placed in a pinball machine.

Perhaps the best part of DOOM is the focus on being fast-paced pinball. Unlike the other two, it lacks any RPG elements or shops. Instead, it focuses on small missions and collecting new weapons, which makes sense. DOOM is a fast, action-oriented shooter and its pinball version is just as fast. The ball is constantly returning to the flippers and the table is almost always lighting up and flashing. There is a real sense of breakneck speed to everything, which is something the other tables in this collection lack.

As a trio, the Bethesda Pinball pack is a solid collection. DOOM alone is worth the price of admission, and Fallout 4 is a great-looking table with a few unnecessary mechanics. Skyrim isn’t bad, just a little overcomplicated and a bit too slow for my taste, although I daresay fans of the source material will get a kick out of it. Overall, Zen Studios continues to give pinball fans a great way to continue to experience the game they in a new, yet pleasantly retro ways. Real-life pinball machines might be hard to find, but the game remains alive and well… in digital form at least. Rating: Skyrim — 5 out of 10. Fallout 4 — 7 out of 10. DOOM — 9 out of 10. Overall average for this collection: 7 out of 10.


Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Zen Studios. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One,Windows PC, iPhone and Android.  This copy of the game was obtained via a code provided by the publisher and reviewed on the Playstation 4. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the game. Online leaderboards are available.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10 for Everyone Ages 10 & Up and contains Fantasy Violence and Mild Language. Some characters use guns or swords against small enemies on the playfield. The DOOM table contains many mentions of Hell, death, suffering etc.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no subtitles. Heads up, sound can be important as some objectives are explained via audio messages. Some tables have sound effects used to help with timing as well.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.


Zack Zweizen
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