Zen Studios has put together an impressive line-up of tables for its pinball releases thus far, including the Pinball FX 2 games on Xbox platforms and Zen Pinball 2 for PlayStation systems and mobile. The Star Wars offerings have really been spectacular, and the Marvel ones are second-to-none, including the most recent Guardians of the Galaxy.
But very seldomly do we get a table that bases itself upon decisions. After all, the point of the game is to drive the score up as high as possible, without worrying about morality coming into play. That's probably what makes Zen's latest table, based on Telltale Games' first season of The Walking Dead, so eye-opening. It represents the fun play style we've come to expect from previous designs, while at the same time staying rightfully true to the theme of the original series that inspired it, right down to making key choices in order to save Clementine.
The game reintroduces us to the unlikely hero Lee and his young charge as they struggle to survive through the initial five episodes of the first season, which you'll relive through a series of events presented in the table. Whether you take on a sniper mission or try to fend off a horde of invading zombies lurking in the background, you'll find plenty of intensity as you aim for skill shots.
Even the more subtle rounds have quite a bit of meaning. One particular one that's worth mentioning is "Smile," where you try to cheer up Clementine a little bit by kicking a soccer ball back and forth, while highlighting letters in the word "SMILE" on targets above. There's no zombies in this round, but it has this emotional display that you really don't see in pinball games that often. It does the Walking Dead theme incredibly proud.
The design of the table is addictive, with plenty of skill shots to aim for, and even one active zombie on the playfield that you'll thwack with the ball to earn bonus points and activate certain bonus rounds. A side flipper helps you get this done, although the ground floor flippers serve their purpose as well, not providing you much room to lose the ball. It's also nice to see some décor from the original season restored in the background, even if you don't interact with it that much. You don't really need to, as it's merely there for setting.
The voice work is taken straight from Telltale's series, so you thankfully don't have to worry about goofy sound-alikes ruining the tone of the game. The music is superb too, also lifted straight from the first season, right down to the doomed little theme that plays in the background during the "Smile" round. It may be unsettling for those used to more upbeat tables, like Plants vs. Zombies, but Telltale wouldn't have it any other way.
The Walking Dead is a fine representation of how to do a franchise right in another play style, and Zen Studios nailed down the theme perfectly, right down to the doomful cries when you lose a ball, as you hear zombies lurching closer. If it keeps up on a hot streak like this, everyone will want them to design their tables. As they should.
This impressions piece is based upon a review code provided by the publisher. The Walking Dead Pinball is available now for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC and mobile. It is rated T for Teen.