The lights are on
Zen Studios' last few pinball tables have been based on lighthearted licenses including Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, and Star Wars. Their latest table, The Walking Dead Pinball, is based on Telltale Games' adaptation of Robert Kirkman's zombie comic series. While it's not likely to leave as indelible a mark on players for its storytelling, the table captures the grim essence of the first season while being an excellent table in its own right.
Animated versions of Lee and Clementine are prominently featured on the bottom of the table, and they also provide commentary throughout the game. I'm typically lukewarm on voice acting in pinball games, since lines are often repeated to the point of annoyance (I'm looking at you, Deadpool!), but the lines are short enough that it wasn't an issue. In addition to those familiar faces, the table is filled with locations from the first season's five episodes, including the motel, church, and Everett Pharmacy Drugstore.
There's a lot to do in The Walking Dead Pinball, and it's a little overwhelming at first. After thwacking the ball into play with the hatchet-turned-plunger, you have a few seconds to make a tricky ramp skillshot. Whether you make it or not, you're tossed into a zombie-filled world and have to survive as long as you can.
There are five different missions based on each chapter from the series. Zombies are ruining everything, so you can't just drop the ball into the mission hole and call it good. First, you have to knock a walker out of the way by smacking him several times with the ball. At that point, you're able to choose your mission. You can take them on in any order, continuity be damned.
The missions do a good job of capturing the moments from each episode, both critically important and comparatively inconsequential. Do you save Doug or Carley? Should you let Ben fall? Will you leave Duck hanging, or return his high five? I didn't notice any lasting consequences for any of my decisions, but as a fan of the games it's at least superficially fun to replicate choices I've made before.
When you're not in a mission, you have objectives that mirror similar moments. You might have to forage for food supplies by hitting lit ramps. Or, you can cheer Clementine up by passing a soccer ball to her several times, during which the ball shifts from its normal chrome finish to a football similar to the one used in the Super League Football table. In one of the trickiest modes, the screen darkens and you have to make shots before the timer runs out – ostensibly helping Lee search for secret paths. These paths are blocked by a zombie-faced ball that roams in front of the goals. Hit it, and the ball dissolves and you have to launch another ball into play and try again.
In addition to the story-based missions, the big diversion is undoubtedly the sniper mode. Here, you use the flippers to swing the sights of a rifle to the left and right, lining up popup zombie targets in your crosshairs. When you're satisfied that you're set, pressing the launch button fires the shot. You have limited ammo, and you don't know when your targets will recede out of view. It's kind of funny that a pinball game offers shooting sequences that are on par with The Walking Dead's own action, but it is what it is.
Another mode, in the drugstore, moves the action to a smaller table. There, you hit zombie-faced targets to open passages to a jackpot or the super jackpot. The zombies aren't relegated to immobile targets, either. At certain points, you have to hit walkers that shamble toward the bottom of the playfield, as Lee struggles with them himself. It's reminiscent of a mode in Zen's own Plants vs. Zombies pinball adaptation.
There's a lot to do in the table, and I've been having a lot of fun figuring out the various shots. There are a few ramps that can lead to nasty drains if you aren't paying attention, and it seems a bit trickier overall than some of Zen's other tables. I'm all for that, though. I like to revisit tables over the long term, and I can see The Walking Dead Pinball entering heavy rotation, joining the Han Solo table as my latest obsession.
Email the author Jeff Cork, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.