The lyrics to the Buggles song were far from prophetic. Still they remind us of how some things are irreplaceable. However unlike video and radio, the arcade couldn’t always accommodate the two cabinets. So fans of both the pinball and arcade may see Zombie Rollerz: Pinball Heroes from Daedelic Entertainment as a melding of two machines. But mutual exlusivity remains true which unfortunately keeps the two technologies competing for gamers attention.
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Available Now On: Nintendo Switch; Windows PC; Mac;
In Zombie Rollerz: Pinball Heroes you start your adventure as Burnjamin. His journey begins by falling into the board with a case of amnesia. Thankfully a wise book named Omnipedia arrives to help fill in the blanks. Their dialogue gives the impression the game is a sequel ( confirmed by the games website) but it never feels like a continuing adventure. Despite mention of other characters, some of which become playable heroes after you reach certain levels, this felt as if it could have been a completely new game. Normally I would say this is good as new players could just join in on the story. Sadly here it feels like existing characters have simply been repackaged for a new gaming experience.
The quest Burnjamin undertakes is a combination heal the land, find your friends and restore your memory. The “upper” world you travel is a hegaxon map, similar to a tabletop game. Here you encounter treasure chests, potions and coins to collect as well as obstacles. Some obstacles require using a shovel or losing HP to get past. However others take the form of zombie or boss encounters. These “dungeons” are where you do battle in a pinball-esque arena.
With so much imagination put into the name(s) and design(s) I kept wanting more but that was not meant to be, because this isn’t that type of game. It’s a pinball game.
We Have The Technology (?)
While I’m usually the guy who champions the notion there is room for every game (or comic or movie), even if it seems similar to others, that only holds true if the product can find its footing. That never seemed to be the case during my playthrough.
For those who have never played a pinball machine, that’s okay since this game presents a variation on other games they might have played. Both the mechanics and various power-ups reminded me of games like Angry Birds. The never ending zombie hordes don’t do it any favors in distancing itself from games like Plants vs. Zombies either.
The problem with Zombie Rollerz is that it takes so much from games like those mentioned above that it fails to embrace the game in the title. Pinball.
Again I realize some of you may have never played a pinball machine ( I highly recommend it, it is where gaming began for me ). Transforming much since it’s early creation in the 1700s, even adding the very technology that would look to one day replace it, the pinball machine benefits from it’s earliest features. Including the pinball itself. For example inside the cabinet there are many design elements, some there to help the player while others hinder and even end the game.
From my days of playing I know a good run at pinball is part skills and part the stars. You can manipulate the flippers, mastering trapping and juggling, but it’s physics and a hint of luck that keep that pinball gliding. But in Zombie Rollersz it felt more like a bouncing ball instead of a pinball. This means the ball stays in play longer since, normally a good thing in pinball. Unfortunately, the ball is your major defense against the approaching zombies.
Unlike in other zombie horde games, you only have one bullet, I mean pinball. So while it’s ricocheting around the play area, your hero is left somewhat defenseless. I say somewhat because you can use the flippers defensively. Using this strategy costs health which is what ultimately ends the game not the loss of the pinball. There is a skill that recalls the ball, however it uses a cool-down function so it is not always available.
Another problem is the zombies at times act as both targets and bumpers. They keep the ball in play and away from your cross-plunger. Power-ups again offer some assistance. I received assistance from a pair of minions, though the ball did damage to them as well as my foes.
You can’t mention pinball without talking about the rock opera (or if you’re me Sesame Street). Whichever you choose they both have something that is true to the game they reference. Pinball is a brilliant balance of blinking lights and the sounds of bells. Even the plunger had a sound and a rhythm to it You are in a world apart, a zone, when you play or even witness pinball played. One of a few minutes to learn, a lifetime to master experiences.
Zombie Rollerz at times dissolves into a chaotic scene. The comedic reactions of the zombies are entertaining, but their destruction isn’t the same as a target. Other destructible objects are in the “playfield” area that offer health and coins. During my playthrough I stumbled upon a treasure area, a nod to the multilevel playfield of some pinball machines. The power-ups even mimic some later pinball upgrades, such as multiball and and jackpot. I can sense the developers aren’t strangers to the design components of a traditional pinball machine. Part of the mystery of the machine actually overlaps in a promise the developers have made about the game. That no playthrough experience will be the same.
Given the success of Grogu we all know how much a baby can change everything ( boy do I ), but those of us old enough remember how quickly we wanted to throw Baby Pac-Man out with the bathwater. With a creative cast and a plot which also includes a fast approaching plague, making you choose your path wisely, Burnjomin and Co. could have found themselves in a normal RPG adventure. Instead Zombie Rollerz: Pinball Heroes feels like a turn based game but with various pinball minigames in between moves.