When thinking about movies that could inspire fun pinball tables, the Alien series is second only to Indiana Jones, and even then just because the former has that iconic scene with a giant ball. But while we wait for Doctor Jones to get his butt in gear, we can enjoy the new Aliens Vs Pinball Pack for Zen Pinball 2 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Vita), Pinball FX 2 (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC), and Zen Pinball (iOS, Android, Amazon). Well, for the most part.
For those unfamiliar with Zen Studio’s pinball games, the Aliens Vs Pinball Pack include three virtual pinball machines that mix realistic physics and sound effects with unrealistic mechanics. In the case of the three tables in the the Aliens Vs Pinball Pack, the latter aspect is best illustrated by how the Aliens table begins with the M557 APC driving up to drop off the ball, how there are times when the Alien Vs Predator one switches the colors so it looks like you-know-who’s heat vision, and how the Alien: Isolation table has an alien jump across the table and attack Amanda Ripley.
The Aliens Vs Pinball Pack tables also, like Zen Studio’s Star Wars tables, utilize both the sound effects and dialog from the movies and games to great effect. When you lose your last ball on the Aliens table, for instance, you hear Bill Paxton’s iconic line, “That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over!” taken straight from the film.
As for how each of the tables in the Aliens Vs Pinball Pack stack up, the strongest, not surprisingly, is the Aliens one. Along with lots of hidden passageways and ramps, it also has bumpers that spark and light up like they’re part of the nuclear reactor on LV-426. It also has a Queen sitting at the top, who’ll occasionally reaches down and grabs your balls. There’s even a mini table next to the Queen, as well as times when the ball is lit on fire, and if you can get the flaming ball into the mini table, it replicates the scene in which there’s a fire in the med lab by turning the table’s lights to red and releasing a two-ball multiball. There are also times when some of the aliens — or what look like tiny cardboard standees of aliens — will slowly approach your lower flippers, and you have to take them out with the ball. Suffice it to say, it’s not only a fun table, but does justice to the original movie.
Next in the Aliens Vs Pinball Pack is the Alien Vs Predator table, which may be inspired by the comics, games, and the two movies, though it’s clearly more based on the first AVP film than anything else. Which may explain why it’s the least interesting table of the three; its roots are the weakest. Sure, setting the table inside the movie’s breeding temple does give the table the creepiest vibe of the three. But then it has mini game involving the temple and some runes that’s really just a simple puzzle that doesn’t take much brain power. The table also has a series of intertwined ramps and runways, but little in the way of bumpers. As a result, the ball never really flies, especially compared to the Alien: Isolation one, which I’ll get to in a moment. In addition, its connection to the first film seems to have ended at the design phase, because it doesn’t sound like they used any of the dialog from the film. Which isn’t to say they didn’t, just that I’ve yet to hear any lines that sound like the film’s stars Sanaa Lathan, Colin Salmon, or Lance Henriksen, all of whom have distinctive voices.
Lastly, the Alien: Isolation table is the most structurally simple table in the Aliens Vs Pinball Pack, thanks to it being dominated by a handful of rounded ramps at the top. But this simplicity makes this is the fastest of the three table, as the ball really gets going when it comes flying around those curves. And this is doubly true when you get a multiball going, which is both frequent and frantic. That said, it doesn’t entirely capture the flavor of the original game because, most of the time, all of the lights are on. In Alien: Isolation, you spend most of the time sneaking around rooms and corridors that aren’t well lit, or have lights that flicker intermittently. It’s hard not to think it might’ve been interesting if this table also wasn’t well lit, or had areas where the lights flicked on and off randomly. Still, its speedy balls make it a fun one.
While, as I mentioned, the slightly flawed Aliens Vs Predator table is a weak spot in this otherwise solid collection, there is one issue that impacts all three tables equally. And, in fact, all of Zen’s tables: tiny text. If you play one of the console versions, and you sit at a reasonable distance from your television, you’ll have trouble reading the mid-game messages that inform you when you’ve surpassed your high score or are about to beat a friends’ best game. Though, to be honest, it’s not a big issue since those messages don’t do anything but distract you from the task at hand, and it’s not an issue at all if you play on a computer or hand-held system, but still, it’s kind of annoying.
In the end, the tables in the Aliens Vs Pinball Pack don’t rank among Zen’s best work; they’re not nearly as addictive, for instance, as their recent Family Guy table or their 2013 Star Wars: Episode VI: The Return Of The Jedi table. But for fans of the movies, games, and comics that inspired them, or anyone who enjoys a physically-unrealistic but physics-ly realistic pinball machine with a sci-fi vibe, they do their individual inspirations justice.