The Walking Dead adventure game by Telltale is arguably one of the most engaging adventure games of the last few years. But what would’ve made that emotionally gripping game even better is if there had been a metal ball flying around the whole time, knocking into things.
Okay, maybe not. And yet, in playing The Walking Dead pinball table that Zen Studio have made for their games Pinball FX2 (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PCs via Steam), Zen Pinball 2 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, WiiU, Mac), and Zen Pinball (iOS, Android, Amazon Fire), it’s hard not to get a little choked up. Or maybe that’s just me having a blast with one of the best tables Zen have ever made.
For those unfamiliar with Pinball FX 2 or either version of Zen Pinball, try to imagine a spot-on simulation of a pinball machine, with all the authentic physics and sound effects of a real pinball machine. Then imagine if you could make a pinball table that had all kinds of crazy mechanisms which would never fit inside a real table, and would make said table ridiculously expensive even if you could built it.
In the case of The Walking Dead, what this means is that while the ball bounces off the bumpers like it has weight, and sounds like metal on wood, it also has a zombies that walk onto the table and attack people. There’s even times when, if you meet certain conditions, the view changes to the scope of a sniper rifle that you can use to shoot some other zombies.
The Walking Dead even does something we haven’t seen in many of Zen’s tables: a table inside the table. Again, meeting certain requirements that I won’t spoil, there are times when you’ll find yourself briefly playing a miniature pinball table, but one where the flippers are reversed, and facing outward instead of inwards. It’s a really clever bit that not only throws you for a loop, but it got me thinking that a reverse pinball table would be fun to play on its own.
Though what makes The Walking Dead table so much fun is that its bumpers, ramps, and corridors are set up in such a way that the ball is constantly heading for the flippers. Far more than in any other Zen table I can think of. Because of this, the table really keeps you engaged and on your toes.
Plus you get to hit a zombie with a satisfying “thump.”
The Walking Dead table also does a good job of being faithful to Telltale’s Walking Dead game. Not only do Lee and Clementine look just like they do in the original (thanks to Telltale sharing the original art assets with the Zen folk), but Zen also got to use Lee and Clementine’s original dialog tracks as well.
Zen also did a good job slipping in some little touches from the game, like how the plunger is Lee’s red axe, or how the regular ball is occasionally replaced by Clementine’s soccer ball. But The Walking Dead table is equally respectful of pinball culture, as it has pictures of Lee, Clementine, and others from Telltale’s game on the table surface much the way Bally’s Kiss pinball table in the ’70s had pictures of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss.
But this does raise one minor concern about The Walking Dead pinball table, which is that it’s based on the Telltale adventure game to begin with. Because that game was so emotional, it seems like an odd choice for what’s essentially a test of your reflexes. Granted, it’s better than basing it on the crappy first-person shooter, Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, but it still seems incongruous.
My other problem with The Walking Dead table is that — like all of Zen’s tables when you play them on a console and sit at a reasonable distance from the TV — it can be tough to read some of the text. Which doesn’t really make a difference when it comes to the messages about how you’re about to break your high score, since you can just ignore those. But when it comes to the ones that, in a real machine, would be on the display, and tell you what’s going on, it’s kind of annoying.
In the end, The Walking Dead pinball table is fun for fans of Telltale’s game, but it’s also a blast for fans of the comic, the show, pinball in general, and people who hate the living impaired and would like to hit them with a big silver ball. Sure, it’s a bit weird that a game that made so many people cry and fear for the life of a virtual child would be reduced to a bit of arcadey fun, but if you can stop yourself from weeping long enough to hit this the flippers, you’ll have a really good time.