It feels like ages since Zen Studios created pinball tables that weren't based on comic books or cartoons. Actually, it's been three years. In that three years time, we've watched this talented studio craft fantasy pinball experiences that excel beyond anything we could ever expect to find standing on four legs in a local arcade. Producing plenty of incredible virtual playfields based on Marvel properties, South Park, and even working some Walking Dead into the mix, Zen has been on an utter tear as of late. Its most recent work to release is the Iron & Steel Pack, which adds two new tables to your Pinball FX2 library. One is a unique Wild West scenario and the other is based on Zen's CastleStorm series. The good news is that they're both great.
The first table, and our favorite of the two, is Wild West Rampage. As we hope you’ve been clever enough to deduce, this is a landscape decorated with outlaws, revolvers, dynamite, and other accoutrements synonymous with frontier life. The table itself has a classic feel to it, and, as far as challenge meter goes, it sits somewhere in the middle when compared to recent Pinball FX2 outings. If there’s any major criticism we can draw with its design, it’s that the ball often seems to find its way into the outlanes. Because the area above the outlanes is tight, this can take a good deal of skill to overcome — there’s just not a whole lot of time to nudge and deflect the ball away. Other than that, though, this is a highly-satisfying, well-balanced table with an aesthetic that we really like. The roaring western music and accompanying sound effects alone are worth the price of admission.
Next up is CastleStorm, and, while we will admit to not being quite as head over heels with it as its packaged partner, it’s still a delightful table. The layout is a bit more asymmetrical here, with most lane entrances and a secondary flipper pushed back on the left side. On the right, however, is where you’ll find a mini-playfield that’s easier to access than areas of this type typically are. Overall, this is a friendly table that seems to do a decent job matching the tone of the game it’s based on. It might sound petty, but we feel compelled to share that the music choices and the transitions from one song to the next can be a little distracting. Not only does it seem to change frequently, the default song doesn’t entirely match the intense themes of the table. It's soft and delicate, feeling at disparity with the visual tone. Thankfully the other tracks rock and kick things into the next gear.
Even though we feel that CastleStorm pales ever so slightly in comparison, it's another addicting table that delivers the goods. We didn't find ourselves spending as much time with it as Wild West Rampage, but that could've been due to our fondness for southern shootouts and rugged cowboys (in this case, a smooth-talking cowgirl). So it's not as much a knock against CastleStorm as it is indicative of how darn good Wild West Rampage is. Either way, if you’re a Pinball FX2 fan, there’s no reason not to draw your guns and take aim at this quality bundle. The Iron & Steel Pack doesn't take as many risks as some other FX2 tables have (Venom and Guardians of the Galaxy being two that immediately come to mind), but that's alright. What you get is a pairing of tables that show restraint and balance, offering something that will be appreciated the most by those who truly respect this classic arcade game.
Zen Studios have this pinball thing figured out. With the Iron & Steel Pack you get two new tables, each with their own distinct flavor and tight design, and they'd be a welcome addition to the library of any avid Pinball FX2 fan. You won't find as many big surprises or experimental ideas as you did in other recent tables, but what you will find is something more traditional with taut execution and a balanced challenge. Regardless of if we preferred Wild West Rampage to CastleStorm, or vice versa, the fact remains that both delivered the kind of thrills and sense of reward we like to see attached to a game of pinball. We think it's time you consider loading your catapult and six-shooter.