After the stunning debut of Zen Pinball on the Nintendo 3DS (read the adoring review here), developer Zen Studios’ next trick is Marvel Pinball 3D, a collection of four superhero tables ported over from the Xbox 360 and PS3 collections. Here come The Fantastic Four, Blade, Captain America, and Iron Man to your Nintendo 3DS.

After the jump, that man is playing something other than Galaga

Marvel Pinball 3D abandons one of the great strengths of Zen’s tables on other platforms: the feeling of a unified collection to which you add new tables. For whatever reason — it’s probably Nintendo’s fault — Zen Pinball 3D and Marvel Pinball 3D stand alone, with separate icons on your 3DS and separate front ends on the way to whichever table you want to play, and separate scoring systems. This means Zen loses the concept of a pooled score based on all your tables. Now you have a separate Team Force(tm) rating in Marvel Pinball 3D that has nothing whatsoever to do with all your awesome high scores in Zen Pinball 3D.

Marvel Pinball 3D’s four tables, which aren’t the same four tables sold under the name Marvel Pinball on the 360, will probably be familiar to Pinball FX2 completionists. Who else would have the Captain America table in which some chick in a pink veil leisurely strolls out and surveys the table when you lose a ball? The Blade table — that’s right, Blade — is actually one of Zen’s better examples of themework for its dual modes representing night and day. Similarly, the Iron Man table changes based on whether Tony Stark is running Stark Industry in his dress shirt and tie, or whether he’s donned his Iron Man suit to fight supervillains. These are the kinds of smart gimmicks you can expect from Zen Studios.

These are good tables, and the 3D is absolutely superlative. The best table in the collection is Fantastic Four, and not necessarily because of the theme. I wouldn’t know a fantastic four from a magnificent seven, but I know a simple, varied, and accessible table when I see it. It plays like a warm-up version of what Zen does with their latest Avengers table, minus the Avengers. Each character is a different kind of mission, fighting various enemies to unite against an uber enemy that it might take a few hundred games to see. Apparently, Galacticus is a pretty shy villain. But until he comes out to play, there’s plenty to do here.

But like all of Marvel Pinball 3D, the Fantastic Four table isn’t very well suited to the 3DS’ small screen. As with many of the Marvel tables, the busy and colorful superhero theme makes for a lot of visual noise on such a small screen, where goofy superhero dolls take up way too much space. The Captain America table, which has a richly colored historical feel on the 360, is a muddy mess on the 3DS. The relatively clean Fantastic Four table relies heavily on shooting the ball into the Baxter Building far at the back of the table. But there is no easy way to keep this target from being swallowed up in the cramped distance. What’s more, there’s a minigame where a bunch of skrulls attack the Baxter Building. If I hadn’t played Fantastic Four on the 360, I would have no idea what’s going on during this mode. You can eventually figure this stuff out, but it’s not as easy as it should be. For some reason or another, it almost never is with Zen’s tables. Here it’s because these tables aren’t a very good fit for the 3DS. Instead, they’re a good fit for sales. Paranormal Activity, Mars, Secrets of the Deep, and Epic Quest? What? Who? What movies were they in? But Iron Man and Captain America? Who can blame Zen Studios for making the most out of their licensing deals?

3 stars
Nintendo 3DS