Who can resist Epic Quest’s insidious neverending pinball?

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Epic Quest is an easy table, with relatively simple mechanics and a reluctance to let go of the ball. Serious pinballers might find it too easy as their games drag out into virtually risk-free sessions of grinding away at a high score. The rest of us will appreciate the chance to wrap our flippers around a table as if we were serious pinballers ourselves.

Then of course, there’s the gimmick, which is a formidable one indeed.

After the jump, bat country! Let’s stop here!

I can’t take credit for that line, which Epic Quest’s goofy protagonist, Max, blurts out as you activate the bat swarm mode. I wish the rest of his comments were that funny, but I’ll settle for the fact that Max is pretty endearing. Maybe it’s just that I’m leveling him up as I play. Or maybe it’s that the role of uber-annoying character is amply filled by the princess you get to save. During the princess multiball, which is a really cool DIY multiball mode, she’ll constantly call out “jackpot!” and then follow up with “almost…” or “oh, wait, no it isn’t!”. Is it wrong to want to punch a princess? But to be fair, it is pretty funny.

Epic Quest is a pretty funny table. It’s got all the thematic unity you expect from Zen’s best tables. It’s a colorful, cheerful, vaguely Python-esque medieval fantasy world, with puppets, goofy monsters, and a hero who rides a hobbyhorse when he travels. The puppet theater, called the orcanium, reminds me a bit of that Hellraiser box on Paranormal, only less infuriating. It ties neatly into the game’s magic system, where you can collect scrolls and use them in combat. The combat is a more developed version of the combat from Thor, in which you dish out damage to your opponent based on the shots you make, complete with hit point bars on the table. Then there’s the loot chase. Find and unlock persistent bits of equipment that carry over from game to game, which partly determines your damage and hit points.

This persistence is Epic Quest’s most notable feature. Think of it as an experiment in building an ongoing leveling system onto a single table. Historically, a pinball machine is something visited by multiple players. I take a turn, you take a turn, whoever comes into the 7-11 later takes a turn, and so on. It can’t very well level up like a character in an RPG because, ick, who wants to play someone else’s character? But one of the great things about Pinball FX is how it’s like you’re own private set of tables and no one gets his hands on them but you. So now here’s a table you level up as you play. Even if you didn’t get a high score, you’re still advancing that experience point bar along the bottom of the table. Playing is the same as making progress.

At first, the leveling might seem a bit pointless. As you get more powerful, so do the monsters you fight. But since your level directly determines the number of points you earn for jackpots, I’m guessing it will be a crucial part of chasing high scores. Not that I’m a serious enough pinballer to chase high scores very far. But I sure do know how to chase levels and loot. And, frankly, I’m superficial enough that this will put Epic Quest into a steady rotation with better tables like Paranormal, Moon Knight, Earth Defense, and Secrets of the Deep. Sometimes a good gimmick is as good as a great game.

4 stars
Xbox 360