Thursday, May 8, 2014

Second Look at X-MEN

X-MEN has been out for about a year or two now and has popped up in the city a few times.
An X-MEN table took up residency at the former Pinball Cafe when it was first released back in the Summer of 2012.
Another X-MEN table spent a good amount of time at Rosa Bianca Cafe on College St.
There's also a table out in Oshawa at Stag's Head
 And, most recently, X-MEN has shown up at Glamour Sports Bar on St. Clair West.
... But it has left the building. X-MEN had replaced a European sports bar staple, World Cup Soccer, at Glamour Sports Bar which was a good thing!
Glamour's WCS table was pretty beat-up; there was a piece of plastic that covered the Final Draw eject hole so it was impossible to activate Multiball besides getting it as the Mystery award. ALRIGHT, enough talk about World Cup Soccer! If you want more, then go read my review about the table here!
It's a long way to the top!
I reviewed X-MEN when it was first released when I came upon it during the 2012 Canadian Pinball Championships, although at the time I wasn't too familiar with the table at the time and couldn't get too much into it.
Now that X-MEN has been out for a while and had a good stint at Rosa Bianca amongst other places, I am taking a second look at it for a more thorough review.
At first glance, X-MEN can be a pretty intimidating table, what with the tangle of ramps and loops around the upper playfield.
The tables' looks don't lie; X-MEN can be real tough and unforgiving. The ramp shots will punish you if you don't make them, setting the ball loose into the slingshots. The biggest culprit of nasty drains is The Magneto Ball Lock. It's just plain nasty!
The ball lock is located right above the middle drain and so if the lock is not lit or, in the case of Rosa Bianca's table, the ball lock isn't operating properly, the ball will just drop right down. Jason at The Pinball Cafe told me that he resolved this issue by putting a small slant on the table so the ball would roll towards either of the flippers.  Rosa Bianca's table took this to a bit of an extreme as it was very slanted towards the left. It was beginning to exhibit Communist ideals HEYOOOO. I kid... For example, I have had instances where the ball came down from the Magneto ball lock, fell so far to the left that it bounced off the slingshot, rebounded off the other then found itself going into the left outlane.
What a dangerous outlane that one is. This is from the X-MEN table at Glamour Sports Bar where the outlane post is on the hardest setting; you can see a couple of holes where you can stick the post in to adjust the opening. This particular post is on the widest setting and so the ball just sails right through the space. I've lost countless games because of this due to the playfield's favouring of the left area.

That's enough discussion about the playfield gameplay so let's take a closer look at the modes. X-MEN is packed to the gills with all sorts of modes and even two Wizard modes, one for the heroes and the other for the villains. In order to light the Heroes Wizard mode, Danger Room, you must lit all the X-Men. Dark Phoenix Wizard Mode can be activated by completing all the Villain modes.

Many of the X-Men modes are pretty easy to light; all you have to do is hit one of the shots about two or three times to start a mode. In particular, Beast's mode can be activated before the ball even hits the flippers. By giving the ball a full launch, it will hit the Beast rollover and then go into the Jet Bumper cluster which it will sometimes bounce out of and hit the rollover again. BOOM, Beast Mode lit right after. This mode is a bit of a pain to start right off the bat because not much else can be lit during it and you have to make the shot through the bumper cluster to complete it. The mode has a neat little references to Beast's mutations which is a treat to see. Much of the other modes consist of just hitting a particular X-Team Member's shots before the timer runs out, save for Professor Xavier's mode. Xavier's mode requires you to find the mutant using Cerebro, which consists of blindly hitting shots until you can discover the mutant. Shadow King, one of the villain modes, has the same premise by hitting different shots until you can hunt down Shadow King.

The Villain modes are a little bit more robust than the hero modes. The modes require a few more different tasks in order to complete them. For Juggernaut, you must hit certain shots to knock off Juggy's helmet then once that is done, you must hit Professor Xavier's kicker in order to subdue the big guy. Again, that's a neat little reference to X-Men history.

X-MEN has several multiball modes as well. Wolverine Multiball is one of the 2-ball mulitballs and is quite easy to activate right off the bat. I have a particular strategy to Wolverine Multiball early in the game and here's how it goes. Wolverine Multiball takes about 3 hits on average to activate so give the Wolverine toy a couple of knocks right away. In the meantime, try and light Blackbird Mystery by hitting the flipper lanes. Once Blackbird is activated, and you will know when it is...
Activate Wolverine Multiball. Try and get the second ball to launch around to the bumper cluster and have it squeeze in through the bottom into the eject hole, like so...
OK, not that X-Treme but you get the idea... If the balls comes down through here, it will often fall into the eject hole. If you get Blackbird Mystery during Wolverine Multiball, the first reward is Add-A-Ball. Right off the bat, you have 3 ball multiball. Now, hit any of the lit shots and then hit Wolverine to get jackpot.
I mentioned in my first review of X-MEN that I hope there was a gimmick about Magneto grabbing the balls before his Multiball and I've found out after the fact that it is true!
The balls will drop down to the magnetic field and be caught by the magnet momentarily. Depending on how many balls you have locked at the beginning of Magneto multiball, you can have up to four balls caught at once. The balls then get launched all over the place and things get crazy.
The other two mulitball modes, Hellfire Club and Brotherhood, have to be lit by hitting their respective stand-up targets on either side of the playfield several times.
The trick to these modes though is that they have to be lit through Villains mode. They will not activate automatically once qualified. Instead, you will have to activate Villains mode, hit the eject hole and select either Brotherhood or Hellfire Club to start the multiball modes.

One problem with X-MEN is that the code was unfinished at the time of release. I doubt the tables I've played on have been updated and so my observations about gameplay may be outdated. This has become a bit of a trend in pinball and with Stern; much of Stern's output, like Metallica and Star Trek, has been released without completed code, leading to many tables being sent out on route incomplete. My understanding is that because the market for pinball has shifted from arcades and public locations to private collectors, pinball manufacturers have been releasing tables on schedule and later providing code updates rather than delaying a release due to incomplete code. Private collectors are more keen to update their machines and it would be easier to do so. Comparatively speaking, Operators would have to pull a table off route just to update the code which is something I've rarely seen done, though I'm seeing tables like TRON: Legacy at Monarch Tavern and AC/DC at Lipstick and Dynamite with updated code. It's a shame, at least in my eyes, that this is kind of the modus operandi for current pinball manufacturers because I'm basically playing incomplete games. However, I can't really complain because I'm only paying a couple of bucks to play pinball here and there compared to the folks who spend a couple of grand to have in their collection. In addition, Stern has been getting better about releasing more thorough code and getting updates out on time. Despite the unfinished code, it doesn't affect the overall gameplay of X-MEN, though I heard it does flesh out a few more of the modes. Apparently, there is even a Deadpool mode!
Unfinished code won't hold me back from a high score!
Stern has been on quite a roll lately with their releases, what with AC/DC, Metallica, Star Trek, and now Ford Mustang (read about Stern's latest release here in my Michigan Pinball Expo Trip Report) bringing in a lot of press and business for the world's premier pinball manufacturer. X-MEN was squeezed in between AC/DC and The Avengers and kinda fell inbetween the cracks despite being one of John Borg's stronger titles. While everyone talks about AC/DC, Metallica and Star Trek as Stern's biggest hits, I consider X-MEN to be a great sleeper title and convinced me that Borg can put out some really solid titles, his follow-up being Metallica. Here's hoping the high quality of Stern titles continues and with John Trudeau designing their Ford Mustang table, they are definitely continuing the trend of fantastic output!

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