The Venom pinball machine has finally been unveiled by Stern Pinball in July 2023. Based on the Marvel comic of the same name, the machine is available as usual in 3 versions: Pro (the one you’ll find most often in public places), Premium, and Limited Edition.
- 1 Venom pinball: it’s been a long wait!
- 2 A video trailer to attract Marvel connoisseurs
- 3 Zombie Yeti on artwork: the obvious choice
- 4 The playfield: a fan layout not so venimous
- 5 Venom pinball: a profusion of trajectories
- 6 Toys
- 7 RPG takes center stage on Venom pinball machine
- 8 Deeper gameplay with Insider Connected
- 9 Prices
- 10 Venom pinball: hope is in the code
Venom pinball: it’s been a long wait!
The first rumors about Stern’s Venom license date back at least two years. It seems that this was due to changes in schedules, linked for example to the need to release the James Bond pinball machine in 2022 for the franchise’s anniversary.
So our Venom was in the boxes, probably ready for production, but biding its time. Communications from the manufacturer added to the impatience, leaking bits of info over several days. We had to wait until July 21 to finally get a complete overview of the game and its various versions.
A video trailer to attract Marvel connoisseurs
Previously on Venom
If, like many people, you only know the Marvel universe through the recent films, you’re going to have to do a lot of homework to understand the relationships between the protagonists. But pinball is as good a way as any to get interested, and you don’t have to be an expert to have fun.
If you’re not at all familiar with the Venom character, remember this: Venom is a rather aggressive but not 100% evil symbiote who chooses humans as his hosts. In the course of his adventures, he has been welcomed by a number of well-known characters, including Spiderman, Deadpool and others…
A fine Marvel cast
The first video unveils the animations to be found on the vertical LCD screen. And they’re polished, with a comic-book style that’s as obvious as it is relevant, and animations that are both simple and impactful. The trailer also shows which characters will be part of the cast:
- Eddie Brock, of course, since he’s the longest-serving human host of the Venom symbiote
- Flash Thompson, a former soldier whose legs, lost in battle, are regrown by the Venom alien
- Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spiderman, Venom’s regular adversary
- Gwen Stacy, one of Spiderman’s suitors
- Carnage, another parasite with none of the scruples of the Venom/Brock couple
- And at the very end, a formidable enemy: Knull, the deity who created the symbiotes.
The trailer’s title and the character visuals announce that Venom will be able to change host, and that gameplay mechanics will change accordingly. More on this later.
Zombie Yeti on artwork: the obvious choice
Zombie Yeti, the artist behind the game’s visuals, could hardly have been more talented. He’s been responsible for almost every second Stern pinball machine in recent years, and his style is unbeatable in the comic-book genre.
His dynamic sense of composition and vivid color palette are an integral part of his trademark. On a personal note, I deplore the prominence of the pinball machine’s name on the Pro and Limited Edition boxes. Do we really need a reminder of the pinball title on each side? Isn’t the backglass enough?
In spite of this, the Premium case seems to me to be the least successful, because it’s too much of a patchwork, a collage of images that detract from the composition.
The playfield: a fan layout not so venimous
The composition of the playfield is a typical example of “fan layout”. This means that ramps and lanes are fanned out, often in the upper third of the board. This layout often makes the game easier to play, as it leaves time to react when the ball hits an element and comes rushing back to the flippers.
On the other hand, a fan layout is a conventional architecture that doesn’t shine for originality or risk-taking. You have to go back to 2019’s Netflix Stranger Things pinball game to find such a traditional layout at Stern. In fact, both sets were designed by the same person, Brian Eddy. He is also responsible for Attack From Mars and Medieval Madness tables, the canons of the genre.
This doesn’t make Venom pinball a bad machine, just a game with no obvious surprises. In an age of daring trajectories like the Godzilla game offers, this choice smacks of anachronism.
Fortunately, the ramps themselves depart a little more from the traditional pattern, otherwise the whole thing would have been far too chilly.
Venom pinball: a profusion of trajectories
The number of ramps and loops is appreciable. From left to right:
- A classic orbit is entered from the far left and exited from the far right (or vice versa).
- A metal ramp makes a 180° vertical turn. Halfway up, a sort of step also serves as a ball-locking area for a multiball.
- A transparent plastic then metal ramp makes a large half-turn to serve the right-hand flipper. It too locks the balls.
- Another 180° ramp almost in the middle of the platter joins the first. It offers alternative trajectories depending on the character chosen. (Premium and LE models only).
- The last ramp also offers different paths depending on who is infected. Either the ramp is lowered, offering a trajectory that joins the left-hand ramp, or it is raised to serve as a mini loop around the scoop. But it can also block a ball and hold it back (only the mini-loop is available on the Pro version).
This gives the ball plenty of room to roam! While gameplay changes according to the choices made at the start of the game are appreciated, trajectories remain conventional. The originality of the game lies above all in the ramps that lock the balls on top of each other while you wait for the multiball.
Three elements of the playfield can be described as toys:
- The Carnage figurine, which must be knocked back by hitting a captive ball.
- The belfry, whose bell rings when the target at the foot of the tower is hit.
- 3 targets mounted on a metal bar that swivels to make them accessible. The whole is topped by a Doppelganger figurine. As Stern talks about a “surprise attack”, we can imagine that the sequence will be triggered partly at random, rather like the upside-down mode of Stranger Things pinball.
The belfry doesn’t make me hot or cold a priori. On the other hand, the Carnage toy reminds me of my teenage years playing Corvette (Williams) pinball, where you had to make your car go faster than the other. Joy!
The Doppleganger is a little reminiscent of the crane on Batman 66 game, but we hope that the targets will be easier to trigger !
Aesthetically, the Carnage and Doppelganger figures don’t break the bank, but they spare us from the shoddy 3D printing. Neither good, nor bad!
RPG takes center stage on Venom pinball machine
Pinball machines are increasingly inspired by video games, and Venom is an even more advanced example than in previous models. More to the point, the code takes its cues from role-playing games:
- At the start of the game, you choose your character to “inhabit” from a selection. Some of these can be unlocked as the game progresses (see next paragraph).
- Each character is equipped with upgrades that facilitate a particular style of play. It also appears that the diverter in the right-hand ramp selects one of its 3 possibilities depending on the character (Premium and LE only).
- Each successful action or mission earns the player experience points.
- These experience points are used to gain levels
- Gaining levels allows you to do more damage in combat (so you’ll probably need fewer successful shots to complete the mission).
- Levels also unlock battles with mini-bosses
But let’s be clear: don’t expect sensory differences to be as pronounced as when you replace a barbarian with a necromancer in Diablo. Only seasoned players will notice a difference, and then only after a few games.
If you read the rulesheet, you won’t get bored! There are plenty of side quests, and bonuses for impressive combos.
It’s to be hoped that the main scenario is clear, because that’s the pitfall of thick rules: you can get lost in them and not understand how to advance in the scenario or score. In fact, this is the most recurrent criticism levelled at the Ninja Turtles pinball machine.
Deeper gameplay with Insider Connected
Until now, being connected to the Stern Insider Connected service didn’t change the course of a game. Only achievements punctuated the player’s progress.
With the Venom pinball machine, the manufacturer is increasing the added value of its online service:
- Experience points and player level are saved online, and retained from one game to the next.
- Characters you’ve unlocked to infect remain permanent from game to game (Hulk, Wolverine, Captain America).
- Characters with whom you’ve battled adversity are saved, as are defeated opponents.
If our understanding is correct, this means that your games will get easier and easier, as leveling up increases the damage inflicted during combat. You should also know that XP points and levels drop to 0 if you complete wizard mode.
This is the most interesting innovation of this pinball machine: we’re slowly but surely approaching a save system between pinball games.
European prices are not yet known, but here are the American prices:
- Pro: $6,999
- Premium: $9,699
- Limited Edition: $12,999
The good news: Stern’s prices haven’t budged since the James Bond pinball released in autumn 2022.
For European pinheads, now it’s time to see what happens once the cost of transatlantic shipping and the euro/dollar exchange rate are factored in. Transport is becoming more expensive with the rise in energy costs, but the euro has been appreciating against the dollar for the past year, so there’s hope that the surge will be contained!
Venom pinball: hope is in the code
The Venom pinball machine’s classic playfield and trajectories are unlikely to make it a benchmark for pinball enthusiasts. But its toys and, above all, its resolutely modern and connected code deserve our full attention.
This may well be a transitional pinball machine, the first in a wave of machines that really take advantage of the Stern Insider. We look forward to future code updates!