Venom pinball drops into SDCC

Ned Jordan
In Short
Stern Pinball debuted its latest pinball game, Venom, at SDCC 2023 and I had the chance to see what symbiote-powered pinball was like.

Stern Pinball came to San Diego Comic-Con to reveal its newest table, Venom. Stern featured their latest Marvel-inspired machine at both a panel and their pop-up pinball arcade, and I was able to stop by both during my time at SDCC. T

he panel was titled “Into the Pinverse: From Comic Book to Pinball Machine, the Making of Stern Pinball's Newest Game” and featured Seth Davis (CEO), Zach Sharpe (Head of Marketing), and Brian Eddy (Lead Game Designer). The panel began by discussing Stern’s relationship with Marvel. The company has created several Marvel inspired pinball games in the past and has a long relationship with Marvel, so they were given a lot of freedom in designing Venom. They still had to run everything by Marvel, though, as the company is understandably very concerned about protecting its IP. Marvel also asked Stern to tweak a few things during development, like when they asked that Stern change Spider-Man’s suit to the black version.

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When Stern begins designing a new pinball game, the first thing that they think about is how the game should feel to the player. The designers felt that if they were going to make a Venom game, they had to make the game fast because the symbiote bound to Eddie Brock gives Venom superhuman agility. The table should force players to react quickly, to anticipate in advance where they will want to place their next shot before the ball reaches a flipper. I had the chance to play the game myself while at SDCC, and I can report that they certainly achieved that goal.

Another important aspect of the game’s development was to capture the feel of the comic in the game’s art. To do so, Stern tapped Jeremy Packer to provide that art. He provided vibrant, comic book style art that emblazons the backbox, side panels, and table. On the machine I played, the left side featured Venom himself along with his name in stylized, all-caps text, over a background that almost looks like a crashing wave in Venom’s signature colors of blue and black, with Carnage on the other with everything in shades of red. The machine is available in three editions, though, with the side art unique for each. The backbox art is particularly striking, prominently featuring Venom surrounded by symbiote-infected versions of a number of Marvel heroes including Hulk, Wolverine, and Captain America. Anyone who’s a fan of Venom, or great comic art in general, would probably love having a print of the art hanging on one of their walls at home.

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The first thing you do when starting a new game is to select which character to infect with a symbiote and play as: Eddie Brock, Flash Thompson, Peter Parker, or Gwen Stacy. Your choice will have a few effects – each character has a few unique game modifiers, skill shots, and signature ramp combo, and you’ll hear different music and voice lines when playing as each one. This choice can be made once per ball, so you can try at least three different characters as you play a game. As you make your way through the game’s storyline, you’ll unlock three additional hosts, Captain America, Hulk, and Wolverine.

As for the game’s storyline, Carnage is collecting Codices to use to awaken Kull, the god of the symbiotes. To stop him you’ll have to battle four bosses – Riot, Agony, Phage, and Lasher – before taking on Carnage himself. Defeating the bosses involves hitting lit shots to deplete their health bars.

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This may seem like a lot to get through in a single play unless you’re really, really good, and you’re right, it is. That’s where Stern Pinball’s Insider Connected comes in. You can sign up for free through Stern’s website and then use your personal QR code on your phone to essentially log into the game before you play. Just place your phone on the reader and you’re good to go. I signed-up myself while at SDCC, and was able to easily add the code to Apple Wallet on my iPhone and quickly get logged into Venom, as well as several of the other games Stern brought to its pop-up arcade this year. You don’t have to scan before each game, after you complete a game a countdown timer will ask you if you want to keep playing with your account.

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Your account will keep track of the game’s you’ve played, your scores and additional stats, as well as any achievements you’ve earned while playing. Venom takes this to the next level, though, as it will save your progress to your account. You can make your way towards the climactic battle with Carnage over the course of several (or many) games, and pick up right where you left off each time you return. The total play time it takes you to beat Carnage is also tracked, so once you’ve beat the game the challenge remains to do it faster. This may well lead to the birth of pinball speed runs.

The game indeed plays fast. Live catching the ball is challenging, and when you do you may find that you can’t generate the momentum needed to get up the table’s ramps on your next shot off of the flipper. Other shots will need some power behind the ball as well, such as a ramp containing a sculpted Carnage figure that you can force back into the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane. After locking balls, you’ll find a new ball dropped in so quickly you’ll only have a couple of seconds to react. And speaking of multiball, hitting the jackpot lanes becomes more challenging because the additional balls on the table can bleed the momentum out of each other on your shots.

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Even though I didn’t have the time to play long enough to take on Carnage, I had a lot of fun with the game. And now that I’m a Stern Pinball Insider, I can use the app to find the nearest location with a Venom machine to my house and continue my quest.

Transmitted: 6/19/2024 7:45:52 PM