(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 4.5 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4.5 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 4 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 5 Stars
- Bonus Content
- 4 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Highly Recommended
Zen Pinball 2
- Street Date:
- December 24th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- March 9th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Zen Studios
- Zen Studios
PS4 and Wii U versions used for review. Base games are free and include one table. Additional tables like the ones reviewed go for $2.99 each.
Zen Studios simply can't hold back. The first next-gen platform for the studio's relentlessly realistic pinball platform, 'Zen Pinball 2,' is the PS4, and it arrives alongside some of the studio's best tables. We're reviewing both the 'Zen Pinball' platform, which serves as the base game and storefront for Zen's catalogue of tables, and a couple of their best tables. Find out if this is the simulator you've always wanted.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Growing up I was lucky enough to have two pinball tables in my home. The first, 'Big Indian,' was your typical score-hunting fare with the unique twist of showing four scorecards at the same time in flip-number fashion. It was retro and it was fun, but it didn't compare to the other table, Bally's 'World Cup Soccer '94.' If I ever love a pinball table it's only in comparison to the extravagant, boisterous event of turning on that table and fighting my way into the World Cup. You see, it was one of those tables with a long-term goal that not only injected life into every tap of the flipper, it grew the stakes of the game beyond the high score.
With objectives so obvious but goals so hard to reach, it's no wonder that at my young age I grew attached to the machine. Zen Studios and their noble devotion to realistic pinball recreation was already on my radar when they were releasing their first tables. But now they've put out the 'Super League Football' tables on the PS4, which while different in design from the classic 'World Cup Soccer '94', evoke that same sense of progression and achievement. It brings me back. That's something those more video gamey pinball games simply can't do. They can't convince you that you're at an arcade or in your basement with your eyes peeled to the table in front. Zen Studios can, and does, on a regular basis.
A couple of things ensure 'Zen Pinball 2,' available on a variety of platforms and consoles, keeps it real:
The ball physics are absolutely perfect. In conjunction with realistically crafted tables, the weight and bounciness of the ball makes predicting angles and opportune flipper timing as natural as possible for any veteran player. But it still takes skill. The ball isn't following set lanes or gravitating toward lanes and bumpers. It's a ball. It does what a ball should do.
Importantly, most of the tables feature physically possible attributes, and the few that utilize the impossibilities of virtual space do so in such a way that it doesn't intrude on the core experience. You won't see the ball floating around or teleporting, nor will you see any dramatic table evolutions that could only happen in a game. On rare occasion, as with 'The Plants vs. Zombies' table, Zen does stretch a bit into the fantastical.
Mostly though, the tables stay realistic and there are a number of small touches that should keep a nostalgic smile on any old-schooler's face. You can tilt the table, and be punished for it. Entering your highscore initials takes an annoyingly long time (yes, I consider that a good thing), as it's displayed longways like it would be on an electronic scoreboard. And then there's the sound effects and overall presentation. Scroll down to the Video and Audio sections for more on that.
And, happily, in all the realism is a collection of truly entertaining and challenging tables. Zen Studios would have easily thrived in the burgeoning days of arcade pinball.
Fortunately for them, they've found a way to keep the tradition going, and it's going pretty well.
Super League Football
Note: There are eight 'Super League Football' tables, which are themed after specific football clubs, but share the same basic design.
As the most recently released and one of Zen Studios' finest tables to date, 'Super League Football' is at the forefront of this review. The setup is simple, victory not so much. A timer counts down the halves of a soccer game, a scoreboard to show the score. It's your job to prevent the other team from scoring while working your way up to a special goal area and finding the net for yourself. Basically, what you're doing is shooting lanes to build up a pass meter, which in turn eliminates small foosball-like defenders in the goal area. Once you're confident you can get the ball through the ranks, you fire up through the orbitals and go for it. All the while, the other team can score in tense shootout moments when you're tasked with shooting a number of lanes in a limited amount of time. Failing to do so, or allowing the ball the drop past your flippers, in that time results in an opponent score.
Like any good pinball table, your first couple of plays are about figuring out how to score the big, tasty points. In the case of Super League Football, that also means figuring out how to score a goal, and nabbing your first is quite the little triumph. Celebratory music accompanies a multiball shootout for jackpots, and then you're back to the tense tradeoff of seeking scoring opportunities while combating opponent assaults. It's particularly harrowing in that quick moment, accompanied by some confrontational music, when the opponent turns the tables.
Eventually you'll come to realize that one goal is not enough, and one win isn't either. There's an entire season of games you can win as you rise up in the ranks. This is a table with an extreme long-game to it, even if the bumper-to-bumper goals don't reek of depth. Much like 'World Cup '94,' it's that constant pursuit of victory over defeat that motivates you, and then your final massive tally that satisfies you.
Plants vs. Zombies
Animated zombies, collectable currency and purchasable plants are all a part of this table, which without those things might have the potential for physical recreation. With them, however, including Crazy Dave's entrance onto the table in his vehicle, it's Zen Studio's small way of escaping the constraints of its mission, all the while maintaining those believable physics and general physical feel. With a mission-based scoring system (each of which involve those animated zombies attempting to storm your "garden") and even a bit of resource management, the studio actually found a way to be faithful to the gameplay of the mobile series within the constraints of a pinball table.
It all focuses on the missions. Prepare for them by collecting Sun and shooting the ball into a far-left pocket to purchase and automatically place a plant. Sometimes you'll upgrade your ball with a slowing ice attribute and sometimes you'll earn potato mines on the field. Shooting the orbitals changes whatever plant you can buy, so you do have control over how you spend your Sun. Once you are set up, and you've spelled out BRAINZ, you can call upon the zombie hoard and defend the Welcome Mat as they slowly make their way down. Shooting them with the ball and allowing your placed plants to take care of the rest, which means generally maintaining a full garden in preparation, will net you a victory in even the most difficult mission of the four. You even collect coins from fallen zombies, which cash in at Crazy Dave's car for a number of powerups. The coveted Gatling Pea grants you a permanent score multiplier, while a Sun multiplier is a great way to start things off. It's a tradeoff, and there's actually a bit of strategy to how you want to approach your long-term goals.
You can also just buy a snail. He gets you a huge score bonus, granted you can last long enough for him to finish his little trek.
It's a creative table that rewards patience and, of course, accuracy in those more difficult missions. If you do beat all four then you're in for a massively difficult finale with the Zomboss. It takes everything you've learned to defeat him, much like the finale in a well-crafted video game.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Everything about the presentation convinces me that the people over at Zen Studios have an unhealthy, albeit fruitful, obsession with old-school pinball arcades. The scoreboard, though it could've displayed a HUD-like amount of information, is set up to look like a light board. You can pull back on the plunger with your controller's stick. Everything is tilted slightly downwards as it should be. These are the kinds of small touches that make the tables in 'Zen Pinball 2' feel real.
A few virtual flairs pop up from table-to-table. Luke and Darth Vadar waltz onto the Star Wars tables as independently animated figures. A soccer player kicks the ball into play on the 'Super League Football' table. Unlike 'Plants vs. Zombies,' however, these are simple outliers to the action and don't really impede on the game's sense of realism.
Sometimes I wished they'd let go of the past a bit – it could be easier to see some of the vital scoring and resource (for 'Plants vs. Zombies') information - but most of the time I felt transported into a loud and exciting room full of onlookers and passerbys. Luckily, I never felt like I was hogging the machine.
An array of camera options make it so you're always seeing the exact amount of the table to comfortably convey the action, whether it's an all-encompassing frame or an option with intelligent movement to cover both the ball and the most important surrounding features. I opted for the latter, as it felt like where my eyes would follow on a real table.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The audio difference between 'Plants vs. Zombies' and 'Super League Football' is astounding in a good way. The goofy, kid-oriented narrator in 'Plants vs. Zombies' is encouraging and soft, while the enlivened British playcaller in 'Super League Football' emphatically sounds above the table like your next goal could mean victory for peace on Earth. Zen knows how to create the right atmosphere for the right table. In the case of these two tables, it's the methodical, contemplative music against the roaring crowds of a packed stadium, and of course it's the matching sound effects, like a falling Squash as it eliminates a groaning zombie.
As with 'Plants vs. Zombies,' Zen also makes a point of sticking to its source material with impressive loyalty. The Hulk might bellow on his table while Darth Vadar beckons with his alarmingly fierce voice on another, both of them echoing with the aged vibrations of a cheap sound box in a cranky pinball machine.
It's pinball. Horribly addicting pinball. As stated, the 'Super League Football' tables take it to a whole other level of competition,
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Leaderboards, trophies and hand-off multiplayer round out the complete package.
At this point, no matter the platform, 'Zen Pinball 2' is bursting with great tables. If you enjoy pinball then you're bound to find a table that suits your style. I did with 'Super League Football' on the PS4 and 'Plants vs. Zombies' on the Wii U. You may with any number of 'Star Wars' or Marvel themed tables. Some of Zen Studio's own creations might even suck you in. 'Earth Defense Force' is goofy fun, and the free 'Sorcerer's Lair' on PS4 is a perfect starter table, though it doesn't quite last like the two I reviewed. The point is – you needn't look further than Zen Studios and their masterful recreation of the true pinball atmosphere in 'Zen Pinball 2.' There's a reason these guys are dominating the virtual pinball market, and it's not because others haven't tried.
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