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Zen Pinball 3D

19:3506/12/2011Posted by Simeon PaskellNo Comments

To date, the Zen Pinball series has proven to be a masterclass in videogame pinball design. It started by laying down remarkably solid foundations with wonderfully authentic physics, and then built an impressive suite of features on top – online leaderboards and multiplayer, videochat support and more. It then cemented its position with a series of nicely priced and beautifully designed DLC tables to keep players hooked. In short, it has provided the most authentic and fully featured pinball experiences that gamers could ask for. The game now arrives on the Nintendo 3DS’s eStore – and this release sees the series’ high standards maintained, even if it doesn’t necessarily push it in any particularly new or interesting directions.

As far as online shops go, the 3DS’s eStore is in dire need of quality releases. Take a quick glance at the splash screen, and for the most part you’re presented with swathes of rehashed DSi titles and an ever growing collection of 8-bit-remastered-in-3D rereleases. It’s a depressing scene to be sure, but the brevity of titles is to Zen Pinball’s benefit, giving Zen Studios a prime opportunity to grab a big slice of audience attention. The ironic thing, however, is that in many respects Zen Pinball on the 3DS is as much of a rehash as any of its eStore siblings, with its only real addition being the utilisation of its host hand-held’s 3D screen.

For the £4.99 asking fee, Zen Pinball 3DS serves up a selection of four tables – the sci-fi themed ‘Earth Defence’, the treasure hunting ‘El Dorado’, tribal ‘Shaman’ and King Arthur-tastic, ‘Excalibur’ – all of which have been taken from previous iterations of the game. Though it is disappointing that there’s nothing new here, all four tables live up to the series’ high standards and (such is the beauty of pinball) the challenge to achieve high scores and dominate in the online leader-boards remains a constant, regardless of your level of familiarity.

As any long time pinball player will tell you, the challenge of any table is two-fold – firstly, you need to get a feeling for the pace of the table and secondly, you have to unravel the mysteries that the table presents, chaining your shots in such a way as to unlock hidden features, high scoring possibilities and previously inaccessible areas. Zen Pinball 3D services these demands as well as any previous entry in the series, with each of the tables having been lovingly recreated on the 3DS while retaining the wonderfully believable ball physics that have always been a series strong point. Also making the transition are online leaderboards (with multiple filters) though, sadly, the head-to-head competitive modes have been omitted, and replaced with a ‘hotseat’ option for local play.

Zen Pinball 3D then, is a faithfully recreated version of its older sibling…which only leaves us to discuss how well it works on the 3DS parallax barrier display. In this respect, Zen Pinball 3D makes considerable gains, but these are sadly negated slightly by equally considerable losses. On the positive side, the 3D works wonderfully, giving you a real sense of looking down on an actual pinball table; the effect is also incredibly useful, making it easier to judge distances and the timing of your flipper strikes. It seems strange to think that a game as olde-worlde as pinball should fit so perfectly with cutting edge visual effects, but that is absolutely the case.

Sadly, the added dimension comes at the cost of screen space. Unlike its direct DSi Store competition – the lovely Pinball Pulse: The Ancients Beckon – which could spread the action over the DSi’s two screens, Zen Pinball 3D is tied to the top screen alone. The result of this is that it at times can appear a little cramped; in fairness this is never really a serious problem and multiple camera angles help, but in a head-to-head between this and the console version, the Zen Pinball 3D’s visual trickery doesn’t impress quite as much as it should. But, hey, a small screen is the cost of portable gaming to some extent…. (though, with a PS Vita version of Zen Studio’s own Marvel Pinball in-bound, maybe that’s not entirely true!).

Overall, Zen Pinball 3D is a successful entry-level debut for the series on the 3DS. It contains few surprises and the re-use of old assets is disappointing, but such is the quality of the experience that these are easier to overlook. For anyone who’s yet to give the series a try, this borders on must-have status – pinball has so much to offer and you will struggle to find a more faithful recreation. As for Zen Pinball veterans – its desirability is entirely dependent on how much you want the game in your pocket, and how much you want to play it in 3D…

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