Zen Pinball 2
Few titles have negotiated the current generation of gaming as adeptly as Zen Studio’s series of pinball games. Since debuting on the Xbox 360 under the moniker of Pinball FX all the way back in April 2007, the frighteningly realistic pinball simulator has gone from strength to strength; diversifying across numerous platforms and making a series of well-conceived partnerships with the likes of Marvel and, more recently, PopCap Games. Today, Pinball FX and Zen Pinball can be found on nearly every gaming-capable device available, with each version offering a satisfying and polished pinballing experience. The latest instalment , Zen Pinball 2, marks the series first appearance on Sony’s PlayStation Vita, and it arrives with the same sure-footedness we’ve come to expect.
In many ways, Zen Pinball 2 is more of a consolidation than true sequel, bringing together all the tables from Zen Pinball and Marvel Pinball and wrapping them up in a new user-interface. It also offers improved visuals and physics, though the benefits of the latter will likely be lost on all but the most pedantic pinball-heads. Finally, alongside the series’ staple online modes (head-to-head games, scoreboards etc) it adds a new social feature that allows you post scores to Facebook . As a package there doesn’t seem to enough to the justify that ‘2’ at the end of the title, but this is forgivable when bearing in mind how accomplished the game’s version of pinball was to start off with. As a t-shirt sported by a chubby bloke on a Fatboy Slim album cover proclaimed: ‘I’m #1 So Why Try Harder?’.
In fairness, such a flippant comment does a disservice to Zen Pinball 2’s considerable charms. It unquestionably retains the series’ claim to being the definitive pinball experience, primarily as its exquisitely realised physics engine allows the ball to ricochet around the imaginative and varied tables with near flawless authenticity. The magic of videogames also means that the game isn’t bound by reality; though every Zen Pinball table is grounded on the physicality of real-world pinball, it is able to add digital embellishments and flourishes that would be impossible on a real table. So, Spiderman’s table sees the Green Goblin swoosh around the arena of play and Dr Octopus striding down the table towards you on his mechanised arms. The most recent addition – Plants Vs Zombies (a definite highlight)– sees PopCap’s beloved brain-munchers bursting out of the ground and marching down the screen or burrowing out of view. Visual effects such as glowing or fiery balls, sparks and point indicators drifting off the table are layered on top, bringing the pinball to life in a way that only a videogame could.
The experience offered by Zen Pinball 2 on the PS Vita is as well realised as its predecessors then so, if you’re a fan of pinball and prior games in the series then it is a categorical no-brainer. This version also offers greater flexibility in how you can play, providing touch screen-controls and the ability to play the game in portrait mode (just flip the Vita!). These additions are hardly game-changers, but they do reflect the thoughtfulness with which the title has been moulded to fit the host device.
Interestingly, Zen Studio’s has opted for a pseudo-freemium delivery model for Zen Pinball 2 on both PS3 and PS Vita: rather than follow in the paid-for PSN footsteps of it’s predecessor, the game is free to download and allows access to free trials of any of the twenty-six tables currently available. On top this, any tables that you already own the PlayStation 3 version of Zen Pinball, Zen Pinball 2 or Marvel Pinball can be downloaded on the Vita at no-extra cost (and vice versa). This feels like a smart move; though Zen Studio’s may miss out on the cash it could have reaped by charging for the game, version, it serves to draw potentially lapsed PlayStation 3 pinballers back into the fold and rewards though who never went away. It also allows players to grow their table collection organically (with tables costing around £1.59 each), adding those that take their fancy rather than having to lay down a larger wad of money for a more exhaustive collection. This is definitely the type of cross-platform thinking that the Vita needs more of.
Though it wouldn’t be unfair to expect a little more from a sequel, Zen Pinball 2 does resist the urge to jump the shark and never loses sight of the fact that its core purpose is to put pinball in your living room and in your pocket, and in this it is an unmitigated success. It is disappointing not to see a few more new tables launch alongside it, but the twenty six already available offer enough scope and variety to keep you playing for months, if not years, and that’s not included the DLC that will inevitably follow. If you have tried Zen Pinball before and came away unimpressed, there is little here to warrant taking another look. If, however, you’re a fan or just fancy giving a pinball videogame a try, then Zen Pinball 2 really is as good as it gets.
(D+PAD reviewed Zen Pinball 2 on the PS Vita and PlayStation 3; game provided by Zen Studios)
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