Now consigned to a small corner of history and predominantly little more than collectables for hardcore enthusiasts, it’s a sad fact that real Pinball machines are a rarity in this day and age. Even Pinball video games have become something of a scarce genre, but one of the few developers that have refused to let Pinball slide into total obscurity, is Zen Studios.
After enjoying success with Pinball FX on XBLA, Zen Pinball for PSN provides an opportunity for PlayStation owners to unleash their crazy flipper fingers, over the course of several tables. All of them are well designed and a riotous collection of sound and colour befitting any classic Pinball table you care to think of. Doubtless every player will have their favourites, but the Tesla and El Dorado tables are certainly amongst the most entertaining of the stock tables included, managing to feel the most cohesive.
The key to a truly memorable table is undoubtedly in the design, and the ones in Zen Pinball are reminiscent of a time when they embraced the latest advancements, fusing basic pinball with elaborate designs of slides and rotating sections which were designed to keep the players on their toes. Sadly that progression wasn’t enough to stop the decline in the interest of the machines, but the style is replicated well here and makes the tables a joy to play. Coupled with the weighty ball physics, fast pace and responsive flippers, there’s very little for a pinball to fall out with.
It’s to the games credit that the tables are easy to play, but mastering their various intricacies is the real key to obtaining a high score. That’s also an essential ingredient to Pinball and something which Zen has built into the heart of it, not only by using the leaderboards, but also via the use of the news ticker on the main screen which keeps you updated on your progress and that of other players. This includes those on your friends list, acting as a huge incentive to keep playing in a bid to rise to the top.
There are also a number of extra features built into the game, such as the ability to save at any point and the Operators mode, the equivalent of that rarely witnessed spectacle where the engineer would arrive and put a table into service mode. This allows for all manner of adjustments to the gameplay such as slow motion and infinite lives, however doing this naturally disables Trophies and leaderboard scores in order to keep things fair. It’s the extra refinements like this which make Zen Pinball great to play – it even allows you to adjust the placement and size of the table’s LCD screen (or turn it off altogether), and there are numerous camera modes to tinker with. There’s even support for custom soundtracks to zone out too as you get into that `pinball wizard` state of mind. Little things these may be, but they go a long way to improving the overall experience.
Alongside the single player there’s also a robust multiplayer mode which offers local play for up to four players but also an online mode. Even this long after release the online community is still well populated thanks to the regular tournaments which are run, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied if you’re done playing solo.
Zen have also released a number of additional paid tables for the game, including themed ones for Street Fighter and Ninja Gaiden. In testament to the games continued popularity, they’ve even released a spooky new theme in time for this year’s Halloween season. The Paranormal table is a nice new addition, adding all new sound effects, Trophies and leaderboards to keep players occupied. It goes to show just how well the game plays that they are still releasing tables for it over a year after its original release. Indeed the downloadable tables shouldn’t be dismissed since they often feeling a bit more `advanced` than the majority of the stock ones, offering much more in the way of multi-tiered flippers, and upper layers to test the players reflexes.
Regardless of the paid for extras, even the basic package of Zen Pinball offers a solid pinball title, with plenty of entertainment for hardened pinballers, or just those who enjoy the occasional game.