Review: ZEN Pinball

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The Punisher: No Mercy may not have been a huge success as ZEN Studios’ first crack at a multiplayer FPS, but the Hungarian dev house has proven to be a whiz with pinball games. 2007’s Pinball FX was a rousing game of virtual pinball for the Xbox Live Arcade, and so too is its recent PSN counterpart, ZEN Pinball.

ZEN Pinball comes with four snazzy pinball tables spanning a wide range of themes, from the inside of a car engine on the V12 table to the ancient ruins of the Eldorado table to the tribal magic of the Shaman table to the inventive Tesla table inspired by famed inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla. You can also throw down an extra $2.49 for a bonus DLC table themed after Street Fighter II – this one turned out to be my favorite!

All five tables are balanced and intelligently constructed, each offering unique challenges, bumper, ramp and flipper layouts, ball-save contraptions and appropriate audiovisual effects capturing an authentic arcade pinball experience you can enjoy from the comfort of your home sofa. On the V12 table, for example, you fling your ball through various engine compartments and hear plenty of squealing tires and revving motors along the way, while on the Tesla table you aim to complete experiments and watch as your ball interacts with various mechanical gadgets and gizmos.

More importantly than the table designs, ZEN Pinball is powered by the most accurate ball and flipper physics I’ve seen in a pinball video game to date – my pinball experience isn’t too extensive, mind you, but I have played quite a few pinball titles over recent years to draw comparison to. The ball zips and bounces around with a realistic weight and velocity — unlike many other pinball games I’ve played with balls that either bounce around too rapidly like rubber bouncy balls or slowly float around like bubbles — and when you flick a ball with the flippers you feel the tactile connection of their impact, especially with a rumbling DualShock 3 in hand.

ZEN Studios really showed a focused attention to detail with ZEN Pinball as well, going the extra mile to include small features that make the game truly shine. Things like seven different camera views, a neat table panning feature you can use to zoom in close and explore every nook and cranny of each table by holding down the Square button and titling the controller, an option to tie table nudging to quick controller shakes (a worthwhile use of the Sixaxis for a change!), custom soundtrack support, the ability to save your progress at any time, an in-depth Operators Menu you can use to tweak the inner workings of each table, and a helpful countdown timer that provides a safety net when you resume a paused game – instead of the action picking up immediately after you unpause, you are taken back into the game and a timer counts down from three before the ball starts moving again.

A lot of attention also went into the multiplayer mode. Multiplayer probably isn’t something you expect from a pinball game, but ZEN Pinball shows that it can work. If you think you have what it takes, you can compete against up to three other players online or in a local hotseat mode, with leaderboards in place to track your scores and period online tournaments to participate in. Online, all four participants play at the same time and race to reach a set point total before everyone else, and if you’re feeling brave enough you can hook up your PlayStation Eye and video chat with the other players during live gameplay. After I played against some dude kicking back in his recliner with naught on but his tighty-whities, though, I wasn’t too keen on this particular feature anymore!

Other than seeing some strange things over video chat I never want to see ever, EVER again, I can’t find anything negative to say about ZEN Pinball. It embodies everything I expect from a great PSN game: it’s fun and easy to pick up and play for a few minutes at a time, yet addictive enough to where you’ll often find yourself playing for more like a few hours at time compulsively trying to top your high scores and unlock each table’s four trophy challenges. Video game pinball doesn’t get much better than this!

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Pros:
+ Diverse, balanced and intricately detailed table designs
+ Superb ball and flipper physics
+ Fun multiplayer mode
+ Lots of camera choices, customization options and other subtle features

Cons:
– May see some scary things over video chat

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 via PSN
Publisher: ZEN Studios
Developer: ZEN Studios
Release Date: 5/14/09
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!