Zen Pinball 2 Review


Given the rarity of actual, genuine pinball machines in the world these days, often all that's left to fans of the silver ball are videogame approximations of those gravity powered games. However, pinball videogames usually drop the ball because they can't quite get the physics right. The developers at Zen Studios are well aware of this problem because they've built a remarkable physics simulator to power Zen Pinball 2. The ball feels like it actually does have the weight of a real pinball, and it behaves precisely as you'd expect it to based on its momentum and direction. The result is a videogame facsimile of pinball that plays a lot like the real thing. No two games ever play out the same way, and setting a high score on a table takes practice, skill, and a bit of luck.

While the physics in the game is a pretty close approximation to the laws of the universe that a real silver ball must abide by, the tables available in the game wouldn't able to exist in our universe, at least not for a few decades. At least I don't think that there's a bowling alley somewhere with a pinball game that has Darth Vader stroll out onto the table and use the Force to deflect the balls that you flip at him. If you know of one, please, please let me know. The degree of these types of videogame world only features varies by table, with the Marvel and Star Wars inspired ones utilizing them the most. There are others that are more, say, mechanical if you'd prefer an experience that is closer to what you'd find in an arcade, if you can find an arcade.

If you've played the game on PS3 or Vita, you'll be happy to hear that you can import your tables from those systems into the PS4 version of the game (it doesn't work in the other direction, though). If you're new to the game, it is built on a "pay for the tables that you want to play" model although some tables are sold as bundles. If you want to play The Empire Strikes Back, you're going to have to take The Clone Wars along with it. Not that The Clone Wars is a terrible table, it's just that The Empire Strikes Back table is phenomenal and The Clone Wars table is, well, it's The Clone Wars. There are excellent tables that are available on their own, though, like the clever adaption of the tower defense game Plants vs. Zombies or the RPG-inspired Epic Quest that has you battling monsters by hitting "sword" and "shield" lanes. There are twenty total tables available at launch, with Sorcerer's Lair available for free.

One thing all of the available tables have in common is that they're mission and story focused. You'd do well to spend a few minutes on a table's rule page before trying it out because you'll find that trial and error is a slow process for learning about a table's goals. You can always jump in and flail away at the flippers, but if you have any aspirations of ranking on the leaderboards or besting the scores of your friends then you're going to have to complete the missions and collect the large scores that come with each success.

Speaking of pinball success, you can't have it without precise controls. Luckily, Zen Pinball 2 delivers. You can use the bumpers or triggers on the controller to control the left and right banks of flippers with the precision needed to launch carefully aimed shots or control the spin on the ball. The tilt feature makes use of an analog stick to let you give the ball the gentle nudge it needs without setting off the tilt sensor.

Zen Pinball 2 does a good job of pushing you to keep pushing for higher scores. When you're playing a table pop-up notifications will let you know when you're closing in on a personal or friend's high score, and when you see one of these it certainly kicks up your adrenaline a bit. Stats and scores are tracked across tables and some fancy formulas are applied to give overall skill ratings to both you and to you and your friends collectively, all of which can be compared to those of others online. If more direct competition is your thing, the game supports both multiplayer and online tournaments.

Zen Pinball 2 not only nails the all-important basic physics of pinball, it gives you an array of well-designed and thoroughly enjoyable tables on which to let that physics play. It's a no-brainer purchase for anyone with even a mild interest in pinball, and even those who've never the silver ball will have a great time with the game.

Final Rating: 90%. From Soho down to Brighton, it's the best videogame version of pinball you'll find.