Review: Zen Pinball 2 (PS4/PS3/PSV/PSTV)

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Title: Zen Pinball 2
Format: PlayStation Network Download (346 MB)
Release Date: Dec 24, 2013
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Original MSRP: Initial download is free, tables and packs range from $2.49 to $9.99 (US)
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 12
Extras: 3D Compatible
Zen Pinball 2 is also available on Xbox One, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.
The PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

DLC Review(s) For This Game:
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Ever since I first played Space Cadet that came out in 95 for the PC, I had a fondness for the digital pinball games. A few others piqued my interest but none captured my heart until I happened upon Zen Pinball on the PlayStation Store. A couple of years later its aptly titled sequel, Zen Pinball 2 was released. It then came to the Vita and eventually the PlayStation 4. All as a Cross-Buy offer which means you get each table on all three PlayStation systems.

CROSS-BUY TIP
Due to some strange goings on in the PlayStation Store, it is advised that you buy the tables on either the PS3 or Vita (or even the PlayStation Store on the PC) and then download them on the PS4. Buying them straight from the PS4 does not always register the Cross-Buy offer.

Now, Glenn has reviewed many of the Zen Pinball 2 tables on the weekly podcast, but I felt this unique experience deserves a full written review.

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Gameplay:
Zen Pinball 2 is different to most games on the PlayStation Store in that it is essentially just a menu showcasing a plethora of pinball tables on offer, available to buy or try by way of a brief demo. There is one fantasy themed table, Sorcerer’s Lair, available for free.

It is this choice and freedom that I like so much, the ability to pick and choose your tables from an ever-growing list of varied themes and properties. From movies to other games, Zen Studios have amassed quite a catalogue of tables and I bet you can find a few that you love.

Controls are simple with the flippers assigned to the L and R triggers. You can nudge the table with a flick of the right stick, but be careful not to do it too much as it will Tilt and you will lose that ball. Almost every table starts you off with three balls and you can usually earn free ones if you figure out how.

… master the timing and learn the table …
Learning the mechanics and nuances of each table can take ages. There is a simple guide in the pause menu but learning the secrets and clever ways to earn big points will take time. Working out how to activate the ball saves and mastering the lane shots is normally the first thing I do on a new table.

I can spend anywhere from a few minutes to an hour playing one game, and getting into a good rhythm feels great until that dreaded moment when the ball is lost. Learning the pro moves can help prolong a game but mastering the death saves and nudge passes is something that takes time and practise. It can be tremendously satisfying and help to get those awkward bonuses and targets too.

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Zen Pinball 2 is just like actual real-world pinball games, you have to master the timing and learn the table, what to aim for and when. What sets Zen Pinball 2 apart from any real-life tables are the special effects and components that can be quite fantastical and impossible. The core mechanics of each table are based in real life and every attempt is made to make it look feasible but the boundaries of reality are stretched to make the games more fun and entertaining.

That isn’t to say physics play a big part in the proceedings and it is that absolute that makes every table feel natural and each bounce and roll of the ball is expected, mostly. There is the rare occasion when something goes wrong and the ball bounces off the play area or is impossibly stuck. While this is a very rare occurrence it can can be infuriating, especially if you have a huge score at the time.

… improved fidelity of the PS4 …
The game automatically saves when you back out and return to the menu so you can easily pick up where you left off by loading that table again. I’ve found that I prefer to stick with the game as breaking the flow generally means I mess up soon after returning.

It was a welcome surprise when the Vita version was announced all those years ago. The fact that it was Cross-Buy made things even better. The game plays great on the little handheld console and is almost identical in every way. Then the PlayStation 4 version came along and it looks and plays even better now, thanks to the excellent DualShock 4 and the increased power that the newer console affords.

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I was obsessed with the PlayStation 3 version and spent countless hours amassing some very respectable scores. Each and every table plays exceptionally well no matter what system you have. Throw in the bonus of Cross-Buy and it becomes an insanely good value. I veer toward the improved fidelity of the PS4 version nowadays and always have the Vita for when I travel. I think I play at least one table every week and still lose several hours in a crazed high score chase.

Zen Pinball 2 has two Trophies for each of the tables and four of its own. Some are quite easy to obtain but even after many attempts there are still many that elude me. When you get a Trophy the game slows to an infinitesimal speed and a unique and stylish emblem spirals into view, then the actual Trophy pops. Moments later the game resumes and it feels great. This notification is fun and unique and I’m surprised that it isn’t in other games.

Anyone can find enjoyment with these tables, you don’t need to know what you’re doing to have fun. It helps, obviously, but regardless of their skill I have seen many a player, young and old, rejoice at keeping the ball in play and hearing the bells and bumpers ring out.

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Visuals:
Some of the older tables look a little dated now but every one of them is of a high visual quality, the effects and lighting are good on the PlayStation 3 and Vita but they seem to excel on the PlayStation 4 with 1080p at 60FPS. Reflections and particle effects help to add a layer of authenticity to the myriad of tables on offer, especially when viewing in spectacular 3D. The added depth here helps with the immersion and timing.

A few tables use light and darkness for different modes and even entirely new play areas on occasion. Points are literally knocked out of bumpers, gates, ghosts, and anything else of value that the ball connects with. This score effect exaggerates the action and adds to the typical lights and sounds of a normal game of pinball.

… eight different viewing angles …
Characters walk and leap around their themed tables as you play, and on occasion, purposely interfere with the ball. There are so many tables to choose from, such as The Walking Dead, Star Wars, Family Guy, Alien, and so many more. Each one has been lovingly crafted to fit around the property they are based on.

There are eight different viewing angles that you can switch to on the fly and most people tend to favor a particular view across every table. The camera remains constant unless multi-ball is in play which forces it to show the entire table. Another way of playing that takes full advantage of the wide handheld screen is by rotating the Vita to a portrait view and have the table appear full screen.

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Audio:
The music and sound effects are generally good across each table although there are one or two repetitive speech effects that you will hear all too often, but only on a few tables. Most sound effects are what you would expect to hear from a normal pinball game, with things like bumpers, bells, spinners and much more. Licensed music and sounds are pulled from each intellectual property, like Plants vs Zombies, Star Wars, The Walking Dead, and many more.

Online/Multiplayer:
There are multiplayer leaderboards and an in-game notification to let you know if you are close to, or preferably, have just beaten a friends score. If you are lucky you might also find a tournament to partake in and fail miserably at, for only the extremely skilled players manage to rack up the absurd scores that fill the top 100.

… Cross-Buy and the freedom to pick the tables you want …
On the PS4, you can play local split-screen with another player or with up to three others in the Hotseat mode. The former mode is difficult to play on a small TV and the sounds coming from both games simultaneously can be confusing at times. You can set a goal and penalty amount before starting the split-screen mode and it can be fun watching the blue and red indicators rise and fall as you battle it out.

The PS3 version also allows you to join and host a multiplayer match with up to three other players, and while it was a fun feature that worked reasonably well, I think I only ever used it once.

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Conclusion:
There is hardly anything to fault with Zen Pinball 2 and if you like pinball, you’ll absolutely adore this. It cannot hurt to download the game and try out one, two, or every table demo if you wish to see what you like. If you are anything like me, you will eventually buy every single table Zen Studios has made for this exceptional game.

Cross-Buy and the freedom to pick the tables you want make Zen Pinball 2 a fantastic value. The inventive table design is of a consistently high standard and there are only a few tables that I tend not to play, only because I’m not very good at them. If you are new to the genre or an aficionado, you will enjoy this game. In addition, it would seem like there is a table for everyone; football, movies, comics, and even other games.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built-in screen capture feature and the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

PS Vita Screenshots

PS4 Screenshots

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