Game Review: Zen Pinball 2 (PS Vita)

Zen Pinball was regarded as one of the best pinball games released for the PS3 when it came out, although it did come in for a number of criticisms. Although it was based on PinballFX (and the follow-up Pinball FX2) that was released for the XBox 360 and both games featured the ability to download additional tables, many of those that were released for the XBox 360 failed to materialise on the PS3 leaving a limited gaming experience. The only saving grace was the separate release of all of the Marvel licensed tables as a stand-alone Marvel Pinball game which were only available as add-ons for Microsoft’s console.

Since then, developers Zen Studios have returned to the game and improved on the physics engine to make the game more realistic than ever and have released a brand new edition of the game in the shape of Zen Pinball 2 and this time it’s also made its debut on the PS Vita. In an unusal move, the game has been released completely free for both the PS3 and PS Vita bundled with trial versions of several tables, the only cost involved being the purchase of tables but with a selection of 26 currently on offer at the time of writing this, you’re certainly spoilt for choice…

Rather than looking at the individual tables, I’ll focus here on the overall game itself. If you have played the PS3 version you’ll know exactly what to expect and you certainly won’t be disappointed by the handheld counterpart. It has been said before that the PS Vita is effectively a portable Playstation 3 and in the case of Zen Pinball 2 it certainly lives up to those claims. Disregarding the screen resolution, the game looks, sounds and feels exactly the same way as it does on the PS3 and if if wasn’t for the fact that you are looking at a portable screen, you could easily be forgiven into thinking that you were playing the PS3 version. Visually it is absolutely stunning and the sound – both in terms of the effects and music across all of the tables – is superb.

When it comes to pinball though, the most important thing is how well does it actually play and Zen Pinball 2 doesn’t disappoint. Critically, the physics for the ball movement is spot-on so all of the balls in play move incredibly realistically around the table and respond exactly how you would expect them to when they are hit with your flippers or when they rebound from any of the targets on the tables. If you miss a target or ramp you know that it’s not because of the game or poor programming that are at fault but simply a case that you need to try again or need more practice!

In terms of playability, ultimately it all depends on whether you like pinball or not. If you do, then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better home pinball game anywhere short of having a full-sized machine installed in your house. Even if all of the tables aren’t to your liking, you’re guaranteed to find some, if not most that will be and there’s enough variety present to keep you coming back to this long after you’ve left most of your other games behind. Each table has been well designed and set out offering plenty of side-missions and objectives, and is finely balanced to be fun for the casual players but challenging enough for the die-hard pinball enthusiast.

The game itself can be played as a single-player game, local multiplayer (passing the PS Vita around after a ball is lost) or online multiplayer where you challenge other players in a race to reach a set target score on a specific table. In this mode, you have an unlimited number of balls at your disposal, but you lose a percentage of your score each time you lose a ball so you still need to play as if each ball is your last! It may not sound fun not being able to compete directly against others, but it’s still a great multiplayer game… apart from one minor flaw. On the PS3 it’s fairly easy to find people to play against but it does seem a lot harder to come across games for the PS Vita at the moment but hopefully that will improve over time.

Your scores are saved locally, uploaded to a global high score table where you can check out your rankings against other players and your friends and – if you own the PS3 version as well – your score is automatically updated on your PSN account so whatever high score you have achieved on one console will be updated on the other. Yes, this game is part of the Cross Buy initiative so as well as downloading the core game engine free from the PSN store for both consoles, if you buy a table for one console, you are also able to download and install it free of charge for the other. The only thing that you can’t do right now is compete in online games against owners of the other system.

Controls are intuitive with the two shoulder buttons controlling the left and right flippers and the right stick or X for the plunger (allowing you to vary how far you pull it back). While the touch screen is used to navigate on-screen menus, the D-Pad and buttons can be used instead so you can use whatever you feel more comfortable with. In terms of making the whole game experience as user-friendly as possible, Zen Studios have offered players as many options as possible when it comes to the screen display…

To start off with, there are 8 different viewing angles for the tables so you can choose whatever suits you best but if that isn’t enough, just turn your Vita around and the game screen rotates so you can see the full length of the table and the screen itself will then allow you to touch the bottom left and right to control the flippers! Astonishingly, the Vita can be turned through 360 degrees and the game will keep adjusting accordingly so you could play the game with your Vita upside down and it will still run happily – basically, however you feel comfortable, it will run!

Words can’t do this game justice enough. There are already a massive selection of tables on offer with more promised in the future, it’s affordable for both the PS3 and the Vita and it’s addictive to the point that you can easily lose yourself in it for a few hours without realising. This easily ranks as one of the best PS Vita titles available and should be an essential download for everyone. As for the tables themselves? I’ll be looking at all of those separately…

Simon Plumbe

At A Glance

  • Title: Zen Pinball 2
  • Publisher: Zen Studios
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: Yes
  • Online Multiplayer: Yes
  • Local Multiplayer: Yes
  • PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 1,189Mb (this applies to the games plus the first 26 currently available tables)

Vita Player Rating - 10

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