Game Review: Zen Pinball 2 – Super League Football (PS Vita)

Super League Football PS Vita

Licensed pinball tables are a strange beast. It’s hard for developers to strike a balance between remaining true to the franchise that they are working with while still delivering a high quality pinball experience that can cross over and still be enjoyable by all pinball afficionados. Equally, when looking for inspiration for new ideas for tables, there are some subjects that are harder than others to translate from the real world into the world of pins, metal balls and flippers and more often than not sports-themed tables can result in lacklustre affairs. So were Zen Studios biting off more than they could chew combining football with officially licensed teams from across the globe…?

Rather than being a straightforward pinball table with an underlying football theme, Super League Football has taken a radical approach and blends the pinball mechanics that Zen Studios have been delivering so well for the last few years with a novel twist on football itself. The initial release is spread over eight different available versions of the game. Seven of these are licensed from some of the biggest football clubs across Europe and the eighth is a fictional team comprising of staff from Zen Studios themselves. The tables themselves are all identical apart from the table “graphics” (the board under the playing area), the animated mascot seen during the game, the strip worn by the solitary player on screen and some of the text seen on the dot matrix display. The idea behind the different tables were that football fans would be able to buy tables to show their affinity / support for their favourite teams and those without a preference could opt to purchase the Zen Studios F.C. table instead.

Once into the game, Super League Football is displayed as a single choice from the table menu and from there you can choose to play the game as a single or multiplayer game as usual or choose your team. From there a list of all of the currently available squads are displayed with your purchased tables being highlighted. Once you’re all set, you can move onto playing the game itself and this is where things start to really show why this table is something rather special…

At the start of the game a league table is displayed showing a set of fixtures with other teams available in the game. On there you’ll see your chosen team up against another and this is the first match in the current league. Straight away you know that you’re in for a different gaming experience as the commentators begin to talk about the upcoming game – yes, this game has commentary throughout – so once you’re ready the match begins. There’s no plunger here unlike previous pinball tables. Instead the player runs up to the ball alley and using the right stick you control his leg to set the shot strength. Let go and he kicks the ball to kick off the “match”. The basic idea as you can no doubt guess, is to win the match and position your team as highly as possible in the league table compared with the rival teams.

To score goals you have to shoot the ball up various ramps and against targets on the table to build up attacks, move the ball forward up the pitch and to weaken the other team’s defense until you’re in a position to take a shot on goal. Once you are able to do this, the two ramps that lead to the upper playfield light up and by flipping the ball to this area play changes slightly. You gain control of two flippers in the upper play area and in front of you is the opposing goal with a goalkeeper moving from side to side. In front of him are rows of defenders (this number varies depending on how many you have managed to remove during earlier play) and to score you just have to flip the ball past the defenders and the keeper. Score and you’re rewarded with a bonus of several million points, if the ball gets past your flippers the game returns to normal play but if you flip the ball off to the side of the goal, it goes out of play temporarily for a goal kick… and is summarily launched into the “air” and back into play on the table!

But that’s just a small aspect of it, even though you have full physical control of the ball throughout, depending on how well you play in the match itself you can lose posession of the ball and that’s when you have to play defensively. If the ball goes out of play to the left or right side lanes you can “tackle” the opponent by flipping the ball with smaller flippers and knocking the ball through a small trap door back into play. You also have a short time to recover posession by flipping the ball at a number of targets in sequence and if you don’t manage this within the time limit then your opponent scores a goal.

That’s all well and good but that still doesn’t sound like a full game of football though. That is until you look at the bottom corner of the table where you see a timer counting down in an accelerated form from 45 minutes to zero. Yes, as you can probably guess by now, Super League Football is a game of two halves. Assuming you can play long enough for the timer to reach zero, you are treated with a half time “show” entering the game’s multiball mode (this also occurs in the main game as a post-goal celebration if the right circumstances have happened) for a brief bonus game. At the end of this show, it’s back for the second half and if you can last until the final whistle you’re presented with your final score, the results of all the other matches and your current league standing. The game then moves onto the next leaague match where you have to play another game…

As someone who has relatively no interest in football I found this to be an incredibly addictive and compulsive table to play. The variety of play throughout made it an absolute delight to play from the build-up to trying to score goals to the frantic tension as you desperately try to defend, it really added a freshness to the table that I wasn’t expecting. When I first heard about this table being developed I was expecting little more than a football themed table with graphics and sound to the usual Zen Studios standards but I wasn’t expecting anything this original.

Everything about this table shouts quality and polish. Whether it’s the on-table presentation, the way the game recreates a football match from start to finish and even the novel way you use a player to launch the ball, it all manages successfully to come together to adds up to being one of the most atmospheric games that Zen Studios have released so far. Visually, as you would come to expect from a Zen Pinball table, it is superb packed with detailed, great animation, lighting effects and the smallest attention to detail throughout – even the balls this time around have been replaced with footballs and you can tell that the game has been crafted with a love of football.

As I’ve said, this is an incredibly addictive table and I’d have to rate it as one of the best so far to come from Zen Studios. Certainly it offers more variety in terms of gameplay than most of the others that they have released so far, oozes originality throughout but the real highlight has to be the sound and Super Leage Football is arguably the best sounding table they have ever created. While all of the previous tables I have played (and up to this point I’ve purchased every table released for Zen Pinball 2) feature music throughout and a mixture of sound effects and soundbites for speech, Super League Football offers full match commentary throughout the game.

This was the biggest surprise as part of all of this for me and it’s the last thing that I expected to hear in a pinball game and while it’s not unique to each table and makes no mention at any time of players names, team names or anything else specific, it fits the game incredibly well. It reminds me a great deal of some of the early football games on the original PlayStation when commentary was first introduced to sports games and what difference it made from the old 8-bit and 16-bit era and how much extra depth it added and it does exactly the same here. This commentary really does bring the game to live in no way that I have experienced in a pinball table before, with probably the Star Wars tables being the only other exceptions because of the atmosphere created by the sounds from the movies.

Hearing the constant roar of the crowd, the commentator encouraging you to score, the cries as you score or disparaging remarks as you waste opportunities to take shots… every single comment made makes you forget sometimes that you’re playing a pinball game and draws you deeper into a football game instead and the lines between the two genres blur constantly throughout and then blending of the two is handled remarkably well.

My only real issue that I have with this table is the way it is currently being sold. At the time of writing this there are eight variants of this table on the market, seven representing a different team in Europe and the eighth for the fictional Zen Studios team. With the exception of the table graphics, player kit and mascot (and player text that appears on the dot matrix display) as I said earlier, all of the tables are identical in terms of the layout, sound (with the odd change for music on the occasional table) and because the tables are identical, the playability remains the same for each. The only way you realise that you are playing as a different team is looking at the in-game league tables and noticing differences in the league positions for who you have chosen and on the global leaderboards where the flag of your chosen team’s country is displayed next to your score. In fact, during play the chances are that you won’t even think about the team you are using.

I do appreciate that there will be people out there who won’t want tables based on certain teams so including all of these in a single package may not have been a particularly practical option for some (and may have even been detrimental to sales in some instances with some of the more “passionate” fans refusing to buy a bundle if team x is included although it could be argued that the same argument could be applied to games like FIFA!) but in doing this the choice presented here is rather limited as well. If gamers aren’t fans of the seven “real” teams they are being left to adopt a “wait and see” approach or buy the generic team and then decide whether to buy their favourite team at a later date (effectively buying the table a second time) or not showing their support although I’d garner than most would do so.

As with all of their other tables, it is a Cross Buy release so purchasing this for the PS Vita will allow you to download it for the PS3 (or vice versa) and if you purchase the PS Vita or PS3 version, you will also be able to dowload it for the PS4 free of charge as well (although Cross Buy will not work if you purchase the PS4 edition). Sadly, there is no Cross Play between formats for the online multiplayer mode, but all versions of the game have a shared leaderboard / high score so assuming you take advantage of Cross Buy you can at least work on improving your score at home and on the move.

As a pinball table I have no hesitation in recommending this as it is without a doubt one of the best tables that Zen Studios have released to date and certainly one of the most addictive and one that you’ll be playing for a long time to come whether you’re a fan of football or not, and I can’t say better than that. My only slight reservation is whether the choice of teams is important to you or not. If you really are desperate to have a table based on a favourite team or really have a strong dislike to any of the teams currently on offer then I’d stick to the Zen Studios F.C. table but with more tables promised if you’re a supporter of one of the more “mainstream” teams don’t be surprised if a table is released in the future.

Simon Plumbe

At A Glance

  • Title: Zen Pinball 2 – Super League Football
  • Publisher: Zen Studios
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: Yes
  • Online Multiplayer: Yes
  • Local Multiplayer: Yes
  • Memory Card Space Needed:

Vita Player Rating - 09

 

Please note that these are generic screenshots supplied by Zen Studios but they are fully representative of how the game looks on the PS Vita.

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About Simon Plumbe 893 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian.Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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