Zen Pinball Review
Zen Pinball box art
System: PS3 (PSN) Review Rating Legend
Dev: Zen Studios 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: SONY 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: May 14, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-4 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Pinball Wizard
by Jonathan Marx

Pinball is a simple mechanical game that saw its zenith in the 70s and 80s. When video games began to find their way into homes, the popularity and, subsequently, the manufacturing of these complex machines fell dramatically. The legend of the Pinball Wizard lived on in little more than song… until today.

Zen Pinball screenshot

Virtual pinball tables have begun to find their way onto every next-gen platform out there, including the PS3. Zen Pinball from Zen Studios, creators of Pinball FX for the Xbox LIVE Arcade, has created perhaps the most engaging virtual pinball experience yet. Costing a measly $9.99 and bringing with it four diverse and excellent tables, impressive controls, outstanding visuals, a number of customizing options, and the prospect of even more content with future DLC installments, Zen Pinball does a nice job of scratching the pinball itch.

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Zen Pinball brings with it four excellent tables that are nicely varied in terms of theme, ramps, bumpers, and special events. V12 is a muscle car-infused table full of shiny chrome, pistons, timing belts, exhaust tubes, nitrous tanks, checkered flags, and hot babes! El Dorado takes a page out of the Indiana Jones, Alan Quartermain, Lara Croft, and Uncharted libraries. This Mesoamerican-themed table is loaded with golden artifacts and bumpers galore. The spirit of adventure exudes from every nook and cranny. I really liked the Quetzalcoatl ramp, mystic stone idol, and the transparent, suspended platform. Over on Shaman, players are treated to another primal theme. However, the table is marked by a jungle environment, tiki huts, leopard skins, and a number of wooden ramps. Target bumpers, multiple flippers, and an awesome bongo player set the tone. Finally, Tesla moves things forward into an almost sci-fi, steampunk atmosphere. As its name suggests, Nikola Tesla is the table's inspiration. As such, you'll have to wind through many copper wire ramps, deal with magnetic fields, brave a giant Tesla coil, and be treated to a host of flashing lights. Other than the dynamic presentation, the initial skee-ball-like ramp (which has you carefully adjusting the power with which you launch the ball to score max points) is a great touch.

Zen Pinball screenshot

All the tables are a joy to play because they stay true to their theme and provide something interesting and new. The developers did a great job of incorporating the theme into the layout and design of the table and keeping the visuals bright, colorful, and crisp. Quality production values also hold true for sound. Each table has its own BGM track that's, again, theme-appropriate. Also, goofy, humorous, and interesting commentary as well as sterling sound effects are let out whenever you cause special events to occur. Overall, both the visual and sonic presentation are top-notch; nicely lending themselves to an excellent pinball experience.

Graciously, this isn't just a pretty package, the game also controls really well. Players can adjust the controller in a number of ways to make it more comfortable for their hands. However, I found the default controls to be the ideal setup (I tried switching the flipper controls from R1/L1 to R2/L2, but the spongy triggers weren't responsive enough). Likewise, several camera angles can be adjusted on the fly during play. This allows players to get a far depth of view for anticipating the ball's movement, and you can also zoom in to find a bunch of hidden point dumps in order to master the boards. Interestingly, the nudge functionality is mapped to the left (or right) analog stick rather than the Sixaxis gyro. While this was a surprising choice, players will so frequently have to nudge the table in order to achieve truly high scores that it would have been a Wii-like shake-fest if it were so. As it stands, quickly touching the stick is the perfect setup.

Zen Pinball screenshot

Screenshots / Images
Zen Pinball screenshot - click to enlarge Zen Pinball screenshot - click to enlarge Zen Pinball screenshot - click to enlarge Zen Pinball screenshot - click to enlarge

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