Zen Studios has been mastering the pinball game for quite a few years now, between its continuous table releases for both Pinball FX on Xbox Live and Zen Pinball on PlayStation Network. It’s really starting to branch out to a wider audience with the release of Zen Pinball on iOS and the game’s arrival on the Nintendo 3DS this past week. Does the third dimension add something diverse to this game? Or is it a distraction?
Well, like Crave’s Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Experience before it, Zen Pinball does get a slight boot from the addition of a third dimension, as it actually feels like you’re sitting in front of a real machine, seeing the ball coming down the lane so you can prepare for shots. It can be slightly distracting if something bigger is happening on the table, like the gigantic robot moving its arms in Earth Defense, but the game comes with multiple view options, so you maintain control for the most part. The only time we felt like we were losing track was when multiball was activated, and a default wide view was used. Other than that, we experienced no problems from a technical standpoint.
Visually, Zen Pinball performs admirably. The 3D layouts are fascinating, each with their own themes, skill shots and special areas to gain mega points. And little markers come up to show you just what kind of point value you earned from each shot, without getting in the way of the action itself. Some of these pinball table designs are pretty neat, too. Excalibur definitely has a medieval flavor to it (even if the warrior won’t shut up about the might of the sword – yeah, we get it, buddy) and we dug the old-school sci-fi vibe of Earth Defense, as it reminded me about the classic Mars tables that Williams used to make in its pinball heyday. Even if you turn the slider down to 2D, you’ll like the presentation this game is packing.
What’s more, the game is conveniently laid out across both screens. You see the pinball action happening in 3D on the top screen, while the bottom displays both the LCD screen for that table (complete with classic light-ups and score display) and indications through the online leaderboards. (More on that in a second.) Kudos to Zen Studios for keeping it simple.
While the game doesn’t have the most in-depth leaderboards we’ve seen, it is quite competitive. You’re given constant reminders about where you stand on a leaderboard, such as a point value that needs to be reached before you move up a place or how you’re faring against friends you’ve got registered. While the pop-ups happen more frequently than expected, they are good reminders that keep you flipping for that high score.
Zen Pinball only comes with two modes. You can jump right into a single player session for high score boasting, or jump into Hot Seat, where you play along with friends and pass the system around when it’s their turn. Nothing major, but it works for party play, and keeps things competitive on a local scale.
The game comes with four tables, a decent value for $7.99, but the lack of any major licensed tables from, say, Marvel or other companies, is slightly disappointing. There is some variety here, but we expected at least one of the major tables from Marvel Pinball to show up. Don’t fret, though, as more are on the way via downloadable content over the next few months. We’ll keep you posted.
While Zen Pinball 3D isn’t the ultimate pinball collection, it’s still a top-notch addition to your eShop library, and a good deal if you’re up for a night of flipper tricks and skill shots. Zen Studios does it again.