Calling Zen Pinball 2 a “game” is kind of a stretch. A free download available on both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, Zen Studios’ latest release is much more of a platform than anything else. What you can get on the Network right now is essentially an empty shell with little more than a fancy title screen and trials for a bunch of unique tables, but it’s the paid add-ons that really embellish the experience. Existing tables that can be ported over, as well as multiple themed packs that feature franchises like the Avengers and Plants vs. Zombies, make Zen Pinball 2 a truly expansive piece of software. Some tables shine brighter than others, but the options for both fans and newcomers of pinball games feel almost endless.
None of that content would be worth experiencing if Zen Pinball 2 didn’t control well, and thankfully, the mechanics are both tight and responsive. While the fantastical nature of the game doesn’t make it feel like a pinball simulation, you’ll become quickly accommodated to the physics and nature of the flippers. The ball will roll up and down each table as you’d expect after just a few minutes of play, minimizing frustrations and urges to call the game “cheap” when that last ball slides by your flippers.
Of course, a game with so many animated pieces under the pinball machine’s glass shouldn’t need to be too concerned with authenticity. The $10 Avengers Chronicles table pack is a perfect example of the game’s absurdity, as well-known heroes do battle and tell tales related to their respective universes while you rack up points. It’s entertaining to watch recognizable characters like Hulk and Loki decorate already absurd looking mazes of ramps and loops, and the single table based on the recent blockbuster film “The Avengers” is a true treat. Individual balls that represent the colors of each member of the team add an impressive amount of variety to the table, and while the specific qualities of every character fail to shine too brightly, the option of representing your favorite Avenger is a nice touch.
The most recent addition to the game is the Pop Cap-inspired Plants vs. Zombies table, and if you’re a fan of the colorful tower-defense game, it’s well worth the $2.99 download. Fan service leaks from each corner of the table. Lumbering zombies, watermelons and flowers with wide smiles painted on their faces may make you forget you’re actually playing a pinball game, but the actual objectives and ramps remain as solid as you’d hope.
If you’re already a pretty big pinhead, Zen Pinball 2 allows you to import all your previously purchase tables from other Zen Studios games via the PlayStation Network. Older tables have been visually enhanced and given the same physics on display in this sequel, but the differences aren’t very significant. This is a great platform to hold all your favorite tables, but it won’t exactly breathe new life into them.
However, the multiplayer options and leaderboard support may entice you to reclaim high scores on older tables. A pass-and-play option is fun when you have a bunch of friends who love flippers and earning millions of points, but a score-race mode that pits you against up to four other players is where the fun really happens. Frantically achieving in-game objectives and traveling from one end of the table to the other to pass the 10 million point marker is about as thrilling as you can expect a pinball game to be. It’s a unique excitement for this style of game, and throwing your initials on a global list of scores brings happy memories of your local arcade back to the forefront of your mind. The cross-buy feature between the Vita and PS3 allows you to take the entire experience on the go, too, so if your name starts dropping from the leaderboards, you won’t have to wait until you’re back in front of a TV to embarrass all your closest friends.
The complexity of some tables may scare away players without a wild affinity for pinball, but Zen Pinball 2 is a quality experience that comes with few caveats. The refined controls and variety of colorful tables make this a simple game to just pick up and play, but it’ll take some real dedication to see your name high up on the leaderboards. Whether you buy all the tables and play obsessively, or just stick with a select few that fit your interests, it’s worth giving Zen Pinball 2 a download.
Zen Pinball 2 was developed by Zen Studios and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. A PlayStation 3 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.