Zen Pinball 2

It is a good time to be a pinball simulation fan (is there such a thing?).  In between the Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball, you have more than enough tables to keep you busy for a long time.  The latest iteration of Zen Pinball, Zen Pinball 2, has now arrived on the Playstation 4.  So, in case you missed it on its previous platforms, you can check it out now and see what it has to offer.

Zen Pinball 2 isn’t a sequel to Zen Pinball as much as it is a replacement.  It isn’t offering new tables but rather a slight upgrade in the experience of the old ones.  The core game itself is free, but you have to buy the tables in packs.  The setup and controls are simple – you use the right stick to pull back the plunger and fire the ball, and you use the L1 and R1 buttons to control the flippers.  A dot matrix display appears on the screen that shows you your current score and/or status while you shoot all manner of targets and ramps that generate points.

Ultimately, a game like Zen Pinball 2 is going to live or die with the quality of its tables.  Since Zen Pinball isn’t simulating any actual tables, they have all been created from scratch, with mixed results.  There are some good, fresh, creative ones, but there are also a lot of forgettable tables.  The mediocre tables tend to be licensed properties, namely Star Wars and Marvel Comics.  Unfortunately, the tables that are currently available for the PS4 skew heavily towards the licensed games, and that makes Zen Pinball 2 on this platform a somewhat forgettable experience.  That is not to say that those games are bad, but they quickly become tiresome.  There are six Star Wars tables and even more Marvel superheroes tables. After playing all of them for a while, I can barely remember anything about any of them.  Exactly how many Star Wars or Marvel comics heroes tables do you need?  The experiences all kind of melt together and become indistinguishable from one another.  I love Star Wars, but the use of stand-in voice actors in place of actual samples from the movies is a conspicuous bummer.  I have never gotten into Marvel comics that much, so I can’t offer much appreciation either way about how well those tables pay homage to those comics.  Your mileage may vary, I suppose.

Where Zen Pinball 2 really shines is with its original tables.  In particular, Epic Quest is a fresh, creative RPG-themed table that brilliantly mixes in some light RPG elements in a way that perfectly fits in with the game of pinball.  On this table, you complete sequences to trigger boss battles, and then you hit ramps to swing your sword and block your shield.  Occasionally, you can upgrade your equipment.  The game is relatively simple and easy to follow, which may explain why it is one of the more fun machines in the game.  Another original machine, Sorceror’s Lair, is a fun table.  It is the free table that comes with this game, so even if you don’t plan on buying more tables, I recommend downloading that one.

Although a lot of the tables tend to be underwhelming, Zen Pinball 2 does a pretty good job of simulating the hobby.  It doesn’t deviate much from the experience, except in ways that benefit the game.  For instance, the game makes heavy use of special effects and 3D characters in the pinball field of play.  It also occasionally shows a short cut scene.  For some games, the ball plunger has been cleverly replaced with an apparatus the fits the game (for example, the photon torpedo computer targeting system from Star Wars).  And, since these virtual machines don’t have to be designed to milk you for quarters, most of them have fairly generous ball saving features.  The game’s physics do get a little bit wonky in some area s though.  The ball, in general, moves faster than in real pinball.  This problem becomes especially annoying when you are trying to take aim as a ball comes screaming down an inlane.  The ball moves so fast in some cases that it is gone off the end of the flipper before you have time to react.

Zen Pinball 2 and its tables generally look really nice.  They aren’t trying to photorealistically recreate actual machines, so they can take a few more liberties with the game.  The ball has a glowing trail behind it (which you can turn off), and it occasionally changes color or gets some sort of haze around it when you have activated a special mode.  In the spirit of the actual game, there is some great, colorful artwork used for these tables.

After playing through this game and Pinball Arcade, I think that I have to give Pinball Arcade the slight edge, thanks to its authentic recreation of a bunch of great machines.  For Zen Pinball 2, the great machines are a little too few and far between, and the minor physics issues dampen the quality of the simulation.  It is not a bad experience, but it is probably not the one that should be at the top of your wish list.