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Zen Pinball Review (PS3)

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

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Zen Pinball: Earth Defense Table Screenshot (PS3)

Zen Pinball: Earth Defense Table Screenshot (PS3)

©: Zen Studios

The Bottom Line

Casual-hardcore may seem like an oxymoron, but it's exactly what Zen Pinball is. You can pick it up, and explain the three-button gameplay to your dad, and listen to him reminisce about the '70s and being a former "pinball wizard" (we all know he wasn't, but let him have his time). You can also compete online in pickup matches or in tournaments, where knowing the tables, the rules, and the proper strategies quickly separates the scrubs from the table terrors. Zen Pinball is a shockingly deep game, and with the PS3 Eye enabled multiplayer, an incredible online experience.

Pros

  • Easy to pick up, shockingly deep game play
  • Excellent online multiplater with PS3 Eye camera support for extra fun
  • Zen Pinball has incredible physics and runs at 60 frames per second at 1080p, it is very pretty
  • Lots of customization options to both master the tables and change-up the gameplay
  • Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, Street Fighter, Earth Defense and Excallibur are all excellent add-on tables

Cons

  • Long loading times
  • Would love to see the extra tables offered in some sort of bundle

Description

  • Developer: Zen Studios
  • ESRB Rating: E for Everyone (very safe family game)
  • Genre: Pinball, Arcade Games
  • Platforms: PlayStation Network exclusive

Guide Review - Zen Pinball Review (PS3)

It's surprising how many people don't understand pinball. I mean, sure, if you can pull a plunger and hit two flipper buttons you can "play" pinball. But that would be like saying golf is just about hitting a ball with a club. There are rules, strategies, and nuanced skills that really make pinball the amazing game it is.

Zen Pinball captures all of it. All four of the included tables (Shaman, Tesla, El Dorado, and V12) are not just fast, furious, button-mashing fun, but they all have sub-games, mini-games, triggered events, and a variety of sequential shots that, similarly to Modern Warfare, require practice. Learning a table, the shots, and the rules allows players to rack up high scores, which is the name of the game in Zen Pinball.

It's surprising how compelling the physics, graphics, and design of the tables are. The game is quite popular in my house, due in no small part to the PS3 Eye supported multiplayer which allows us to watch other goofy pinball nerds put on shows while they play, but also because of its wide appeal. I've used it to demonstrate deep game design elements, but also to introduce non-games, Dad, to it. In fact, I've had people ask, "So it (the PS3) can play Blu-ray discs and pinball?" The reason for this is that in addition to excellent design, the game is beautifully executed.

I grew up with two pinball tables in my home, so I'm quite a fan of the real world tables. And with great computer games like the original Pinball Construction Set under my belt, I've played a lot of real world and virtual pinball. The best computer pinball games didn't try to mimic reality, they were their own games, much in the way that car racing games aren't really like driving a real car. Zen Pinball, however, has bridged the gap. The physics engine they built the game on is so spot on that the ball sometimes gets "stuck" and the table has to cycle through every bumper to get it loose, just like on a real table.

In fact, the tables behave so well that I had another player swear there was a real world counterpart and that they played identically. While, in fact, all the tables are virtual they look and play at a level that makes it easy to believe that they are real. The table graphics, from the zany tribal characters in Shaman, to the car-themed V12 look like pinball tables should look, and they all play the way they should play.

While the four included tables are excellent, they continue to put out new tables based on existing IP, such at the Ninja Gaiden Sigma pinball table and the Street Fighter one, as well as original content, such as the medieval themed Excalibur. Each table has a unique quest or mission structure and each is easily worth the $2.99 DLC price.

Zen Pinball is a gem of a PlayStation Network game. Aside from surprisingly long load times, Zen Pinball is silver ball perfected.

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