Discovering Zen Pinball 2: A Journey Through Genres, Tables and Time

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Zen Pinball 2 released a couple of months ago and I was eager to see this new interface that would finally bring together all of Zen Studios’ pinball offerings under one roof, as it has been for a while on the Xbox 360 as Pinball FX 2. I had thoroughly enjoyed the Marvel themed tables but had yet to try any of the original Zen products.

When Marvel Pinball was released on the PlayStation Network back in December of 2010 I recall seeing it on the store in passing and watching a brief video of the game in action. As a lifelong fan of Marvel Comics I was both intrigued and impressed by the 3D character models I saw. Iron Man was engaged in battle with the Mandarin, shooting his impact beam towards him as a pinball continued to whip around the table. Another scene showed Sabertooth leaping across the screen to engage in battle with Wolverine.

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Table Selection Menu in Zen Pinball 2

While I was indeed surprised to see this type of animation in a pinball game I wasn’t yet fully committed to making the $10 purchase. Not until a couple of months later a demo arrived on the PSN allowing me to try out the Spider-Man and Wolverine tables for myself – I couldn’t spend my money fast enough. I was blown away by the simple yet addictive gameplay that kept drawing me back to improve my high score and get past all of the missions.

The main objective in pinball is as simple as it gets: Keep the ball alive as long as you can and rack up as many points as possible. How you go about doing that is where things get more interesting. At first glance one may think that just slapping the ball around aimlessly and hoping for the best is how you’re supposed to play, but this is not at all the case. There is much more skill than luck involved. Cradling the ball with the flippers as it careens off of the bumpers, carefully aiming a shot at a specific target or ramp, activating kickbacks and ball saves, securing extra balls, pulling off a desperation death save after the ball has rolled down one of the outlanes – all of these take a great deal of practice and precision to master. And all of them are necessary if you want to become a pinball wizard.

Most of the pinball tables within Zen and Marvel Pinball, both of which are now housed in Zen Pinball 2, contain a set of missions and objectives that must be completed before reaching the wizard mode for that particular table, a special bonus mode where millions upon millions of points can be earned. These missions are usually activated by shooting the ball into a sinkhole or saucer, and can be completed by hitting specific ramps or targets. Some of the missions have time limits while others do not.

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Marvel’s Civil War

There are now a total of 28 tables in Zen Pinball 2 with the most recent additions being Marvel Civil War (that released last week) and a Plants vs. Zombies themed table that launched with ZP2 in September. Civil War in particular marked the latest in a trend of Marvel tables that focused on a comic book mini-series. Other storylines that were spotlighted recently include Fear Itself, The Infinity Gauntlet, and World War Hulk. I still own my original copies of The Infinity Gauntlet that I read as a young teen in the early 1990s, so seeing this table come to fruition was a dream come true. The table is a real beauty to behold and the developers at Zen Studios captured the essence of the comics perfectly.

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The Infinity Gauntlet

Zen Studios has become the master of the digital pinball trade and its original tables are just as impressive as its licensed content. Some of the highlights include Mars, Paranormal, Excalibur, Tesla, and Epic Quest, with the latter introducing some light RPG elements that include upgrading weapons and armour, as well as gaining experience to level up.

With each new addition to the collection, Zen seem to be able to introduce a new twist. The studio takes full advantage of the fact that this is video pinball and implement gameplay mechanics that would never be possible on a real machine. These range from loading and firing a pinball catapult at a castle on the Excalibur table, to the undead climbing out of the ground and marching towards you during Plants vs. Zombies.

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Plants vs. Zombies

All of the tables are very family friendly and accessible for all ages. In a gaming age that is dominated by overly complex titles that can take dozens of hours to complete it’s nice to have something that’s so fun and easily accessible when there are only a few minutes to play. It’s especially entertaining to compete with your friends in either head-to-head matches online or by climbing the ranks of the leaderboards. Either way, there’s a lot of replay value for such an inexpensive game.

With Zen Pinball 2 you can demo every single one of the tables before making a purchasing decision. Some of the tables come in 4-packs while others are sold individually. If you’re also an owner of a PS Vita then any tables bought in ZP2 can be imported at no extra charge; which is a nice little bonus for gaming on the go. It should also be noted that the game is available on a variety of other platforms. Most significantly, it is known as Pinball FX 2 on Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Arcade), but it can be now be found on the Nintendo Wii U, 3DS, PC (Windows 8), Android, and iOS.

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Zen Pinball 2 is a great network game that offers a lot of variety in terms of themes and visual appeal at a very affordable price, and Zen Studios has stated that there are roughly a dozen new tables in the works with an announcement regarding a new and major licensing agreement coming soon, which means there’s a lot to look forward to.

So if you’re still on the fence with this one I would strongly encourage you to at least download and play some of the free demos before making a final judgment. You’ll be glad you did.