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Zen Pinball Review

By Andrew Nesvadba, on December 6, 2011


Zen Pinball
Download on the AppStore
Rating

PROS

  • Sharp graphics with sights and sounds that'll awaken memories of arcades of the past.
  • Initially free with a full unlocked table to check out; currently two additional tables available via IAP.
  • Fine-tuned settings and options; doesn't impact online scoreboards, keeping them as competitive as possible.

CONS

  • Physics have a distinctly 'arcade' feel; lacks weight and emphasizes speed and floaty movement over smoothness.
  • Smaller iDevices at a distinct disadvantage while playing in either orientation; either too zoomed out or not enough visible.

VERDICT

While not the perfect pinball simulator, Zen Pinball is still none-the-less an incredibly fun and feature-packed title worth picking up for the free table alone.


  • Full Review
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I'm seriously having flashbacks here - as a child of the 80s and a self-admitted video game nerd, the local video arcades were a veritable haven for me. While pinball games were never my forte, there was a distinct magical allure that came from the newer generation of fancy and complex titles that tried to capture the essence of a franchise, typified by the introduction of Midway's classic Addams Family pinball table. These memories are distinct and powerful, which is why I was surprised to almost smell the heady mix of ozone while playing ZEN Studios latest release for the App Store, Zen Pinball.

Much like their PS3 release the initially free title acts as a sort of gateway to individual tables that can be purchased separately, each one being worth the price if only because of how much you'd spend on them if they actually existed in real life. At the time of this review there are three tables available, one being available completely for free (so start downloading now!), while the MARVEL Wolverine and Captain America tables will require placing some money down first.

Each table features distinctly unique features that go beyond what's commonly available in physical tables, including completely interactive characters and multiple tiers that require players to perform deft achievements of skill and dexterity to unlock. Thankfully the engine is rock-solid and downright gorgeous as well, making it easy to keep track of the ball despite having a smaller screen and responding instantaneously to taps and shakes. With that said, iPad owners get the better end of the deal as the perspectives on offer (whether you play in portrait or landscape) can be confusing to look at until you're familiar with the table in question.

That said, it doesn't take a pinball veteran to notice that the flippers feel insanely strong, flicking at near lightning speeds, while the ball itself has an easy to follow, but distinctly less weighty and 'floaty' feel about it. This can be irksome for those used to physical machines and slightly slower, more realistic pinball video games, but the trade-off is that each board feels more alive as the ball speedily springs about.

One incredibly neat feature of Zen Pinball is being able to tweak the board (thanks to an 'operators menu'), changing fine details about the board's operation to your liking. This does have the downside of preventing you from submitting scores online, but restoring to 'factory defaults' will give you a chance to compete against players worldwide online. Other detailed statistics are available for junkies, but for the most part you'll just want to jump in and play.

Each board features its own music and voice-acting (where appropriate), but more importantly you can share the experience with up to three other players, passing the iDevice as their turn comes up and competing for highscores amongst each other. It's a great touch, though the addition of local multiplay wouldn't go amiss either.

While the free table provided by Zen Pinball isn't its best, it's a taste of just how addictive the pinball emulator can be and fans of arcade games are sure to find themselves shelling out for boards as they appear. Thankfully you'll never be lost as they each feature a handy guide to teach you its finer points, but nothing beats jumping straight in and experiencing it first hand. An easy game to recommend to all gamers.

Screenshots

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