My experience with pinball is limited to my childhood, where each table competed in an intricate quarter based food web that consisted of gumball machines, temporary tattoo dispensers, and Rampage. As a young boy with but a single quarter to spare, I would almost always dispense it in the machine that provided the longest distraction, which was invariably not pinball.
For me, my time at a table would rarely last longer than few minutes, and I would often leave it feeling cheated -success seemed random, and I was never certain what I was doing wrong. The high scores that displayed upon my inevitable failure did little to inspire me – their values were exponentially greater than mine, and altogether unreachable. Zen Pinball replicates this experience to the letter.
My first attempt at Zen took place on a hot-rod themed table named V12, and resulted in a paltry score of 53,500 points. To put that into perspective, the top score for the same table at the time of this writing is 1,691,168,000. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn. I played the same table a few more times and managed to rack up a much improved total of 885,000. Unfortunately, I don’t really know what I did to improve my score. My only goal was to keep the ball in play as long as possible – I measured my success by the strength and frequency of the flashing lights.
However while the fundamental mechanics of pinball may be lost on me, it’s clear by the aforementioned top-score that the pinball wizards of the world are having much greater success. While I may not be a pinball aficionado, I can see why this title would appeal to those that are. Each of the four tables bears a unique visual and mechanical style, and offers up a vibrant pallet of colors and sounds. Furthermore, they each walk a fine line between realism and special effects which provides a visually stunning experience without sacrificing the feeling that you’re playing an actual machine. A configurable dot matrix display added to this effect by displaying the same text and animation you’d expect to see on a real table. In addition, the same dot matrix board is used to display an “Operators Menu” which allows players to adjust a startling amount of features, including table tilt, flipper sensitivity, and more.
Zen’s physics seemed accurate – I never felt as though I’d lost a ball to a rogue bounce or ricochet. The ball itself has a definite weight to it, and over time I was able to control its movement about the table with a bit more precision. While at first the flipper and plunger seemed unresponsive, I grew more accustomed to their controls the longer I played.
A detailed set of scoreboards allow players to compare their successes (or failures, in my case) to that of other players, while a scrolling marquee will often draw attention to recent events, including new high scores and tournaments. Multiplayer options include a local turn-based mode, and an online mode in which four players race to a set high score.
Zen Pinball only offers up four tables to choose from, and while they’re all extremely well crafted, it could do with a bit more variety. While loading a new table can took longer than I expected, starting a new game on the existing one is seamless – as though you simply inserted an additional quarter and continued play.
As stated before, when it comes to dispensing my hard-earned cash I often favor the option that will provide me the longest duration of enjoyment – just as when I was a child, pinball is simply not that option. All of the frustrations of pinball’s physical iterations are present here in a virtual sense – which speaks to Zen‘s ability to capture the true feeling of the game. Because of that, pinball wizards will likely find a lot of enjoyment here, but I’d be hesitant to recommend Zen Pinball to anyone who doesn’t fall into that category.
Each table is detailed and vibrant while maintaining a balance between realism and special effects.
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Solid physics and mechanics make Zen an authentic pinball experience. However, limited multiplayer modes, and shallow selection of tables hold it back.
Repeated sound effects work in Zen‘s favor as they further replicate those of an authentic pinball table. In game effects and music are well done, and the title supports custom music soundtracks.
Although of the the tables is unique, there are only four to choose from. Pinball fanatics may find lasting appeal in the quest for higher scores, but most others will not.
Zen Pinball should please fans of the genre, but those who don’t fancy themselves pinball wizards should be wary.