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Zen Pinball 2 Review (PS3/Vita)

The brilliant Michael C. Black returns to the world of pinball!

Zen Studios have been an unrivalled force for most of this console generation, starting with Pinball FX on Xbox 360, they’ve gone on to conquer PS3, 3DS, iOS and Android. Now they’re adding Sony’s Vita to that list as they release Zen Pinball 2 for PS3. This new platform includes all tables previously released for Zen Pinball or Marvel Pinball, with anything you’ve bought before being free here, including its Vita version.

The elephant in the room is Farsight Studios; they’ve dramatically improved video pinball by bringing beautiful and faithfully recreated real tables to almost all the platforms mentions above (except 3DS, but they’re working on it), as well as PC and Mac versions. Farsight even has some videos on YouTube about how they maintain real tables and meticulously measure all components and emulate table ROMs. In other words, they’re serious!

So how can Zen compete with real history? Simple; their “fake” tables are all gorgeous and a lot of fun and, unlike Farsight’s apps, there’s always an elegant flow to the user interface, with more of a social feel; see Team Score and Pro Score. New additions for Zen Pinball 2 platform include 3D support on PS3, the already mentioned Vita version and a total of 26 tables. The only downsides are that there’s only one new table and players might not appreciate some of the tweaks to older tables (it’s much harder to get a skillshot in Eldorado now).

Control wise, I personally find pinball more responsive on a touch screen device, purely because buttons have to travel further before an input is registered; I’ve gotten all my highest scores on Vita by not using buttons. We’re it not for the great 3D, I’d only play the Vita version.

But let’s talk about the new table. It’s… Plants vs Zombies, of all things, and it is incredible. Especially in 3D. The balls are peas from the peashooters most of the time, but can be walnuts at times too, with both being used to batter the zombies that burst out of the table, collect Sun (PvZ’s currency) and the money defeated zombies drop. You’ll see many of the different plants and zombies from the original game as well as cars crashing into the table and a giant zombie-piloted mech has broken through the back of the playing field. All in all, this table is well worth the £1.99 asking price.

So, if asked to choose ZEN’s products, is this the best? Certainly, but moreso if you have a Vita and/or 3DTV. The question of whether it’s better than Farsight’s Pinball Arcade is more complicated to the point of comparing apples and oranges, given Farsight’s app only has four tables in Sony’s EU stores (compared to a dozen elsewhere), they’re let down by a lack of tables and klugey apps. In other words, if you buy one pinball game for fun it should be Zen Pinball 2. For history? That’s another story…

9 skillshots out of 10

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