One of two pinball titles flipping onto the PlayStation 4 prior to Christmas is Zen Pinball 2, a game that previously graced both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. This next-gen version provides gamers with a chance to battle friends and strangers for the highest score on a range of tailor made tables, a number of which bear licenses from some of your favourite properties such as Marvel, Star Wars, and, er, Plants vs. Zombies.
The title’s core client is available for free and comes with a sample table (Sorcerer’s Lair) which can be played until your heart’s content. You’re also able to experience any of the other tables by taking them for a short spin courtesy of a trial mode. These tasters offer the briefest glimpse of the arenas available, meaning that you’ll find it difficult to get a real feel for them. As a result, you’re probably going to have to take a leap of faith and invest your hard-earned money into any of the tables that take your fancy.
Fortunately, most of the options are reasonably priced. While most of the licensed Marvel and Star Wars tables can only be purchased in packs of four, a few of the arenas can be snapped up individually for pocket change. It’s disappointing that you can’t just buy all of the tables a-la-carte, as the way that things are structured now means that you’ll end up with a few duds in your collection. That said, even if there’s only one table within a pack that clicks with you, you’ll be losing a lot of time in pursuit of pinball wizard status. Even better, if you happen to have purchased any of these packs on the previous platforms, you’ll be able to transfer your purchases to Sony’s new machine.
There are twenty tables currently on offer in Zen Pinball 2, with the promise of more down the line. All of these run in 1080p at 60 frames-per-second and look stunning, with vibrant colours and presentational touches that push the arenas beyond what would be possible on a real-world pinball machine. Characters such as Wolverine and Darth Vader stand atop their respective tables, as X-Wings and TIE Fighters fly overhead and zombies shuffle towards your flippers just asking to get hit with a steel ball. There are even moments that remove you from the tables entirely to play simple minigames which provide a respite from the relentless action.
All of this is quite impressive to begin with, but the excessive presentation starts to get in the way of the actual game after a while. The over-the-top colours and animated elements prove so distracting at times that you’ll lose track of the ball completely, resulting in some frustrating mistakes. You can alleviate this issue somewhat by employing the available 3D mode which increases the depth of field and makes the ball pop a little more. However, you’ll obviously need an expensive television to enable this option, and playing for longer than an hour can result in some serious eye-strain.
When you do have track of the ball, you’ll note that it moves at a swifter pace than its real-life counterparts, making it a fast and furious battle to keep the steel sphere in play. The layout of each arena offers a banquet of ramps, bumpers, and targets to hit, and working out just what you need to do can be a touch intimidating at first. Fortunately, every table has a quick guide that takes you through its features and details how to score really big points. That said, knowing how to attain a huge score is easier than actually pulling it off, as a lot of the levels will require you to hit some pretty precise ramps and markers in a specific order to really rack up the multiplier. You do get a lot of feedback from the game while you’re doing this, with points markers appearing on the screen – and a little box that informs you when you’re close to attaining a top score.
On top of the usual array of leaderboards, the game also gives you a Pro Score that’s calculated based on your global position. As your ranking changes over time, so too does your tally, and this forces you to keep playing the game in order to improve your personal bests. Furthermore, a Team Score encourages you to befriend active players, thus resulting in more competition on your personal scoreboard.
And if that wasn’t enough rivalry for you, there are a couple of local multiplayer modes for you to enjoy should you require a break from battling faceless lists. These include a four-player hotseat mode, which has players taking turns to see who can get the highest score, and a split-screen mode, whereby two players race to achieve a target score with each ball lost draining a percentage of points.
After its enjoyable outings on previous platforms, Zen Pinball 2 has arrived on the PS4 in good form. Assuming that you can get past the inflexible purchasing options and cut through the sometimes overwhelming digital gloss, you’ll find a flipping fun game with an addictive core at its steel-coated centre.