There’s a slight touch of irony involved with playing pinball on a PlayStation 4. Playing a virtual callback to the arcade classic on a brand new games console feels a little odd; like playing an electric lute in a punk rock band (probably). Still, pinball is great, and the videogame versions have always done a decent job of making them accessible from players’ living rooms. Zen Pinball 2 on PS4 has a long lineage; from the same game on PS3 and PS Vita, all the way back to Pinball FX2 on Xbox 360 and PC. Zen Studios have therefore had a lot of time to perfect their game, making this one of the best pinball titles they’ve ever made.
First, it’s probably best to clarify how buying Zen Pinball 2 actually works, as it is a little unusual. The base game, which includes a grand total of zero tables, is available for free on PSN. With this base system installed you can, from there, purchase and download new tables from a choice of 19, each of them costing around £1.99 or a little more for packs. At launch however, Zen Studios is offering their Sorcerer’s Lair table for free, so any PS4 player can give it a go. This table is a good choice for the free option as it’s relatively simple, yet packed with extra features like mini-games and bonus triggers.
The game itself is more or less unchanged from the PS3 version; only now the tables look a little crisper and the lights a little more vibrant when presented in 1080p 60fps. For those who enjoy the PS3 game, that’s probably an upside rather than a negative point, the ‘don’t fix what ain’t broke’ technique clearly coming into play. But what of the PS4 players who, with a somewhat limited library of games to choose from, fancy trying their hand at virtual pinball for the first time? You’ll be glad to hear that Zen Pinball 2 is a brilliant game to pick up and play, even as a pinball amateur. In all likelihood, most people have either played a physical pinball game before in their lives, or failing that the pinball game on Windows.
Zen Pinball 2 is essentially an elaborate version of that little Windows game. The tables feature various slots, alleys, flippers, lights, sounds and all the other elements that make up a pinball table. The fact that these tables don’t rely on real-world examples means Zen Studios can go to town creating their own bizarre tables that would probably be impossible in reality. Each table features various missions (or whatever the table theme calls them), which encourage the player to perform certain actions with the reward of big bonus points. There’s great fun to be had in exploring all the tables you own in an attempt to discover everything they have hidden. Plus, the tables look stunning. Intricate backboards, themed table components and even moving 3D models all come together to form pinball tables that would feel at home on board a spaceship.
Of course, if you’re not willing to splash a bit of cash on Zen Pinball 2 then you’re going to have a somewhat limited experience. The Sorcerer’s Lair table is good, but there are much better ones available. The officially licensed Star Wars tables are probably the best of the bunch. Covering various themes including Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi, Boba Fett and The Clone Wars, there are a terrific array of tables in this pack. They also come complemented with sound clips cut directly from the movies. Hearing Vader ask, “What is thy bidding my master?” whenever you launch the ball is as satisfying as you might expect. What’s more, the classic soundtrack is also included; a plus side that needs no explanation.
The collection of Marvel tables are arguably the top attraction, but personally I didn’t like these as much as the others available. The missions aren't as well organised as with Star Wars or the other single tables (which I’ll get to), and the player interaction with many of them is lower than with others. There are some neat thematic tables available in this pack, especially the cool Avengers game in which you can pick a different ball based on the various superheroes. Still, unless you’re a die hard comic book fan I wouldn’t recommend these over some of the other, more kooky, tables. The Doctor Strange variant that’s being released alongside the PS4 launch is certainly one of the better Marvel options, so if you’re craving some superhero pinball action, then this is probably the one to go for on its own.
Other single tables include a Paranormal board (but not the film) that’s great for something a little different. A fantastic Earth Defence board tasks the player with taking on a giant killer robot, I definitely encourage you to try this one. Both Plants vs Zombies and Epic Quest are also brought to life in-game with brilliantly comical tables that were my personal favourites. The way Zen Studios integrates the basic elements of these titles into a pinball table is pure genius. There’s a section of the PvZ table which triggers the appearance of crazy Dave’s car; hitting it three times allows you to choose a plant scenario which sends waves of zombies against you. These kind of thematic events are scattered across the various boards and they’re all well implemented and fun to play.
The standard single-player mode for all tables is pretty basic; just rack up points in an attempt to place well on the world leaderboards. Outside of this there are a couple of different multiplayer options. I was elated to see that the split-screen mode hadn’t been removed from the PS4 version. As one of the only games on next-gen to offer split-screen play, I couldn’t recommend this more for playing with friends. Battling to reach a set score can drag on a little if you’re both inexperienced, but for able players it’s a great game mode. There’s also a hot-seat mode in which players pass the controller along after losing a ball; it’s decent enough and a good aside to the main single player game.
Zen Pinball 2 is a brilliant virtual pinball game. Truth is, however, how good the actual game is will come down to the degree to which you, personally, enjoy video game pinball. There’s definitely a risk of the game becoming very tiresome after a little while, especially if you don’t purchase many tables. Thankfully, Zen Studios are allowing players to transfer the tables they own on PS3 and PS Vita onto this edition without any extra cost. So current players are covered, but what about potential new players? Unless you know you love pinball already, I’d say it’s a bit of a gamble. Zen have also included demos of each table, though, so feel free to try them at your own leisure. Overall, this an experience worth trying at the very least, and buying even if it’s just for the split-screen.