That PS4 sure plays a mean pinball
You've no doubt run into at least one of Zen Studios' pinball platforms by now, appearing on virtually every current device out there that can play games (the only exception being Xbox One as of right now). They hit it big over the years with numerous licensed and original tables such as Star Wars, Marvel, Plants vs. Zombies, Ninja Gaiden, and Street Fighter, with many more surely on their way for 2014.
After landing on the Wii U last year, the PlayStation 4 is the next current-gen system to get the pinball treatment from Zen Studios in the form of Zen Pinball 2. Those who have checked out any past incarnation know what to expect, but newcomers are definitely in for a treat should they jump in -- which they absolutely should.
Zen Pinball 2 (PlayStation 3, PS Vita, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Wii U)
As usual, Zen Pinball 2 is a free platform that offers a "try before you buy" model for each table, and an import process for players who own any tables from PlayStation 3 and/or PlayStation Vita's Zen Pinball 2. Whereas on PS3/Vita this was a simple Cross-Buy purchase, on the PlayStation 4 this has to be done through an import button on the game's main menu.
Since this entry is not technically a Cross-Buy title, the import process does not work backwards from the PlayStation 4 version to any other system, so a player with multiple systems who would like the most bang from their buck would do well to remember this. It's clear the import system was not the easy solution, so the effort Zen Studios went through to make sure players would not have to re-purchase anything is definitely appreciated.
PS4's Zen Pinball 2 does not currently offer the entire back catalog of tables. Instead, it has Star Wars Pinball, Star Wars: Balance of the Force, Marvel Pinball, Avengers Chronicles, Plants vs. Zombies, Epic Quest, Paranormal, Earth Defense, and Sorcerer's Lair in starting line-up. This collection includes arguably the best tables Zen has put together so far and will no doubt give players plenty of pinball action to digest while the rest of the library -- and new tables, of course -- will inevitably make their way to the platform in the coming months.
The game runs in 1080p at a blazing 60 FPS, and looks stunning in motion. There doesn't appear to be any noticeable visual edge here, but there didn't need to be. Zen Studios' tables are consistently colorful, vibrant, and have always had an unmatched visual presentation. It looked stellar before, and still does in this outing. Ball physics also appear to be untouched; which is also great as they were perfect the way they were.
Zen Pinball is not a simulation of the real pinball experience, but rather what I colloquially refer to as cinematic pinball. Objects and characters will move around the table and directly influence the ball, with the camera sometimes moving to set pieces that do not exist on the table itself. These are pinball tables that can only exist in a videogame, and that's what makes them -- and this game -- so special.
Controls are standard fare, with things like the DualShock 4's TouchPad not being used for any radical control option. Of course, this is just fine as it wouldn't make any sense and would more than likely end up feeling imprecise; detrimental to something like a pinball videogame. L1/R1 (or L2/R2) control the left and right bumpers respectively, and the left analog stick handles nudging (don't tilt!). The controls are simple, but there's a sense of even more control now with the fantastic DualShock 4 feeling much more tight and precise than the DualShock 3.
Leaderboards, personal statistics, the in-game trophy system, multiplayer, and an operator's menu are all here, and create a wide range of incentives to continually return to the game outside of simply wanting to impulsively best personal high scores.
Zen Studios were undoubtedly the digital pinball kings last-gen, and are already well on their way to claim the same title on current-gen. PS3/PS Vita players, other platform players, and complete newcomers alike all have no reason to miss Zen Pinball 2 on the PS4. There's no added benefit to this version; just the same game with the same tables we've come to adore, but that doesn't stop it from being a game absolutely everyone should play.
Zen Pinball is a must-have anywhere you can grab it, and Zen Pinball 2 specifically on PlayStation 4 is equally just as desirable -- if not more-so.
THE VERDICT - Zen Pinball 2
Reviewed by Brett Zeidler