Game Of The Year Runner-Up: Journey & Zen Pinball 2
Ryan King can't separate the unique platformer and the pinball simulator. Here's why.
Published on Dec 20, 2012
Journey. Zen Pinball 2. Journey. Zen Pinball 2.
There is nothing to separate the two in my mind. Those two games may seem like bizarre co-runners for second spot in my game of the year list and yet, they both deserve to be there for two very different reasons.
Journey is, if anything, the obvious choice. It was a critical darling when released and deservedly so. Aesthetically, it is leaps and bounds ahead of the majority of its competition on PSN – understated and subtle but punctuated with nuance and gorgeous effects.
The visual memory that stands out for me was sliding down a long stretch of sand when the camera switches to the side, showing the golden sunset poking through the gaps between the pillars. It’s a lovely moment in a lovely, picturesque game.
Journey is also a game in which the only communication is a chirping noise and the only direct interaction between the players is the ability to power each other up by staying close. And yet, with those two tools alone, a stronger bond was created between you and your partner than in any other game I’ve played this year.
You couldn’t even see the PSN ID of the person you were playing with. The other player was just a chirping avatar and yet, one you really connected with.
The clue is in the title as well. Journey. Because that’s what Journey is. It begins as a wide-open desert, the focus then narrows onto tower structures that have to be climbed, then you have to navigate tricky indoor terrain and it ends with a slow stagger up a snowy mountain before bursting into life again.
It was during that final stagger up the snowy moment when both scarfed avatars slowed down and collapsed that I felt a real kinship with my co-op partner, and then a sense of relief when we both exploded into life again.
The only thing that detracted from the joy was upon completing the game when I found out his PSN ID was Boogerman69.
The reason it’s made the runner-up spot in my game of the year list is because of that special co-op experience. It’s like nothing else on PSN and is the only game that made me giggle through the kinship created with little more than an avatar and a jump button. What a wonderful, special game.
Oh, And The Pinball Game
Then there’s Zen Pinball 2, which is the game I’ve played the most this year. I’ve been ignorant to Vita’s post-launch software drought just because of Zen Pinball 2, which I kept going back to over and over and over again. Still do, all these hundreds of hours later.
It’s as good as you can expect a pinball game to be. The physics feel perfect, the tables have depth to them, even the leaderboards are oddly compelling (there are real-time updates as you play on how many more points are needed to overhaul whoever is above you).
But it’s the licensed Marvel tables that really set this apart. Not only are they true to the characters but they all have their own distinct style. Spider-Man has loopy lanes and cameos from villains. Ghost Rider is anchored around a motorcycle stunt track at the top. Iron Man is a real bastard of a table to draw points from.
Each table has its own unique quirks and personality. They are tables that have to be learnt through repeated play and experimentation. Even better, besides the odd flourish such as characters hovering over the tables themselves, they feel like they belong in the arcade – LED displays, bumper sound effects and repeated voice samples enhanced the authenticity and experience rather than limiting it.
It’s easy to be dismissive and think Zen Pinball 2 is just a pinball game. But there is honestly little else you can see being done to improve what’s here and it’s brilliant fun.
If anything, Zen Pinball 2 is overlooked because it’s a pinball game and that is hugely unfair to the brilliant work of Zen Studios. The fact that I can’t separate it from Journey speaks volumes for the quality of Zen Pinball 2.
It is, by far, the game that’s made me happiest with my PS Vita purchase.