Pinball wizard or a load of balls? Find out in our review of Wii U's second free-to-play pinball sim.
Published on Mar 25, 2013
It’s easy to see why gamers love Pinball. Frenetic, reflex-based gameplay, lush shining table graphics, an addictive ‘just one more go’ nature and the ability to cheat if you’re a sore loser. It’s the original arcade game, from before arcades had computer games.
Zen Pinball, then, is exactly what you’d expect: a very capable ballin’ sim with a healthy host of options, solid mechanics and the glossy sheen of a freshly-polished unit. It’s Pinball, only digital.
Thanks to a smattering of mostly Marvel licenses, the action takes place across 24 themed tables. These rely on the spectacle of the franchises themselves to transcend the action above run-of-the-mill pinball fare. Loki towers over proceedings, heroes and villains jump out across the table and trigger bonus multipliers and power-ups, and quips from the movies play over the top of the over-the-top high-score chasing. It’s fast, flashy and fun, with a strong theme pulling it all together.
The physics and graphics have been given an upgrade since the original, while the Wii U version supports Off-TV play, allowing you to play with your balls while your girlfriend takes the telly.
Wii U is the version we played, though it’s notable that the PS3/Vita game offers cross-buy, allowing owners of both consoles to download all the content for one price.
Price? Isn’t this free? Yes and no. Though owners of any of the three consoles can jump online and download for nothing, most of the game is locked behind paywalls.
Want to play a table in multiplayer? That’ll cost ya. Want to play on a table for more than a few minutes so you can actually submit a high score? Your wallet will magic this game-ending menu away. Want to play most of the content you’ve just downloaded? Yeah, that’ll be the long number across the middle of the card…
None of this extra content is badly priced – at £2.39 a table, or £7.99 for a pack, it’s a decent value proposition – especially if you know you’ll be returning time and again to chase your high scores.
Of course, if you do decide to stump up some green, you’ll have to be patient as well as well-off: getting the DLC is a lengthy process of menu-hopping, eShop visiting, Download Management and game restarts before you can get rolling. It’s hard to hold this against Zen Pinball, mind, when that’s exactly how Nintendo designed the system’s UI, for better or worse.
The time and money outlay also allows you to play competitive multiplayer online and off, as well as pass the GamePad around hot-potato style for team score-chasing.
You’ll also be able to jump into ‘operator mode’, essentially a geektastic edit menu for the game, and fiddle with settings for each table to your heart’s content.
In all, there’s plenty of reasons to give Zen Pinball a go – though be aware it’s just a glorified demo if you don’t stump up the cash.
For anyone with a pinball-shaped hole in their lives, Zen Pinball’s bumper list of features and extras puts it top of the tables - at a price.
Version tested: Wii U
7.6 / 10
7.0 / 10
7.5 / 10
7.0 / 10
8.0 / 10
7.5 / 10
Better graphics, more tables and slick licensing - Zen's second pinball effort plays well and packs in plenty to reccommend, if you're willing to pay.