Although actual tables are becoming increasingly rare across the recreational landscape, pinball’s zeitgeist has been sustained thanks to the efforts of Zen Studios. Since the developer’s inaugural console release- 2009’s Pinball FX, the team has spearheaded a resurgence in simulating the steel-orbed recreation. Now, a cottage industry of studios vie for verisimilitude, each striving to recreate the real-world spring of a slingshot and the kinetic energy behind a careening ball.
This push for authenticity across the last few years has left Zen’s early efforts feeling a bit dated. Revisiting either Pinball FX or Zen Pinball– the developer’s initial PlayStation 3 release, reveals how far the studio has come. While each title made a commendable attempt at realism, there was conspicuous simplification to the physics of pin- with the sphere flaunting little of the dynamism exhibited by physical machines. With the XBLA release of Zen Classics for Pinball FX 2, Zen Studios corrects two shortcomings in one swoop- applying their advanced physics modeling to their Tesla, V12, El Dorado and Shaman tables while bringing the PS3-exclusive collection to Xbox 360 screens for the first time.
Once players have downloaded the Zen Classics pack, the four tables mesh seamlessly into Pinball FX 2’s grid of offerings. Naturally, each utilizes FX 2’s social features, so you’ll be able to see rankings of your Xbox Live friends before you launch your first ball. During play, each virtual machine goads players on, revealing how close you are to toppling the score of your acquaintances. It’s a devious tactic capable of pushing players to chase points until the late hours of the morning.
Jumping into any of the four tables immediately shows the attention Zen Studios has devoted to each machine. Some machines are more opulent- with Tesla having deeper hues which better articulate the splendor of luxuriant wood while the playfield’s sepia tone is slightly richer. Small touches, like the addition of opacity to the table’s inset feature are largely superfluous, but demonstrate the studio’s adherence to authentic. While the already radiant El Dorado and Shaman tables didn’t need a boost of color, new shading choices helps to delineate V12’s exhaust-like ramps and spinners made to resemble engine fans. Although Zen’s remastering doesn’t deliver the fidelity found in games adapted from earlier hardware generations, each of the new designs bring the five year old tables in line with more modern aesthetics. Also worth noting- using the default camera perspective, the ball and flippers are noticeably less squatty, looking more like their real-world counterparts.
Beyond visuals, each of the Zen Classic machines handles remarkably different with the integration of the Pinball FX 2 physics system. The sphere’s subtle floatiness is gone, with the ball’s weight and any contact with playfield elements more genuinely depicted. Since these early tables are modeled after actual coin-ops designed to gulp quarters as quickly as possible, this advancement proved helpful in keeping the orb from descending down the side drains. Relying on deep-seated pin experience, I was able to rack up slightly higher scores on Zen Classic’s redesigns, feeling more in control of the ball’s trajectory.
For Xbox 360-owning pin purists, the Zen Classic pack is a no-brainer. Considering the collection’s reasonable $10 price, players receive four retrofitted tables which evoke pinball’s reigning era. While each virtual machine is competent, Tesla is the indisputable highlight and nearly worth a purchase by itself.