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Zen Pinball 3D Review

What is the concept? Sadly, the production of physical pinball machines has shrunk down into a niche industry. Whereas dozens of tables were produced during the amusement’s heyday, only two imminent entries dot the horizon:  Stern’s AC/DC and The Pinball Company’s Wizard of Oz. Realizing the dearth of new tables, Zen Studios has built a budding enterprise crafting digital simulation of the once-ubiquitous pastime.

With the release of Zen Pinball 3D, the developers bring four of their celebrated tables to 3DS owners. Exhibiting a ramp adorned with an Arthurian sword hilt and a ball-launching catapult on the bottom of the playfield, Excalibur is the obligatory fantast-themed table. Yet, with well-placed wire-ways and an abundance of tempting targets, it’s also the title’s best offering. Coming in a close second is Shaman.   Featuring an elongated playfield capable of building up ball speed, the tribal-styled table also has a pleasing, partially translucent mini-table at the base of the backglass. Rounding out the collection are El Dorado and Earth Defense, which offer competent homages to Uncharted and vintage sci-fi flicks as well as a gratifying selection of drop targets, rollovers, and spinners.

What are the game’s strengths? While Zen Pinball 3D’s tables looks like a muddled mess of indistinguishable features when the depth slider is turned off, when the switch is raised the title becomes transformed. Each separate element on the table becomes discernible with the addition of stereoscopic depth, transforming the top screen into a diminutive window which peers out into a near-photorealistic world. While 3D has been little more than a novelty is past titles for Nintendo’s portable, with Zen Pinball, it’s a near-necessity. Pleasingly, the collection offers a selection of eight camera options, ranging from a fixed perspective of the field to ones which subtly shadow the ball’s movement.

Complementing the solid action is a delightful set of superfluities. Online leaderboard support discloses how well players rank against their friends, countrymen, and worldwide competitors. Obviously, previously establish contacts are required to compare score with friends, but Zen Pinball 3D’s other tables don’t require friend codes. Additionally, each table is accompanied by an agreeable set of diagrams explaining key features and scoring opportunities as well as the ability to tweak many of the game’s settings in the game’s operator’s menu.

What are the game’s weaknesses?  Beyond the aforementioned setback in viewing Zen Pinball in 2D and a 10 second wait when loading new tables, the title is remarkably free of any impediments. Although some might find the demand negligible, offering a way to map the flipper buttons to other keys and/or the directional pad would have been a welcome addition.

Would I enjoy this game? Ordinarily, eShop titles are easily identified by their simplistic graphics and limited amount of depth. Remarkably, Zen Pinball 3D rivals the visual fidelity and comprehensive playability of many cartridge-based titles, making its $6.99 price a comparable bargain. Serious pinheads should bypass the halfhearted adaption of Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection and bask in Zen’s triumphant collection.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

27 comments

  1. The bottom screen doesn’t show any gameplay? thats kind of a bummer?

    • Yeah, that’s pretty much what IGN said.

      • The bottom screen doesn’t have 3D nor the resolution of the top screen. They really couldn’t have implemented things any differently.

        • Yeah, crazy IGN, they used the console picture in their 3DS preview.

          http://ds.ign.com/articles/121/1216242p1.html

          • From the IGN review

            “The $6.99 price tag still seems a bit high considering you’re only getting four tables and no online though.”

            Wow, IGN really sucks at previews. I bet they din’t spend more than 15 minutes writing this and obviously did no research. Pics from the 360/PS3 versions, incorrect info about leaderboards. Do they even care about video games?

        • You got to understand IGN.

          They’re a business first. So they’re not going to devote a lot of time to a niche title which isn’t going to get the hits a story on BF3 or MW3 will. Its the nature of the biz.

          Want first-look video before anyone else, hit the big guys? Want reviews for games that the IGN and 1UP neclects, stick to smaller, indie sites.

  2. ok, I might have to get this. But I do wish there were new tables.

  3. great writeup, Deagle. You’re the man!

  4. I temped to buy this. But I do like to play in 2D. Too much 3D gives me a headache.

  5. Insta-purchase for me. Four tables for 7 bucks in 3D? Amazing.

  6. Sounds cool. I love pinball I don’t have to think twice about this one.

  7. Is this out yet? I checked the store last night and didn’t see it.

  8. Downloading this today.

    Good advice about skipping Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection. Its a lazy port and not even close to the quality of the PS3/Wii/360/PS3 versions.

  9. GODDAMN YOU ESHOP, TAKE MY CREDIT CARD. DONT YOU WANT MY MONEY NINTENDO?

    Sorry- deep breathing and a trip to Gamestop to point for a point card might be neccesary.

  10. Saw a few previews saying this wasn’t because “it’s just pinball”.

    F- Yeah, it’s just pinball! And a damn fine version at that! Good review, Des.

    • Thats like saying Skyrim is “just fantasy” and complaining there’s no machine guns in it.

      People want straight pinball.

  11. Can you find out if more tables are arriving via DLC or as another game? I don’t see any hooks in the game for DLC.

  12. Good review, Dessert. I might have to get this. I liked FX2 a lot.

  13. Shine like the Moon

    Been playing all afternoon long. I’m suprised there’s ‘dud’ tables, they are all fun. Great deal for $7 bucks.

  14. Wow, currently a 79 on Metacritic. I would have expected better.

  15. So glad I got this. In the past week, Ive played it more than some cartridge games. Thanks for the heads up on it.

  16. I bought it today and you’re right. Playing in 2D is pretty weak. 3D really opens the field up and allows you to see where the scoring targets are.