I’ve always been a fan of old-school pinball machines. I still try and rustle around in my pockets for some coinage in the rare occasion I see one at a cafe or a chippery. The simplistic and tactile nature of whacking a shiny marble around, watching it ping off real-life obstacles with an analogue counter and diode display clicking away. Your only real enemy is gravity and the need for sharp reflexes.
I was curious about Zen Pinball’s digital reimagining of these retro machines - and exactly what would be the point when you take away the physical table-top experience. After looking at the ridiculously long list of previous licensed tables released by Zen in the past though, it would appear that console pinball is amazingly popular. With the sequel platform released way back in 2012, they have churned out themes based off Guardians of the Galaxy, the Walking Dead, Deadpool, Street Fighter, and dozens more.
As luck would have it, my first encounter with Zen Pinball 2 is their latest table expansion, Rogue One, naturally based off the latest Star Wars movie. And it turns out that pinball has evolved a lot - the digital interpretation has a lot more going on now.
For starters, there is no table as such. Instead you’ll see the sunny, beach themed planet of Scarif, which spans out and takes up the entire screen. Centered in the middle however are the familiar tunnels, ramps, and flippers that you would expect with pinball. As per the plot of Rogue One, you will follow a sequence of events as the Rebellion take on the Empire, in particular the last climactic battle scene and confrontation with Orson Krennic.
Different story events unfold by shooting your ball into the correct lanes, or striking particular targets - all the while trying to earn high scores and preventing your ball from descending past your flippers and losing a life. When events are triggered, you’ll see 3D characters run out onto the table, such as Stormtroopers or Jyn Erso, who then perform actions accordingly. When you find your groove, you’ll even be able to trigger dogfights between Tie Fighters and X-Wings, or get your Rebellion troops closer to their destination as they storm the Empire’s base.
At one point a great big Deathstar emerged out of the top of the table, creating a new target with a time-based counter in which to try and strike. It’s these little animations and side-missions that add some depth to what would be a relatively repetitive gameplay mechanic. The little pixelated LED screen in the top corner which displays messages is a welcome head-nod to the original arcade pastime.
The ball physics are realistic, and while you can never truly recreate that tactile feeling of striking a solid metal ball really hard with a slap of your wrists like on a proper pinball table, it’s still fun - made even more so by the sheer amount of animations and special effects happening on screen. Traditional elements such as multiballs, combo shots, and jackpots are recreated with the Rogue One setting where the sound effects and audio bites from the movie seem perfect for a pinball title.
I also got a chance to get out my seldomly used 3D glasses, as Zen Pinball supports 3D television sets, and I was surprised at how much better the experience was with the extra depth. Obviously it’s not worth buying a 3D TV for, but if you have one already and struggle to find any 3D content, maybe check out Zen’s impressive range of tables in the Playstation Store. Being able to change the viewpoint was handy too, ranging from a crazy seven different camera angles of say, close-up and panning to follow the ball - to a more birds-eye overview of the whole table top.
Zen Pinball and their latest Star Wars offering is a fascinating blend of old-school gaming with the level of interactivity that can be obtained on a console. Despite the repetitive nature of only needing to hit two buttons, there is definitely room to hone your skills and maximise your high scores as you understand the table layout and improve your reflexes. If you remember the good old days of tilting and yelling at an old pinball table in an arcade parlour, Zen are definitely keeping the spirit alive here. Looking at the back catalogue, I get the feeling Rogue One isn’t their best offering either, so chances are I’ll check out the others in due course.
Angus received a digital copy of Zen Pinball 2 - Star Wars: Rogue One from Zen Studios for review.