PS4 Sure Plays a Mean Pinball
Of all the luxury items found on my “I just won the lottery” list, a pristine pinball cabinet appears in my top three. Pinball cabinets in good condition are prohibitively expensive, and while I’ve dabbled with some of the MAME versions, even the best of them don’t quite capture the magic.
Take heart: The days of sub-par digital renderings of your favorite tables are officially ancient history. Combining a second-to-none physics engine and a keen eye for the most minute of details, FarSight Studios delivers faithful recreations of some of pinball’s greatest cabinets in Pinball Arcade.
Or maybe you love the idea of pinball, but you also enjoy a well-crafted virtual pinball experience? Zen Pinball 2 offers up dozens of original fantasy tables. The pinball physics are just as solid as they are in Pinball Arcade, but they also serve up eye-popping visual effects that you just wouldn’t see in a real cabinet.
Please to be noting: Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball 2 have existed on just about every platform imaginable up to this point (with the OUYA version of the former also being added recently). Though review will focus on the PlayStation 4 versions, most versions I have sampled are functionally similar, if not identical.
I’ve played the PS3 versions of most of the tables available for both games. In this article, I’ve taken three tables from each franchise for a spin to see how they hold up on the PS4. Let’s start with:
Pinball Arcade: FarSight Studios
A minor gripe, right out of the gate: I started checking my sound settings when I first opened up this title: I imagine that the tinniness in FarSight’s musical send-up of the Who‘s Tommy is deliberate, and meant to invoke a sense of the gaming technology of yesteryear. Seeing as it’s the first thing that greets new players, I don’t know if this is where you want that much adherence to authenticity.
The tables themselves fare far better. Peruse the catalog for classic tables, some of which date back as far as the 1960’s. Once you’ve downloaded your favorite machines, take a minute to appreciate just how faithfully they have all been recreated. All of the sound effects are intact, be they generated by the cabinet’s chipset and speakers, or caused by the various impacts as the ball rebounds off obstacles.
The graphics are just slightly crisper on the PS4, and the controls feel tight and responsive, with no detectable delay between hitting the flipper button and propelling the ball in the desired direction.
Tales of the Arabian Nights
I must admit that I’ve never seen this cabinet in the wild. It comes free with the PlayStation 4 version of Pinball Arcade and features an energetic soundtrack, numerous winding, multi-level ramps, and a trajectory-mangling spinning magic lamp right in the middle of the action.
The ball can get moving at incredible speeds when an orbit is hit, and the physical challenge of the rotating genie’s lamp can trip up anyone, regardless of how skilled he may be at lining up shots. This ever-present X-factor will keep you on your toes as you attempt to complete each of the Tales, but it will also increase your end-of-ball multiplier, so avoiding it completely is also unwise. Collect all of the jewels for your scimitar and challenge the Genie in a frenzied multi-ball battle to the death.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Of the DLCs available, I made a bee-line for ST:TNG. This was easily my favorite table growing up, and when Farsight managed to secure the rights after a successful Kickstarter campaign, I snapped it up on my Android device the day it became available. Every aspect and nuance of the game is present, as are voices for most of the crew (and don’t forget Q).
Featuring two “photon torpedo” launchers – one on each side of the screen – and a wide cabinet design, there is a lot of space to explore with the ball, and plenty of targets to hit. Both arcade modes are included (the shuttle simulator, and the secret Riker’s poker game), and managing to engage the Final Frontier mission is every bit as epic as I remember.
The Twilight Zone
This has to be one of the most insanely complex pinball tables ever brought into being. Created by Pat Lawlor – the mind behind the crazy-successful Addam’s Family cabinet – when The Twilight Zone released, it contained more features awaiting patents than any table before it.
The Power featured an elevated platform with two magnetic flippers that would propel the ball away. Players had to time the shot based on where it was over the magnet, with the goal of passing the ball through the opening at the top of the platform.
There was even a fully functional gumball machine at the top left of the playfield. Trapping balls would eventually result in the release of the Powerball. This white ceramic ball was the ticket to unlocking one of the more point-heavy multiball modes, though its weight and texture caused it to play completely differently than its chrome brethren.
In fact, my one complaint with the PS4 version is that I can’t visually identify the Powerball; it’s the same color as the rest of the balls. Should it vanish before being returned to the gumball machine, you have to wait for the audio clue from the machine to tell you that it is back in play.
With overlapping challenge modes, numerous extra ball chances, and the mind-destroying Lost in the Zone challenge (easily the most epic Wizard Mode known to pinball), it comes as no surprise that The Twilight Zone is the favorite table of so many pinball champions. FarSight has successfully captured lightning in a jar with this faithful reconstruction.
The price tag might seem a little steep for some of the tables, but when I recall how much money I pumped into The Twilight Zone and Star Trek TNG, to name but two of the tables that hogged my free time in college, it pales in comparison. A one-time cost of 5 dollars per table is also far preferable to dropping 4-8 grand to find a functional physical table, to mention nothing of shipping and upkeep.
If you’re the type of pinball fan that can’t walk past a table without pumping in a few quarters, Pinball Arcade offers Season’s Passes. Get access to all of the tables in a season for a one time price (significantly less than if you were to pay for each table separately). At the time of this writing, only Season 1 was available, but rest assured, the second and third seasons will make their presence known on the PS4 version in the near future.
Zen Pinball 2: Zen Studios
The team from Zen Studios also brings its explosive collection of fantasy pinball tables to Sony’s newest flagship console. While it sports an impressive physics engine, Zen Pinball 2 isn’t hindered by the restraints of what is “real,” and thus several of the tables incorporate impressive side features that would be impossible in physical cabinet.
They’ve also nailed down some impressive licensing deals that include the Marvel universe, the Star Wars franchise, as well as several other cabinets created in tribute to some other hot intellectual properties (any Rocky and Bullwinkle fans out there?. Here’s a wee sample of what you can find:
This original table carries a strong Harry Potter meets Goosebumps vibe. By firing the ball into the nooks and crannies of a haunted house, you begin to discover secrets. Some of these will uncover bonuses, while others will bring you closer to uncovering the Sorcerer, who is working behind the scenes to summon a powerful evil entity.
This title in particular makes ample use of the fantasy pinball elements: Enrage a possessed tree, and he will reach down to block your path. Strike his outstretched limbs, and he will retreat. Wispy spirits may also spring up in the way of ramps. Launch the ball through them and they will dissipate. Magic barriers deflecting your shots? Have Whisper, your ghostly little girl friend, imbue your ball with the power of the afterlife. Now you have the oomph to undo the repellant magic.
If you can surpass the spinning arcane circle and connect with the three targets, a secret passageway will lead you to bonus areas that appear off the playfield. Complete these to collect magic items and big points.
He’s the best at what he does, and what he does makes for a compelling pinball experience. Take on Logan’s greatest foes, Silver Samurai and Sabretooth, all the while preparing for the looming threat of an invasion of Sentinels.
Like so many of the Marvel-themed tables, Wolverine features gorgeous comic artwork on the playfield. Fans of the comic book universe will appreciate how much backstory is contained within the game modes (Sabretooth’s birthday beatings, a “healing factor” that allows you to reclaim a lost ball, and Wolvie’s classic threat “Hey! Tin Woodsman! I’m sending you back to Oz…in pieces!”).
On the other hand, the animations on the 3D figures scattered throughout the cabinet can feel a little wonky; there’s no way Logan could kick as much butt as he does with the lame strikes displayed during the load screen.
The Empire Strikes Back
Part of the first Star Wars pack, The Empire Strikes Back table features a playfield that conjures up images of the Rebel base on Hoth. It features fantasy elements like the lightsaber that serves as a telescoping ramp, and a force-field that can physically shatter your ball.
Striking the center target will advance the VADER value: completing this will allow the player to choose a clip from the film, and this begins a fragment of a mission based on that selection, which brings up another distinction – with their fantastical table, Zen has managed to incorporate an almost narrative bent while adhering to table logic.
I find that of all the tables, there are a few that appear too clean (such as Iron Man), and a few that are far too convoluted (Clone Wars). There is always plenty to do, but the busier tables make it hard to locate things visually while getting used to the setup.
Different Points Of View
You are able to toggle between eight different points of view for each table, and often your favorite won’t work for all tables. I found that for some I had to quickly toggle between a moving, zoomed in camera setup and then hop back to a more top-down view. You can take this need to switch between viewpoints as an added game mechanic, or just a nuisance. I think it ultimately depends on the table.
Of the two engines, Zen Pinball 2 features a far more robust array of leaderboard features. Your Friend Score takes into account your high score for each table, the number of tables you’ve played, the number of friends who also play and other factors. If you just have to be king of the hill, you’ll also receive notifications if someone from your friend list has bested your top score on a table.
Also on the plus side, if you already own tables for the PS3 or PS Vita version of Zen Pinball 2, you only need to download the PS4 version, and there is no cost for the upgrade.