January 19, 2012

Review – Zen Pinball 3D

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 9:02 am

Review Zen Pinball 3D
Zen Studios has long been offering a digital distribution plan that even the most curmudgeonly anti-dlc advocate would have a hard time complaining about – still, I won’t say it’s impossible for such a person to exist. Available on both Xbox LIVE Arcade and the PlayStation Network for some time now, Zen Pinball offers a package that can be added to as players see fit. Anytime you find yourself board with the tables you own, you can browse, sample, and purchase additional tables at your leisure. I approve of a system by which there’s always the means to refresh the experience while only parting with a few dollars rather than buying an entirely new game.

Said tables vary in theme and license, ranging from generic space opera motifs to tables based on Marvel franchises, and the majority of these offer a wide range of point objectives and shiny neon Vegas styling to seduce the senses. The key ingredient in my continuing addiction is the way the game consistently ranks you against others, urging you to play just a little bit longer to defeat friends and strangers alike.

Zen Pinball 3D carries this exact experience over to Nintendo’s handheld, which would seem to leave little to discuss here. Still, I’m sure we can find something to talk about, so please do read on.

Zen Pinball 3D hits the 3DS with four playable tables, which certainly stress a variation on theme, perhaps hoping to aesthetically appeal to everyone with at least one of the choices. Excalibur offers the expected sword and castle, while Shaman turns up drum beats and mysticism. El Dorado’s explorer theme leaned a little more toward my interest, which was then captured completely by the retro science fiction charm of robots and invaders in Earth Defense.

Players can jump right into these tables with the single-player option, but the game also forces me to lightly use the word multiplayer with the addition of Hotseat mode. With Hotseat mode, 1-4 players can play together by passing the 3DS around to the next person in line whenever a ball is lost, thus explaining my use of the word “lightly”. When it comes to pinball, my concern falls on beating other people’s scores rather than sharing the experience through multiplayer, but even Metroid Prime Pinball allowed for some competitive local fun back in the day.

Metroid Prime Pinball came to mind quite a few times, particularly when I questioned whether the typical Zen tables might prove too busy and cluttered on the 3DS’ screen.

I’m not entirely convinced that keeping track of the ball doesn’t stretch the limits of reason given the screen size, but Zen Studios allows players to switch between eight different view options on the fly, making it harder to complain once I’d found my preferred setting.

My ideal controls were easier to find, using the d-pad and the B button while holding the 3DS, but the shoulder pads stand ready to serve anyone who disagrees with my preference.

While I don’t often mention 3D in every 3DS review cranked out here to date, the addition of that feature makes for a dramatic difference on the visual appeal, and my own visual ability to play. Turning up the 3D slider brings the table to life as if one were looking down at an actual pinball table, giving every raised ramp and flipper a new opportunity to standout on the screen. It gives the game a hook that can’t be had on other platforms, and it certainly works at hooking my attention here.

I’m always in need of pinball titles on any and all devices, and Zen Studios has voiced the intention to support the game with DLC down the road. When they do get around to adding tables however, my hope is that they’ll deliver less ports of existing tables and craft fresh experiences, perhaps even a few that play to Nintendo nostalgia, which feels like a missed opportunity here.

Zen Studios

Zen Studios

Nintendo 3DS (3DSWare)

Singleplayer, Local Hotseat Multiplayer

Release Date
January 12, 2012


*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. Hey! Wait a minute… Pinball FX2 is probably the only digital download game with DLC that I will shell out for the instant they release a new table. It makes more sense to me money wise because for $3 you get a whole new table… $3 on a real table only gets you 2-3 plays these days. Man I love pinball. I’d love to try out the 3D mode, now I’m fantasizing about a full size digital pinball table with 3D display! :O~

    Anyhow… my only wish is that if Zen could have found a way to make DLC tables cross compatible with all version of their games. I’m not looking forward to having to buy all the same tables 2-3 times. :

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — January 19, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

  2. I was previously a heavy user of Marvel Pinball on the PS3.  Since picking up the 3DS release, my pinball use has skyrocketed.  I went back and picked up the PSN release of Zen Pinball just so I can have some redundancy of the tables (I love me some Excalibur).  A few days later I grabbed all available tables (SF2 and Mars are amazing).  Playing at least an hour a day.

    I wish I had some friendly competition.

    Comment by ben — February 1, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

  3. yarr I have it on XBLA otherwise I’d offer some! Mars is one of my favorites.

    Comment by Jamie Love — February 1, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

  4. I have Zen Pinball on PSN but I prefer Pinball FX2 on XBLA. : Controller is just more comfortable… real triggers and such. I’m Ujn on PSN however if you want to add me.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — February 2, 2012 @ 6:56 pm

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