(3DS eShop)

Zen Pinball 3D (3DS eShop)

Game Review

Zen Pinball 3D Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Flippin’ fun

As gaming arcades and old-fashioned pinball tables become increasingly rare in public spaces, pinball enthusiasts can now revert to digitised versions for their fix. It’s good news for these gamers as the 3DS eShop’s latest 3D offering is Zen Pinball 3D, a stereoscopic edition of the highly rated PlayStation Network release. We found a room with a sticky floor, lots of noisy gamers and walls of bright flashing screens, and put these tables to the test.

Zen Pinball 3D provides an uncomplicated, no-frills gameplay experience. There are some flashy touches, which we’ll address later, but at its heart this is simply pinball, polished and optimised with plenty of care. Flippers can be controlled with the D-Pad and the B button, but the most intuitive option is to use the shoulder buttons. Combining the shoulder buttons with the Circle Pad for vital table nudges feels natural and comfortable, allowing for extended play sessions.

It’s entirely possible that you’ll be hooked into playing for good stretches of time, as the physics and feel of the tables is excellent. The four tables included give a good sense of diversity, suitable for pinball wizards and newbies alike. Excalibur is set in the Middle Ages and is relatively small in scale, including some nice challenges and table animations. Eldorado’s theme of treasure hunting is matched by a rather complex set up, with various bumpers and small areas filling the screen. Shaman contains a similar number of bumpers and targets to Eldorado, but feels more structured and instinctive to play and accumulate big combos: a result of clearer visual design. Earth Defense! is arguably the most extravagant table in the package, with plenty of flashing ramps and a mechanised robot that actually fires a weapon and disrupts the flow of the ball, a neat touch.

All of these tables are, in their own way, well designed and enjoyable to play. The only downside, in fact, is the platform itself. The 3D effect is impressive and a joy to behold, but the biggest issue is the size of the screen being ill-suited to the complexity and detailed design of the tables. Eldorado is an obvious example, with a clutter of ramps and bumpers that would be ideal for play on a full size television, but can be difficult to decipher on the 3DS screen.

It isn’t game breaking in any way and concentration, with some trial-and-error from multiple games, eventually reveals each table’s secrets and heightens the enjoyment. Such is your focus on the top screen, however, that the mission updates and messages on the touch screen’s snazzy dot-matrix score board is often left ignored, an obvious negative in comparison to DSi pinball titles that spread the table across both screens.

Beyond the simple but exceptionally smooth gameplay, the developers have gone to an effort to ensure that this title provides a decent level of content and customisation. In game, a tap of the X button allows you to select from eight different camera angles, while holding the button down allows you to explore the table with the Circle Pad. Though the default camera angles are normally most suited to each table, it’s definitely fun to experiment with the different viewpoints. There are other neat options contained within the pause menu, such as table guides that point you towards important ramps and targets, as well as options to slow down the action for gamers struggling to keep up.

For competitive high score chasers, there are also various online leaderboard options included. These rankings will show you how you stack up on each table on a weekly or overall basis, as well as showing you the scores for your country. In addition, if anyone on your 3DS friend list is posting scores you can keep track, as well as combine your scores together. This feature is neat whether teaming up with friends or not, as the game accumulates your top scores across all four tables to allocate a Pro Score, allowing the opportunity to brag about your skills across all of the tables. There are also four tough achievements to unlock for each table as well as a 'hot-seat' multiplayer where the 3DS is passed around, so there's plenty of replay value for pinball addicts or completionists.

This is, therefore, a thoroughly good package overall. The strong content is backed up by high quality presentation, with impressive visuals bringing each table to life. It’s with the 3D slider on that the graphics really pop, with sharp detail and effects that truly add to the experience. With well-produced themed music and voice samples, this pinball title ticks almost every box. The only downside, as mentioned earlier, is the small size of the screen and the resulting challenge of identifying and understanding the intricacies of each table.


Zen Pinball 3D is an excellent representation of pinball, with the attractive stereoscopic visuals adding an extra sense of immersion. Four challenging, well-constructed tables are joined by a number of pleasing features, the extensive online leaderboards being a particular highlight. Our only complaint relates to the initial disconnect between the detailed tables and the small 3DS screen — in some respects this was unavoidable, but alternative designs would have removed the initial trial-and-error gameplay in favour of more immediately intuitive tables. That’s a minor issue in the overall scheme of things, leaving a high quality pinball experience that is genuinely heightened with the 3DS’s capabilities: worth serious consideration for all gamers.

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User Comments (42)



BenAV said:

Good review Thomas.
Picked this game up last week and it's good fun.



daznsaz said:

love this game highly addictive.not got ground breaking scores yet.know the type of things i need to do to get big scores just havent pulled it off yet.im in the 13mills at the minute.bit meagre compared to some of the others.



mushroomer said:

is it better than pinball pulse? that uses both screens. which makese more sense to me than having it on 1 3d screen



StarDust4Ever said:

Yes, please hurry up and release this stateside. I'm quite fond of Pinball Simulators. It will be an instant purchase for me.



skeuri said:

Agree with the review. Been playing this for a week now and it really is highly addictive. The cluttered-table-on-small-screen is only a problem for the first hour or so. A must-have title!



BulbasaurusRex said:

They may be rare in public spaces, but I've got an arcade pinball machine in my house called "High Speed Pinball."

I'm still going to get this game, though.



RedYoshi999 said:

Wow I wasn't expecting such a great score! I watched the trailer and wasn't very excited for it. I think this review has convinced me to buy it though.



LittleIrves said:

Does this allow you to flip the system upside down and play with the 3D screen on bottom, like Pinball Hall of Fame? I love that feature, and would consider dl'ing this if it's in there...



MeloMan said:

YES!!! A pinball game that's good. This WILL be my next pinball game I get.




Yeah, I agree with the review. Overall its very good. Physics are brilliant and the tables look really nice.



Traxx said:

Anyone noticed the game frezzes for some moments here and there if there isn't any internet connection?



geckofreak said:

It's hard to believe you all (inc. Thomas) have been playing the same Zen Pinball 3DS that I did! I have played it quite a lot if only because I spent money on it so I will darn well get some value out of it - even if it kills me - but this game fails terribly in so many ways!
Thomas said the physics were great but on my 3DS the ball has a very limited number of paths it can follow. Hit target A and and the ball will fall in the same exact path to the end of the flipper EVERY TIME! I'm not even sure it would actually qualify as "game physics".
On top of this the ball sometimes jumps around and leaves the flippers at odd angles (even if a very limited number of odd angles).
The graphics freeze regularly, most annoyingly when the ball is heading to the flipper so it's it impossible to time your shot.
Some loops/ramps have been positioned with little or no regard to the proper flow of a real pinball. eg. In Excalibur you shoot the loop and the ball hits the top of the slingshot and bounces to the opposite flipper... exactly the same way every time.
On El Dorado you can keep shooting the ramps as much as you like in order to spell "JADE" in the flipper feed lanes so that the ridiculously long ball save stays on continuously... so with a little practice it's possible to sit there and keep the ball save going constantly, racking up huge scores (all the while with this little voice in the back of my head willing me to miss so that it will finally be over)
The 3D visuals look nice enough unless you want to know what the upper playfield artwork is about then you have to hold the ball and use the view button to look around the table and as soon as a multiball starts the camera pulls further out so you can see the whole table - ie The table becomes much smaller - at this point you have to deal with the poor "physics" and freezing while squinting to see the little graphics!

Perhaps the 3DS downloadable games are too limited to do justice to pinball. I can only hope Nintendo release a 3DS Metroid Pinball as this has been my favorite video game pinball - in my opinion as an enthusiast (and borderline wizard) of real pinball.



Freelance said:

@geckofreak, if Zen's not up your alley, try the retail game, PInball Hall of Fame Williams Collection. Better than Zen and has 7 recreations of real life Williams tables :3



jgary1 said:

such differing opinions on the physics. i thought that this was a definite for me, but now i am reconsidering. especially with pushmo getting rave reviews.



geckofreak said:

@Donjwolf Williams Collection might be ok and it even has a couple of machines I have played. I'm not sure why they have never released a Bally Collection with some of the modern classics like Twighlight Zone and even Adams Family. A Stern collection might be interesting as well since they are the only company left making them. I'm not sure why they stick so slavishly to real pinball designs as Metroid Pinball showed that throwing a few crawling alien insects on the table can be fun too... and goes a little way to making up for everything that is lost in reducing a pinball machine down to a measly video game.



Freelance said:

I dunno. I'd rather play a table that adheres to real life more than a table that has elements not found in an actual table. It's all down to personal preferences. I still play those games like Metroid Pinball (this is probably the best 'video-gamey pinball though) but to me that's not 'real' pinball. Williams Collection and the Pro Pinball series are my favourite pinball games for their ability to make well crafted pins (although one uses real life pins and the other uses fictional pins that might as well be real pins)

And as for your second point, Farsight is already working on such a game and will be out next year for many consoles: 3DS, Vita, 360, PS3, Android, Iphone, Ipad and PC. It's called Pinball Arcade and will have over 50 DLC thus making it probably the most ambitious pinball game to date. They managed to acquire licenses from Williams, Bally, Stern and Gottlieb. It's one of my most look-for titles for 2012. Their facebook page is at http://www.facebook.com and their main page is at http://pinballarcade.com



geckofreak said:

Thanks for the link, that definitely seems like one to look out for. I would really be impressed if you could use the play guides at ipdb to play it!
Bally has to be my favorite, both for the quality and the nostalgia of playing the actual machines. Gottlieb are mostly too easy, forgettable and probably make better computer games than actual machines (maybe too harsh).
Anytime I can play a real, real machine I am much happier but without owning my own Pinball arcade (and going completely broke in the process) these games can be nice little time wasters.



Freelance said:

I agree. Better to own an actual pin but alas, money and space and maintenance prevents me from getting any. That's probably another reason why I'd like to play recreations of real pins in video game format. My local theatre took away all their pins too so that makes me a sad panda.

Gottlieb's okay I guess but I am not too fond of Stern (in Visual Pinball and on actual pins) although I do like some of their pins. Haven't played many Bally pins to make any comments and I do like Williams tables from the ones I've played. I wish their Indy pin would make it on Pinball Arcade and Fish Tales! That's just a funny pin.

P.S. IPDB is awesome. Like IMDB but with pins!



Mok said:

The physics in the game are great! I was pleasantly surprised when I first played it, this is definitely one of those titles you can spend hours with and still not getting tired of it. Worth downloading imo.



geckofreak said:

I'm still amazed at how many people think the physics in this game are great! The physics are terrible - even though I have unfortunately played worse. I have a feeling that the people that think this is good, either haven't played real pinball or it's been a very long time!
Zen pinball is pinball flavoured where as the new Pinball Arcade game looks like it contains some real pinball. I don't know why they didn't just change the shape of the playfield altogether because they could have made a more enjoyable pinball flavoured game that way rather than sticking to the basic aesthetic form of something that they obviously don't really understand anyway.

I am still waiting for the 3DS version so I can give it a go but I'm a little worried about them trying to adapt it to the little 3D screen rather than just doing a 2D port that spans the 2 screens which would be more naturally suited to pinball. The kickstarter idea is being a little over done but in this instance it really is a case of either that or nothing so although I have no plans to contribute I think it's a valid approach.

Thomas Whitehead's review seems to reflect the thinking of many of the people commenting above and that is who this game is really aimed at anyway. If Nintendo Life needs someone to review Pinball Arcade when it comes out on 3DS I'm sure there are enough people (myself included) that would not only be willing but more capable of discerning it's quality as a more authentic pinball emulator.

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