A few years back, during a casual conversation regarding the video game industry, I made the argument that the original Gameboy version of Tetris was perhaps the best definition of a perfect game. It was simple, addictive, and most importantly, a ton of fun. In my book, you couldn’t ask for more out of a title. I still stand by that position but believe that we have seen another such game arrive in the industry.
Popcap’s Plants vs. Zombies (PvZ) might be the closest thing to “prefect” in recent memory. Just like Tetris, its simple yet addictive gameplay keeps you coming back again and again; we aren’t talking about a matter of days or weeks, but years of replay value. I for one, have owned numerous copies of both of these games across nearly every platform that has come and gone. When Zen Studios recently announced that they were collaborating with Popcap to turn one of their franchises into a Zen Pinball 2 (ZP2) / Pinball FX 2 table, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind which title it would be. It could only be Plants vs. Zombies!
Popcap and Zen Studios have done an excellent job at taking the world of PvZ and compacting it down into the confines of a (video) pinball table. I am not talking just from an audible and visual perspective, but in terms of the total experience. The entire table is filled to the brim with all of the sights and sounds of Popcap’s now-classic defense game.
You will see a ton of familiar faces, ranging from the various zombies (normal, coneheads, bucketheads) to Crazy Dave and Dr. Zomboss himself. Dr. Zomboss in particular oversees all of the action from atop his gigantic zombot at the top of the table. All of these characters have been rendered in full 3D this time around and they are incredibly detailed from head to toe. Your experience is narrated by the cheerful voice of a sunflower who shows her serious side when things get hectic; although she may sound like a mild-mannered, if not innocent, little flower at the start, she isn’t afraid to talk smack and show her fierce-side when things get hectic.
The playing field is laid out just like the interface of the game, with the flipper area representing your home that you must defend at all costs. Throughout the screen, you will see all of the settings you know from the game including your lawn, your swimming pool, the zen garden, and a variety of plants that help you defend your home. Even your good friend Crazy Dave makes an appearance, although you never see his face, as he drives his car onto the field the offers you a chance to obtain seed packets to strengthen your defenses. They have truly packed in every reference to the original game that they could fit including a corn on the cob ball launcher and the fact that your pinball is a pea, just like your plants fire in the original game.
As with any quality pinball table, PvZ offers a variety of missions to keep the player engaged in the experience. What sets the missions in this table apart is that they incorporate a lot of the actual gameplay elements from the PvZ game. You won’t just be keeping your pinball alive using two flippers, but you will also be tasked with collecting sunshine and money as well as defending your home against invading zombies just as you would in the original game. The coins and sunshine are used to purchase seed packets that will spawn specific plants to help you defend against the various undead invaders. It truly begins to feel like the real game after you adjust to the new look and interface brought by the pinball platform.
There are even frequent zombie invasions that get launched which cause the undead to rise from the Earth and begin marching towards your home. This is when the fun really begins and you almost forget that you are playing pinball; you will have to use your pea, or peas (if you have a multiball bonus active), to mow them down. This takes a lot of precision and truly tests your skill with the flippers. There is even a mission that puts you in direct control of a melon launcher that you must use to take out specific zombie targets on the field.
I have not been shy in my adoration for the current trend of video pinball tables, especially Zen Studio’s work. What amazes me the most about this table is that, as I have described, the gameplay transcends the pinball genre. Once you get “into” the game, and are rolling full speed ahead, it is very easy to forget that you are playing pinball. This creates an awesome experience that is as easy to get lost in, just like the original PvZ. I even find myself hoping that Popcap takes some of the elements of this experience and incorporates them into the recently announced
In the end, this is easily one of the best tables available for the Zen Pinball 2 platform. It is engaging and addictive, all while paying full respect to the original franchise. It is easy to see the respect that Popcap and Zen Studios have for one another as the meshing of these two worlds has resulted in a project that transcends both genres (defense and pinball). If you are a ZP2 player, this is one that must be added to your collection without hesitation.
A note regarding the Zen Pinball 2 platform on the PlayStation Vita
With the launch of the Plants vs. Zombies table, Zen Pinball 2 is landing on an entirely new platform: Sony’s PlayStation Vita. Not only will you be able to enjoy the new table on your 360 and PS3, but now you can play it on the go as well. Zen Studios has spent a ton of time ensuring that the Vita version of their popular video pinball platform meets or exceeds the high standards established with the console versions.
The Vita version packs in all of the same features and support that returning players know and love, and then some. The platform, which is available for free through the PlayStation Store, is launching today with support for 26 existing tables, including the full Marvel Pinball lineup and popular original creations such as Epic Quest and MARS. Players who already purchased tables on the PlayStation 3 will be able to import their collection into the Vita version at no additional cost; once you buy a table on a Sony platform, it is yours to enjoy on both the PS3 and Vita. As usual, players will also have the ability to download trial versions of all tables in order to test them out before they commit to a purchase.
There are some Vita-specific features that will be making their debut on the platform, including full touch panel support (front and rear) and the ability to play with the system both vertically and horizontally. The vertical position in particular is extremely nice because it gives you full view of the playing field and replicates the same perspective used on a real pinball machine. In the horizontal (standard) position, the game uses the same “pan and zoom” camera as the consoles. This keeps the focus on the ball and on the current area of interest. Players can now share their scores directly on their Facebook page as well, which should help spur competition between you and your friends.
All things said, form a platform perspective, Zen Pinball 2 is a great addition to the Vita software lineup. Zen Studios has done an excellent job at converting the game to the smaller, portable screen without losing any of the components or features that made the console iterations so popular. The inclusion of support for Sony’s cross-buy initiative
is something that will give this version and edge over the 360 offering.