ZEN Pinball Street Fighter II Tribute

Review

posted 9/25/2009 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
Classic arcade games like pinball really stand the test of time, and it is partially because pinball does not fit the motif of a typical video game. Actually, the only reason to consider Zen Pinball a video game is that you can buy a disc, put it into your PS3, and virtually play pinball. Otherwise, the game is almost an exact replica of the experience of playing on a physical pinball machine. The default screen view is slightly limiting in my opinion, but you have six other options to choose from (the sixth being my personal preference) making up for the lack of a physical environment. Shaking the PS3 controller will also nudge the machine, just like how they did it old school.

I’ll admit I was skeptical of its value, as I never grew up playing on pinball machines and I imagine this is the initial appeal to the game. When I was younger my reaction was always, “so you’re saying I have to smash this thing and not let the silver ball fall down?” But I was always a fan of the Street Fighter series, and was interested to see how they would incorporate the game into a pinball theme. Little did I realize the beauty of the intricacies of this machine, and the skill required to master it.

This is where the Street Fighter II DLC to Zen Pinball comes into play. I did say you needed skill, right? I also meant you need tons of practice. The targets, orbits, and ramps all score you points, but hitting them in a specific sequence will activate special modes to get extra points and bonuses and allow for other combos. The playfield and the matrix screen are used to track your progress: flashing lights on the playfield indicate where you’ve hit and where you should be aiming, while the dot matrix verbally tells you of your progress. This is probably one of my few qualms with the game. Although you can adjust the layout and size of the matrix screen, I find it hard to keep glancing back and forth at it. I would’ve liked to have some sort of announcer keep track of it for me so I could keep my eyes on the field. This could have even been another opportunity to keep with the old school arcade theme: they have the music and images down, but the announcer would’ve been a good touch. Granted, there are sounds that help you out along the way so you can be sure of what you are hitting, but you are still forced to rely on one sense in this game and that would be your sight.

The special moves are, in my opinion, incredibly difficult to master, but that just makes it all the more fun. Maybe it’s just my lack of expertise and years of experience, but it was no walk in the park. Most of them are highly particular and will reset quickly, making it tricky to catch the special bonuses. Fortunately, the game has a slow motion option, which gives ample opportunity for practice (but obviously you cannot post your scores when using it). Each character and pathway is significant, and passing or hitting them in a particular sequence has respective rewards:

Kickbacks and Ball Saves

You can activate a kickback by hitting the target in front of a pile of blue bricks without touching the silver ring attached to the bullseye. First hit will activate the right outlane’s kickback, and a second hit will activate the one on the left. Spelling out the letters of YOGA will activate a ball save by Dhalsim. Also, while in a fight, ball save will be activated and holds out for a little longer than Dhalsim’s.

WALL CRUMBLER
Hit the bullseye pin without hitting the ring on the bullseye target to crumble the brick wall and activate a kickback.

Multiball Mode
Hitting Blanka’s ramp 6 times, and lighting up the letters of CHARGE, will grant you a second ball and jackpot bonuses will be enabled. Smashing the car down by hitting all SMASH targets will get you two extra balls on the playing field and enable super jackpot bonuses.

BLANKA’S RAGE
Hit Blankas ramp repeatedly within a short period of time and light the letters of CHARGE, a two-ball multiball mode starts. During this mode JACKPOTS are available.

BRAWL
The car can be smashed by hitting the SMASH targets, and after doing that three balls can be locked into the cargo plane to start a three-ball multiball. During this mode JACKPOTS and SUPER JACKPOTS are available.

Winning Extra Balls (aka turns)
Winning the barrel breaker competition by hitting a target and sinking the hole with the ball will award you points and, provided you’ve done it enough times, an extra ball to the three ball round limit.

SPINNING LARIAT
Hit the bumpers for Zangief’s Spinning Lariat move, then repeat it till he becomes dizzy, and knock him out to earn an EXTRA BALL!

BARREL BREAKER
Start a barrel rolling by shooting the target behind the vertical up-kicker (VUK), then shoot the ball in the opened VUK to break that barrel. Break more barrels in a row to earn more points and even an EXTRA BALL!

Extra Points and Bonuses
KEN FAN CLUB
Each ball jumping to the yacht puts a fan on the board. If the yacht is full, the KEN FAN CLUB bonus will be the award.

SHADALOO HUNTER
Orbit shots light the letters of POLICE. When fully lit, help Chun-Li by shooting the Cammy image on the roto-targets while avoiding the civilians. The roto-targets can be spun with orbit shots.


Fighting
This is one of the more exciting aspects of the Street Fighter II add-on, as well as the more clear representation of the tribute. In keeping with the original game, you can partake in fights that give you extra points and bonuses. Each character on the lower playfield (Ken, Chun-Li, Ryu, and Guile) has a 4-ramp combo and a locker that upon hitting will enable the character in question to be used as your fighter. After initiating a fight, your health and your opponent’s health will be lit up on the outlanes. Use the ramps and orbits to attack your opponent and deplete their health, but hitting the bumpers or targets will allow your opponent to attack you. Winning a fight against all four characters will start a fight with Bison. Pass through Akuma’s ramp to light up the letters in his name and challenge him to a fight, as well.

FIGHT!
Complete a combo belonging to Chun-Li, Ryu, Ken, or Guile to choose a fighter (watch the flashing signs on the lower playfield), then lock the ball in his/her locker to start a fight. Use the ramps and the orbit, but avoid the bumpers and the targets during the fight.

SPAR WITH AKUMA

Start a sparring match with Akuma by hitting the left ramp five times. Practice develops internal energies: each lit lamp of CHI buffers a hit received in FIGHT! mode.

The characters remained true to form in their behavior ranging from their sounds (Chun-Li’s infamous kicking sounds) to the images (Blanka’s encasing of electricity). I was excited to find out about fighting Bison, which as veteran Street Fighter gamers will know is the ultimate boss. Being that it was the boss level, I appreciated that you have to pass through all four fighters before you can face him. Getting to fight Bison in Zen Pinball felt like an actual boss level: it’s difficult, and finally getting there feels like an epic achievement. To my delight, the DLC proved to bring more than cosmetic value to the table, but rather really got into the game and even managed to include actual fighting and levels of difficulty that depend on your accomplishments, same as Street Fighter II.

I quickly loved this game because it was challenging, but with a relatively easy and consistent gameplay. You have three flippers controlled by two buttons: L1 hits the left flipper, and R1 hits both right flippers simultaneously (or whatever configuration you prefer). Easy enough to get the hang of, allowing you to focus your energy on perfecting the sequence of hitting the silver ball at the appropriate time and place to achieve a special move. The consistency of controls and gameplay gives you the opportunity to focus your efforts on really mastering the game.

Zen Pinball is more of a hobby than a game of the year title. Think virtual poker, solitaire, etc. One of those fun games that never get old, and that you can play for hours. The impression of a good pinball player is tantamount to a good pool player. I daresay pinball will never go out of fashion.




A-
Zen Pinball: Street Fighter II addon’s appeal is in its challenge, as well as the reminiscence of the Street Fighter characters. All things considering, Zen Pinball took a classic game and really mastered it. The physics are incredibly accurate, the Street Fighter II theme is fitting, and it is just challenging enough for there to always be room for improvement and another move to perfect. It is a great virtual pinball game, and I was really impressed with the creative way in which the game included the Street Fighter II machine.