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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Yep, Zin Pinball 2's Portal table is Zen Studios' finest work

As I'm sure you've noticed, I've been on a bit of a pinball binge at the moment. From writing that whopping 3,000 word feature on the resurgence of the pastime, to spending money I don't really have catching up on all the Pinball Arcade games, it's been a busy little period of flipper flicking for me recently.

So it's perhaps good timing that Zen Studios released its latest table for its Zen Pinball 2 platform; a table based on Valve's almighty Portal. Naturally, given my current addiction to pinball I sat down with it as soon as I could. And then I played. And played. And played some more. And now I've come to the conclusion that my initial suspicions were correct - the Portal table really is Zen Studios' best work to date.

The table is so incredibly, perfectly balanced to recreate the atmosphere of the biting satire of Portal and its sequel. GLaDOS' voice drones on in the background, insulting your mistakes and failures, while the cool, blue-and-white aesthetic of the table perfectly mirrors the sterile-but-vaguely-sinister aesthetics of the real Portal games.

When I'd first heard that Zen Studios was building a Portal table, I made the rookie error of getting concerned that it would become too gimmicky, too quickly. That Zen Studios would not be able to resist throwing blue and orange portals in everywhere to teleport the ball around the play field like crazy. As a pinball purist I wasn't really looking forward to that because real pinball tables don't have teleporters built into them (at least, none of the ones I've played do), and I do think Zen is at its best when it relatively accurately remodels the real pinball experience.

I didn't need to be concerned. Portal's table is some restrained work from the Zen Studios designers. There are some Portal portals, of course, but most of the tricks and objectives that the table throws at players would be possible on a regular pinball table. Zen Studios also got the balance between big scores and challenge down just right this time - it's not the cakewalk of the Plants Vs. Zombies table, but it's not the brain melting punishment of the Ninja Gaiden table either.

The music is ridiculously catchy, and any soundtrack that does include GLaDOS hurling passive aggressive abuse at you is good stuff. Portal 2 shows that Zen Studios really has settled into a rhythm where it understands what makes for good pinball table design and presentation, and it's almost effortless in how visually appealing its tables are now.

It's good to see Zen Studios return to a video game themed table, too - it's been a while since it was producing tables like Ninja Gaiden and Street Fighter (though I guess its own Castlestorm table counts as a tie-in). There are so many great gaming franchises out there that Zen could pinballise yet. Just thinking up a rough wish list now:

- Final Fantasy
- Nintendo franchises (perhaps a Wii U or 3DS-exclusive table or collection of tables?)
- Samurai/ Dynasty Warriors (since Zen has already collaborated with Koei Tecmo once...)
- Tomb Raider
- Don Bradman Cricket (seriously, how awesome would a cricket pinball table be?)
- Monster Hunter
- Mass Effect (since Zen has already collaborated with EA over Plants Vs. Zombies)
- Lollipop Chainsaw
- The Last of Us

The list goes on and on. I'm sure Zen Studios has a lot more pinball tables planned, but hopefully Portal 2 is a sign that we'll see more video game focused ones moving forwards.

- Matt S. 
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
Yep, Zin Pinball 2's Portal table is Zen Studios' finest work
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