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Video Game / Zen Pinball

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"Earth Defense", one of the original Zen Pinball tables.

Zen Pinball and Pinball FX are a series of games for playing Digital Pinball Tables by Zen Studios. Most of the gamesnote  are frameworks where players can purchase and download new pinball tables over time. The games support features such as local and online multiplayer play, slow motion, mid-game saves, and online leaderboards and tournament competitions.

Despite the name differences, the games are fundamentally the same; "Pinball FX" was previously only used for games on Microsoft systems, while "Zen Pinball" was for versions on other platforms. After the release of Pinball FX 3, the "Zen Pinball" name has been discontinued and now all platforms with the latest game use "Pinball FX". Most of the tables are available for both series.


The first title in the series was Pinball FX. It was published by Microsoft Game Studios on Xbox Live Arcade in 2007, and initially came with three tables ("Speed Machine", "Agents", and "Extreme"). Six other tables were released later as downloadable content.

In 2008, Zen released the first Zen Pinball games, Zen Pinball: Rollercoaster and Zen Pinball: Inferno. They were games for Apple's iOS devices, and unlike the other titles in the series, these were standalone apps with no facility for downloading additional tables.

In 2009, Zen released Zen Pinball on the PlayStation Network, making it the first pinball game on the PlayStation 3. It came with four tables ("Earth Defense", "El Dorado", "Epic Quest", and "Excalibur"), with others released later. The game was subsequently released on Android devices as Zen Pinball THD and the Nintendo 3DS as Zen Pinball 3D in 2011. A version of Zen Pinball was also released for iOS devices, with proper support for downloadable tables.


Pinball FX 2 was released in 2010 for the Xbox 360, then later Windows 8 in 2012 (which was revamped in October 2014 after being neglected), Steam in 2013, and Windows Phone will have it at some point in the future, while Zen Pinball 2 was released in 2012 for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, then later Wii U and PlayStation 4 in 2013. These are upgrades to the original titles, with an improved game engine and support for more features. The games are backwards compatible with the originals, allowing owners to import their tables.

Pinball FX 3 was announced June 28, 2017 and released on September 26 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows 10 and Steam, with the Nintendo Switch version arriving on December 12 that year. This version focuses more on multiplayer matchups, league play, and tournaments, as well as the addition of new single player modes and features.

On September 4, 2018, Zen Studios announced that they had secured the rights to the Williams Electronics and Bally library of pinball tables, taking over from the previous license holders FarSight Studios. In contrast to their original tables, the Williams digitalizations play as close to the original physical tables as possible. However, there is also the option to play versions of the tables with extra eye-candy in the vein of Zen's original fare. Volume 1 was released October 9, 2018 for all supported platforms after a Steam-exclusive public beta period during the previous September.

Zen's pinballs tend to be Licensed Pinball Tables, with properties from popular Comic Book and Science Fiction assets. Although the playfield physics are realistic, the games also feature liberal use of Video Game-only effects, such as wandering enemies to be destroyed with balls or attention-grabbing animations over the playfield.

Note: As new Works pages are created for the various Zen Pinball tables, be sure to add them here and on the Digital Pinball Tables page.

The following pinball tables are currently available for the various Pinball FX and Zen Pinball games:

  • Marvel Pinball: Fantastic Four
  • Marvel Pinball: Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Marvel Pinball: Vengeance and Virtue, a bundle of four tables:
    • Ghost Rider
    • Moon Knight
    • Thor
    • X-Men
  • Marvel Pinball: Venom

Tables that were previously available for Pinball FX and Zen Pinball games:

  • Ms. Splosion Man
  • Nightmare Mansion
  • Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Tribute
  • Pinball FX Classic, a bundle of four tables:
    • Speed Machine
    • Xtreme
    • Agents
    • Buccaneer
  • Plants vs. Zombies Pinball
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle
  • South Park:
    • Super Sweet Pinball
    • Butters' Very Own Pinball
  • Street Fighter II Tribute
  • Super League Football (with the following designs)note 
    • Zen Studios F.C.note 
    • Liverpool F.C.
    • Arsenal F.C.
    • Real Madrid C.F.
    • FC Barcelona
    • Juventus
    • A.S. Roma
    • A.C. Milan

Zen Pinball and Pinball FX contain examples of:

  • Catchphrase: Most of the tables have a voice clip of someone saying, "Fantastic!"
  • Developers' Foresight: In the event of a ball flying out of a table, a new ball is given to the player to compensate the faulty system. Sometimes, it ends up being hilarious.See here for an example.
  • Difficulty Levels:
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron has three separate difficulty levels: Easy, Medium and Hard. The slope of the table, timers on modes, and score rewards are adjusted based on the difficulty selected.
    • American Dad! has the threat level, increased by hitting a spinner and decreased by ending modes. A higher threat level gives you more points overall, but decreases the time you have on timed missions.
    • Doom has the option for Nightmare difficulty when you start a game. It gives better scores in exchange for no ball saves, kickbacks, or extra balls.
    • Williams games have THREE difficulty levels to choose from in Single Player:
      • Traditional Zen physics, powerups included.
      • Classic Single Player - Arcade, with physics simulating those from the arcade.
      • Classic Single Player - Tournament Mode. Akin to IFPA standards, this features no extra balls, tighter tilt settings, hard outlanes, and a steeper slope.
  • Digital Pinball Tables
  • Evil Is Hammy: The villains on Zen's tables are prone to Evil Laughs and yelling Flowery Insults at the protagonists.
  • Nerf: The diagonal nudge was considered too powerful on the Steam version, leading to an "unnatural" amount of bang backs on all given tables and "abnormal" high scores. Now, the bang back power is only 10% than before the patch, and the other versions are left untouched until FX 3 launched.
  • No Fair Cheating: Every table has an operator's menu that allows you to change, among other things, the table's difficulty and gameplay features. If you do so and discard the default factory settings, then you can't post your scores online until factory settings are restored.
  • Obviously Evil: With a few exceptions, such as The Walking Dead, the antagonists never hide how evil they are.
  • Pinball Scoring:
    • Because of the introduction of powerups in FX 3, scoring on some tables have become incredibly boosted that it trumps all other methods and strategies. On games with already valuable bumpers or multiball modes, where applicable, can result in some ridiculous scores. Thankfully, Classic mode has a separate leaderboard.
    • Averted in some of the newer tables (and some of the older ones). Even reaching 1 million points will take a good deal of effort. Played straight with Sorcerer's Lair and Rocky & Bullwinkle, where it's relatively easy to get scores in the hundreds of millions.
  • Player Character: The Zen Pinball line has a relatively high number of pinball tables compared to other companies' libraries, real or virtual, where the player fills an individual, specific, named role. The most obvious are the Marvel-themed tables where you play as the titular hero, though even its non-licensed tables will usually have a protagonist the player stands in for, such as Jake in Sorcerer's Lair or Nikola Tesla in Tesla. Even Super League Football puts the player in the role of the team's manager. Compare this to, for instance, Jersey Jack Pinball's The Wizard of Oz, where the player, though usually Dorothy, frequently shifts to other characters, or Stern's AC/DC, which has no player character at all.
    • Non-Player Character: Many of Zen's tables also have entire casts of characters for each table the player character will meet, more pronounced in later tables when Zen's budget increased. Of note are Captain America, which has all of Cap's Howlers and a military support squad; and The Walking Dead, of which most of the characters met in the Telltale game's first season will show up in this one in some form.
      • Humorously, the top score on Deadpool isn't the normal multiple of 5 or 10 that the high scores normally are. Instead, it's a proper high score... attributed to Deadpool, who is shown at the start of every game playing the Deadpool pinball table...
  • Serial Escalation: Each table from Zen has more complex rules than the last, to where Super League Football has a campaign spanning multiple tries at the table, and Skyrim has an immense amount of mechanics based on its source material. The budget for audio has also increased, going from in-house acting to stock voice actors to bringing actors and announcers straight from the source material.
  • Shout-Out: Zen Studios loves pinball, and it shows in their borrowing of physical objects present in notable pinball machines. Some are so similar in structure that they might as well be Spiritual Successors.
    • The plunger lane in Tesla is identical in structure to that of Tales of the Arabian Nights. It also has a mini-playfield with magnetic flippers much like the Powerfield in The Twilight Zone.
      • This style of plunger returns in Portal, but with a twist: the Skill Shot target now cycles between slots.
    • The rotating block in Paranormal is based on The Bride in The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot and is put in the same location. The mini-playfield where the backglass would normally be comes from Banzai Run. The Chupacabra captive ball functions very similarly to the Map Room in Indiana Jones (Stern).
    • The weapons bay in Wolverine works just like the heart ramp in Bride of Pinbot.
    • It is admitted on the blog that Super League Football is a Whole Plot Reference of World Cup Soccer.
    • The outlane gates in Sorcerer's Lair functions just like the right outlane gate in Space Shuttle.
    • The levitating ball in Paranormal and Infinity Gauntlet is likely based off the levitating ball in Pinball Magic.
    • Chomper in Plants vs. Zombies Pinball, when not used as a kickback, acts similarly to the cannon in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and AC/DC. Hannibal's Payback Time bazooka in Blade has the same purpose.
    • The semicircular captive ball lane in Captain America may have been based on the identical one in Baby Pac-Man, as it's also in the same location on the playfield. The Howlers' sinkhole, with its accompanying standup target, shares its structure and location with a scoop on The Lord of the Rings (which is in turn based on the Catapult up-kicker in Medieval Madness).
    • The split-level design with a series of parallel rollovers just above the path sending the ball down in Extreme is a shared design element with Black Knight and Black Knight 2000.
    • The sign on the upper-left of Fantastic Four is built similarly and in a similar location to the rotating jungle in Gilligan's Island.
    • The crane in Han Solo is based off of the Glove toy in Johnny Mnemonic. Also in Han Solo is a similar inlane/outlane setup when compared to Cirqus Voltaire.
    • Deadpool uses the criss-crossing ramp design that's a signature of Mark Ritchie, particularly the kind used in Fish Tales, though it functions differently. Blind Al Mode turns off the lights and provides you with a glowing ball much like how Viper Night Drivin' works. Ball locks are placed to the middle-left and middle-right out in the open, like with Star Wars Episode I.
    • The ball lock on the lower-right in Guardians of the Galaxy is based on the TARDIS in Doctor Who. The Skill Shot involves pressing the launch button when a moving target passes by a stationary reticule, which was previously used in Data East's Star Trek.
    • The Everett mini-playfield in The Walking Dead has a layout very similar to the attic in Haunted House, including a pair of flippers that point away from each other. "A New Day" is a mode centered around the bumpers that asks you to earn a certain score within a time limit with scoring greatly increased, traits it shares in common with Monster Bash's "Mummy Mayhem."
    • The layout of Venom is inspired by a real-life dual playfield table called Blackwater 100. Its Carnage mini-playfield is inspired by the outer playfield of Varkon.
    • The lower left area in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is similar to that of the The Wizard of Oz's State Fair bumper with five targets.
    • Spider-Man (Zen Studios) pays tribute to Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Shooting the Doc Ock hole during the Doc Ock fight gives this quote: "GET OUT"
    • In the Blade table, when you finish the Wizard Mode and defeat Dracula, Blade says "What a horrible night to have a curse".
      • The music and video used in the night-time / battle sequences also pays homage to the "vampire club" scene at the beginning of the original film.
    • The playfield of Ant-Man is a mirrored version of the Theatre of Magic layout. Ant-Man's helmet follows the ball like Homer's head in The Simpsons Pinball Party. The Pym capsule acts similarly to the Menagerie ball in Cirqus Voltaire. During single-ball play, the Pym ball acts similar to the Powerball in Twilight Zone.
    • Marvel's Women of Power - Champions:
      • When the "Bombshell" mode is activated, a magnet activates at the center of the playfield. Feel the Power!
      • The video mode also bears some resemblance to that of Johnny Mnemonic.
    • Secrets of the deep has a ball tied to on a lowering arm like Junkyard
  • Signature Style: Most tables have the following in common:
    • Three or more flippers.
    • Narrow shots or wide but steep ramps.
    • Side ramps that loop back to the same upper flipper.
    • Multi-level playfields.
    • Modes that do not stack (once an objective is asked, all other things are disabled and worth minimal points).
    • Nearly all required modes are either multiballs or Timed Missions.
    • A lot of Spelling Bonuses.
    • Very strong emphasis on ramps (always at least 3, with as many as 5).
    • A playfield longer and wider than a normal machine.
    • At least one multiball mode required to reach a Wizard Mode.
    • Multi-stage wizard modes that are very hard to reach.
    • Generous and easy-to-obtain ball savers.
    • A kickback on both outlanes, activated by lighting an insert on the outlanes and inlanes.
    • A manual plunger. Very few tables, like Guardians of the Galaxy or Earth Defense use button-style ball launchers.
    • A cap of 10x end-of-ball bonus multiplier, with an extra ball given after that. On many tables, this is the only way of obtaining an extra ball.
    • Flippers at a high angle when held, leading to easy ball catches.
    • Use of slingshots to start certain modes (most physical pinball machines use slingshots only to send the ball out of control). In addition, slingshot hits tend to be worth more on Zen's tables than those of other designers.
    • Downplayed use of bumpers, which are placed close together leading to lots and lots of bumper hits when the ball does reach them.
    • As of late, characters standing on the apron watching the game. Justified, though, as that's the least intrusive place for them to be.
      • Of course, in the case of Deadpool, it's not as much standing on the apron as being busy getting his OWN high score on the table.
  • Stock Scream: Expect to hear the Wilhelm Scream on Excalibur and Masters of the Force.
  • Timed Mission:
    • One of the Challenges on each table is a 5-minute mode where you have unlimited ball saver and try to score as many points as possible in 5 minutes.
    • Matchup mode features a variant of the above where you try to beat your opponents score in 3 minutes. During the last 30 seconds of the match, any points you earn during that time will be doubled.
  • Traintop Battle:
    • Wild West Rampage has a minigame by playing pinball on top of a moving train. The closer to the engine, the more intense the smoke gets.
    • Archer has this as a mode, based on the episode "The Limited". The difference, however, is that he finally has a shot at fulfilling his lifelong dream of fighting on top of a moving train.
  • Zerg Rush: Some tables, namely Aliens, Castlestorm, Plants vs. Zombies and The Walking Dead Season One have a mode where a swarm of drop targets or mobile toy figures appear on the playfield and begin marching towards the flippers - and you have to keep them from reaching them by hitting the advancing targets with the ball.

Alternative Title(s): Pinball FX


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