Et tu, Zen Pinball?


Originally published at:

iOS Universal

I love pinball, be it standing in an arcade or digitally on my iPad. I’m also one of the freaks that prefers the real tables of Pinball Arcade to the fanciful, and often physics-defying, tables of Zen Pinball. Give me Star Trek: TNG and a handful of quarters and I can die happy. The problem is that Pinball Arcade’s apps are hunks of garbage compared to the polished gems that Zen puts out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to either re-purchase my ST:TNG table only to have it disappear the next time I open the app. Thus, I was super stoked when I heard that Zen has acquired the Williams license and would be bringing real-life tables into the Zen world. What more could I want?

A lot, apparently. Last week, Zen Studios released Williams Pinball for iOS and I don’t think it’s possible for them to have shit the bed any worse.

Upon downloading the free app, I was inundated with options and picked the only table out of the initial Williams selection that I was interested in: Medieval Madness. What followed was a ridiculous mess of F2P nonsense that I still cannot wrap my head around.

Everything, and I mean everything, is behind the paywall. I don’t mind paying for tables–I expect it, in fact–but here you have to collect (or buy) Zen coins. Ugh. You only unlock the initial table you choose and, through the tutorial that can only be described as obtuse, somehow promote it to level 2. This means you can play it whenever you want in “arcade mode”, and each game will earn you a pittance in Zen coins.

Zen coins? At least make them fucking quarters.

What kills this is you have to even unlock “pro physics”. Seriously? Most digital pinball games try to sell their physics as close to reality as possible. Here, they’re literally selling them for the low price of 150 Zen coins. Fuck off, Zen.

There’s more. As you play, you collect “parts”. You need a certain number of these to unlock tables as well. I think they also bring new skins for flippers, balls, and–I’m not joking–ball trails. All things that hardcore pinballers play digital pinball for.

I don’t know what this means. What’s the difference between promote and just outright buying? If I buy it, do I get everything? No, still have to buy “pro-physics” separately? I don’t know.

All I do know is there are a lot of really good real-life tables hiding behind one of the most obnoxious in-app stores I’ve ever seen. I haven’t even mentioned tickets, which would be the third in-game currency next to parts and Zen coins. Yes, there are three in-game currencies which is the gold standard of excellent video game design. To make matters even worse, it costs 250 Zen coins to purchase a table, but they’re only sold in denominations of 150, 350, 800, or more. So, if you just want that one table, Zen’s giving you a giant middle finger.

What really sucks is that Medieval Madness is fantastic and I’m guessing all the other Williams tables are as well. A small, but loud voice in my brain is even trying to convince me to just spend the money and buy them all, F2P shenanigans be damned. I’ll be strong, and hopefully Zen will come to their senses and make the Williams app just as user friendly as their other pinball apps have always been.


If I could give you 100 hearts, I would.

I love pinball and I am a Zen aficionado (note: this doesn’t mean that I’m any good, just that I’ve spent way more money than I should). I own every table in Zen on iOS and have a handful on PS4, so I feel as if I’ve earned the right to whine quite a bit.

For starters, everything @Neumannium wrote just made my head explode. What an absolutely obnoxious turn Zen has taken with this app. I never write App Store reviews, but I am planning on it for this to trash it as vocally as I can.

This is just the culmination of Zen’s lazy approach to iOS gaming, though. For starters, note that there are a dozen or so versions of Zen Pinball out there because they’ve bifurcated their tables ad nauseoum and put them all in their own apps. You can download Zen Pinball, or Star Wars Pinball, Star Wars Pinball 2, or Star Wars Pinball 3 - it goes up to 7, so I won’t write them all out here - or Jurassic Pinball or Bethesda Pinball, etc. ad infinitum. What’s more, when they have sales, the sales are often on the initial download for all these different apps. It is obnoxious.

Aside from this, though, there are other major issues I have with Zen. First and foremost, they haven’t updated their app for the iPhone X resolution and because of this, I’ve had some wonky control issues, not to mention that it isn’t as pleasant aesthetically.

What really bugs me most, I think, is that on consoles (and presumably PC), the whole Zen platform (branded Pinball FX3 now) is much, much better and has some very desirable features like tournament support and weekly challenges. There is no indication that any of this will ever come to iOS.

In spite of all this, I still buy every table that comes to Zen and give it a try. I’d have done the same for the Williams tables if they had been available as a normal purchase, but no way am I touching any of that IAP nonsense.


@Neumannium, perfectly sums up my feelings. I saw the iap for “pro physics” earlier today and it made me furious. I feel sorry for designers who recreated these really good pins only to have some mobile app marketing genius take a huge steaming dump on it.


Agreed. The tables themselves seem great; it’s all the other junk that is infuriating.


The 5-Star review in the App Store really frustrates me. Is that guy not playing the same game as the rest of us?


I guess that is from the marketing guy


This is where it hurts: a lot of freemium games only exist to be freemium. They are games about gacha systems, timers, and pay-to-win. Seeing a good game go down that rabbit hole (and go so far, so fast) is really distressing.

It’s also a sad comment on the state of mobile gaming, as it increasingly seems like the only way to turn a profit on a premium game is to make it for PC/console and then, if it does well enough, do a mobile version.


It also seems like, for many devs, the Switch is a much more attractive platform than iOS/Android, making mobile versions of many premium games unlikely. I’m glad I haven’t updated my iPad Air, because I don’t think it would have been worth the money. It’s become a device for reading e-books, watching Netflix, and playing Ascension because the card type is too small on my phone. I’ll get a Switch to play games that would have been PC or iPad-only a few years ago.


Yeah, I barely use my iPad and hardly ever for gaming. It is good for Netflix for me and I use it most on the treadmill. I don’t even read in it because I love my Kindle Papwrwhite so much. I still don’t bring my Switch out and about, but it isn’t as if I’d be carrying my iPad around, either. The Switch has almost entirely replaced my iPad at home.


The era of mobile gaming is clearly over.

Not that there’s not money to be made; there’s plenty of cash out there, along with a number of companies that know how to find it. But, frankly, any idiot can make money; it’s not hard.

But as an original, paradigm-challenging, powerful and accessible tool for creation, the mobile space has just become irreverent.

It’s disappeared up its own ass with the never-ending F2P, the unreliability of many developers, and an overall lack of direction and purpose from Apple, which could have been the unquestioned world leader in mobile gaming for the next 200 years … but instead, decided that even supporting GameCenter was too much of a hassle. But mostly the F2P.

If you would have told me in 2009/2010-ish that mobile gaming would be completely surpassed for relevancy by not only Steam but also something called a “Switch,” I would have reminded you how dangerous crack cocaine can be. Yet here we are.

Pour out a fucking 40, especially for “our” games — boardgames, card games, strategy titles, thoughtful RPGs. The Golden Age is long behind us.


What the fuck am I doing wrong, then?


Not enough IAP?