Cast your mind back to 1994 and World Cup USA and I am sure you will have your own fond memories, George Hagi’s wonder goal against Colombia, Ray Houghton’s screamer against Italy, that awesome flick and volley by Jurgen Klinsmann against South Korea, the epic hair of Carlos Valderrama and THAT penalty miss by Roberto Baggio were just some of the highlights. For England fans like myself, failing to qualify meant that we had to be content to sit back and watch the tournament unfold on television with many a jealous look to our Irish neighbors. One thing all football fans had in common however was the awesome new World Cup Soccer pinball table from Midway, this football themed table remains one of my favorites to this day and when Zen Studios announced that they were creating their own electronic version called Super League Football I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
If you’ve never played a Zen Pinball table then firstly where have you been the last few years? We all know that Zen make superb electronic pinball tables and the latest crop have been some of the best yet, with the influx of the Marvel and Star Wars tables this one caught me somewhat by surprise. When you buy your table you can choose from one of a number of top European teams including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Arsenal and Milan, or if your team isn’t represented you can always grab the Zen Studios FC table and show your support to the developers! You only get one team so choose wisely; Zen needs to provide revenue figures to each club individually, hence the need for all tables to be purchased separately.
If you are familiar with either pinball or football this is a table that you will be able to pick up fairly quickly, the goal of the table (no pun intended) is simple, you play a total of ten games, 5 home and 5 away against a random selection of teams. The aim of the game is simple, get the ball up to the goal and score more than the opposition, win as many games as possible and be crowned champions! The commentator will give you an idea of the difficulty of the match ahead with a quick overview of what is expected of you before you kick off. As you stroke the ball around the table you complete passes by hitting the lanes and sink holes, this removes opposing players in the box which makes it easier to score a goal. It also raises your pass meter which is located in the bottom right hand corner of the table. The pass meter acts as the tables combo system and keeping it full keeps you in control of the game, fluff too many passes though and your pass meter will drop to zero, once this happens the opponent can take possession and score a goal of their own.
The table plays beautifully; the physics are spot on for the footie theme with the balls seemingly having less weight than usual. There are a variety of multiball modes in Super League Football and the action can get quite frantic at times but thanks to the physics it never feels out of control. In fact even with 4 balls in play you can still control them well enough to score goals at the top of the table and prevent them from draining at the bottom.
As you would expect from Zen the graphics are bright, colorful, and crystal clear. Real pictures of the players are used and sit above the flippers in a standard 442 formation, the players look to be accurate enough for all of the teams except I don’t see Luis Suarez in the Liverpool line-up alongside Daniel Sturridge? This could be a simple oversight or due to image rights but perhaps Zen will be able to clarify this small point as if I were a Liverpool fan and I bought the table it would annoy me not to have my star player (and one of the best players on the planet at the moment!) in my team. On either side of the table there are two 3D characters; on the right hand side we have a fully modeled player for your chosen team who kicks the ball into play for you when you fire the ball onto the table, a lovely touch and a great take on the old spring loaded mechanism. On the left hand side there is a mascot for the club which cheers you on as you play, for teams such as Arsenal that have a mascot this works really well, Gunnersaurus looks great and really adds to the unique club feel but some of the mascots which have been created from scratch can look a tad garish.
Whilst I love the overall graphical feel of this table if I had one minor gripe it would be that the background seems a bit more intrusive than with some of the other tables. We are used to seeing animated 3d models acting out scenarios on the table but here they are fairly large and are constantly on the move, this combined with the introduction of flares and fireworks just makes things a little too busy around the edges of the screen for my liking, especially when you consider how frequently you have multi-ball modes active and have to divide your attention between the goal and your bottom flippers. I can understand the reasoning to make it all a bit more showbiz as this is a video game after all and by adding in a bit of flare Zen make it a little more exciting, especially for those who aren’t fans of the sport.
Throughout the game you are treated to a traditional English football commentator, it’s not one I recognize and sounds more Jeremy Clarkson than John Motson but it certainly does the job of following the on the field action and building the momentum. The in game music is excellent; the table for each team has different intro music which plays as the camera pans over the table. If you are a Liverpool fan for example you can expect the fans to blast out “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as you prepare to take on the competition, from the sample Zen have used this has obviously been lifted from a real game at Anfield. The goal celebration music gives a typical South American feel and still makes me want to get up and boogie even after hours of play. You do feel a genuine urge to fist pump when you put the ball in the back of the net and all of the sound elements combine beautifully to replicate the range of emotions you go through when watching a game.
Depending on your platform there are a few multiplayer options, all versions feature a local “hot seat” multiplayer option where you and up to 3 friends can take it in turns to play, in true arcade tradition your turn ends and you pass over to the next player once a ball is lost. On PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3 you can also enjoy online multiplayer either by jumping into a quick match against a random player or play against a friend, sadly the option to play online multiplayer was not included in Zen Pinball 2 at launch on the PlayStation 4 and I really hope this can be patched in at a later date as it is crying out for some online play.
As a huge fan of Zen Studios I have a copy of Zen Pinball 2 installed on most of my devices, it has been my go to game whenever I either have time for a quick game or I am ready to hunker down and try and topple a friends high score. They have pulled out some really awesome tables over the years especially with the Marvel and Star Wars licenses but I think this table is my favorite. I do have a lot of fond memories of the original World Cup Soccer table but this is more than a polished slice of nostalgia, this is a balanced and well thought out experience which provides so much crazy multiball excitement you won’t know what to do with it!
Like it or loathe it football is the biggest sport in the world and if marketed correctly you could easily find thousands of footie fans who are not gamers willing to pay a small price to play pinball with their team. With Zen Pinball 2 itself being a free download and so accessible through consoles, tablets etc this could really hit the spot with the casual football fan and I hope the word gets out because this really is a fantastic pinball table. Who knows, we might see some more sports get the pinball makeover but for now I would like to see more football teams please Zen, perhaps a table featuring my beloved Aston Villa FC.
Publisher: Zen Studios, Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 18th February US and 19th February EU
Platforms: PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Steam, Xbox LIVE Arcade, Windows 8, iOS, Google Play, Mac and Amazon, Digital Only
Price: $2.99/€2.99 on console and $1.99/€1.99 on IOS, Google and Amazon, Rating: ESRB:E
Offline Players: Competitive: 4
Online Players: Competitive: 4