For those of you who are unaware of it this particular Zen Pinball 2 set was originally available for Zen Pinball, and the Xbox 360 counterpart Pinball FX. It cost the gamer $9.99 to purchase, and included a total of four tables. These tables were 'Secrets of the Deep', 'BioLab', 'Pasha', and 'Rome'. Unlike most recently released Zen Pinball 2 tables these tables included were all about the challenge, and were designed with mostly low point values in place as well as table structures that were geared towards the more professional players. Some of the tables like 'Secrets of the Deep', and 'Pasha' had multiple playing fields for a wide variety of different scoring opportunities. Tables such as 'Rome', however were geared solely around speed play, and would test the players mettle through their ability to keep the ball going at a steady, but fast pace. Out of all the tables of the set though I do have to admit that the quirky, and fun loving 'BioLab' was the easiest to score on, and had the greatest available point values of all four tables. Like the other tables though keeping the pinball going, and from reaching an out of bounds state was trying enough in it's own right.
In regards to the 'Secrets of the Deep' table you will find in place Zen Studio's own unique brand of oddities. This includes a monster sized ramp hugging octopus known on the table as the Kraken, and a talking announcer shark with an Aussie accent. The table which is divided into two playing fields (an upper & a lower) has a junctioned wrap around ramp system that works to move a submersible underwater vehicle into position for the table's multi-ball event as well as a Kraken event trigger. On the left side of the table you'll find the other part of of the ramp in the firm grips of the Kraken which has ominous glowing eyes which pulsate in a red color with each pinball pass. When accessed enough times an escape event will occur in which you'll have to continue accessing the left ramp in order to avoid the looming threat of the Kraken's grip.
Other table events include a hub display based trench escape in which you'll be using the right, and left shoulder buttons to ascend, and descend your submarine as cavernous obstacles appear before it. In the upper playing field, in which said event is activated, you'll find multiple strike targets, and a hanging ball target as well as a loop around area to the upper left which is there for racking up even more points. In the middle of the table amidst all the underwater sea creatures, and diver art graphics you'll find a tiny spinner access point, and a secondary periscope launcher which serves to get the pinball from the bottom playing area to the top. The table does have four flippers, two of which are placed normally at the bottom of the table, and two of which are placed at the bottom of the top section. When it comes to keeping the pinball in the upper playing field you will find that it's a difficult task as it the ball tends to escape downwards with ease. As such most of your scoring will come from ramp access on the lower half. Scoring in general is a medium difficulty task, and the low point values that you will be scoring with each successful pinball pass will not get you a high score too quickly. If you really want that high score on 'Secrets of the Deep' you will have to invest some serious time into mastering it.
Up next, and in listed order is the table known as 'BioLab'. This table which is quirky, and whimsical in design features art akin to a children's book, or cartoon. The theme as you might imagine is about a mad scientist who is trying to create an army of creature clones along with the aid of his sexy female assistant. The table features a wide assortment of laboratory style objects that double as bumpers, ramps, and other scoring mechanisms. The only two real ramps you'll find though are located close to the creature creation tube at the upper portion of the playing field, and are very short in length. The only other ramp style access on the table is done through a glass tube pipe, and a cupped wire ramp that is off to the left hand side of the playing field. As with most tables in this set you will find multiple flippers located strategically at the normal place as well as at different locales in order for you to be able to send the pinball rolling in the right direction.
When the pinball is initially launched from the launcher it will enter a glass dome area on the right hand side of the playing field via the launcher. The glass dome has three different holes, each of which will score you a different point value, and possibly a skillshot if you manage to land the pinball in the top hole. This glass encasement also serves as one of the many different event scoring mechanisms. In the area of events, outside of the glass dome you will find that the creature tube which I mentioned earlier serves as the main point of interest as it will have you passing the pinball into the space underneath it in order to pick three different creature body parts (Head, Body, Legs). These body parts will then appear on the floating test tube creature as it is constructed with each pinball entry. Once built you will be able to choose from a handful of different stat building interactive events that are tied to the mental, and physical state of the creature. Choosing the 'reflex' event will cause four pinballs to enter the playing field for a high scoring opportunity. Choosing 'the 'intellectual' option will in turn take you to a totally different playing screen in which you'll have to use the right, and left shoulder buttons in order to navigate the pinball through a circular maze. There are four, or five of these events tied to the creature construction, and each will have you taking on a different pinball oriented task.
In the way of bumpers, and targets you'll find a large three-eyed monster head, a group of electrodes, and a chemical filled beaker that splashes green goo when hit. The table itself is pretty much open due to the lack of traditional Zen Pinball ramps, but does have an upper playing area with a loop around alley, and an additional flipper for passing the pinball into the area underneath the creature tube. The four bumper electrodes are also located in this upper right hand area of the table's playing field. As far as scoring on this table goes the point values are significantly higher, and scoring in general is easier to do. There's no real threat of losing the pinball prematurely unless you get sloppy with your flipper/pinball handling.
Table number three, which is known as 'Pasha' takes all the cliche Arabesque fantasy tales including that of Aladdin, and '1,001 Arabian Nights, and mashes them together in a caricature heavy pinball creation that adds a stereotypical tone to the overall theme.You'll find everything from a 3D model genie lamp to a luminescent genie in a bottle which serves as a secondary on-table playing field. There's even a "Book of Tales" in which you'll be selecting a story through a proper pinball pass as well as a Bazaar in which the vendor will have you playing an object based guessing game for the sake of bonus points. There's even the 'Cave of Wonders' awaiting your looting at the top of the playing field as well. As far as 3D models go this table is abounding with them. Everything from the temple top bumpers to the Bazaar vendor, and even the Arabian villain that stands front, and center all serve as interactive eye candy for those willing to brave the various table exploits.
Scoring on 'Pasha' is definitely one of the more trying ordeals of the four table set. The object heavy playing field makes ramp access a truly trying task. Things like trying to activate the story selection after activating the 'Book of Tales' is not all that easily done. The tightly oriented temple top bumpers make accessing the event trigger hard. It should also be noted that the ramps, which are as serpentine as the snakes of the Arabian desert are also hard to access on a regular basis due to the various 3D models obscuring the entryways. As far as the genie event trigger goes it's about the easiest thing to do on the table as it simply requires repetitive passes through the spinner lane which has the spinner flag with a lamp symbol on it. Once the genie event is activated the genie in a bottle in the middle of the playing field will glow purple, and with a few more passes of the pinball will open up to reveal a secondary playing field in which you must strike down three moving rows of bandit targets using the flippers, and pinball that are provided therein. Scoring high on this table is definitely a tedious, and trying task. It will take a masterful Zen Pinball player to overcome the odds, and take the top spot on the game's global leaderboards.
Last, but not least is the core table known as 'Rome'. Like the extravagant, and rich culture that was Rome this table comes to life with royal red, and glistening gold colors fitting of such an empire. The playing field which is a mish-mash of historical figures (Cleopatra, Alexander the Great ...) as well as Rome's judicial, architectural, and military culture serves as a speedy combo oriented hub filled with low scoring opportunities. You'll find that the ramps on either side of the middle positioned statuesque head launcher are constructed like Rome aqueducts, and will send the pinball speeding back towards the main flippers, or to the directions on either side of the playing field in a hurry. At the upper level of the Roman table you'll also find three 3D models that are each interactive in their own way including a statue of lady justice with the accompanying scales of justice as well as a second statue crafted after a male Roman deity, and a third more lively Roman centurion character with entry slot underneath his sandal covered feet for yet another event trigger. By passing pinball through targets, holes, and ramps in a steady ongoing combo fashion you will spell out a variety of Roman phrases (Deus Ex Machina, ARMA ...) which will in turn offer you up higher scoring opportunities in the form of multi-ball, and objective based events.
While the table is heavy with events, targets, bumpers, and the like it still proves to be the most difficult table to score on in the history of Zen Pinball. Point values are extremely low, and the likelihood of the pinball speeding past your flippers is more likely than not. Like I said this is a speed play oriented table in which all features including the strategically placed flippers are in place to rack up combos at a steady pace. If you break, or stray away from that steady pacing for even a second it could easily cost you a pinball, and eventually end your game shortly after it has begun.
The Verdict ...
This set is a necessity for those seeking to obtain all of the Zen Pinball 2 tables. There's no doubt about it. At the same time though I think it to be odd that Zen Studios would be charging Zen Pinball 'Core Set' table owners a second time for tables that they've already paid for. I believe the pricing is still at the same $9.99 cost, but as to whether or not you'll have to pony up the dough again to own them in Zen Pinball 2 I honestly don't know. If that is the case I cannot readily recommend the set to people who have already paid for the core set once before. If you are new to the Zen Pinball 2 phenomenon though, and have started your pinball journey with Zen Pinball 2 then I highly suggest adding this set to your collection. The set is cross-buy, and the tables look gorgeous as always on all three Playstation consoles (PS3, PS4, PS Vita). I will say though that PS4 owners will be getting the better looking versions this time around though. The new-gen graphics really make the tables pop. As far as best playability goes it is definitely in the favor of the PS4. I found that the number '3' view (my favorite) on the table was slightly obscure on the PS Vita this time around, but that it was much better on the PS4 version.
For those of you just now learning about Zen Pinball, and Zen Pinball 2 each table can be adjusted in view. There are seven different views in total, each of which offer up a different table perspective. View number three, which I referenced earlier is a sort of angled view that chases the pinball anywhere it goes on the playing field. I personally find this view to be helpful in the area of accuracy, and scoring. Of course other views will offer more distance, and stationary perspectives that mimic a more traditional pinball experience. In the end how you choose to play is up to you though. Just know that tweaking certain settings will keep your high score from being counted, and will also keep you from getting table trophies.