A couple decades ago, the pinball market was booming like crazy. This was back when arcades were in full swing and folks didn’t mind dropping a couple of quarters into machines offered by Williams, Bally and other manufacturers. But the scene dwindled a bit when the home video gaming market was on the rise, forcing several pinball makers to fold up shop and go with more digital products or something else entirely. Now, thanks to the popular new format of video game pinball, interest could rise in the format once again.


We’re not talking about one-off titles that feature a title character doing weird things on a playfield, like Sonic Spinball or even the recently released Frogger Pinball. We’re talking about the actual feeling of playing on a pinball table, shooting for targets and ramps while trying to complete bonus rounds and getting your score into the millions. A couple of teams have recently been pumping out some great digital tables and will continue to do so well into 2013 with new monthly content and plenty of surprises on the way. Let’s see who’s bringing back pinball in a big way…


Zen Studios


Once a publisher of smaller game efforts (like the forgettable The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle party compilation), Zen Studios really ran with a great idea when they released the original Pinball FX for Xbox Live Arcade. Consisting of a number of original table designs, the game turned out to be a huge hit offering various playfields to mess around with built in competitive online leaderboards, so players could try and keep up with their buddies’ best scores.


Following that, Zen Pinball came out for PlayStation Network with its own collection of exclusive tables (including a fan favorite called Tesla, inspired by the titular electric mastermind) and downloadable goodies. Soon, several big names began to jump on board with Zen, working on tables based on Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and Street Fighter II among other properties.


It was when Zen Studios teamed up with Marvel Studios that things really got interesting. As a result, the Marvel Pinball line-up was revealed with the likes of Spider-Man, Blade, Wolverine and Iron Man in the opening batch and followed with such obscure favorites as Moon Knight, Ghost Rider and the Fantastic Four. Recently, Zen Studios released an original set of tables based more around the exploits of the Avengers in a collection known as the Avengers Chronicles. These tables are their most dynamic to date with one table based on the film and others based around more classic comic stories like Fear Itself, World War Hulk and The Infinity Gauntlet – an ironic inclusion considering that the upcoming Avengers sequel will likely focus on the exploits of that comic’s villain, Thanos.


So what’s next for Zen Studios from here? In just a few months time they’ll release Zen Pinball 2 that will not only put together all of its previously downloadable tables in one place on PlayStation 3, but will also be available on PlayStation Vita for the first time thanks to Cross-Play sharing. The company is also expected to announce some new tables soon, including a PopCap Games-licensed table that’s bound to please fans of the casual publisher. Check out Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball today!

Farsight Studios


The name may not be familiar with most gamers out there but Farsight is responsible for some of the greatest digital pinball recreations you’ll ever see. They’ve taken a number of classic tables from Gottlieb and Williams and put them together for Pinball Hall of Fame compilations for Crave Entertainment, which were released across several consoles. Recently the company struck out on its own with The Pinball Arcade, a downloadable title featuring monthly additions taken straight out of the arcades for convenient play on your consoles and portable devices.


The collection started with just four tables – Theater of Magic, Tales of the Arabian Knights, Black Hole and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – but has expanded significantly since then with such awesome add-ons as Gorgar and Black Knight (two of this industry’s most respected tables) as well as cult favorites like Monster Bash (a table consisting of a monstrous rock band trying to get their gig put together). The packs are being released at $4.99 per two tables, a great deal considering you can play them as long as you wish without the need for quarters.


Though some releases are moving along better than others (the Xbox 360 version just started getting the promised downloadable content), Farsight is working on even more high-profile tables for The Pinball Arcade. The company recently held – and exceeded – a Kickstarter event to bring the Rod Serling-based Twilight Zone table to the game and they’re working on producing a digital version of Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. Other tables could follow in the future depending on how donations go – including the immensely popular table based on the Addams Family film.


Farsight has always known how to get their pinball games right and with their own format through The Pinball Arcade, they’ve got the better means to show off what they can really do. But really guys, we need Earthshaker and Dr. Dude. We couldn’t stop playing those in the old pizzeria. Make it happen.

Other Studios


Other studios are also contributing to the rebirth of pinball games. Cowboy Rodeo recently released high-definition versions of their classic games Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies HD for the App Store allowing fans of the older games and newcomers alike to enjoy them in the best way imaginable (you can get each collection for $3.99 apiece), In addition, OOO Gameprom, an up and coming company, has put together its own compilation with the impressive The Pinball HD featuring a number of original designs, including a table inspired by the rock band AC/DC that you can buy them through the App Store now.


The heyday of pinball may be long past, but these guys are definitely giving us more than enough reasons to “flip” out again.