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In-Depth Review

Zen Pinball: Inferno

Zen Pinball: Inferno is a pinball game/simulation with a rock concert theme for iPhone and iPod touch. I've got a love/hate relationship going with it -- I love it because I'm a sucker for a pinball game and in many ways this is a very good one, but I hate it because it can be frustrating and I think it could have been even better.

In a nutshell, there are solo and multiplayer modes. You get three balls per game. And there are two pairs of touchscreen flipper "buttons," one at the top of the screen and another at the bottom as shown here:

Let's start with that which I love:

For one thing, the ball physics are really accurate. The ball moves quite realistically and it often feels like real pinball. You can use either or both sets of flipper buttons, which is a nice touch. I prefer the lower set but it's nice to have options.

The table graphics are attractive. And aside from the droning, repetitive soundtrack (which, thankfully, is turned OFF by default), the rock 'n' roll concert theme is kind of cool.

Ramps, bumpers, and other targets are well thought out and the sound effects are pretty good, too. I also like that there are only three balls per game, making game sessions relatively short (which is a good thing in my book). Finally, the hot-seat multiplayer feature lets me share the joy with two, three, or four friends.

So that's what's good. Unfortunately, there's at least as much that's not. For example, the flippers don't always flip when you want them to. Sometimes they lag a bit -- you tap and a fraction of a second later the flipper flips. Other times you tap and the flipper doesn't do anything at all. And occasionally you tap and the flipper does a half-flip, sticking in the up position until you tap again. Not good!

All of these flipper issues mean it's tough to hit a moving ball. I find that if I want to hit the ball accurately I have to "trap" it on a flipper first as shown here:

That's my biggest gripe -- the flipper action isn't accurate enough to feel like real pinball. But I have a couple of other issues with Inferno as well. For one thing, the ball is small and too low in contrast, which sometimes makes it hard (or impossible) to follow with your eye. That's bad.

Finally, while the question mark button on the opening screen displays some less-than-helpful "rules," there are no actual instructions for playing the game -- not in the game, not at the iTunes Store, and not on the developer's Web site(s).

The upshot is that I don't really know how to switch between single and multi-player modes. For now I just tap the screen a few times in a few different places and it usually switches from one mode to the other eventually. I'm also not sure how to actually start a game -- I think you press and hold two fingers near the middle of the table, but that doesn't always work. Finally, there's a camera button on the opening screen that apparently enables a mode where you can tilt your iPhone to make the game table skew to the left (as shown below) or right.

It's interesting to play in that mode but I'd love to know what it is and why it's available.

The Bottom Line

In spite of some frustrating issues, I have found this game surprisingly addicting. I have dozens of games on my iPhone but I've been choosing this one a lot lately, warts and all. If you're a sucker for pinball like me it's probably worth the $5.

Just The Facts

Pros:Great physics, good graphics, multiplayer mode.

Cons:Flippers can be flaky, no instructions.

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