Pinball games have always been difficult to re-create on a computer. Though there have been some good incarnations, the lack of direct interaction is a sore point for pinball on consoles and PCs. Playing with a keyboard just isn’t the same as the real thing.
Tablets, however, can put you much closer to the traditional pinball game experience – which is probably why there are so many pinball games for Android. Most of these titles are serviceable, but only a few manage to re-create the excitement of a real pinball table.
I don’t want to waste your time, so I’m going to start with the best. Zen Pinball HD. If you only have time to play one pinball game, this is the one you should play.
Why? Everything. I’m serious. Zen Pinball does everything better than not just other pinball games but also most other Android games. The graphics are beautiful, the tables are intricate and detailed, the controls are perfect and even the sound design is top-notch.
The game’s incredible production values and fun gameplay are assisted by a wide variety of branded tables. Players start with the unique Sorcerer’s Layer but then can move on to Stars Wars and Marvel themed tables along with several original themes, like paranormal and epic fantasy. I’ve played real Star Wars and Marvel pinball games in arcades, so believe me when I say that these digital tables are more fun to play than their physical counterparts.
There’s just one downside to Zen Pinball. Price. You can download the game and play Sorcerer’s Lair for free, but additional tables range from $.99 to $1.99. Buying every table brings the total to $30, though most gamers will only need to buy two or three extra tables.
Zen Pinball HD will work on Android 4.0 or newer. You can also play the game’s sequel on a multitude of consoles including PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U.
This is the other great pinball game for Android, and it takes an entirely different approach. While Zen Pinball HD focuses on crafting an awesome new pinball experience, Pinball Arcade attempts to bring traditional pinball to your tablet.
Literally. The tables in this game are not new creations but instead virtual re-creations lovely ported from reality to your tablet. So far as I can tell, the tables are direct 3D scans of the real thing, and they also include original audio. The game itself is quite good, as well – the physics are proper, the graphics detailed and the interface functional, though often a bit ugly.
Newcomers may find this game intimidating, however, because it’s not designed with virtual play in mind. The tables ported into this game made money through quarter play, so it made sense for them to be relatively hard. You’ll need real dedication to best the challenges here.
And if you thought Zen Pinball could get expensive, well, Pinball Arcade might change your mind. The base game is free and comes with one table, and additional tables can be played on a trial basis (which lets you play up to a certain score). But once you start buying them you’ll be shelling out $2.99 to $3.99 per table. You can save money by purchasing in packs, but even so, the game can become expensive over time.
You’ll need Android 2.2 or newer to play Pinball Arcade.
This game was ported to Android for Nvidia to show off the company’s original Tegra hardware. That means it is a bit old by today’s standards, and it hasn’t been updated, yet the game still looks good even when compared to Zen Pinball HD.
Because it focuses on graphics, the camera focuses more closely on the tables and the action. This makes the game easy to play on smartphones and smaller tablets, though if you want, you can switch the view to a more traditional top-down camera.
Pinball HD also benefits from being a complete package. At $2.99 it is the only game here that you can’t play for free, but it comes with all three available tables, each with its own theme. The game actually turns out to be a better value than either Zen Pinball or Pinball Arcade.
You’ll need Android 2.2 or newer to play this game. Though optimized for Tegra, other Android device can play the pinball game.
Bonus Round: Hyperspace Pinball
Despite the name, I hesitate to call this a pinball game because it takes the idea in a slightly new direction. Instead of using tables, each with different themes, there’s just one table that progresses in levels as you score points. Each level adds new elements to the table that increase the challenge but also open new opportunities to earn an even high score.
This unique idea is then coated with a geometric art style and various extras that spice up the game. For example, the game table is not clear – instead it is filled with geometric shapes that move about. Hitting them scores points, but they also stop the pinball cold, making them both a goal and an obstacle. The game even includes bosses that must be defeated while keeping your pinball in play.
Hyperspace Pinball has a few flaws. The physics are rudimentary, the sound design basic and glitches occasionally interrupt play. The game is 100% free, however, and a refreshing take on the idea of a digital pinball game. Anyone with Android 2.1 or newer should give it a shot.
I think these pinball games are the genre’s champions on Android. You could find more on our list of best Android games as well. Do you have a favorite that I didn’t list? Sound off in the comments!