With the iPad reaching more and more hands by the day, developers and publishers are starting to recognize the widening market there for console-like experiences. This week's column spotlights two familiar franchises that have made the leap to the touchscreen: Zen Pinball and Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies, one of which does the source material justice, while the other hits in some spots and misses in others. And we've got a couple more iPad takes on huge console releases planned for next weekend's column, so be sure to check back in a week for another look at how home favorites translate to Apple's tablet.
Zen Studio's digital pinball offerings have gone by varying names on consoles – including Pinball FX, Zen Pinball, and Marvel Pinball – but the core experience always delivers a strong approximation of the real deal, and it's finally available on iPad and iPhone via this universal app. As a free app supported by optional in-app purchases, Zen Pinball arrives with one complete original table (Sorcerer's Lair) out of the box, while a pair of Marvel Comics tables (Captain America and Wolverine) are sold for $1.99 apiece.
More tables will undoubtedly arrive later down the line, but even if you're not looking to spend a penny, Zen Pinball is well worth the download for its entertaining and realistic depiction of pinball, not to mention its skillful translation to the touchscreen. Simple taps on the left or right side of the screen control the respective bumpers, and the iPad can be held in either portrait or landscape views, with a variety of viewpoints available for each. Whether you want the entire table in sight or prefer to have the camera follow the action along the way, Zen Pinball looks great in every instance, and the original tables are charmingly designed and vary in terms of layout and features. You can even customize the size of the LED window in the corner.
All three tables come from the console iterations, with packed-in offering Sorcerer's Lair employing a generic fantasy theme to surprisingly strong effect, as the lighting and sound effects convey the sensation of playing any early-90s machine at a dingy arcade. Captain America and Wolverine are both worthy additions at a couple bucks a pop, as each features iconic villains and imagery from the respective comic franchises, and like Sorcerer's Lair, feel like they could pass for real-life tables. Zen Pinball isn't the only great iPad pinball option, with Pinball HD and War Pinball HD also serving as true standouts, but with a gratis starter table and intriguing premium picks, it's a must-snag for pinball nuts and leaderboard chasers.
Just as the original undead Nazi-slaying mode from Call of Duty: World at War made its way to iPhone and iPad as a standalone game, Black Ops' follow-up offering is now available – and this time, it's a universal app that works on both devices. Keeping true to the original experience, Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies can be played by up to four online players, and in a nice twist for the platform, the game uses the built-in microphone of each device to allow voice chat with your co-op comrades. While this may unfortunately mean overhearing nearby family arguments and singing babies while you play, we'd argue that it's better than no chat at all.
Elsewhere, this touchscreen iteration feels like it's just decent enough to consider, but hardly a fully featured or well-polished adaptation. At present, the game only includes the first map from the console/PC versions, with another promised later and surely more planned for sale within the app. While that one map faithfully captures the core Zombies experience, with numerous rooms to unlock, weapons to purchase, and anxious shamblers to fight off, the sluggish touchscreen aiming makes it a chore to look around in the heat of battle. Furthermore, even with the detail setting maxed on an iPad 2, the clunky player models and poor textures stand out while the framerate dips on occasion.
As such, it's hardly the ideal way to experience the mode, but when playing online with a couple of pals (or random folks) it's still a surprisingly solid experience. In a nice bonus, Black Ops Zombies also includes the entire Dead Ops Arcade minigame – a simple, overhead twin-stick shooter – hidden within Black Ops, which itself would be a perfect fit for a standalone iOS release. Paired with stylish menus and suitable online play, Black Ops Zombies generally seems like a well-considered release. It's just one in serious need of refinement and additional core content before it feels like a worthy investment.