Pinball is one of the best genre of games to play on the iPad. The style fits perfectly on the iPad’s touchscreen—there are no complicated controls, just tap on either side of the screen to use the flippers. The shape of pinball tables in general (long rectangles) matches well with the iPad and iPhone’s long screens. I love playing pinball on my iPad, and below are my picks for the 5 Best Pinball Apps for the iPad.
1. Zen Pinball
1. Zen Pinball (free + in-app purchases) is by far the best pinball iPad app in the App Store. It has the best tables, with the best designs, best gameplay, and best graphics. There are currently 14 tables available in the app, and it comes with 1 free table (called Sorcerer’s Lair, which is just an average table, so don’t judge the app on the free table). The in-app-purchase tables are just awesome, including what I think is the best overall on iOS, called Epic Quest, ($1.99 in-app purchase). Epic Quest is a fun (and funny) table that has really deep gameplay that guarantees dozens and dozens of hours of play. It’s classic pinball, but with RPG elements where you take on monsters, hit ramps to do damage and/or defend, and collect EQ over multiple games. The table is just amazingly designed, with funny sound effects and voice acting (but a bit complicated, table guides are in our forums here).
But the hits don’t stop there. There are several other amazing tables available as in-app purchases. For example, the tables based on Marvel Comics are incredible. My favorite is the Avengers table, but the World War Hulk and Captain America tables are awesome as well. The Tesla table is really unique. In fact, just about all the tables available in Zen Pinball are a cut above what’s available elsewhere. That’s because the pinball design studio behind the app, Zen Studios, is the best out there right now for creating digital pinball games. Their Zen Pinball tables are bestsellers on other consoles and mobile devices as well, including Xbox Live Arcade. The company keeps things grounded in classic pinball but adds just the right amount of computer/digital pinache (for example, animations like Thor throwing hammers across the table and Iron Man flying around, which couldn’t happen on a real pinball table). If you want the best-designed tables and the best pinball app, it’s Zen Pinball.
The only bad thing I can say about this app is that the tables are so detailed and intricate, you’ll need to play them on a Retina iPad first to get the best experience. But once you learn the ins and outs of the table, they’ll play on the iPhone just fine.
2. Pinball Arcade
2. Pinball Arcade ($0.99 + in-app purchases) faithfully recreates the best real-life pinball tables of all time. This is a game for true pinball lovers looking to relive their best pinball experiences from the arcade days. Pinball Arcade is created and maintained by pinball enthusiasts, so no detail is too small. One table in the app, Medieval Madness ($2.99), is, according to pinball-enthusiast website Pinsinde, the #1 ranked pinball table of all time as voted by the site’s readers. To understand what’s so great about Medieval Madness, check out this video of the real-life table.
Pinball Arcade has 19 total tables currently available with more coming every month, the developers even use Kickstarter to finance their porting of the greatest real-life tables to digital form. Again, the developers are more like pinball historians. For the initial $0.99 price, you get 1 table, Arabian Nights.
If there is a complaint for this near-perfect app, it’s that not every “best ever” classic pinball table translates into a “best ever” iPad pinball table. Some special effects that dazzle on a real table fall a bit flat on the iPad. But deep, challenging, strategic gameplay knows no boundaries, and every table in this app has it.
3. Pinball HD Collection
3. Pinball HD Collection (free) comes with 1 free table, Wild West, with 10 other tables available for in-app purchase. The developer, Gameprom, created one of the first pinball games for the iPhone, so they’ve had time to perfect the art of pinball on iOS. Their experience shows in the pinball physics and how great the tables look on the iPad/iPhone’s screen. Some of my favorite tables are the Navy Seals, Slayer, AC/DC, and Arcade tables. Snow Pinball, a winter-themed table, is fun to play during Christmas time. My only complaint is that the tables lack some of the depth and challenge of our top two picks—the tables dont’t feel quite as epic. The developers also confuse their customers by offering several different apps, some are standalone single-table apps, others offer multiple tables already included in this one. But what really matters is the pinball, and there is some good pinball inside this app.
4. Pinball Crystal Caliburn II
4. Pinball Crystal Caliburn II ($3.99) is a single-table app that was a classic pinball game for the Mac. The best thing about the table is that it feels like real pinball. Add to that deep strategic gameplay where you’ll love to reach the table’s various goals, like activating Merlin’s spells, achieving accolades for your knights, and ultimately possessing the Holy Grail. The graphics are beautiful and Retina-sharp, and the table has nice lighting effects and subtle details like reflections. This is one of those tables where you can spend dozens and dozens of hours unraveling the various goals and achievements of the table and enjoy every second of it.
5. Real Pinball HD – Vampire
5. Real Pinball HD – Vampire ($1.99) is a single-table app with a great pinball physics engine. It’s another app that nails the feel of a real pinball table. I also love how the pinball has a graphic on it so that the actual spin of the ball is visible as it moves around the table–a detail I wish other pinball apps would copy. Vampire has a goth/vampire theme and features some deep and challenging gameplay. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect—the frame rate feels a bit stuttery, and the sound effects aren’t that great. But overall, the table is a joy to play with a sweet realistic feel.
Our number 1 & 2 picks in the list above are clear winners, and after that, the competition gets really close. Here are a few more noteworthy pinball apps that I enjoyed playing.
Pinball Maniacs: Cartoon Pinball Adventure (free) is a pinball with freemium gameplay, meaning its free to play, but includes in-app purchases to help you progress. Like its name implies, the pinball has a whimsical cartoony feel, this is not the game for realistic pinball, even though the game mechanics are based on classic pinball. Here you collect coins, destroy moving monsters by hitting them with your ball, and achieve various goals to progress the game and switch up the table environment. Overall, it’s fun because there is a feeling of progression that most pinball lacks.
Art of Pinball – Table Pack ($2.99) features old-school pinball that you might have found at a truck stop in the ’50s. The tables may be simple by today’s standards, but the action is fast and fun. And the tables won’t take you days to unravel like some other tables in our list. The Table Pack version comes with 6 pinball tables, but the individual tables are available as seperate apps in the App Store.
Monster Pinball HD ($1.99) is a strange (strange in a good way) twist on pinball with deep gameplay and a monster/alien theme. There are over 500 goals to achieve in the game, so you’ll get your money’s worth out of this one. And although it’s a single game (without in-app purchases), there are actually multiple tables you’ll visit as your pinball hits different spots in the game. There are also beautiful Retina graphics and bizarre sound effects that keeps things interesting. My only complaint is that the table lacks a narrative (a clear story) to follow, or at least, it’s not easily unraveled from early gameplay.