South Park: Pinball is one of the best games the show has ever produced

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It’s sad to recall, but South Park games were long synonymous with hot trash. Early console titles based on the raunchy animated series lazily mimicked popular genres (like shooters and kart racers) and delivered sloppy, crummy results in the process.

But as the series enjoys its 18th season on the air, two of the best adaptations have launched in recent months. South Park: The Stick of Truth delivered a solid role-playing experience on consoles and PC, and now South Park: Pinball ($4) offers a pair of vibrant, well-designed tables that you can play anywhere on Android. And it’s much cheaper than pumping endless quarters into a real pinball machine.

Pinball wizardry

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Several views are available in both portrait and landscape orientation, including a full-table shot with familiar surroundings from the show.

South Park: Pinball is built on the backbone of Zen Pinball, the excellent simulation created and continually supported by Zen Studios. While the series license results in plenty of colorful graphics and brash quips pulled straight from top episodes, there’s a really strong pinball core powering the action.

Every bumper bounce and paddle hit looks and feels like the real thing, only the two tables created for South Park: Pinball go beyond the constraints of real-life craftsmanship, adding in animated characters and sequences that wouldn’t be possible on a standard physical table.

The first table spans the series, with sights and sounds inspired by early episodes and later favorites alike—from Mr. Hankey to ManBearPig. It’s very cluttered, with dozens of characters, a small Sarcastaball field, and much more crammed into the small space, but it’s a fun, all-encompassing tribute to the show.

The other table focuses entirely on lovably naïve supporting character, Butters, and it lets you experience some of his memorable moments by triggering different modes with the ball and flippers. It features a much simpler and more open layout, resulting in faster ball movement, and it feels very distinct from its companion table.

Come on down

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Guiding the ball along a certain lane multiple times triggers a small cinematic. For example, Cartman’s result shows an alien-planted satellite dish emerging from his behind—a reference to the show’s memorable first episode.

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On the Butters’ Very Own Pinball Game table, you can access a handful of different modes, which change the objectives and shake up the play experience. Each is tied to a familiar episode—like the one in which Butters finds out that he’s Hawaiian.

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Several achievements are available via Google Play Games, including this one for activating the Terrence & Phillip-themed bumpers. Others involve topping friends’ scores and discovering all of the modes on each table.

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Confused about the different lanes and objectives on each table? A handy guide is included for both that shows the different ways to play. It really demonstrates how much more there is than meets the eye with these complex tables.

Why it’s worth your money

Whether or not you still watch South Park or ever were a die-hard fan, South Park: Pinball is an excellent and entertaining digital take on pinball that looks and feels like the real thing. Simple left and right taps prove plenty responsive for batting the ball around, even if you might itch for physical buttons to mash, and having several camera view options provides plenty of flexibility. While a larger tablet or phablet display is ideal, the game plays great on smartphone screens as well—the zoomed-in, ball-following landscape perspective is my pick on my Nexus 5.

If these were real-life pinball tables, you might get two or three plays apiece for $4 worth of quarters. But here, that entry price provides unlimited play, and each table offers plenty of intriguing paths and bonuses to discover as you learn their nuances. And although the repeated sound clips turn repetitive quickly, these are some of the best tables made with the Zen Pinball template to date. They’re vibrant and well designed, yet don’t feel as aggressively over-the-top as, say, Marvel Pinball or Star Wars Pinball. It’s easy to be cynical about big companies slapping a popular TV brand on a game franchise, but thankfully, South Park: Pinball deftly avoids the licensed game curse.

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