Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Review: Pinball FX 2

When I was a kid, I loved pinball. I was always excited when I'd go to an arcade or a convenience store and they had a new pinball machine to play. The sounds and music from classic tables are still implanted in my brain even now, and I remember all the good times I had back then.

But the last time I really played a pinball game on a console or PC, it was way back in the days of the Atari 2600 with a game called Midnight Magic, released in 1986-7. I missed out on Space Cadet on Windows too, since it was a separate installation on Windows 98.

So now seemed like as good a time as any to try my hand at the ever-popular Pinball FX 2 for the PC (which is also available on XBLA, and on PSN/WiiU under the name Zen Pinball 2)


I played the game with a Logitech F310 controller, which is arranged like a PS2/3 controller, but which has Xbox color coding and inputs, so this review should be relevant to console players as well.

I've also played 36 of the tables, so at this point, I feel like I have a good understanding of both the mechanics of this particular game and the design principles that Zen Studios uses in making their tables.


At its heart, Pinball FX 2 is designed to be fun and challenging rather than being a 100% accurate pinball simulation, and I'm okay with that. That philosophy allows events to happen that could only happen in a game, like having two realistic 3D characters battle and move around the playing field while you play through a table event. It also means that when you encounter events that require magnets to hold balls and such, they work perfectly every time, which to me is a plus, but other people might not like that. These are not real tables, and I think the whole experience benefits from that.

The Avengers Table

Every table I've played so far has been fun and visually pleasing to me while maintaining the illusion of reality and verisimilitude in most cases. I've been especially drawn to the Marvel licensed tables, especially the ones from Avengers Chronicles pack, which is four tables which cover The Avengers movie, and the Fear Itself, World War Hulk and Infinity Gauntlet story lines. I'm also a fan of the Star Wars tables. Given the fact that most of the licensed tables are from now Disney owned properties, I wouldn't be surprised to see either tables linked to their animated movies or perhaps the Muppets in the future.

Iron Man Table
The sound design is also quite impressive. Along with the normal sounds that you'd expect from the bumpers, flippers and other staples of pinball, each table has its own individual music and voices, though with the licensed tables, they usually use stand-ins in place of their more famous counterparts, which is understandable. The sounds for the tables not attached to a property also feel fitting for older pinball tables in real life. They are subdued but thematically appropriate and I appreciate that. 

The Empire Strikes Back Table
The controls are also very responsive, and even though I don't often apply english to the table, I like the fact that it is available and it responds to direction. The flippers also trigger instantly and powerfully, which matches my memories of playing classic pinball. A lot of the tables also have mini-subtables that you might get access to after doing a particular set of actions. These mini games are fun and challenging, and at times bring new kinds of experiences (like I remember playing a Breakout-like sequence on the Fear Itself table involving Mjolnir) that a traditional pinball game couldn't provide.

Pasha Table
I am also a fan of the way they sell their tables. The base game (at least on the PC) comes with one table for free (Sorcerer's Lair), and you can start and play that one as much as you want. You can also try the other tables and decide if you like them before buying them. By selling them individually, or in bundles of themed tables, you can commit to just the content you enjoy, which for this game is a model that works very well.

In the end, it is very easy for me to recommend Pinball FX 2. It has been an entirely enjoyable experience and it is the kind of game I can both pick up and play when I have a few minutes to spare and one which I could devote a lot of individual time to. It is hard to find a game that scratches both those itches for me, but this is definitely one of them.

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