Two questions capture the differing perspectives I hold on the Epic Quest board for Pinball FX 2: Wouldn’t it be great if every game of pinball game you played contributed to higher scores and more interesting experiences in later games? Have you ever wanted the execution of your decisions in an RPG to be dependent on your dexterity with an unrelated task?
I haven’t played pinball in probably twenty years, so for me it still evokes memories of going to an actual arcade. Because you only stayed as long as your quarters held out, I always found pinball an anxious exercise in keeping your ball in play while studiously ignoring anything that might distract you from your flippers, including everything that lent the game a degree of strategy. I’ve long been interested in games which integrally embed one type of game inside another (the Puzzle Quest series and Quarrel are good recent examples, but the idea goes back at least to Archon). The RPG elements of the Epic Quest table for Pinball FX 2 were enough to pique my interest and show me that pinball has a great deal more to offer than I remembered.
The visuals and sounds do an excellent job of reminding the player of traditional pinball tables. Though the comments are, in some cases, funny enough to stand up to repetition better than many video game quips (I was particularly tickled by, “Bats? Your blindness doesn’t scare me!”), pinball tables have never specialized in overwhelming variety. The low fidelity of some of the beeps helps keep the repetitiveness in perspective, helping it seem more like part of the developers’ devotion to their subject than laziness. The whole table is bright and humorously illustrated, but the small puppet theater which heralds the debut of some new monsters has a distinct charm, with a rustic wood appearance which suits the generic medieval setting.
I’ve read that this is a relatively easy table, and I believe it-one of the absolute joys of giving pinball this second chance after so long has been the discovery that the pressures on a developer for a home video game are very different from those on a designer of physical tables. I was delighted to feel as though the table wasn’t specifically designed to make unhittable balls common-when you’re concerned about making sure people can make money off your pinball machine, you have an incentive to give people as little as possible for their money without going quite so far as to prevent them from playing again. Epic Quest offers players very few such situations. Even better, your experience and items accrue, not only during a single game, but stay for later games. As your level rises, your opponents become more challenging and your score follows. Neither this persistence, nor the display of items on the character, would be possible on a physical pinball machine. It’s a marvelous solution to the frustration one usually feels when one fails to beat a previous high score by a small margin.
Two things crushed the RPG elements of the experience for me. First, I’m not that good at pinball. Hitting a ball into a particular zone rather than one that’s five degrees to the right in order to bash a monster means I’m often heading off to the shop to sell a spare helm or breastplate in the middle of a fight. Admittedly, the reintroduction to pinball was successful enough that I got better as I played, but this just seems bizarre. The whole point of a role-playing game is for the decisions you make, as a player, help to form the identity of the character-placing this barrier of dexterity between your decisions and the character’s actions sucked the authorship out of that experience. Second, the items and monsters are given too few avenues of expressing their individuality. The developers have packed a lot of cleverness into the names of the items, but the battles all feel like pinball, and the items all feel like slight score modifiers to that concept.
Pinball FX 2’s Epic Quest board seems like an absolutely marvelous way for a pinball newbie with an interest in giving it a shot to explore the genre. It eases a lot of the problems that would turn many of us off, while adding some clever new elements that deserve appreciation. It would be better to regard it as an RPG-themed pinball table than a pinball/RPG hybrid, though, because there’s far less role-playing here than in other games which hybridize RPGs with other genres.
Review copy provided by publisher.