Pinball FX 2: Epic Quest Review

What we liked:
+ Attractive goofy aesthetics
+ Continuity means no minute is wasted
+ Leverages the departure from physical tables
What we didn't like:
- Dexterity gets in the way of the RPG experience
Good
DEVELOPER: Zen Studios   |   PUBLISHER: Zen Studios   |   RELEASE: 02/15/2012

Review
A dash of RPG adds zest and longevity to Pinball.

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.

Kelsey Rinella

Kelsey is a well-versed individual who loves games that make him think. He mostly handles iOS titles but will also tackle anything that exercises his noggin.

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  • iluspook

    I certainly respect the opinion given here, but have to wonder if you forgot this was a pinball/rpg hybrid, not a true rpg. Obviously this was known, but the review reads like all shots should be simple to hit, or else you can’t make your rpg choices.

    Part of pinball IS the dexterity involved, but to this table’s credit, they placed the challenges well. I have played a LOT of pinball in my time, from the machines in arcades and bars to the many video varieties (starting way back with video pinball on the Atari 2600, and Pinball on NES which guest starred Mario and the princess…even Dragon’s Fury on Genesis), and of ALL those tables, none of the ramps are as easy to hit as the sword and shield ramps in epic quest, which are the ones most important to combat. Sure, you may not hit them EVERY time, but with practice you should hit these ramps at least 80 – 90% of the time you try to hit them.

    Also, hitting the cave hole, which equips gear or enters dungeons out of combat, will actually make you drink a health potion inside combat, so you will not be equipping or selling anything while fighting the monsters.

    Speaking of these monsters, they may start fairly similar to each other, but as you adventure and face harder creatures, the each have specific strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to take advantage with spell scrolls or enchanted equipment, while avoiding things from which the baddies are well defended.

    At the end of the day, this is a well-designed and fun pinball table with an rpg theme and elements, but a pinball table nonetheless. Granted, not everyone likes pinball, but if someone likes either the pinball or rpg genre, I would recommend trying the Epic Quest table. If a person likes both the rpg AND pinball genres, purchasing this well-crafted table is an absolute no-brainer.

  • Kelsey

    Thanks for your perspective, Ilus! I’m sure our readers will appreciate a view from someone with more of a history with pinball and appreciation of it. Obviously, given that I haven’t played it in so long, I’m not a pinball fan, and I tried to give the perspective of someone who’s willing to give pinball a chance due to good prior experiences with traditional RPGs and hybrids like Puzzle Quest. I think you have to be pretty prepared to enjoy pinball before you can really get the most out of the RPG elements of the table, and my suspicion is that many of the people who most enjoy RPGs appreciate about them that dexterity isn’t terribly important. For such players, I think the Epic Quest board would require a pretty significant learning investment for a game in which there isn’t really anything like a story or dramatic tension.

    But there are an awful lot of people who aren’t like me, and I suspect your perspective better represents the view many of them would have on the board. Especially for such a low price, there’s a ton of great pinball on this table, and I love the innovation.

    • MadmanJay

      The one thing I dislike about reviewers, are those who preface or postscript their reviews with “I’m not a fan of…” or “I don’t like….(insert genre of game here)”. I feel that’s wrong because you already come into writing a review with a bias against the said product. Perhaps you should have recused yourself from reviewing this product, not because you’re not a fan of pinball, but because you even admit that you don’t have the dexterity to play it and appreciate what it does have to offer. Another reviewer with an open mind would have perhaps spent the time to learn how to play the game and appreciate how unique this game is and its features are.

      As Iluspook so aptly pointed this is a pinball game first and foremost. Trying to say you can’t appreciate the RPG elements because your inability to handle the flippers is like a reviewer saying they’re not being able to appreciate the multitude of characters available on Super Street Fighter IV because they only know how to work with shoto-fighters, and no other style of fighting is good for them.

      I wouldn’t mind your opinion so much, but since ztgd is a Metacritic linked site, your biased opinion brought down the overall average of what many other critics find to be a great game.

      • Kelsey

        I can understand that reaction, but I don’t agree. Some of the most valuable reviews I’ve read have been of the, “I don’t normally like this genre, but this game is so good I liked it anyway,” variety. The description of Epic Quest I read made it sound like it had enough potential to provide me with an experience I could write about that way that I was interested in giving it a try. Once I’d accepted the game for review, I felt as though I was obligated (in fairness to both my editors and the review-reading public) to give my honest opinion.

        I think I can capture the intuition behind your criticism in a broader way by thinking about the people who read the reviews. Usually they’ve read a short description of the game and have decided they might want to get it. People who liked Puzzle Quest seem to me like they might be quite interested (I was, on just that basis), and willing to give pinball a try hoping that it would be used like Match-3 was in that game. A player with low skill is essentially playing with negatively loaded dice, but has the ability to account for that in decision-making at the RPG level. It’s hard to know from a brief read of a one-line description that the Epic Quest board isn’t like that, so something of review length is helpful for such readers.

        By contrast, people who know they like neither RPGs nor pinball would likely never even get to the point of reading the review, so I’d do them no service by writing a review for them. It’s all about serving the needs of most of the readers; I would not have felt comfortable reviewing one of the more traditional pinball boards precisely because the players who’d be reading reviews would already know they had an interest in pinball, so the perspective of a person who has no such interest would be of no value. I think the Epic Quest board broadened the base of interested readers enough that some of the reviews should reflect that.

        Here’s the metacritic summary of the game: “Pick up an Epic plate for your knobbly-knees knight, Max, give him a Crude Plastic Dagger of Elemental Flame and face the endless hordes of brutes to level up and gain more goodies in this goofy fantasy pinball!” There’s just not much detail there about how the pinball and RPG elements interact, so it’s not unreasonable for someone interested in a game which uses pinball rather like pen-and-paper RPGs use dice to be interested.

      • http://ztgd.com FrustratedFury

        Here’s the problem with everyone looking at scores. A 7.5 to our website is “Good.” A 7.5, if you take a look at our review guidelines means “The game is definitely enjoyable, but that full price tag may scare you. Don’t let it, this game is definitely worth checking out if you enjoy the style.”

        There in lies the problem with people looking at scores on Metacritic. I have never understood how, on a 0-10 point scale, a 7.0 is a bad score. I see people get more upset over a 7.0 than a 5.0.

  • iluspook

    Absolutely, Kelsey, you have to be prepared to play some pinball here, but I suspect there may be some rpg players that may never have wanted to try pinball, and this table is a fine entryway into the fine realm of pinball! Naturally, not everyone will find it to be their cup of tea, but it may bring in those that never gave pinball a chance.

    Your review is more than fair, Kelsey, and there are many that will relate to what you’re saying, ESPECIALLY those lacking the dexterity and patience that pinball can require. However, everyone gets better at things by practicing. The time spent doing leisure activities should always be fun, and each person will have to make the decision as to whether practicing a pinball table equates to fun.

    Regardless, I definitely feel that those rpg lovers who may never have looked twice in the direction of a pinball table should at least TRY Epic Quest with an open mind, and see how they feel through subsequent games. Then they will truly know if this genre might be of interest. :)