My experience with pinball is fairly limited, with most of it coming while I was working in a bar that had a Playboy pinball machine installed. The rest came from watching my stepfather play, and marveling at how he was able to control the ball so well with the flippers and the occasional nudge of the table. Pinball FX2 is a hybrid of sorts; the table design reaches beyond what is possible in the real word, while the physics of the game remain true to life. The result is a game that can appeal to both purists and casual fans alike, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
Pinball FX2 is actually a platform, freely available on Steam. Tables are sold in sets of four for $10, and trial versions of each table can be played before making a purchasing decision. For this review I was able to play tables licensed for Star Wars and Marvel franchises, as well as some original themes.
At the start, FX2 comes across as a standard pinball game. Each table has the usual ramps and lights, and even the dot matrix display found on most modern machines. However, it quickly becomes apparent that this is pinball beyond what is available in the local arcade, and developer Zen Studios has taken advantage of the virtual space they work in to create tables that could not exist in the real world.
Some of those differences are cosmetic, as fully animated Marvel and Star Wars characters inhabit the tables. Their presence itself is clearly beyond the animatronics found on standard pinball tables, but never goes so far as to make it feel different. It feels like a nice balance, like they are simply part of the digital evolution of pinball, and they didn’t feel awkward or out of place.
Some of the game’s style and construction does affect the gameplay in some interesting ways. For instance, on the X-Men table Magneto is able to grab and throw a piece of one of the ramps, leaving a hole there until Ice Man creates a replacement. On the Avengers table, there are actually different balls for each character, with different attributes. Again, these aspects fit nicely into the game, and it’s cool to see a lightsaber beaming out to create a ramp on one of the Star Wars tables. There are even slight ventures beyond pinball, such as Biolab’s non-pinball related minigame.
For all of the cool effects and reminders that this is something beyond traditional pinball, FX2 still nails the most important part of the experience, the ball physics. Using the flippers feels easy and natural, and I was able to do everything I would expect, like holding the ball or transferring from one flipper to the other. Shots feel accurate and true, and the chaos of multiball feels realistic as well, with balls bouncing off each other as I frantically tried to keep them all in play. Everything about the ball movement, from the bounce off the sides to the occasional hop in the air felt just like I was playing on a real table.
Pinball is all about the scores, and FX2 plays like one would expect in that aspect. However, in addition to the single game score, players have their super score and wizard score to keep in mind as well. The super score is a combination of high scores on all the tables a player has, and the wizard score is the super score multiplied by the number of tables played, and then added to the wizard score of any friends who have played the game as well. It’s a fun way of creating both individual and communal challenges, and the game pops up messages whenever the player raises their score in one of the three categories.
Each game starts with the camera panning across the table, allowing the player to scout any additional flippers and appreciate the level of detail that has gone into the construction. While playing there are eight different camera angles to choose from, and the game supports monitors in landscape position (provided that has been set within Windows). There is also a free roam camera option, allowing players to peruse the table at their leisure.
Each table in Pinball FX2 has an operator’s menu, offering a wealth of statistics like average play time, number of ramps hit and jackpots scored. There are also standard operator options like checking the individual lights on the table, and adjusting the pitch. Unfortunately, it’s all set up on the dot matrix screen, like it would be on a real table, which makes it a burden to navigate and tends to keep options hidden. For a game that embraces its ability to go beyond standard pinball, I wish they would have followed that approach with the operator’s menu and opened up that interface.
The game looks good, to the point that I could see the spin on the ball when I had reflections turned on. There is also the option to turn on ball trails in order to better follow the action. By default, points scored pop up on the screen like damage in an RPG, but I found that distracting so I disabled it. The background music for tables tends to be a bit underwhelming, but it’s nothing that negatively impacts the experience. What does stand out is the generic voice work, most notably with the Marvel characters on those tables.
The game plays with either the keyboard or the 360 controller. Using the 360 controller, the left and right triggers (or bumpers) are used to operate the flippers, while the left stick can be used to give the table a gentle nudge when appropriate. There is local multiplayer support for up to four players taking turns, or two players playing split screen. Community tournaments are also available, but were not active during my time with the game.
Even for a relative pinball novice like me, Pinball FX2 has a lot to offer. The feel of real pinball is here, in a game that takes full advantage of its freedom from physical restraints. The super and wizard scores offer good reasons to both have and get good at multiple tables, and are a fun addition. The best part is the price – players can download the platform and demo any table for free, and then choose which packs they want to purchase, allowing for as little or as much pinball as they are interested in. It’s definitely worth a look for anyone.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.