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Review: Pinball FX 2

11:50 AM on 10.29.2010 // Nick Chester

Zen Studios is kind of known as the “pinball people” in videogames, one of its first games a cute little Nintendo DS pinball-inspired title known as Flipper Critters. Over the past few years, it’s released Pinball FX for Xbox 360, Zen Pinball on the PlayStation 3, along with a slew of downloadable tables. It’s a studio that certainly know its mechanical flippers and flashing lights.

Pinball FX 2 for Xbox Live Arcade is its latest offering, the culmination of its years of pinball knowledge, and an interesting take on how to use the digital space to deliver fresh game content to fans. Not really a game in and of itself, Pinball FX 2 is a platform, a blank space in which players can add tables in a piecemeal manner, purchasing only the content they’re interested in.

Zen Studios is kind of known as the “pinball people” in videogames, one of its first games a cute little Nintendo DS pinball-inspired title known as Flipper Critters. Over the past few years, it’s released Pinball FX for Xbox 360, Zen Pinball on the PlayStation 3, along with a slew of downloadable tables. It’s a studio that certainly know its mechanical flippers and flashing lights.

Pinball FX 2 for Xbox Live Arcade is its latest offering, the culmination of its years of pinball knowledge, and an interesting take on how to use the digital space to deliver fresh game content to fans. Not really a game in and of itself, Pinball FX 2 is a platform, a blank space in which players can add tables in a piecemeal manner, purchasing only the content they’re interested in.{{page_break}} 

Pinball FX 2 (Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Released: October 27, 2010
Price: Free ("Pinball FX 2 Core Collection" 800 MS Points)

It’s a free platform, so anyone who has an Xbox Live account can download it, and begin demoing the available tables. There are four new tables available for Pinball FX 2 -- the Persian-inspired “Pasha”; the gladiatorial “Rome”; the mad-scientist themed “BioLab”; and the underwater adventures of “Secrets of the Deep.” 

Each table is unique in sights, sounds, ramps, mini-games, and multipliers. While some of them do have a bit of a generic feel as far as their themes go, they’re all highly-detailed tables, each with their own vibe. It’ll cost you 800 MS Points to pick up the entire package as the “Pinball FX Core Collection,” and I’d recommend you just bite the bullet on this one to get your collection going. You’ll likely get comfortable with your personal favorite (I’m partial to the sci-fi monster-creation of “BioLab”), but it’s fun to bounce between tables to keep things fresh. 

As a platform, Zen Studios takes a cue from the music game genre and will let you play all of the content found in the original Pinball FX. If you’ve already got Pinball FX on your hard drive, it’s a matter of a simple import to get them into the sequel. If you don’t, you can demo the older tables before you buy. Zen is also making all of the downloadable content released for its predecessor playable in Pinball FX 2. This includes the highly-recommended Street Fighter II table, which is enough of a treat that only purchasing it along with the Pinball FX 2 platform can be considered a good option on its own. 

The convenience of having all of the tables in one places can’t really be underestimated, and being able to demo before you try each of them is a nice treat. As handy as it is, the game’s table selection screen and menus do suffer from a bit of clutter, with tiny text and confusing labels that may be the software’s Achilles’ heel. It’s not a huge issue, as once you’ve actually loaded the table, it’s a non-issue. But it’s certainly a bit of a visual eyesore, and Zen could probably use for a bit of polishing in this area for its next pinball platform. 

Pinball FX 2 also offers an impressive and robust series of leaderboards and personal statistics for each and every table you own. It’s great incentive to be able to browse your available tables, see exactly where you stand on your friends list, and strive to topple the most skilled player in your social circle. The game even keeps track of these scores while you’re playing, telling you how many points you need to earn to best a pal’s score and so on. You can even send an auto-generated “shit talking” message to your friends, shoving your new best scores in their faces. 

This kind of instigation and constant leaderboard reminders really go a long way in making you want to keep playing, and it’s easy to lose a few hours to trying to hit the top spots on all of your tables. Additionally, the game also keeps track of your performances across all boards, tallying that information and putting it towards an in-game “Superscore.” There’s also a “Wizard Score” system, which consists of your scores plus that of your friends. It’s an interesting way to unite the community and incite competition, and in a genre that’s based entirely on high scores and rankings, it’s a wonderful addition.

Feel-wise, Zen already has pinball on consoles nailed. There’s not much to say here besides the fact that it feels similar to hitting real balls inside of a real table. The developer is touting an all new physics system, but without my “Pinball-Physics-O-Meter 3000,” it’s hard to pin down the specifics of what (if anything) it did for my game. I know this -- it feels better than Nintendo’s Pinball on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and that’s saying something because that game shaped my childhood. (I still dream about those penguins.)

Pinball FX 2 is chock full of features and options I haven’t even touched upon -- local multiplayer (including split-screen!), online multiplayer competitions, an “Operators” menu for those hardcore into tweaking their experience, video chat… the list goes on. With its platform-like nature and the ability to demo tables before you buy, Pinball FX 2 is new the videogame destination for pinball fans. 

Score: 8 - Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)



Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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