Game Review: ‘Pinball FX 2’ for XBLA

Pinball FX 2 is the most recent XBLA release from Zen Studios and a followup to their 2007 homage to the classic pinball arcade coin op machines of bowling alleys and arcades past. The game goes for a realistic feel in both gameplay and visuals and stops itself from becoming too videogamey. With the exception of a few changes in camera angle for special instances, nothing is really present to distract from the actual pinball experience players are expecting.

Gameplay:

Pinball FX 2 feels like a real classic pinball machine. The controls couldn’t be simpler. The bumpers on the controller act the same way the side buttons on the classic arcade machines would as players spend hours trying to rack up obnoxiously high scores that few ever achieve on a variety of tables. A player can also tap the analog stick to shake the table, but as with a real machine doing so too much will cause a tilt, ending the players turn.

The tables of Pinball FX2 all do a good job of differentiating themselves from each other with very different layouts and puzzles. Some are more challenging with increasingly varied puzzles while others are smaller in scale. The nice thing is players get the chance to try out tables before they purchase them. Since the game takes an a la carte approach, players aren’t forced to purchase more than they want with tables only costing about $2.50 each.

Storyline and Presentation:

As expected, a pinball game doesn’t exactly include much of a story. There are however varied themes for each of the tables. These include a mad scientist’s lab, ancient Rome and a Street Fighter table. Each table has specific challenges that need to be accomplished in order to hit higher jackpots and progress the individual “story” or “mission” of that table.

There is also an interesting but somewhat pointless meta-game to Pinball FX 2 as player’s scores are used to create their own personal superscore. This almost acts like a player’s level would in an RPG to show the progress they have made. The score is then taken and added up with their friend’s superscores and multiplied by the total number of different tables they have played on, creating their wizard score. While these are good initial concepts, they don’t really do much for a player other than creating a separate leaderboard to compare with. There is no in game benefit such as unlockable tables or any other functionality by increasing either of these scores.

Graphics and Sound:

Pinball FX 2 is a super polished looking game. Because there aren’t epic levels or intense cut scenes, Zen Studios was able to take the individual tables and pour in tons upon tons of effort on making the visuals as great as they can. Each table has its own distinctive signature art style to it and, with the exception of the fairly bland Extreme skateboard table, all are incredibly impressive. The visuals also do a great job of not blending in too much together as there is no true depth on the table or ball as there would be in real life.

The sound comes across as a fairly well done homage to the pinball legacy. Bells ring, actuators pop and poorly recorded voiceover pops off like its coming from a McDonald’s drive through. It feels just like the real thing. Could they have upgraded the genre with a sleeker and shinier style? Probably, but Pinball FX 2 is paying tribute to the machines of the past, not trying to reinvent what is basically now a dead genre.

Overall:

Pinball FX 2 sets out to remind people what they loved about the days of the classic arcade, being pulled up to a simple machine and not being awestruck by amazing visuals but being captivated by the addicting gameplay of a well laid out pinball machine. The graphics, though stylized, help bring a true to life feel to the game and helps emerge players further, instead of distracting them.

The a la carte approach is a great way for players to experience this title as some people may only want a single pinball machine to play through with the free download of the core game and a small purchase for the specific table they want. While it is sad there isn’t more benefit on the superscore, the leaderboard battles between players look to bring back the most classic top score arcade feuds of days gone by. Zen Studios has made a platform perfect for XBLA and classic pinball lovers to come together.

XBox Live Arcade

Developer: Zen Studios

Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios

Price: Free** (Tables can be purchased individually)

Score: 7.5

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