It’s a little saddening to know that I’ll never be able to go into an arcade like I did twenty years ago with a pocket full of quarters and plug away at some pinball action for hours on end. Sure you can probably find the odd pinball machine here and there, but nothing like it was back in the day with a row of pinball machines lined up one beside another along the whole wall of an arcade. These days you can relive those fond pinball memories on your gaming console, but finally Zen Studios brings its ever popular pinball series to Steam for your virtual pinball enjoyment. Recently released and new to steam is Pinball FX 2, which is a free download, and you then supplement your craving based on what pinball packs you would like to buy. Available at launch are the following:
- Zen Classics. (El Dorado, Shaman, Tesla, and V12). As a side note, these tables were in the previous game, but have all been redone with newer graphics, ball physics, and more new features.
- Pinball FX 2 Core Collection. (Pasha, Biolab, Rome, and Secrets of the Deep)
- Marvel Pinball. (Blade, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Iron Man)
- Marvel Pinball: Vengeance and Virtue. (Ghost Rider, X-Men, Thor, and Moon Knight)
- Marvel Pinball: Avengers Chronicles. (The Avengers, Fear Itself, World War Hulk, and The Infinity Gauntlet)
- Star Wars Pinball (Boba Fett, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
For most of the packs, each table works out to be $2.50 per, and the hours of entertainment you’ll get out of these packs is enormous, even for the casual pinball fan. There’s a little something here for everyone; even if you’re not the biggest Marvel or Star Wars fan, the tables themselves solely as a pinball game are wonderfully done by Zen Studios. While I would assume everyone would know what the basis and premise of playing pinball is, as you need to use your flippers to launch and direct a steel ball along the playfield to accumulate the highest score possible, I’ll simply give a quick rundown of each table that is currently offered to give you some small insight of which DLC package would be right for your pinball needs.
Let’s start with the Zen Classics pack, as while you may have played them before, keep in mind that new and gorgeous graphic inlays have been added and new physics may make them feel like completely different tables. Tesla looks like it could have actually been invented by the famous engineer Nikola Tesla as the ramps and bumpers are covered in copper wiring and the bumpers at the top go off like an old single flash photograph like they did back in the olden days. El Dorado boasts a very minimalistic approach with very few ramps and ‘extras’, though it does have a very fitting mayan-like soundtrack and feel to it. Shaman has a voodoo feel to it and uses a total of 6 flippers (three on the left and three on the right), yet I found myself losing balls on this table quite a lot down the side lanes. Lastly is V12, a table that looks like you’re playing inside of a vehicle engine itself. Ramps look like exhaust pipes, fans spin, checkered flags to shoot for, and even an engine in the upper ramp levels to strive to get to. Shooting specific ramps for the missions tended to be quite difficult even when trying to do so.
Next up is the Pinball FX2 Core Collection that consists of four tables. Secrets of the Deep is an underwater themed table that blends in great audio effects with an octopus that’s draped over the side of the table and a ramp, though watch out for the steep ramps; if you don’t hit them with enough speed the ball will come back down quite quickly if you’re not ready. There’s even an upper playing field with separate flippers that you’ll use quite often for extra points, though there’s not much room to see when the ball is going to be there if you’re new to the table. Rome is another table that doesn’t look like there’s much to it, as there are only two main ramps near the top; this is covered beautifully from top to bottom with fantastic Roman artwork, but that’s probably to try and distract you from the table’s difficulty and steepness.
Pasha is an Arabian themed table that has great ambient music to go along with its Prince of Persia-like art style. This table is notorious for awkward bounces off some of the bumpers and angles, and if you’re not ready for a looping quick shot near the top of the table, you will lose a ball right down the middle. Last in this pack is Biolab, which looks like it’s partly made out of actual lab equipment. While there’s nothing wrong with the Biolab table, it simply didn’t amaze me like some of the tables I’m about to talk about it, and that’s ok, because there’s so much more interesting tables we need to go over.
First up for the franchised tables is the Marvel Pinball Pack. Since the movie just came out, let’s begin with the Iron Man themed table. This table is very challenging, not only for the very steep ramps that need the perfect shot to complete, but even getting missions started and seeing Stark putting on the Iron Man suit is a rarity as well. Out of the four tables in this DLC package, I had the hardest time with this one’s challenges. The only thing missing from this table is Robert Downey Jr. doing the Tony Stark voice overs. Next is the Wolverine table. I had a lot of fun with this one, as getting kickbacks and ball saves aren’t terribly difficult to do. This table plays very quickly and it’s awesome seeing Sabertooth and a Sentinel on the table, only to be shadowed by Wolverines claws coming through the back of the table. This is one of the easier tables in this DLC pack, which is probably why I keep replaying this table again and again.
The Spider-Man table is easily me favourite of the Marvel Pinball Pack; not only is it the easiest of the tables, but there’s a lot of really cool small details that make it stand out. The left side of the table is colored blue, while the right is red; one of the ramps shoots the ball out of Spider-Man’s wrist as if it’s his webbing, and the wire cage the ball travels down looks like webbing too. Even the bumpers near the top have his logo on them and slightly spin with every hit. It is a great table to play with easy ramp shots and not too difficult missions. Last in the package is the Blade table, and it’s easily the most difficult; not for its layout and ramps, but more for its complexity overall. This table has two cycles, day and night, where certain features are only available during either one. Even after a dozen games or so on this table, I’m still trying to figure out how it all works and what’s available when. So take heed, this table has a steep learning curve to become proficient at.
The next group of tables is the Marvel Pinball: Vengeance and Virtue package that contains four great tables. First up is Thor, which is a very difficult table to begin with; you need to be always paying attention, as ramps are quite steep and if you don’t have enough power to make it all the way up, the rebounds might be disastrous for you. The voice and artwork are awesome for the Thor table and I really enjoyed the missions, even if they are quite challenging to complete. Next is the Moon Knight table, and this is easily my favourite in this package. This is one of those tables that is very simple to learn and get the hang of and can almost seem like you’re playing forever once you get in the groove. To be honest, I don’t even know the comic character Moon Knight, but this table makes me want to catch up on his comics, as the missions are some of the best I’ve’ played in a pinball game.
The Ghost Rider table is next and is a fantastic overall pinball experience. It’s not too difficult, the ramps are fun to nail, and there’s even an inverted flipper when you get to a special area. My only complaint is the middle ramp that you’ll hit most of the time can be a death sentence if you don’t hit it with the right amount of power. The overall setting fits the comic and character wonderfully and Zen Studios has done a fantastic job at creating a fitting table. Last in the DLC offering is the X-Men table; fun overall and it’s another table that tends to play quickly and require quick reaction times with the secondary flippers. It’s entertaining to see Magneto and Professor X battle it out and the ramps are satisfying to hit with full power.
The next DLC pack is the Marvel Pinball: Avengers Chronicles offering that contains another four tables. The first up is the Fear Itself table, which follows the comic book storyline. Truth be told, I only vaguely know of this storyline, so I’m not sure how true it is to the comic book storyline this table actually is, but the table is very unique. Instead of the regular side death lanes, there’s a circular loop that will magnetically shoot your ball in a circle that is very distinctive. The artwork is wonderful and even the main bumpers are halves of Captain America’s iconic shield. This is a very fun table and it’s very easy to learn and gain high scores in. World War Hulk is the next table and also follows the comic series based on the name. Again, this is a series I never read, but the table itself is very fun for all the easily accessible ramps and constant speed. Those casual pinball fans should enjoy this table for its abundant ramps and easy to shoot skill needed.
Next is The Infinity Gauntlet table, which also happens to be one of my favourite comic book storylines of all time. The artwork and audio for this table is among the best and looks like it is directly from the comics. This table is amongst the most unique pinball experience I’ve ever played as some crazy events can happen if you shoot the right ramps and start missions. There’s even an event that turns the table upside down and allows you to see the gauntlet itself with ramps that come out of it. I have to say that it is just awesome to see as a fan. The last table in this DLC is The Avengers table, and is another of the truly unique tables for a few reasons. The biggest reason, and first thing you’ll notice, is that you’re actually given a choice of which game ball you’d like to use, and it’s not just painted in a specific hero’s color scheme for looks, each ball has its own properties and abilities which brings in a whole new level of strategy to pinball, so let’s quickly go through the balls that you have a choice of:
- The Captain America ball allows you to accumulate combo shots more efficiently and can lock the ball onto Loki targets.
- The Incredible Hulk ball hits Loki targets with stronger force, which allows for quicker missions and even gives more points for specific bumper hits as well.
- The Hawkeye ball is primarily used for being more efficient in trying to rack up skill shot bonuses. I rarely used this ball, as it wasn’t what I usually focused on.
- Black Widow’s ball gives a big bonus to mission bonus points and certain ramps won’t have to be hit as many times with this ball in use.
- Thor’s ball allows you to light up the THOR letters quicker and will give you more points when you hit the Thor spinner.
- Lastly is Iron Man’s ball that allows you to instantly lock to the Loki targets and gain multipliers much quicker.
As you can see, there’s a whole other level up depth and strategy for The Avengers table and it’s truly unique gameplay. I suggest playing it a few times to see where you normally tend to shoot towards and then see which ball will suit your play style best.
Last up is the Star Wars Pinball DLC pack that contains only three tables instead of four, but the quality and depth of each table more than makes up for the quantity. The first is the Star Wars: The Clone Wars table based on the television show and even opens with the infamous scrolling text. The artwork is sharp and there are lightsabers everywhere on the table; it even feels almost impossible to not hit a ramp at the top of the table as there are so many. A lot of detail has seemingly gone into this table, as even the points that pop up on screen look to be in the correct font to go along with the audio that seems like it’s pulled directly from the show. You’ll even find yourself completing missions that happened on the show and this adds some authenticity to the whole experience.
One of the most iconic characters, not only in the Star Wars universe, but ever, is no doubt the iconic bounty hunter Boba Fett. He gets his own pinball table to cement his popularity and Zen Studios has clearly put in a lot of love into making this table feel authentic and fit Boba’s history. The Boba model that jetpacks around looks awesome, as does the Sarlac Pit right in the middle of the table. There are a ton of very small details that Star Wars fans will truly appreciate and enjoy, especially having some of his famous lines included. My only issue with this table is that some of the rebounds almost give you no chance to save your ball with the speed that some of the ramps shoot the ball at.
Last, and most certainly not least, is the biggest, and arguably best, Star Wars table that is offered. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is obviously based on the classic movie and even opens with the camera scrolling up an awesome looking Darth Vader. Playing this table will allow you to relive some of the most iconic scenes from the movie complete with audio and visuals. It is clearly one of Zen Studios best pieces of work. The artwork on the table is fabulous and I wish that it was a real pinball table that I could actually play, though obviously the lightsabers and Darth Vader stuff would have to be changed to do so. This table alone is worth purchasing the Star Wars package for and it feels like it really could be an actual pinball table; impressive considering how many of their other tables feels very arcade-like.
Out of all the tables I played there really wasn’t any I hated or didn’t want to play again. Sure, there are some I like much more than others, but there are none that I actively avoid as they are all good. The small details put into every table is astounding once you look at the finer features, and even the backgrounds of each table (outside the play field) tends to suit each tables setting as well. If you have friends that also play, the competition of score battles might become intense. Controller support is a great addition and there’s even support for portrait play if your monitor supports the rotation; just another small detail Zen Studios has thought of to make it a better experience for the player. The only complaint I have with the whole offering is the lack of online head to head play. Sure there is local hotseat play, but that’s not always viable when I don’t have any friends over. That being said, it’s by no means a deal breaker. Pinball FX 2 is definitely a PC game that should be experienced by all gamers out there, from the hardcore pinball fanatic to the casual pinball player alike.