As someone who’s never had the pleasure of playing on a physical pinball table, it feels slightly odd that I’m looking back to a pinball-focused game with fond memories – Pinball FX2. My first experience whacking balls into bumpers and such though was actually in the free Windows game, 3D Pinball. Unsurprisingly, this did nothing to increase my interest in the pinball world and, in fact, even the release of the original Pinball FX didn’t quite offer the table variety necessary to draw me in long-term. But that all changed upon the arrival of Pinball FX2 on Xbox One and the urge to become a pinball wizard grew ever-stronger.
Initially launching on Xbox 360 as an XBLA title in 2010, Zen Studios spent a few years amassing a catalogue of tables, ranging from their own original creations to themes involving the likes of Star Wars, Plants vs. Zombies, and Marvel – even the often overlooked character Moon Knight got a run out. By the time it reached the Xbox One on 14th August, 2014, veteran pinball players could transfer many of their old tables over immediately, whilst newcomers could splash the cash on some smashing downloadable content to bolster the free base game which included access to the Sorcerer’s Lair table.
It took until the aforementioned release on Xbox One to truly allow myself to delve deep into Pinball FX2 as there was a pretty decent selection of tables ready and raring to go; they really showed off the quirky features and mini-games that Zen had conjured up. The full HD visuals were a welcome addition too of course, but this was only just the beginning as there were a whole load of tables in the pipeline to cement this game as the go-to title of the genre.
After a rather mediocre take on the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise to try and kick-start the launch, it was then time to branch out into darker territory with a visually impressive Telltale’s The Walking Dead table that looked as if it had been plucked straight from the video game. And whilst the all-round layout didn’t provide the best gameplay experience, the freshness of ideas became clear to see; especially with the really clever inclusion of a sniping mini-game.
From there onwards Zen Studios had licenses coming out of their ears, so to speak, enabling them to bring the likes of South Park, Family Guy, Archer, and American Dad themes into the fray. Despite the generally adult nature of these shows being dramatically curbed, what they lacked in outlandish humour is made up for by designs that are on-point, novel features that really add authenticity to proceedings, and high enjoyment levels as you chase those huge scores to climb the leaderboards.
Even if those specific tables didn’t hit the mark, there have been plenty of others available via DLC to ensure there’s something for everyone. Want a creepy experience that pays homage to the blockbuster Alien franchise? Then the almost faultless Alien vs. Pinball pack is an essential addition which even manages to deliver a great table based on the awful Alien vs. Predator film. Looking for a quirkier offering? You’ll be catered for by the Portal table as it brings propulsion gel, repulsion gel, portals and the infamous GLaDOS together for a terrific spin-off that fans of the series will love.
I spent hours on most of these, but none more so than the Star Wars Rebels Pinball, simply because of how accessible it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to pinball or haven’t the foggiest idea of what Star Wars Rebels is, racking up really high scores is almost a given and it feels consistently rewarding to play. With terrific voiceovers, an aesthetically vibrant design, a brilliant layout, and cool mini-games, you’d be hard pressed to find a more exciting, fun and engaging table in Pinball FX2. But even if for some reason it doesn’t resonate with you, the other options are vast and it’s credit to Zen for building up such a catalogue of tables.
They kicked things up a gear in 2017 by unveiling a third instalment to the series, Pinball FX3, which brought in new game modes, pro physics and challenges for new and existing tables. Again, much of the previously owned DLC would make the switch, but there’s been a big change in focus recently in terms of new releases. Perhaps in a bid to draw in the hardcore crowd, the recent offerings have been recreations of cult classics from the Williams Pinball library.
Nevertheless, Zen Studios seem to be sculpting the Pinball FX series into a wonderful all-rounder to suit every kind of player. The prolonged success of Pinball FX2 has clearly been a catalyst for this advancement and here’s hoping there’ll be many, many more tables to enjoy in the future.
Did you play much of Pinball FX2? If so, get in touch and tell us about your favourite tables or even take a moment to brag about your high scores!