No one can doubt Zen Studios’ immense ability to acquire highly sought after licenses for use in their popular Pinball FX series, and with Pinball FX 3 launching recently, they needed some big hitters to help start the party with a bang. Well I’m not sure about the bang, but the Universal Classics Pinball pack certainly has a bite to it by including a table for the film Jaws, as well a table each for E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and the Back to the Future films. Do these classics adapt to the world of pinball with ease, or were they better off left in the cherished memories of yesteryear?
I can only begin by discussing my absolute favourite pinball table in a long while, that representing Back to the Future. Dare I say, I could take or leave the films, but the Pinball FX3 offering is bloody addictive beyond belief and it’s the beginning of play that starts things off so brilliantly. The choice of which year to visit – based on those featured in the film series – will set your first destination and subsequently lead to different objects appearing on the table. Dependent upon the year you arrive, at the drop targets differ – there could be cartoony cowboys or their Indian counterparts on horseback as well as a cut-out of Biff getting in the way. You aren’t restricted to that one theme for the long haul either, as through possessing decent skills and meeting requirements you can travel to a different period.
The table design isn’t all that visually pleasing at first glance with lots of grey and drab colours, but when you notice the little touches such as the DeLorean and the time machine’s display, it redeems itself. Seeing Marty in 3D model form is pretty cool and the sounds, although occasionally repetitive, rarely irritate. It’s the layout of the playfield which truly cements the Back to the Future table as a great one; with couple of lanes, two ramps, a spinner, a few bumpers and, most importantly, an additional flipper to allow you to shoot the ball at trickier angles. Something’s always happening on this table and it’s relatively easy to instigate a flurry of balls coming your way to earn the big points. For example, if you clock up the required 1.21 Gigawatts then the multi-ball feature kicks in, ensuring an already frenetic table becomes chaotic – in an exciting way.
The same positivity can’t be given to Jaws however. It has significantly more difficult lanes and ramps to hit, whilst the loss of balls happens far too often due to the fast nature and strange angles they roll back towards the two main flippers. Even attempting to send the ball towards a target using the extra left hand side flipper is rather tricky, with a successful shot being a rarity – and I’m no slouch on the pinball table these days. This leads to very little activity in the way of activating features and such, although the ball saver ship wheel is a decent addition if it’s lit.
It is visually which is Jaws’ strong point, having a beachside vibe and every 3D object upon the table reflects the theme greatly – from a lighthouse and a compass, to old Quint and his infamous boat. The great white shark’s picture is emblazoned across the centre of the playfield and whilst a shark fin does roam around at times, it would’ve been better to have seen more of the man-eater in all its glory. In the few modes I’ve managed to initiate, the atmosphere created by the lighting and soundtrack really does bring an air of impending doom that suits Jaws. When it comes to the high pitched seagull sound after losing a ball though, I can’t stand that noise at all.
So, that’s one great table and one that’s a tad too difficult to enjoy. Is E.T. the Extra Terrestrial somewhere in between? Well, it edges closer to, if not actually on par with, the Back to the Future’s greatness; mainly due to the enjoyable modes and the accessibility for players with lesser ability to activate them. These include tilting a cornfield to navigate a ball and avoid the police, collecting candy located all around the playfield and smashing tubes to free some frogs. The pure innovation using a mini-game, a dot matrix section and a load of 3D extras used in the features, ensure it’s a whole load of fun.
Keeping the authenticity is another area it succeeds in, thanks to a moving backdrop where you can see the iconic bicycle and the fact that the loveable duo of Elliot and E.T. are featured atop the table. The sounds do get a tad annoying on this one, not so much the effect but in Elliot’s voice. As far as the layout is concerned, it’s a fairly long table with loads of avenues to send the ball down with your four flippers at hand. You’ll be kept on your toes with the constantly changing rails which could drop the ball for either of the two flippers on each side – something I didn’t pick up on until I’d been caught unaware and had lost my balls.
Aside from the regular single player and hot seat action, all three tables make the most of the brand new Pinball FX3 challenges – 1 Ball, 5 Minute and Survival – and the upgrades to unlock in order to boost scores. The 5 Minute challenge is excellent for getting to grips with a table as you’ll have unlimited balls to try anything and everything you want to. I’d say 1 Ball and Survival are more geared up towards the better players; with 1 Ball only allowing, surprisingly, one ball, whilst Survival sets score limits to hit and a limited time to do so for each.
Of course, the idea of getting your name on the leaderboards ahead of your pals and random gamers is a massive factor in pulling you in for just one more go in each and every game mode on offer.
For someone who wouldn’t be considered a fan of the films that the Universal Classics Pinball pack takes inspiration from, it’s testament to Zen Studios that not only do I love two thirds of the tables here, but it’s encouraged me to give the classics a watch. The Back to the Future table never lets up and is addictive from the very beginning, whilst E.T. shows off some brilliantly innovative ideas. Sadly, Jaws is just too tough for my liking and the few modes I’ve managed to instigate don’t do much for me. It’s still a great table visually though.
Given the price of Universal Classics Pinball equating to under £3 per table, it’s bloody good value and even though Jaws lets it down, I’d highly recommend adding this pack to your Pinball FX3 collection!