Ever since Zen Studios acquired the necessary licenses to recreate real-world pinball tables for Pinball FX3, we’ve seen a varied selection of iconic machines from the Williams Bally library given a new lease of life in the digital world. Having already released Volume 1 and Volume 2 to a fairly positive reception, it was inevitable that there would be another trio of tables in the pipeline and now Williams Pinball: Volume 3 has arrived. Will this third bunch be able to satisfy the needs and wants of the modern gamer, or should only pinball wizards line up for some one on one time with this pack?
Once again, Volume 3 of the Williams Pinball series for Pinball FX3 consists of three different tables from years gone by; Theatre of Magic, The Champion Pub and Safe Cracker. It’s worth noting that you can switch between the original look of the tables and the remastered versions on a whim, with the latter featuring 3D objects and characters as well as visual effects. And depending on your skill level, there is an option to change to more professional and realistic ball physics instead of the standard Zen physics – it’s great to have the choice, but that’s probably a challenge too far for most players.
Let’s begin with Theatre of Magic, a machine that first saw the light of day in 1995 and focuses on an old place where dormant powers have been awakened by a mysterious young female magician. As the designer behind it is John Popadiuk, known for his World Cup Soccer and Star Wars Episode I tables, you know that it’ll be decent at the very least. You can expect to find all of the usual tropes featured in the design that are normally used to give off that magical aura; especially in the remastered version with a magic wand part of the launch area, a huge top hat and a 3D character model of our magician complementing the rabbits, doves and a tiger which adorn the artwork.
For me, there’s nothing worse than a convoluted layout full of hard to reach places, but fortunately Theatre of Magic keeps it simple. With just the two ramps, a handful of lanes, a spinner, two drop targets and a trunk to aim for, mastering the shots is a little easier than on many other tables. As a result, activating and completing one of eight main modes – by hitting the magic trunk and then shooting the ball at the lit up lanes or ramps – is certainly achievable. Unfortunately, whilst it looks and sounds damn good, the overall play is let down a fair bit by the modes which are too simplistic and boring. Modes with names like Levitating Woman, Tiger Saw and Hat Magic need to be much more engaging and fun.
In contrast to this is The Champion Pub table, a slightly more modern entry with novel ideas from the Williams back-catalogue which was released in 1998. Prepare for a punch-up in an old style pub as you’re an up and coming boxer looking for a brawl with some of the toughest fighters from around the globe, who just so happen to drink in the same place. The main draw of the table is competing against fellow boxers by whacking the ball against a 3D model of an aggressive looking chap’s torso. Taking down his health bars until none are left is the key here and defeating five opponents in one playthrough means that you’re the champion. Although there are different boxers displayed in the dot matrix, the model itself doesn’t change, which is a shame.
Whilst that activity is wholly enjoyable, with ramps leading the way to achieving headshots, there’s even more fun to be had in the little mini-games. These include using the flipper buttons to ‘punch’ the ball into a speed bag and helping it jump over a metal bar that rotates like a skipping rope would. The only real negatives of The Champion Pub are in regards the layout, which possesses lanes with tricky angles, too much going on with the background design on the playfield, and some very off-putting, repetitive audio. Overall though, it’s a cracking table that would give many other Pinball FX3 offerings a run for their money.
And finally, there’s Safe Cracker that was created in 1996 by Pat Lawlor, whose finest work is arguably The Addams Family pinball machine. Unlike the usual setup, Safe Cracker pits you against the clock, providing unlimited ball saves until the time runs out and after that point it becomes sudden death. Within this limited time, the aim is to hit a number of targets all around the table to enter a bank and initiate a board game style main mode as you attempt to crack the safe. It’s a really cool feature, with certain spaces on the board being obstacles like lasers and guard dogs, whilst others garner random rewards. Having a 3D character model of a thief in front of the board helps bring the fun to life in addition to the dot matrix display conveying what’s happening.
In terms of layout though, it’s a very narrow and short playfield that makes hitting the ball up the ramp or towards a lane quite tricky – even with the extra flipper on the right hand side to provide better shot options. There’s no doubt you’ll find the drain a lot because of the layout, but that’s where the unlimited saves idea comes in handy and as such you really won’t mind losing the ball. As far as the audio is concerned, it creates the atmosphere well and feels like you’re part of a crime caper.
The Pinball FX3 – Williams Pinball: Volume 3 pack contains three tables that deliver the fun factor in different ways. The Champion Pub is by far the standout of the trio, with such ingenious mini-game ideas that ensure a great time is to be had while you’re knocking people out. What Safe Cracker lacks in an accessible layout, it makes up for with the timed play and a really nifty board game type concept. The weakest of the pack is Theatre of Magic, which fails to conjure up exciting modes to match the pizzazz of the overall design.
As it works out at just a couple of quid for each table, I’d definitely consider adding Williams Pinball: Volume 3 to your collection ahead of the previous volumes because this one caters equally for both the hardcore and casual player.