reviews\ Nov 2, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Pinball FX 2 review


Why release a backwards-compatible sequel rather than just updating the original? That’s the question that seems to be on the minds of everyone regarding Pinball FX 2, but the answer becomes immediately clear upon diving into the new game.

Over the past three years since Pinball FX’s release, ZEN Studios has obviously been hard at work honing their craft. The end result is nothing short of a virtual pinball masterpiece; everything has been improved, from the table design, user interface, and even the physics of the ball.

Pinball FX 2 comes as a free download and serves as a platform from which both new and old tables can be played. The Classic Collection, available for 800 MS points, includes the original Pinball FX 1 tables (Speed Machine, Extreme, Agents, and Buccaneer) with improved functionality to coincide with the new features, and the Core Collection contains four brand new tables (Biolab, Pasha, Rome, Secrets of the Deep), also available for 800 MS points. In addition, the Street Fighter II, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Excalibur, and Earth Defense DLC tables can be individually added for 200 MS points each. Any table you don’t own can be downloaded and sampled for free, but the demo has a very limited score cap before prompting you to buy or get out. At $30, the complete Pinball FX 2 package is rather costly compared to other XBLA titles, but it packs in a lot of value. If you were in an actual arcade, you could easily end up dropping more than the real-world equivalent of 200 MS points on each table.

The majority of the tables (save for one or two of the older ones) are well-designed and have plenty of hidden objectives, goals, and bonuses to unlock. Each table also has three achievements assigned to it, for a total of 600 gamerscore when all is said and done. The new physics add a very believable weight to the ball, making it feel about as close to real pinball as a 2D screen possibly can. Each table can be edited via the Operators Menu, which allows you to tune key aspects of each table such as where pins, bumpers and triggers are located, how many points are needed to unlock special areas or multi-balls, etc. -- it’s a nice touch that only diehards will delve into, I expect.

There’s no denying that Pinball FX 2 has the most robust multiplayer ever featured in a virtual pinball game. You can battle it out in quick matches with a few players, or join in on periodic tournaments hosted by the developers. Assuming you can find a match, they actually can be pretty intense as each player tries to rack up more points than the others. An indicator progress along the side of the screen to let you know where you stand, and as the finish line approaches, there’s usually a bit of screaming and excitement to be had, all of which can be shared with the game’s Vision Camera video chat. ZEN is touting the split-screen local mode as a “first in video pinball history”, and will come in handy considering that getting a game going online is a difficult process due to the low number of players at any given time.

What I most enjoyed about the experience was the social aspect. Even when playing alone, you’re competing against your friends on the leaderboards but also working together to up your Superstar ranking, which unlocks gamer pictures and generally makes you feel awesome. At least I feel awesome, your results may vary. This is a feature I see happening a lot lately, and I like it: the future of single-player games is passive multiplayer.

Aside from Sonic Pinball and Devil’s Crush, Pinball FX 2 is hands-down the best virtual pinball experience available on home consoles. It allows you to pick and choose from 14 (mostly) amazing tables while playing host to a Christmas list of multiplayer and customization features. Hopefully ZEN will keep it alive with a continuous stream of new tables, as I welcome any reason to come back to this game again and again.


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