Arcades are going the way of the dinosaur in the US, and pinball tables are a rare sight. One that works properly is even rarer. A flipper doesn’t work, a bumper is malfunctioning, or the machine is unplayable due to the ball being lodged somewhere on the play field. Thankfully, Pinball FX alleviates these issues. Unfortunately, it adds a few of its own along the way.
The success of pinball video games hinges on two factors: physics and table design. Zen Studios has nailed the physics, but the table design certainly leaves something to be desired. Pinball FX features three tables: Speed Machine, Extreme, and Agents. In terms of both quality and fun factor, most game time will be spent with Agents. Speed Machine comes in second, and Extreme is a distant third that will be played only by those interested in acquiring the achievements tied to that table.
Moving from the bottom up, it’s difficult to see how Extreme made the final cut. The table is cramped, the middle of the playing field is underused, and it’s extremely easy to start a scoring loop. Speed Machine feels like a classic pinball table with both the good and bad that entails. It’s fast, as a table named Speed Machine should be, but it also feels a little barren. Agents strikes the best balance between speed, table layout, and bonus modes.
Aside from the Agents table, the physics featured in Pinball FX are a shining example of how electronic pinball should feel. The ball feels like it has weight, its interaction with the bumpers feels appropriate, and cradling the ball with a flipper feels exactly like it does on a physical pinball table.
The only place that the game’s physics feel off is the flipper strength. There is no soft touch in Pinball FX, and there is no place that this is more felt than when attempting a flipper pass. You’ll never complete the flipper pass; the flippers are just too strong, and they send the ball flying even if your intent is a soft flip instead of a hard fast trip up the ramp.
Clocking in at 800 points for two good tables and one terrible one, it’s hard to recommend Pinball FX to anyone but pinball aficionados. The physics are solid, but without a collection of great tables, Pinball FX will only be played occasionally, and recent newer releases like Catan easily overshadow it.