One of the most interesting aspects to my personal gaming life is the fact that I can remember when an arcade was a big room with pool tables, table hockey, darts, the occasional pong (table top model) and rows of pinball tables. I can vividly remember when the big, stand up, arcade units started to roll in with titles like defender and space invaders. There was a massive shift when this started; first went the darts and table hockey (yes even in Canada, we can get too much hockey). Next went the pool tables, as proprietors noticed that arcade units can be put back to back. Finally, even pinball was pushed to the back corner. My favorite hang out in Toronto, went from a relatively simple game room to a loud, quarter hungry, flashy and crowded pit full of people from every age group and lifestyle. Oh, dont get me wrong; I was right there with them, borrowing quarters from anyone I could.
What I found as my gaming days progressed is that I would easily return to my old favorites.pool and pinball. I wasnt always proud of this pastime but there is a lot to be said about the skills necessary to rack up a substantial score on your favorite tables.
Fast forward 30 years to 2010 and we have Zen Studios releasing Pinball FX 2 as a sequel to their 2007 offering simply titled Pinball FX. Zen Studios, with barely 10 titles under their belt, made the unique choice of making FX2 free to download over Xbox Live Arcade. The download allows the individual pinball tables to be available for trial. So you can experience the tables before choosing to purchase anything. From a pinball fan perspective this is a nice twist as Im not likely going to enjoy every table but from a casual gamer perspective, the couple of minutes you get are not long enough to get a good feeling for the tables.
At launch there are 12 tables available. There are 2 packs to be purchased as sets of 4 tables and 4 individual tables. There is the core pack including Biolab, Pasha, Rome and Secrets of the Deep; the classic pack includes Speed Machine, Extreme, Agents and Buccaneer and the individual tables are titled Excalibur, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Nightmare Mansion and Street Fighter II. Each of the tables cost only 200 MS Points but keep in mind that each of the packs will set you back 800 MS Points (the Classic pack is free if you already own the original Pinball FX).
All of the tables are well thought out and each has their own individual nuances befitting of the theme. What is most intriguing is the fact that all of the tables flow incredibly well. Too often, in a video game offering of a pinball machine, you get impossible tasks and shots that remove you from the pinball experience. FX 2 takes the time to engage the player and makes all point opportunities achievable. Most of the tables feature interactive elements, activated when a specific shot is made, such as the video game activities that are a common part of real pinball tables today; some will have you shooting a target to level up or selecting your bonus type. Once again this really brings home the pinball experience.
Simply stated, all of the visuals, sounds and interactions feature prominently in Pinball FX 2 but there are 2 key elements that have been seriously lacking in previous pinball video game offerings. There are tremendous drawbacks in trying to portray a visual that represents a 7 degree inclined plane onto a virtually flat modern video display (LCD or Plasma for the vast majority).
In past offerings we have seen one of 2 styles; we view the table from a First Person point of view, which limits the amount of detail (and accuracy) that can be afforded to targets at the end of the machine or we have seen a top down view, littered with so many visual elements that the game play is lost very quickly. FX 2 addresses this issue by tricking us into viewing the ball as it travels the table.the entire table is shown but you tend to focus on the balls location and the only way this can possibly work is by providing detailed and precise physics to the balls trajectory. That is where much of the magic is presented in FX 2. The ball reacts exactly as you would expect it to in real world scenarios and the interactions are stable to avoid clipping and invisible objects. You can zoom out for a more complete view and the table switches to a top down look during multiball scenarios but for the most part the game is best enjoyed in the default mode.
There is online multiplayer and turn based, local multiplayer to add to the enjoyment of the title but the most interesting aspect is the competitive leaderboard. The game reviews your friends list and compares your scores to theirs, both on individual tables and overall via the Wizard score. It is very creative to have a message popping up to remind me that Im only 400,000 points from beating a friends top score. Another twist to this is the fact that it displays what tables they have and your Wizard score is largely based on how many tables you own. So the more you play and own, the bigger your score (way to go marketing team).
The game is priced higher than many XBLA titles if you choose to buy any tables (remember, its free to try) coming in at 2400 points (to purchase all tables) but it is the equivalent of getting 12 unique tables with endless hours of competitive play. My suggestion is to start with a couple of individual tables and I think youll find yourself rounding out the selection in no time.
Now if youll excuse me, Ive got The Who tuned in and the volume cranked to 9. Time to reclaim my title.