With the release of Pinball FX2 for Xbox One, Zen Studios have finally brought their pinball program to every game system that matters. But unlike other system transitions they’ve made recently, Pinball FX2 for Xbox One isn’t just a slightly better looking version of an earlier model.
For those unfamiliar with this game,
or its PlayStation cousin Zen Pinball 2, Pinball FX2 for Xbox One is basically like having an arcade on your Xbox if they only had pinball machines. And none of those machines were physically, financially, or physics-ly (if that’s a word) capable of existing in the real world. Because while the tables in Pinball FX2 have authentic physics and sound effects, which makes them play like real pinball machines, they’re so elaborate that to build them in real life would costs millions of dollars, require each table to be bigger than any arcade could handle, and would demand that the laws of physics be rescinded and replaced by whatever it is that lets the T.A.R.D.I.S. on Doctor Who be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
For instance, on the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back table, there are times when a TIE Fighter does a fly over, while Darth Vader uses The Force to stop you from hitting him with the ball. Meanwhile, on the Marvel Comics tables, action figures of Spider-Man, Wolverine, and others heroes often battle it out with their famous foes.
Pinball FX2 for Xbox One, like its cousins, also lets you chose from a variety of viewpoints, including ones that follow the ball closely, put you high above the table, or even so low that you’ll feel like you’re six years old again and can barely see the top.
Of course, some these tables are better than others. The original ones from Zen Studios, for instance, are a bit less complicated than the Star Wars and Marvel ones so, depending on your temperament, you might like them more…or less. Or about the same. (As for how each of these tables stack up, you can read my review of the Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within tables, which includes Droids, Han Solo, Episode IV: A New Hope, and Masters Of The Force, here; the Starfighter Assault, Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, and Darth Vader ones from the Star Wars: Balance Of The Force pack here; the Deadpool table here; and the Guardians Of The Galaxy table here.)
For the most part, Pinball FX2 for Xbox One is basically the same game as it is on Xbox 360, all three PlayStations, the 3DS, PCs, smart phones, and the Amazon FireTV.
That said, Pinball FX2 for Xbox One does have one major difference that, I hope, will become de rigueur when Zen Studios rolls out Pinball FX3 and Zen Pinball 3: its menu structure. Instead of lumping all of the tables together, whether you own them or not, Pinball FX2 for Xbox One divides them into sections, with each section given its own page that you flip between using the bumper buttons.
First (of course),
is a page for any new tables you may not have, followed by a page of Zen’s original tables, then all the Marvel ones, and finally the Star Wars bunch. They even have the icons for the tables you own in full color, while the ones you don’t are black & white, but still on the page where they’d be if you buy them. Then, these pages are followed one for achievements, another for you and your pals’ Superscore (an accumulation of your high scores across every table you own), and your Pinball Wizard Score (an accumulation of you and your pals’ Superscores combined).
Though what’s really cool about the new page-based menu system in Pinball FX2 for the Xbox One is that you can actually designate some tables as a favorites, which will place it a new page called “Favorites” that comes after the “New Releases” but before the Zen ones (and disappears, conveniently, if you remove every table from it).
For all of its organizational improvements, though, this new menu system in Pinball FX2 for the Xbox One does have one problem: the tables don’t aurally identify themselves like they do in other editions. Which doesn’t matter much for the Marvel ones or Zen’s own, since their icons are both larger and easily identifiable. Though it is an issue, sort of, for some of the Star Wars tables, since they all just say “Star Wars Pinball.” Granted, it’s pretty obvious which table is the Darth Vader one, which is Han Solo’s, and which is Boba Fett. But it gets a little tricky when you’re looking for the Return Of The Jedi one, and you can’t remember if it’s the one with the picture of Luke and his lightsaber, Luke and Leia, or Yoda and Emperor Palpatine hanging out (it’s the former).
As you might imagine, you can easily download any tables you don’t own, be they new or old, from these menu pages. Even cooler, if you already bought them for the Xbox 360 version of Pinball FX 2, you can import them to Pinball FX2 for the Xbox One for free. Though this, oddly, is a slightly bigger pain in the butt than you’d think. Unlike the PlayStation 4 version of Zen Pinball 2, you can’t just import them all with a click of a button. With Pinball FX2 for the Xbox One, you have to click the button for each and every table or pack of tables. Granted, you only have to do this once, but it is kind of weird that they set it up this way.
What’s also weird is that not all of the tables have made the transition. Granted, it’s just the handful that were originally released for the Pinball FX and Zen Pinball — such as Excalibur, Earth Defense, and their homages to Rocky & Bullwinkle and Street Fighter II Turbo — and were later imported to Pinball FX2 and Zen Pinball 2, but it’s still a bummer that they all didn’t make the move.
Especially since, in the move from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, the Zen Pinball 2 tables have all been given slight graphical upgrades. Sure, they play the same, but they look a little brighter and have a little more detail. Which is nothing to get too excited about, it’s just a bit of superficial polish that doesn’t impact the way the tables work, but it still would’ve been cool to have all your tables in one place…er, two places.
I just wish, in sprucing up the visuals, they had fixed the one consistent problem with them that has plagued most versions and variations of this game: some of the text is too small. While playing, you’ll occasionally get a message informing you that you’re about to break your high score, or that you’re about to break your friends’ high score, and so on. But the typeface used for these messages is so small that unless you sit really close to your TV — y’know, like your momma told you not to — you won’t be able to read them. Especially when you’re trying to keep your eye on the ball. Which isn’t that big of a deal, it’s not like you’re going to do anything different just because you’re a 125,000 points shy of breaking your high score, but it can be kind of distracting.
In the end,
the real reason you should get Pinball FX2 for the Xbox One — whether you have it already for the Xbox 360 or not — is because it’s free. Yeah, free. And comes with Zen’s excellent Sorcerer’s Lair table. Which is also free. So you really have no excuse.
Well, unless you don’t like pinball. In which case I don’t know what to tell you. Except maybe goodbye.
To learn how Zen Studio’s pinball games and tables are made, read my interview with table designer Peter Grafl here.