For years, the video game Pinball Arcade offered faithful recreations of real pinball tables, while Zen Studios’ Zen Pinball, Pinball FX, and their sequels featured original tables that paired realistic physics with unrealistic mechanics. But that’s no longer the case now that Zen Studios have secured the rights to tables by the iconic pinball company Williams. The first three of which — 1992’s The Getaway: High Speed II, 1996’s Junk Yard; and 1997’s Medieval Madness — are now available for Pinball FX3 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) as Williams Pinball: Volume 1. (A fourth, 1992’s Fish Tales, will also be available, but will be free, and wasn’t sent with the other three, hence it’s not included in this review). But while they are almost as authentic as the versions made for Pinball Arcade counterparts, there are some differences that will delight pinball fans but annoy purists.
As with the tables they make from scratch,
the three in Williams Pinball: Volume 1 all feature authentic physics, visuals, and sound effects. Not only do these tables look like the real thing, but the balls roll around and bounce off the bumpers like they do in real life, complete with the sound of metal balls on painted wood.
What distinguished the versions of the tables Zen Studios have made for Williams Pinball: Volume 1 from the real ones and those previously available in Pinball Arcade is that you’re given the option of playing them with the kind of unrealistic aesthetic mechanics found in Zen Studio’s original tables. On The Getaway: High Speed II table, for instance, the “Single Player” version has a fully-animated police officer standing near the plunger, while the “Classic Single Player” one does not. Similarly, the dragon on the Medieval Madness table just sits there when you play the “Classic Single Player” version, but the “Single Player” edition’s dragon is also animated, his wings flapping in the breeze.
The Getaway: High Speed II, “Single Player”
The Getaway: High Speed II, “Classic Single Player”
These changes are, however, mostly cosmetic. The tables in Williams Pinball: Volume 1 don’t have any of the elaborate gameplay mechanics that are a tenet of Zen Studio’s original pinball machines. The aforementioned cop in The Getaway: High Speed II, for example, doesn’t shoot the ball or jump into a cop car and ride around the table, though him laughing at you when you lose a ball might impact your performance going forward.
That said, there is one mechanic difference between the tables in Williams Pinball: Volume 1and their real-life counterparts that is shared by Zen Studio’s own tables: a more forgiving nature. In the case of The Getaway: High Speed II, the flippers rest near a bullseye-esque series of colored circles. Sometimes they would overlap the outermost ring, and other times they would just nudge the edges; the version here overlaps it.
Now, admittedly, the difference is only slight — less than half an inch by my estimation — but it is enough to mean the difference between losing your last ball and saving it.
(The ball save mechanic may also be active longer in Williams Pinball: Volume 1 than it was on the real tables, but without said tables, I can neither confirm nor deny this suspicion.)
It also means that, for people who played the more spaced out version of The Getaway: High Speed II, the version in Williams Pinball: Volume 1 isn’t a perfect recreation of the real thing as they remember it. Though as someone more interested in fun than authenticity, I don’t really care.
As for how the three tables in Williams Pinball: Volume 1 stack up, The Getaway: High Speed II is a fairly typical pinball machine from the ’90s. It’s largely open in its lower half, but has numerous passageways on the top, with a long railway along the side. It also has far more bumpers and targets than one of Zen Studio’s original tables, though still far fewer than many real pinball machines. It also doesn’t have any of the relatively elaborate mechanics you often found in tables from that era.
The result of which is that The Getaway: High Speed II table in Williams Pinball: Volume 1 has little that encumbers the ball, giving it plenty of chances to speed up and make this a challenging table.
Next, Williams Pinball: Volume 1 features Junk Yard, which is the sparsest of the three. All of its mechanics are along the edges and very top, which really gives the ball an opportunity to gain speed. It does, however, have more ramps and railways than The Getaway: High Speed II, even if they are off to the side.
Instead, what sets the Junk Yard table apart is that, at the top, it has a second ball attached to a chain like a wrecking ball. This can send your ball flying in unexpected directions…though not too unexpected, since the wrecking ball area is at the top of the table, not at the middle, and is enclosed by targets on the sides.
Last but not least, Williams Pinball: Volume 1 presents Medieval Madness, which is the most elaborate of the three tables. While it has a similar open lower half like The Getaway: High Speed II and Junk Yard, its upper half is a labyrinth of hidden passageways, ramps, railways, and bumpers. This area is so elaborate, in fact, that the ball will bounce around up there, out of sight, racking up points while you wait for it to bounce out.
As a result, Medieval Madness is the least predictable of all the tables in Williams Pinball: Volume 1. While the ball flies as fast as it does in the other two, you don’t always know where it will shoot out of, which makes this even more unpredictable than when the ball hits the wrecking ball in Junkyard.
Ultimately, the tables in Williams Pinball: Volume 1 are not as much fun as the original ones Zen Studios usually make for Pinball FX3. Which isn’t to say they aren’t fun, or aren’t worth getting, just that the mechanically-impossible and fiscally-irresponsible parts of Zen’s original tables make them more interesting. If anything, I wish they’d been more authentic with the “Classic Single-Player” versions while added the unrealistic mechanics to the “Single Player” ones (though there’s probably legal and financial reasons why they didn’t). Still, if you love pinball, and can appreciate old school aesthetics and mechanics, you’ll have as much fun playing Williams Pinball: Volume 1 on Pinball FX3 as you did playing these tables at a bar back in the day.