For Xbox 360-owning pinball fanatics looking for their next virtual fix, look no further than Pinball FX 2. While The Pinball Arcade offers up some great re-creations of existing tables, the team at Zen Studios is putting up a number of original titles that capture the spirit of well-designed tables and add in some flair that could only exist in a video game world. To bring the Xbox 360 version some parity with the PlayStation 3 version, the team decided to bring the four tables featured in Zen Pinball to the new engine: Eldorado, Shaman, Tesla and V12. As a result, the Zen Classics add-on pack for Pinball FX 2 is a little mixed due to a few things outside the developer's control.
Eldorado is similar enough to most modern pinball tables in that there are lots of moving parts that are affected by your performance. Adopting a faux Indiana Jones/Uncharted motif, the table features many targets and ramps on the upper half and a pit of bumpers on the upper right. By contrast, the lower half is empty save for two small pits on the sides and an object in the middle that bounces the ball to one of the ramps. Interestingly, the left half of the center portion is completely empty, allowing some room to easily launch the ball into the upper half. The table has three flippers, with the bonus one residing in the upper left half to shoot the ball toward some otherwise hard-to-reach drop targets and ramps. There are a few points of interest, including a multilevel totem that rises after each successive hit, a minigame on the upper edge involving the avoidance of a saw blade, and a rickety platform on the upper half.
The table is very good when it comes to high-scoring opportunities since many ramps and targets are worth lots of points. The targets being on the upper half of the table means there isn't much to do on the lower half, save for the two narrow entrances on the side. The table feels balanced for casual and veteran pinball players, especially since the multiball opportunities are great. The one problem is the constant use of the secondary screen to highlight targets. The screen pops up way too often — and long enough to obscure a good portion of the table. Granted, it only seems to do this when the ball is traveling down one of the side ramps, but it's annoying for those who want to follow the ball's every move during a session.
Though everything about Eldorado's presentation screams generic, it works in its favor. The stone and metal monuments look great and react nicely to the action. The jungle motif works, especially with the accented bronze ramps snaking across it, and the pale green and sun yellow color scheme makes it feel rich. The score is typical jungle adventure with some emphasis on soothing wind instruments. The only part that gets annoying is the announcer, whose strained delivery that tries to evoke danger actually elicits groaning.
Shaman is also quite good. Unlike most of the other tables, this one is balanced, with just about everything occupying every sector, including some drop targets located at ramp entrances. There are plenty of highlights, some of which are a bit gimmicky. You have three statues, one of which plays the drums, but all of them react to you hitting their respective pits. Hitting the pits in the right order activates table spinners that sway the flow of the ball, similar to how the spinner acted in Williams' Whirlwind. Other highlights include an open secondary table on the upper floor and a total of six flippers evenly spread out on either side.
Similar to Eldorado, this is a good table for getting high scores. There's an abundance of drop targets, and the flipper placement gives you ample opportunity to hit just about anything if you time it well. In particular, the drum set seems to be a big place for points since most shots are guaranteed to enter the space once the drop targets clear. Multiball also seems easier here, and there are high chances of a lost multiball sphere coming back. As stated before, the only gripe comes from the secondary screen, though it doesn't stay up for very long.
Like most of the other tables in the pack, the presentation is nice. From an audio standpoint, it embraces the tribal score much like Eldorado took on an adventure track, though this one has some modern electric guitar mixing in with the tribal chanting. The color scheme is a lot more varied when compared to the other tables, but it works well since it isn't too distracting, even with all of the lights flashing at the same time. The constantly moving statues also give the table a more modern feel. The announcer also isn't bad, leaving little room for complaint in the audio department.
Tesla is the standout table of the bunch, mostly because it serves as a middle ground between Zen's past efforts and its more recent ones. The table has a myriad of ramps snaking throughout and lots of activity on the upper half. Interestingly, the emphasis is on hitting those ramps and bumpers, as there are very few drop targets on the table. Beyond the theme of a scientist who's returning to popularity, there are a few points of interest for the three-flipper table. The first is the electromagnetic platform in the upper right-hand corner, which has you playing with magnets to hit the drop targets and activate quests. There's also the diverting piece on the right side, which determines the ball's ramp travel. Then you have the steam gun that launches saved balls to the bumpers in the play field. Finally, there is a spinner on the left side that immediately leads to a pit, which launches the ball ahead once the spinner comes to a stop.
Despite the gimmicks, this isn't exactly a table where you can use to rack up high scores. Cracking a million points is an accomplishment for novice players. What really sells the table is the balance. You'll need plenty of skill to get any of the big bonuses, and veterans will appreciate the challenge but novice players can handle this table due to the constant ability to get a ball save. One good hit on the spinner, and you're almost guaranteed a long life with the ball in play. Considering how often you can hit the spinner, the table affords many tempting opportunities.
The presentation helps it feel more epic than it should. The musical score feels like it was ripped from something like Metal Gear Solid. It feels a bit out of place and great to hear all at the same time. The voice for Tesla isn't bad, though you can't tell if they were going for serious or silly. The table really nails down a mix of steampunk and early electrical experimentation. Oversized, flashing light bulbs litter the landscape while steam is constantly spewed from the gun on the side. The copper accents sell the table as a giant experiment, as does the copper wrapping on the bumpers. The large clock on the face of the table is icing on the cake, as one would be hard-pressed to come up with something negative to say about the table's appearance.
Finally, there's V12, which many consider to be the weakest of the bunch. Themed after a muscle car engine, the table features a number of ramps and tubes mostly located on the upper side of the board. There's a thin barrier — composed of three targets — in the middle of the table, but since they can be easily knocked down, what you have is a table with a slightly wide middle path and very busy entryways on either side. The highlight is the engine in the upper left-hand corner, which can be tilted by the flippers. Getting the ball into one of the engine holes leads it to a smaller table underneath the surface with smaller flippers and a wide middle gap. Like most of the tables in the package, this has multiple flippers, with the extra ones mostly occupying the left side.
There are a few issues with this table. Unlike the rest, this one is pretty stingy with the scores. On average, you'll easily score in the hundreds of thousands, but it's a struggle to reach a million. Part of that has to do with the momentum of each shot, which never seems like it's enough to propel the ball far enough. Activating bonus opportunities is easy, but it requires great precision to get close to collecting the bonuses — and you only have a short window of time to do so. The table also has a tendency to let the ball gravitate toward the gutters. There's a flipper on the left side that seems to prevent this, but most of the time, it's pretty useless and stays out of the ball's path.
Aesthetically, the table is actually quite good. The music is a generic rock beat that fits well with the car culture, and the announcer isn't half-bad, even though he sounds more excited than usual. The table has a nice look, with lots of chrome accents to the engine parts and lots of things spinning when they're hit. It isn't busy enough to be distracting, and the colors aren't bright enough to hide the ball. At the very least, it looks as nice as some of the team's other tables.
About the only thing missing for the casual pinball fan or fan of the series is the flash. There's no secondary secret section to access in any of the four included tables. Your ball never changes color or has an unearthly glow. Random elements won't pop up, and figures with special effects are completely absent. In other words, if the effect couldn't be done on a real-life table, it won't be done here. It will be a turn-off for those who got hooked into Zen's ecosystem, which features those fancy effects, but it's a boon to those looking for a more grounded pinball simulation.
Pinball FX 2: Zen Classics is really for two kinds of people: hardcore pinball enthusiasts who'll play every table and completionists who hate seeing the gray boxes of missing tables on their Pinball FX 2 menu. The age of these tables means that you're seeing hints of what the team learned after the original Pinball FX tables but none of what they learned later on. While the presentation might not be up to their current standards, the table designs are still solid, and the only regret you'll have is that these tables are only available in a packaged set and not individually. If you still have a craving for digital pinball but aren't a multiplatform owner, you'll be satisfied with these older entries to your gaming library.
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