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March 2018

Pinball FX3

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: Sept. 26, 2017


Xbox One Review - 'Pinball FX3' - Universal Classics Pinball

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 12, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Designed to bring the community together like never before, Pinball FX3 is built around multiplayer match-ups and competitive tournament play.

There's no doubt that Zen Studios has become the premiere video game pinball developer. While Farsight Studios chugs along with updates for The Pinball Arcade with little to no fanfare outside of the mobile market, Pinball FX 2 has turned some pretty hot properties into memorable tables. In truth, the game would do fine if it were just updated with more tables and nothing else, but the studio feels differently. That's why we have Pinball FX 3 and a trio of new tables to go along with it in the form of Universal Classics Pinball.

Before addressing the pinball pack, we'll briefly cover Pinball FX 3 itself. For the most part, what you have here is exactly the same as Pinball FX 2, albeit with much prettier lighting. This means that the same robust physics system is in play, and the sense of weight when it comes to the ball and its movements is also present.

There's an emphasis on multiplayer, with tournaments that are set up by both community individuals and Zen Studios. Head-to-head multiplayer has you trying to get the best scores against someone, and you move up the ranks with every win. For those playing solo, every action adds XP, so you can unlock new backgrounds and profile frames for your player card. Performing skill shots or hitting bumpers gives you the chance to unlock and power up passive bonuses, but only two can be equipped at a time. Separate challenges exist for each table, like trying to get a high score or playing a survival mode; earning at least five stars gives you an active power, like slowing down the action for a few seconds or rewinding time to give you another shot at a missed opportunity. If you want to play the game without those powers, separate leaderboards reflect the vanilla and powered-up play experiences.

There's nothing bad to say about the game, and the fact that it is completely free with one table included means that everyone should try it out. Fans of Pinball FX 2 who have already invested in some tables will be happy to know that those purchases carry over, but a few tables will stay put, like the South Park pack and the Street Fighter II one. This is a nice gesture, but the process of doing that transfer on the Xbox One borders on ridiculous. You have to do an account search to see what's been purchased. Once the count has been confirmed, you'll be taken to the store to install each table, one at a time. If you own every table to date, this means you'll bounce from store screen to the main menu and back again countless times. You can quit the game, install the tables from the Xbox One's game management system, and return to the game, but that only occurs after the table verification has been completed. It's a cumbersome process that should've been streamlined, especially since doing this on Steam or the Windows 10 store is much more seamless.

Instead of letting you play with old tables with better lighting, Zen chose to release three new tables based on classic films from Universal. Starting things off is the classic Steven Spielberg film "Jaws," where you're helping boat captain Quint as he tries to rid Amity Bay of the titular great white shark. It's odd to see Quint there without Chief Martin Brody and Matt Hooper by his side, but the impact is negligible.

The table layout is wide open, and there's nothing in the middle. The lower half has standard flippers and side bumpers, and the ball chutes are difficult to reach, which reduces the chances of cheap ball losses. The upper half contains one ramp on each side of the board and tons of pathways for the ball to drop on to the flippers. The right side contains a set of bumpers and a small alcove where the shark can pop out. On the left side, you have the boat and a few grooves where shark fins can occasionally pop out of for points. Interestingly, the table can feel confined despite the wide-open middle space. Part of that can be attributed to the decorations on the left side that make the table look busy, and it feels like the flipper area has shifted to the right rather than being aligned in the center.

The table feels like the most traditional of the trio, since almost everything can be accomplished on a physical table — with two exceptions. The first happens during a nighttime fishing mission, where the ball and flippers are the only things illuminated. The second, and more significant, feature occurs once the buoys are hit enough times, causing the table to tilt back and forth, like a boat on choppy waters. The trajectory changes make the table feel much more exciting, as you must change your shooting strategy on the fly. The table layout combined with the rocking still isn't enough to cause cheap deaths, so you'll almost always be able to ride out the event to completion. Beyond that, the ball actually kicks up water as it travels along the upper half, which is a nice, subtle touch.

The second table is based on another Spielberg blockbuster, "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." Similar to the Jaws table, you'll only see Elliot and E.T., but you'll be able to hear from Gertie from time to time. It also happens to follow some of the movie's more memorable moments, from the trick-or-treat session on Halloween to the iconic bike ride that passes over the full moon.

Much like the Jaws table, E.T. has plenty of empty space in the middle, but the sides are wide open, so the table feels bigger. The bottom of the table has quite a few ball chute lanes, with most of them leading to flippers while either side of the middle area has at least a hole or a bumper to trigger more points. The upper half of the table is home to a number of ramps and a very well-hidden bumper area, and the flow to each section feels smooth. The middle area is pretty barren, but it opens up later for minigames, so that's a nice surprise.

The table's video game-related abilities are more pronounced due to the many pick-ups that litter the table during a few missions. The nighttime glow effect is here as well. The more impressive parts are the ship that flies up to give you a chance to start a mission and the other details, like a holographic view of the solar system. None of that will matter, since seeing the iconic bike ride in the background is the most impressive thing on the table.

The final table, "Back to the Future," could be considered the most ambitious of the trio since it encompasses all three films. You choose which era to start in, so you can go with the Wild West theme of 1885, the future of 2015, both parts of 1955, or the modern and alternate versions of 1985. Each choice changes up the music and dialogue, but it also affects several parts of the table. Choose the alternate 1985, for example, and the resident of Marty's house blocks the path to one of the ramps, while choosing 1955 means Biff patrols a path in front of a few ramps. It also changes up one of the spinners, since 1985 gives you a more modern guitar to spin, while 1955 gives you the classic electric once from the school dance.

This table has lots of things happening in all areas. Like E.T., the bottom half of the table has a generous chute area and flippers with plenty of special effects. The middle is adorned with moving targets that change depending on which era you choose to play, so you can have anything from a teenage Biff to the pixel cowboy from Wild Gunman to a horde of Native Americans parading along the right side. The upper half has lots of ramps and a hidden bumper area, but the flux capacitor will no doubt be the highlight since a bright light pulsates once a ball is in play.

This table shows off the most video game-only elements. The DeLorean swoops in and parks in one lane, and it can drive away with a flame trail behind it. The balls also produce flame trails, especially in multiplayer, and lightning can come in from the sky to power up the speeding car. Multiball also has the opportunity to drop in the OUTATIME license plate and have a hoverboard pass by with an extra ball if you hit it, and all of the balls produce the flame trail effect. Combined with the constant animations from Doc and Marty on each side, the table can be rather busy.

The only real knock against the tables is the lack of authentic pieces from the films they're inspired by. The characters may say lines from the films, including some of the more iconic ones, but we're getting sound-alikes instead of the real actors via sound clips. This is especially true when some of those sound-alikes actually sound nothing like the characters they're trying to imitate. Worse is the fact that you aren't getting some of the famous themes, either. All three of these films have memorable soundtracks that are ingrained in pop culture despite their age, and it's heartbreaking that those pieces are absent from a collection like this.

Overall, the Universal Classics Pinball pack is a great addition to Pinball FX 3. If you can live with the lack of original voices or movie scores, you'll find each table to be well thought-out in design, with plenty of opportunities to trigger missions and special events. You'll also find each table to be generous in handing out high scores, which is perfect for increasing your wizard ranking. For genre fans, this is certainly worth picking up.

Score: 8.0/10

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