Review: Pinball FX2 Paranormal

Update: Review originally written during a free promotional period. The Pinball FX2 Paranormal table now officially sells for 240 MS Points.

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You can say that Hallow’s Eve is all about the frights, but on another level, it’s all about the free: Free spirits, free candy, and, at least until this Wednesday, free pinball.

The team at Zen Studios, purveyors of the excellent Pinball FX2 platform, have decided to honor the spirits of the dead by offering Paranormal, their latest themed table, as a free download until November 2. Even if it weren’t as gratis as a grab bag of bite-size Snickers–and harder than a calcified Bit ‘0 Honey– it’d still be worthy of your hard drive space.

Thematically, the table’s a hilarious/spooky collection of creepy urban legends. A gumshoe agent in a fedora is your vocal guide to the craziness: Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster lurks in the lower left of the table, the Jersey Devil holds court at the top and El Chupacabra rolls his goggly eyes in the upper left.

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully worked for eight seasons to try to prove that the truth was out there. You’ll work just about as hard (if not quite as long) to unlock some of this table’s more entertaining features. Launching multiball is an easy-hard-easy three-step: After locking a couple of balls in a cleverly designed film reel on the table’s right side, you’ll need to guide the ball up the table’s main ramp. Next, you’ll need to time the teeny flipper on the table’s upper left side to guide the ball down a narrow alley, where, finally, you’ll need to time a flipper-button push to activate a plunger that’ll knock the ball down the appropriate column of a cube you can rotate to unlock different multiball modes and effects. Got all that? Don’t be surprised if it takes a ton of tries to actually execute all three moves, especially since the small flipper’s feel is significantly slower than the main set at the bottom.

Other goodies are easier to access. Bumper-philes can rejoice, since hitting the right flipper sends the ball straight at a set that’ll easily add several thousand to your score. Miss your aim, and you’ll probably smack a couple of free-floating metal balls in the upper right into El Chupacabra’s socket holes, setting off some additional fireworks and opening up additional possibilities for bonus multipliers. Waking up Nessie is also a must—it turns out she’s an angry little minx.

Instead of a sub-table, Paranormal sports a (literally) super super-table. If you can manage to work the aforementioned tricky/teeny flipper a little more quickly, you can send the ball up the steps to bust down the door of a multi-story haunted house that sits hidden above the table, there to do a little busting of your own—ghost busting. Keep the ball up there long enough and you can even unleash a searing bolt of lightning that banishes the spirits once and for all. The super-table concept feels really refreshing; here’s hoping variations on the theme show up in Zen’s upcoming Marvel and Epic tables.

Paranormal may prove a little frustrating to rookie pinballers than some of Zen’s other offerings, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to unlock its secrets—especially since, for those who click “download” quickly, there’s no cost involved. If nothing else, Paranormal is an introduction into a world of flashing lights and wonder. And yes, we’re talking about Pinball FX2.

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Pros:
+ Table’s supernatural theme ties in well to its missions
+ The haunted-house super-table feels fresh, unique and fun

Cons:
– Some of the table’s more awesome features take almost superhuman pinball skills to activate
– Table is almost too packed with features

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade DLC
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 10/26/2011
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4
Source: Free download (through November 2nd)

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.