Review: Pinball FX2

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Zen Studios has video game pinball on lockdown, monopolizing the market with what are, in my opinion, the two leading console pinball games money can buy: Zen Pinball for PS3 and Pinball FX for Xbox 360. This week, the enlightened Hungarian video game pinball wizards show off their magic touch once more with the Xbox Live Arcade release of Pinball FX2, a game that effectively fulfills the duties of a full-fledged sequel, a free update to the original game’s owners, and a free-to-play trial platform all in one.

Indeed, the cool thing about PFX2 is that it is a platform everyone can download for free. If you own an Xbox 360 and are hooked up to Xbox Live, you can hop on right now and download PFX2 at no charge and play trial versions of all 13 tables (note that the trial versions cut you off once you reach a certain score, so unfortunately you can’t play them for very long). Also, if you own the first Pinball FX, you can import those original tables and any previously released DLC tables you may have already purchased into the PFX2 platform and enjoy them anew with enhanced graphics and physics along with new Achievements.

Then, if you like what you see, you can go one step further and pay to unlock tables in full. Four brand new tables are available in a Core Collection pack for 800 MS Points, the three original Pinball FX tables are available in a Classic Collection pack for the same price, and you can purchase the individual DLC tables for 200 MS Points apiece. Now that’s flexibility!

All these options are great, but is the game any good? Oh hell yes! The original Pinball FX was already the best pinball game for Xbox 360 thanks to top-notch ball and flipper physics, fast, thrilling gameplay, and fun and inventive table designs — and the new PFX2 engine only makes the experience better. The physics technology has been enhanced to be even more accurate and realistic, and while the changes aren’t monumental, the ball definitely pings around with a weightier feel and a tighter sense of control that serious pinball wizards will surely recognize. This game is also a prime example of how force feedback really can enhance gameplay — the way the controller rumbles in sync with the table sound effects as the ball ricochets off of bumpers and other objects is inexplicably satisfying.

The graphics have been upgraded to enrich the game with greater detail as well, and the tables are all coated in reflective surfaces and bright, flashy lights to make them extra-super-duper shiny. Oooooh, shiny things are so pretty!

I went back to sample the first Pinball FX in between sessions with PFX2, and playing the same tables in both engines back to back really allowed me to pick up the little details showing that the sequel has improved the overall level of detail and playability. The four new tables – Secrets of the Deep, Pasha, Biolab and Rome – clearly benefit most from the upgrade, highlighted by even more creative designs, bonus modes, and all sorts of extra bells and whistles that have you discovering something new every single time you play. All the new tables are great fun, but the Biolab is probably my favorite. I mean come on, you get to play as a mad scientist experimenting on a cute test-tube critter. How can that not put a smile on your face?

PFX2 also ups the ante with a deeper set of community features. Available multiplayer modes include four-player online play, four-player local Hot Seat mode (pass the controller after each lost ball), and a two-player split-screen score race mode only available for the Core Collection tables. Additionally, every time you play a table, your final score contributes to a Superscore rating and a Wizard score rating, each tied into leaderboards and a reward system treating you to unlockable Avatar gear and other premium prizes. Your friends list is fully integrated into the game too, so as you top a friend’s score, beat a personal high score, or close in on the next Superscore/Wizard score milestone, a box with your Avatar pops up in the top-right corner of the screen to let you know. Small touches like this make a huge difference.

Whether you want to buy the complete suite for $32.50 (if my math is correct), download the core engine and import your Pinball FX tables for free, or simply sink an easy $2.50 (200 MS Points) into a single table, there really is no reason not to play Pinball FX2 in some form. And trust me; this game is so fun and addictive that once you start, you won’t want to stop.

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Pros:
+ Incredible ball and flipper physics
+ Fast and exciting pinball gameplay
+ Inventive table designs always show you something new
+ Excellent multiplayer options and integrated community features
+ Free platform with great flexibility allowing you to pay for what you want

Cons:
– Trial versions don’t last very long

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 10/27/2010
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4 (2-player split-screen; 4-player online and local hot seat play)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!