After being delayed a couple of weeks, Pinball FX 2 landed on October 27th on the XBox Live Arcade. Was it worth the extra wait? Definitely. As one of the community of pinball players out there who has neither the money nor the room for a real pinball machine, I have to say it's great to have more tables brought to us in the virtual arena. Pinball FX tables from the first release are upgraded and integrated into the new Pinball FX 2, and they look and play great. The addition of new achievements and challenges adds life to tables that may have withered quite a bit since you last played them, although I'm not really sure anything can save Agents, there's something about that table that just doesn't feel right.
One of the great things about Pinball FX 2 is the addition of a main menu that is more than just text in a generic graphic. Now the games are on a selection grid, with some artwork related to the game representing each table. For instance, the Buccaneer has a pirate face, Street Fighter II has Chun-Li, and Rocky & Bullwinkle has Bullwinkle J Moose.
The highlighted table will display your friend leaderboard, achievements, progress, and something new: the Superscore. The Superscore is the total of your highest score from each table added together. Currently, my score is 358, meaning that my total table scores total around 358,000,000. Good, but, the player above me has a score of 1,150, meaning his score is up into the billions. That's pretty fekkin' high! He's also ranked fairly high on the Pinball Wizard leaderboard, which is the Superscores combined with your friend's scores. The multiplayer modes are also a welcome sight in a pinball game. You have offline or online multiplayer, the usual Ranked or Player match, and the ability to choose a Party Match or Friend Match. After you decide that, you can jump into a game or you can set up your game for a set point or time goal, and the ability to set a penalty percentage. I recommend a time goal with a penalty, or a point goal with no penalty. I was stuck in a game for 1 hour with some dope who set the goal at 100 million points, with a 10% point penalty for draining- that's just not fun or possible.
There is also a POV- screen that will pop up on the rop of the screen if you're making certain shots. That's Pinball-Of-View, as it follows the track of the ball and where it's going. It could be a bit distracting if you're not expecting it to pop up, but be aware that the ball is still moving, even if it's headed to the drain.
Along with the updated 9 older tables from the first version of the game and from DLC, Pinball FX 2 starts out with 4 tables, with DLC coming periodically. The tables are: Biolab, Pasha, Rome, and Secrets of the Deep. These tables do not disappoint graphically, gameplay-wise.. even the sound effects are much better than some of the sounds from PBFX1, which ranged from "cool" to "cheap sounding joke" (buzzer in Speed Machine, I'm talking about you!) The pinball on the table has less predictable physics, which is how pinball should feel, and the ball itself has a new feature- the comet tail. Sounds cheesy, like the old "Foxtrack" glowing puck when Fox used to have the NHL games and had a glowing puck with streaking comet tails. But in PBFX2, the comet tail helps me follow the ball much better, and I can predict the physics much better than before. The ball is also less likely to disappear behind some of the numerous objects in the field of play.
Biolab is your "mad scientist" them table, with lots for you to do on the playfield. The thing that stands out is the blue belljar to the back left of the field, above what looks like a puzzle. The puzzle is a spinning target, and each hit of the target will give you a piece of a creature to build. Three hits gives you a complete creature, which you will be able to upgrade its, err, "uniqueness" as a creature: Wisdom, Reflex, Muscle, and Brains. Brains is upgraded by a mini-game labyrinth, Wisdom by a near-impossible skill-shot, Muscle by hitting buttons to make your creature "more willing to work out", and Reflex by landing ramps in a row (you'll see this by flashing red beams on the table where you have to go next). The music sounds good, the table sounds are great, and the voice is actually a normal voice of a mad scientist, an assistant, and the creatures themselves.
My personal favorite table is Pasha. It's a take on the Persian theme tackled by Tales of the Arabian Nights (available on Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams), and it does it very well. The table looks awesome, flanked by a large gentleman in the middle of the playfield being watched by an equally large snake near a basket, and the giant purple genie bottle in the middle of the field (complete with squashed genie inside the bottle!) This table has a hidden pinball game underneath the purple genie bottle that has scrolling rows of drop-target guards, like a shooting gallery, and two guards at the top protecting the exit (you can also drain the ball which brings it back to the main playfield). It looks impossible, and the first few times you may not get it, but it's something that is doable. Be patient.
The playfield is full of objects and targets to hit, and with four flippers to help you out you'll be landing some decent shots and getting your score up there. It almost looks like there is no room to breath on this table, but there's enough room to navigate your shots. There are also dozens of playfield lamps, adding to the fun of this table being possible for an actual pinball machine to handle. The outlanes feel fairly unforgiveable after slingshot hits, but I suppose that's what pinball machines do. It always happens to me.
There is one odd part of Pasha that you have to learn: one of the flippers is partially blocking entrance to one of the towers you have to get to and save a captured princess. In order to get the ball in the castle properly with the upper left flipper shot, you have to raise the right flipper to allow the ball to go in uninterrupted:
A minor gripe about a minor issue, but pinball tables are all known for unique nuances.. well, at least the good ones. The bad tables are just bad tables with bad characteristics. This table has lots to do, and several ramps and hidden entrances that you can find when you're not looking for, but can't drop that shot when the table prompts you to do it. "I am trying to get the ball in the cave, dick! SHUT UP!"
There is a flipper to the left of the table, and that leads to a loop-combo bonus if you hit the shot repeatedly, which is lighted by a skinny almost miss-able bolt of lightning on the field. There is also a catapult on the left of the field, with a field on the right of the screen. Dropping the gate on the left of the field will allow you to travel from the right Aqueduct Ramp to the catapult which will fire your ball at the ship, which doubles as a lock for multiball. I think it's multiball, because I've hit that ship up to 5 times with no multiball happening, but I must have done something wrong in between events. There is a left plunger for a skill shot, which I am horrible at and have yet to hit it properly. Oh well.. I'll get is one of these tries. It's a very ambitious table, and sometimes it feels like it was a few steps too ambitious.
Then we've got Secrets of the Deep. This is probably the most consistent table, and the one that makes me less likely to throw my controller out the window in frustration due to missing a shot that was "so fekkin' easy!" There are two fields of play, the upper and lower, the lower being deep-sea exploration, the top being a shipwreck expedition. The deep sea exploring involves the use of a lift-crane, like the old "Games of Skill" I used to play down at the Jersey Shore. The controls of the crane are a bit wonky and don't seem to always cooperate, but I was never good at those skill cranes. When the crane is activated, and you look the ball, you take it over to the lighted circle on the playfield to collect the bonus points.
Rome has to be the weakest of the tables, but it's still a fun table to play. There's lots to do, the playfield is very cluttered, including outlanes that are unforgiving, a hole that is placed in the center of the field (leaving you think the ball will be popped out and dropped between the flippers into the drain) and another hole set to the left which is hard to hit, and 2 weird ramps (that have the ball physics reversed as it travels up falling water). The table looks gorgeous, although the gold-red-black theme has me losing track of what's going on after awhile.
When the crane isn't in use, those same areas will spout water that you will have to plug up. Why would I want to plug up water? Because if you don't you lose a level on the Shipwreck portion of the playfield. The ship on the top field has 3 levels of targets to drop consecutively to get it done properly, whether you knock the targets down with the pinball or the sea mine that is dangling over the field. Nice! Reminds me of the "build-the-robot" process in The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot, but much simpler. And, if I do say so, less frustrating. Although the talking shark can get on your nerves.
The table also has the least amount of in-play distractions. A lot of the decoration is on the outside of the field: the submersible, the talking shark, the underwater suit, the shipwreck. If they are near the field, they have targets on them or are animated to reveal more targets or a hidden lock. There are a few ramps in the center of the playfield, two of which will bring you back down to the in-lanes near the flippers, the other will bring you up into the Shipwreck's playfield. All told it's a fun table, and is definitely worth your time.
The Pinball FX 2 download is free, and it will automatically upgrade your older tables from PBFX1 graphically and achievement-wise. Each table from PBFX2 can be played as a demo, an important addition as DLC titles you couldn't demo. You were purchasing on faith that the table was good and Zen did good work (they did). Each table can be purchased separately for around $2.25, or as a whole for four tables running you about $8.50. If there is one table that you should demo, it would be Rome. Something about that table feels off, but maybe my pinball skills are a bit rusty?
Pinball FX 2 is a no-brainer download if you like pinball, and worth a look if you're a fence-sitter.
Pinball FX2 DLC: Mars
Einstein & MaxShrek spent a marathon session on Mars this evening, and we've come to the conclusion this is a no-look download. Meaning, just download the thing, you're going to love it, and at $3, a good price!
The music and voices, as always, are super-cheesy, the way pinball is meant to be. The physics are near-perfect for digital pinball, as the ball travels multiple ramps into multiple bar-lanes above the playfield. Aside from the animated shuttle, with an interactive extending arm (something many of us dream about) to pick up the ball in play during select missions, there is: a Minority Report-like rover that enables kickbacks and ball saves, along with projecting scanned objects and targets to hit; a satellite which wanders around mid-field until you activate the special Satellite Mode; a Pyramid Mode which we activated to defeat about 7 times on one play, still unsure of how to deactivate it; an Oxygen Mode, where the ship is running out of oxygen and you have to hit certain goals to replenish your ship; Sunstorm Mode, where you are trying to keep your ship from freezing (?); Refuel Mode where, you guessed it, you refuel your ship by hitting targets and ramps.
The table looks great and is pretty easy to read, as long as the shuttle isn't flying around the screen, it sometimes gets in the way of your line of sight. A clever variation on multiball brings in zero-gravity, where there is a countdown to Zero-G, and after it reaches zero your balls lift off the table and float around aimlessly until gravity is restored- sometimes right into the drain... shit. All in all, another great addition to an already very playable series of tables from Zen Studios. And don't feel bad if, after hearing the voice of the woman on this table, you think you might hear her say "Please step forward, Kirk Unit, so V-ger may join with you." .. something like that.
Secrets of the Deep:
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