It’s decidedly refreshing to write this Iron & Steel Pinball review, but not for reasons you might think. On the surface it’s tempting to think the positive glow is because the tables in the Iron & Steel Pinball DLC are Zen Studios’ first two original tables in years. And to be fair, that’s part of it. Licenses, even big ones, tend to get tired after a while. But the Iron & Steel Pinball FX2 tables are also two of Zen Studios’ best pinball tables in years, which is the real reason for the warm fuzzies.
As original tables, it’s only appropriate that one of the two-pack is based on Zen Studios’ own original game CastleStorm. The other table, with its Old West theme, seems to be a wholly original concept based more on stereotypes than on any particular franchise. Maybe Zen has a new IP in the works and this is their trial balloon. They’re not saying, and we’re not sure. What is certain, though, is the excellence of both tables.
Although both tables are about the same size, the one based on the CastleStorm franchise seems considerably larger. A big part of this is the “balcony” at the back whose rear-most border is peppered with targets. Players have to use quick reflexes to knock down two layers of targets before they rise again, which is no small feat considering the claustrophobic nature of the balcony. However, with some quick fingers and a bit of angular luck, you can knock down the barriers and begin laying siege on the mountain fortress behind it.
Outside of this second-level balcony, the CastleStorm-themed table doesn’t seem nearly as twitchy as several other recent third-party-license-based expansions, nor does it seem as fast as the Old West table. In some respects this echoes the CastleStorm game itself, which certainly has its fast-action moments but is largely geared more toward fans of resource-management games. There’s nothing to manage in this pinball game, obviously, but the pace is a bit slower and can make things feel a bit more relaxed than the Old West-themed table.
That western table, by comparison, feels much faster and a bit more confusing, though it’s still fun when you get into a groove. The biggest issue with this table isn’t its design, necessarily, but its overall graphic design. Whereas the CastleStorm table relies heavily on blues and darker colors, the reds and more Earth-tone hues used in the Old West table make the actual pinball easier to lose. This forces players to scramble a bit if they “lose” the ball, and it also makes it harder to see where the different ramps will deposit the ball, which causes some additional panicked flipper hits.
With that said, the pace of the Old West table never gets out of control (hello, Boba Fett-themed Star Wars Pinball table), nor does it seem so small that you feel like you’re playing ping pong in a jewelry box. The music and sound effects are also a bit more robust than the CastleStorm table, which ultimately levels the playing field between the two.
To be perfectly frank, I’ve played these Iron & Steel pinball tables more than any non-Star-Wars DLC to date. Some of it is their freshness, but the biggest reason is their overall excellence. Without the constraints of needing to shoe-horn a certain licensed element or plot point, Zen Studios really had carte blanche to get creative with the ramps, lights, placements and mini-games. The result is perhaps the two best Pinball FX2 tables released to date. If you’d previously lost interest in Pinball FX2, the Iron & Steel pinball pack will rekindle your love. I highly recommend picking-up this two-fer of Zen Studios goodness.