I’ve been a pinball nut for decades. The standup machines in pizza parlors consumed a large share of quarters from my pockets, but the nickel arcades, with row after row of pinball machines, took far more funds from my allowance–and in nickels, no less. So imagine my delight when the Xbox Live Arcade ponied up to the online table with Pinball FX, a three-table outing with plenty of multi-ball points up for the taking.
Trying to come up with an original review for Pinball FX is basically like trying to come up with a fresh way to describe pinball. You start with three balls, three flippers spread across two tiers on each board, and you try to avoid losing balls down the middle or the outside gutters. In other words, pinball is pinball is pinball. And that’s just the way we like it.
My two biggest complaints with Pinball FX are of the design and graphical variety. On the design side, Pinball FX may offer three different table styles, but one of the three, called Extreme, is uncharacteristically short for a pinball table. Rather than have a lower level spread across the entire machine’s length, the lower level is all of about two feet long, with a ramp that leads to the equally short upper level. This makes for some fast-paced action, sure, but it’s also akin to forcing a tactical-shooter fan to play a twitch shooter. In the real world I avoid these tables like the plaque, and I join most of the people on my friends list in avoiding this digital version, too.
The graphical issue isn’t one of fidelity or quality, because the tables, lights and graphics in Pinball FX are great. Actually, it’s a simple issue with some big gameplay consequences: the balls are overly reflective, and they appear to spin far more than they actually are. As a result, not only can balls get momentarily lost in certain areas of certain tables, but they can appear to be spinning (and therefore traveling) in one direction when in fact they’re doing a beeline for a specific place. After about 30 minutes with the game you get used to things, but if the developers had just made the balls look a bit more “plain Jane,” it would’ve solved those issues immediately.
Perhaps they should’ve taken more time to focus on the balls’ appearance rather than inserting Xbox Live Vision camera functionality. Because honestly, using the Vision camera to try and control the flippers is incredibly frustrating. On the surface it feels like any EyeToy game, with waves of your hands activating the flippers on the corresponding side of the table. However, even after taking five minutes to calibrate the sensitivity and contrast, the flippers respond with only marginal accuracy, and your hands have to move with Flash Gordon-like speed if you want to rapidly move the flippers.
All in all, though, Pinball FX is easily worth the Microsoft Points. The Vision camera functionality is turned off by default, and there’s nothing that says you ever have to turn it on. So don’t. Instead, if you focus on what’s good about the game — the core pinball mechanics and two of the three tables — you’ll lose plenty of hours trying to hit “just one more ramp” for that bonus multiplier.
- Overall: 7.8
- The amount you’ll pay for this game is less than you’d pay playing multiple pinball tables in an arcade, so ignore the botched Vision Camera functions and just focus on the fun. There’s plenty of it to be found in Pinball FX.
— Jonas Allen