Review / Pinball FX 2 (XBLA)

Pinball FX 2… there is not a whole lot one can say about a Pinball game. With that word in the title, just about everyone will have a good idea of what they are in for. Launch the ball, use flippers, juggle ball around, hope it goes to places that make lights flash and scores increase. Unless you’re an expert with physics, it’s always a hope that you launch it into the cool flashy spots on any Pinball table. Here, with Pinball FX 2, that’s exactly what you get. More than really pushing a comfortably established formula in a new direction (why would you?), Zen Studios has aimed at making the pinball game that takes full advantage of everything Xbox Live has to offer. To that end, it’s hard to either knock or praise the game. It fills a space that hadn’t been filled, and being a sequel, it tweaked some things and prettied them up a bit. In short: If you like pinball, this is easily a winner. But really… who wouldn’t? It’s pinball.

Because of that, I’m going to focus on everything around the experience this game offers. For starters, the it’s free-ish. It costs nothing to download, but not one table is free. You can TRY any of them for free, but ultimately, you’re looking at at least spending $2.50 per table if you want them any ol’ time you want. The Core pack of four tables will set you back $10, and there is another classic pack that contains all four predecessor’s tables. There are also a few individual tables on top of that, among them Street Fighter and Rocky & Bullwinkle-themed tables. Honestly, unless you clamor for variety or novelty in your pinball gaming, the core pack would suit any normal person just fine. I mean… it’s pinball. Or heck, get the themed ones and laugh along with friends. But there would be just one problem there…

Pinball FX 2 takes advantage of all things Xbox Live and actually gives a pretty sweet multiplayer experience. More so than one would expect for a pinball game. After all… it’s pinball. But it’s all here: Leaderboards, lobbies, custom games, quick matches… there’s a lot to make it a good amount of fun. The online multiplayer can work a couple different ways. Four people can race to reach a set score, with dropped balls causing a percentage penalty to your score that can really set you back when you’re in the millions. Another way is to see who rakes in the most points in a set amount of time. There is also “Hot Seat” mode where one player plays at a time and once their ball drops, another player takes control and everyone watches with bated breath to see whether they rock the scoreboard or not. If online is not your thing, you can play all these modes in split screen with a friend as well, causing the taunts to bounce back and forth on the couch. Again… it’s pinball; it’s fun! The whole point of Xbox Live is to gather players together to play a fun game together and thus make it even more fun. With such a basic formula, that point is clear as can be. And Pinball FX 2 even throws in support for the Live Vision camera allowing you to see the face of both the boastful and painfully defeated.

For those that are hardcore about their pinball— that just love everything about it and want to maximize the table to their specifications and to their score-gaining needs, there are operator options. Every table can be tweaked in tons of different ways, from widening gaps to add difficulty, to changing the angle of the ball launcher. Want to be able to tilt the table to your heart’s content? Do it. Want overpowered flippers? It can happen. Want to change the color of the dot matrix display? Even that’s there. Have fun with it. Or don’t. I mean… it’s pinball. How in-depth would you really want to get about this? The amount of control for such a simple game almost feels obscene, but that it’s there is undeniably cool.

But no matter whether you’re online, on your own, hardcore about your ball physics or really want to see Street Fighter characters in another context that isn’t a terrible film, it bears constant repeating: It’s pinball. All being equal, you’re trying to keep a ball bouncing around a crooked table littered with tons of springs and lights for as long as possible with a few little flippers. Everyone knows this game, everyone’s played it, and there are probably some very viable free options through your web browser. The question you have to ask yourself with this one is how badly you want to play this against your Xbox friends and if you want to get Achievements for your pinball skills. There is no wrong answer to the question, because either way you’ll play the game in some way shape or form. Pinball FX 2 is just the way to do it on your Xbox 360.

+ It’s pinball!
+ Xbox Live
+ Ridiculously tweakable

– No real reason to buy all the tables
– Not really “free”; it may as well just cost $10 with four core tables
– It’s pinball.