Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
I’ve got a deep, undying love for pinball video games that has stuck with me ever since my time playing Pinball Fantasies and Pinball Dreams on my Dad’s old Amiga. Playing on an actual pinball table in an arcade never appealed to me quite as much (though that’s possibly owed to the fact that it’d be a drain on the wallet), but smashing some virtual bumpers as I went through a myriad of creative and fun tables has always been a blast.
Over the years, Zen Studios have made quite a mark on the genre thanks to their release of Pinball FX and all of the subsequent tables that came after it. Rightfully so too; their use of both original content and popular franchises has ensured they’ve amassed a superb collection of tables that’ll have any Pinball Wizard drooling.
Following its success on other platforms, the series has finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch with the release of Pinball FX3, allowing players to try smashing through some high scores in the palm of their hands. It works really, really well too, with Pinball FX3 on the Nintendo Switch proving to be one of the most enjoyable ways I’ve ever got to play pinball – well, outside of those long, miserable days in work playing Windows’ ‘Space Cadet’ pinball when managers weren’t looking, that is…
I’m sure everyone knows what pinball is, so I’m not going to insult your intelligence by saying how the game works. However, Pinball FX3 has some unique ideas that help differentiate it from your typical pinball game. For starters, the way the tables are designed and animated is slightly unreal and unlike anything you’ll see in your local arcade; other pinball video games have often embraced the more ‘realistic’ look in their games with believable designs that are often modelled off real-life pinball machines, but Pinball FX3 has clever animations and plenty of character models that make their way across the table whilst playing. It works really well and adds a lot of personality to each table, so it’s something the game deserves to be commended for.
Then there are the mini-games. You know how pinball tables give you mini-objectives to complete as you look to rack up high scores? Well, Pinball FX3 does that too, except rather than just smashing a ball at some specific object on the table you’re often tasked with controlling a separate aspect of the game. Take the pinball table based upon ‘Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead’ for example – in one objective, you’ve got to control the flippers as you carefully navigate a targeting reticule to shoot down zombies. It might sound utterly bizarre to read, but it works incredibly well in-game and adds a whole extra dimension to proceedings. Pinball purists might not appreciate it as much as others, but those who go in with an open mind will find that it actually adds to the excitement of the game.
Besides the traditional game of pinball, Pinball FX3 also features three extra modes that each do something a little different. Players are able to take on the ‘Single-Ball’ mode where they get just the one ball to play with, the ‘Five Minute’ mode where they get five minutes (duh) to try and get as high a score as possible, and ‘Survival’ where they have time limits in place to hit certain score targets in order to progress. Being an ‘old school’ gamer, I initially just stuck to my traditional pinball, but when I actually tried these modes I found them so addictive that they’ve become my main way to play. Survival is particularly fun to play and added a real sense of panic to proceedings – in the best way possible, of course.
My absolute favourite feature of the Nintendo Switch edition of Pinball FX3 is the fact you can play the game vertically whilst in handheld mode. Rather than scaling the game down to a different ratio or having you follow the action up and down the table, everything is there right in front of you in what is a fantastic (albeit miniature) representation of an actual pinball machine.
You can still control the game with the shoulder buttons (though you’d have to de-attach the Joycons) or you can alternatively use the face buttons, though I found it easiest to use the touch screen functions instead. Admittedly, this did take away from the realistic feel of pressing something to launch your flippers, but it’s something you get used to after a short while playing the game anyway. It certainly didn’t stop playing vertically being the most enjoyable way to play Pinball FX3.
One thing I didn’t like was how out of the control the HD rumble of the Nintendo Switch was when playing the game. Now don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the feature and how cleverly it’s been implemented in other games. However, in Pinball FX3 I felt like the console was constantly shaking out of control in an unrealistic manner as I played through the game. Zen Studios have done all they can to ensure the game is as immersive as possible with their clever visual design and neat little mini-games, so I can see why they tried to use the rumble feature to further this. However, it simply felt a little over-the-top and I was quick to turn the feature off. It could work, but it needs toning down to feel comfortable.
Pinball FX3 is free to download and brings with it one table (Sorcerer’s Lair), though there are twenty nine others that are available to purchase if you want to get a real fix of pinball action. I think they’re all fairly priced; you can get the ‘Portal’ or ‘Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead’ tables for just a couple of quid, whilst packs like the ‘Aliens vs. Pinball’ or ‘Universal Classics’ offer three tables each for £8.99. A lot of the value will come down to how much you play the game, though it’s certainly a fair entry point for those who just want to give a specific table a try.
Out of them all so far, I’ve probably most enjoyed the ‘Back to the Future’ table (I’m a big fan of the movie series) – it’s littered with references to the movies, whilst the clever design aspects and objectives you’ve got to complete made it a pleasure trying to rack up those high scores. Some of the Zen original designs are great too though: ‘Sorcerer’s Lair’ is a neat but simple introduction to the game, whilst the over-the-top but highly exciting ‘Adventure Land’ might seem an almost intimidating marvel to look at but makes for a hell of a ride when playing in-game. I haven’t actually encountered a bad table in the game so far, though there are still a few I’ve yet to purchase.
The Pinball FX games have been around for quite a while now, but I haven’t stuck as many hours into any of the older entries as much as I have with Pinball FX3 on the Switch. The portable nature of the system is perfect for the game, whilst the fact you can play it horizontally just adds to the immersion. It looks great, plays great, and (if you turn off the rumble) it’s easy to lose hours smashing balls around each of the game’s uniquely exciting tables.
There’s no doubt about it – with Pinball FX3, the Nintendo Switch ‘sure plays a mean pinball’.