A pinball table was one of the very first arcade machines I ever played on. This mechanical wonder of flashing lights and metallic pinging noises entranced me as a kid as I tried, and often failed, to keep that metal ball away from that gap of doom right at the bottom of the table. The machines fell out of favour in the ‘80s as graphics and mechanical complexity improved on other arcade machines but there was a brief resurgence in the ‘90s when arcades made something of a comeback. Since then, pinball tables have transitioned to digital devices and are on everything from phones and tablets to consoles.
Pinball FX3 is now available on the Switch and it is pretty much a match made in heaven. The games are short, depending on your skill level of course, and ideal for when you have five minutes to spare and nothing to do. Simply fire up the game and choose from one of the many available tables. The three tables I was provided for review are based on generic, unlicensed themes such as Greek Mythology. The real treasure and nostalgia lay in the three Universal Pictures licensed tables – Back to the Future, Jaws and ET. These themed tables add something special to the game that tugs at your brand loyalty and nostalgia for these old movies.
Each digital table, like a real one, comes with film accurate sound effects, so you can hear the film themes, the sound of the Delorean making the leap in time, and the whizzing sound of a fishing reel unspooling at speed as you concentrate on keeping that virtual metal ball in play. Add to that some decent voice acting for Doc Brown, Marty and Finn, you have a pretty immersive and arcade-accurate experience. All you need now are the screaming kids and the inconsiderate oaf to bump you around every so often and the experience is complete.
The tables themselves are quite challenging, made more so by the smaller screen real estate. My old eyes find it difficult at the best of times to keep an eye on the speeding ball, always the challenge and thrill of pinball. When the ball shoots up into the far recesses, hidden by the elevated tracks or pinging around like mad on the bumpers, it can be difficult to track it on the Switch's screen. Your best bet is to learn how the ball behaves on the board and anticipate where it will appear.
In terms of controls, the game is exceptionally simple – pull back on the right thumbstick to launch the ball and use either the bumpers or ZR and ZL to control the flippers. I found that ZR and ZL were far more comfortable to use given their relative size and position. The game does a wonderful job of simulating the force of your inputs into virtual action. I soon learned that a quick flick and release on the thumbstick, as opposed to a longer hold, would launch the ball differently. The same goes for the flippers. A quick, sharp pull on the flipper controls sends the ball flying around the table, whereas an anemic tap and the ball just pops it up to the middle of the table with the chances of it dribbling into the gap of doom, as you look on horrified, increasing exponentially.
Initially, you only get Sorcerer’s Lair with the free download, but that still makes this a no-brainer timewaster-download for anyone who owns a Switch. You can then purchase a variety of additional themed tables. The unlicensed category has an additional eighteen tables available but, if you are a fan of Aliens and Predator IPs, Fox adult cartoons (such as Archer), Valve’s Portal or AMCs The Walking Dead, you can purchase another nine table packs (along with the three Universal tables that I was provided with for review).
While each table has different themes and different aesthetic designs, they have a few shared designs. There are three flippers, the third halfway up the table on the left that flips with the main left flippers, a tunnel-like pathway for the ball leading to the scoring bumpers and an elevated track that speeds the ball up and sends it around the table.
Thankfully, the visual themes paired with the various player and table upgrades that you earn as you play keep the game fresh. These upgrades are available as you complete challenges and increase your score on each table, allowing you to add scoring modifiers such as multipliers for long shots or skill shots for combination shots. These add to the challenge and help you tailor the tables to your preferred playstyle. While I enjoyed the extra challenge and reward these upgrades offer, I have to admit that I am nowhere near skilled. I was able to start timing my flipper shots to hit specific lanes every 3 or so tries out of 5, but to add a specific upgrade and take advantage consistently was beyond my skill level.
If you want the “pure” experience, you can choose a game mode that disables all these upgrades, but I found that to be quite boring in the long run. In addition to the two single-player modes, one with upgrades and one without, there is a co-operative multiplayer mode for up to four players as well as a practice mode.
Pinball FX3 is a wonderful addition to the Switch and a brilliant timewaster (in the nicest possible sense). The individual tables for purchase range from R259 for a large pack of developer designed tables, to just R39 for the single The Walking Dead table. Zen has said that they will add more tables over time, licensing and development time permitting, so this is a game that will consistently change and remain fresh.
Pinball FX3 is a must have for any Switch owner as the base game is free additional tables cheap.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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20 December 2017
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