As any gamer in their right mind should know, Pinball FX 2 is one of the best games on XBLA at the minute. The original Pinball FX really wasn’t much cop, but with the new tables, and licenced pinball fun, there’s pretty much something here for everyone. It’s definitely a title worth playing, even if you’re not into pinball, as the tables all manage to recreate the feel of an old-school table, but with fancy flourishes and exciting modes that make them infinitely more enjoyable and accessible than most tables you will have played in the real world. The only thing missing from the excellent mix of tables currently on show is a table that offers some juxtaposition. All of the tables up until this point have been really in-yer-face, noisy and thrilling. The new Mars table slows that down a bit, and while that may sound a little boring, trust me, it’s exactly what the game needs.
So, with Mars, as you might expect, there are all manner of space-related modes and challenges. Much like the other tables, when you activate a mode, you don’t just get the standard flashing light, but you get some great action on-screen, making you feel like you’re playing more than just a pinball table.
For example, one of the main modes is the shuttle mode, which forces you to hit certain ramps and orbitals to fuel, man and launch the thing. For this mode, you get a shuttle swooping down to the middle of the table to indicate that you’ve got this mode active. The same happens with the scanning probe, when you hit the related special mode. Then there’s the spider drone that jumps around the table offering kickbacks and bonuses.
All this might sound really off-putting, and certainly, in other tables, the garish colours and overwhelming on-screen action means that you really have to get used to the tables to understand what’s going on. With Mars, it main colour scheme is a relaxed blue tint that makes everything that much calmer. The action is still there though; I think I managed to count four different types of multiball, so there’s plenty of interest. One mode even sees the balls levitating, which is something that I’ve certainly never seen on a pinball table.
Then there’s everything that goes on in the background. Obviously keen to make sure that Mars feels as much like a real table as possible, Zen Studios has incorporated a genuinely unique system that makes your scoreboard so much more interesting. There’s a wizard score and a super score, which are based cleverly around how many friends you have playing it, and how good you are in relation to them. It also throws in a wildcard tournament score, which rotates, depending on which table is the tournament table at the time.
What the Mars table does more than anything else, is cement – in my mind, certainly – the fact that Pinball FX is the pinnacle of pinball games at the moment. It shows that Zen Stidios really know their market, and have produced yet another table that strengthens the package as a whole. The way Pinball FX works is that if you like the look of a table from the trials, you can download them individually or in packs. Seen like this, you don’t need me to tell you whether you’ll like it or not, as the trials come with the free download of Pinball FX 2, and are easy to get to.
From my point of view, however, this is one of the best value and highest quality gaming experiences on the console. There’s absolutely buckets of fun to be had from this, with the nice variety of multiplayer modes, the scoreboard, and the ability to get into the operators menu, and tweak your tables. That smacks of cheating to me, but it’s still a nice feature, especially if you’re not too good at pinball. Knowing that Zen Studios is still working on tables, and have a commitment to keeping things fresh, is even more of a boost to the Pinball FX franchise.
In essence, there’s very little bad to say about this Mars table. It’s a fun, chilled-out table in the best pinball game I’ve ever played. If you like pinball, why have you read this far? If you don’t like pinball, this is unlike any pinball table you’ve ever played, and genuinely enjoyable from start to finish.
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