Thus far, ZEN Studios has released a string of pinball titles that has amazed and entertained me for the 60-odd hours I have spent playing Pinball FX 2. If you’ve read any of my other reviews of the franchise, you’ll know that I rate them about as highly as any XBLA title. To make my regular point early here, I’d like to say that regardless of what you think about pinball in general, to simply dismiss Pinball FX 2 as unworthy, just because you don’t really like real life pinball tables is to unnecessarily miss out on one of the best XBLA titles out there. With the addition of these four new tables: Thor, X-Men, Moon Knight and Ghost Rider, the reasons for forking out a few quid on a couple of tables are increasing. However, if you are already have a spread of past tables, you may want to look at exactly what this package gives you.
Take, for example, Thor – my personal favourite, and probably the most accessible of the bunch. This is a wonderfully gentle, encouraging table that allows you the time to think about your shots in a way that the others don’t. It’s a fairly standard (if Pinball FX could ever be called standard) table, which uses ramps to build multipliers and complete missions, and holes to launch them. Now, I consider this to be the most classic form of pinball, and there’s no getting around just how enjoyable it can be. However, there are two issues worth considering about Thor. Firstly, this is, in essence, something of a throwback to the spectacular Spider-Man table. The only real difference is the Spider-Man has a few more bells and whistles, and is significantly easier. Secondly, once you have missions lit, the pace of the game increases somewhat, which can feel a little frustrating. Of course, this is something that is easily overcome with a little patience and skill, but all the same, if you’re after something easy and rewarding, Spider-Man is a better bet.
Moon Knight is a similarly forgiving table, but feels smaller, and slightly more challenging from the get-go. There are plenty of easy modes to launch and the emphasis is more on control than anything else. The fact that completion is definitely an achievable aim here makes Moon Knight well worth persevering with. A couple of seriously tricky ramps can halt you somewhat, but for the most part, it’s a fairly fluid experience once you have a fairly strong grasp of where you’re supposed to be going. It’s tables like Moon Knight that offer balance to the mix of tables. It is neither too fast or too slow, and simply requires practice and a read of the rules to allow you to improve significantly with every play. You couldn’t really say it’s the most interesting table, despite having a few more fancy graphics and style touches than most, but it’s immensely enjoyable all the same.
Ghost Rider is a funny one, and while I’m sure I will grow to love it, as I have every other table present in Pinball FX 2, it’s somewhat closer and more punishing than many others. This is a fairly fast table with a more contemporary take on pinball than, say, Thor. There are mechanics in here that I find occasionally frustrating. There are a couple of blockers, for example, that return your ball, even if you place it correctly, meaning that you have to consider you timing as well as your placement. This, frankly, is a little above my skill level, which could be why I don’t rate it as highly as others, but the general feel of the table is cramped and quick. It can be easily likened to the Wolverine table, as the two best words to describe it a modern and punishing.
Finally, X-Men. Again a table with some similarities to previous efforts. In general, the closest similarity it shares is with Iron Man. This is no bad thing, as Iron Man is a table of exemplary class and cleanliness. Being all about control and thought, once you get to grips with each of X-Men’s ramps, you pretty much have the game sussed. Once you have the ramps internalised, which is pretty straightforward as they’re fairly well spaced out, the game then becomes an effort in concentration. Each of the ramps corresponds to a specific X-Person, and launches its own minigame. Complete all the minigames and one final jackpot, and you have the game under your belt. It’s by no means easy, but having it set out like that means that if you can keep your concentration for the half-hour it takes to do it, you’re onto a winning score.
As a collection of pinball tables, it is top class. Four tables with four unique feels and four completely different points to concentrate on make this almost as buyable as previous packs. The only downside here is that, for the first time, ZEN is covering old ground. Being fair to the developer, this is something that was going to happen eventually, and realising this means that rather than straying too far from the roots of pinball, ZEN has kept to the same formula that makes all the other tables so great. If you don’t have any of the other tables, this is just as playable as any other pack you might find. If you do, just be aware that there isn’t as much new here as some of the previous packs. Still one of the best games on XBLA, though.
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