You’d think Pinball FX – the rebooted pinball compilation from Hungarian developer Zen Studios – would be the least controversial release of the year, wouldn’t you? But this is the video game industry, and controversy is effectively its middle name. So, the studio has come under intense scrutiny for not allowing owners of its previous efforts – like Pinball FX3 – to carry forward their DLC. It’s a fair comment when you consider, despite being remastered in Unreal Engine, the meat-and-potatoes of the experience remain very much the same.
If anything, this latest effort mostly brings with it a bunch of messy monetisation schemes. The headline here is the Pinball Pass, which can be purchased in monthly or annual permutations. The idea here is that, with a single transaction, you can get access to almost all of the game’s included tables, which totals 86 right now. More importantly, the team is promising that a further 34 will be added through the summer, which is a lot of pinball.
But the annual pass retails for around £79.99/$99.99, which is an outrageous outlay, regardless of the quality of the content on offer. We fully appreciate that modelling these tables in 4K comes at significant cost and effort to the developer, but that figure breaks a mental barrier for us – it’s just too much for digital pinball, no matter how good and how much. You can earn some free daily passes through the new Events mode (more on that in a moment), but the subscription is a bust for us.
Apparently Zen Studios already knows that, though, hence it’s offering a more traditional a la carte DLC system as well. Many of the tables have been bundled together, allowing you to buy several at once, like the Star Wars Pinball and Marvel Pinball packs. More high profile tables, like Indiana Jones and The Addams Family, are available standalone and are significantly more expensive – but we suppose this is understandable, given their legendary status among pinball fans.
The problem, as we’ve already alluded to, is that if you bought some of these tables for Pinball FX3, you can’t import them into the latest game. And that’s unfortunate, because the developer already set the precedent with previous releases that your content is future proof. We can understand the studio’s desire to focus on its bottom line – it’s been fairly generous for the best part of a decade now – but this was never going to go down well, and was always going to sour enthusiasts. We’re obviously always going to side with consumers, but we can see both sides.
The core pinball, at least, is fantastic – although a little bit of input lag is affecting our experience right now. It’s not unplayable by any stretch, but we hope the developer can tighten up the controls and make the flippers that little bit snappier with future iterations. We’re also struggling with the default HDR settings, as the title looks unintentionally dark – but this can be solved by pumping up the brightness a bit.
Once you get beyond all these issues, though, the game is great. Each table now has a cumulative progression system, which rewards points earned with collectible models. You can use these to personalise your game room, which is a cute little touch. The new Events mode also feeds into this, offering a free Battle Pass, which allows you to complete mini gameplay challenges in order to progress a metre and unlock even more customisation options.
Each table comes with a variety of modes, ranging from classic gameplay to neat variations, like timed sessions and flipper limitations. For those who want a more arcade experience, there are even power-ups you can use to maximise your score, and you can faff with all of these toggles when creating Tournaments for friends, family, and strangers to try. Naturally, most users are choosing to use the free table to create Tournaments with, but you can filter the content to find a contest you want to compete in.
While we’ve always enjoyed Zen Studios’ tables, its inclusion of classics from the likes of Williams and Bally has completely transformed the experience for us. We already love boards like No Good Gofers and Bride of Pin Bot, and even though we don’t think any of the included camera angles are ideal, we’ve still had an amazing time replaying them here. World Cup Soccer from Williams has also been recently added, and it’s just an outstanding table.
But as we’ve already alluded to, there are some great original efforts from the Budapest-based outfit as well: Grimm Tales, inspired by a bunch of famous fairy tales, has a lovely gothic theme to it, while Adventure Land is a literal rollercoaster of a board, filled with rails and giant animated objects. If you do stump up for one of the aforementioned Pinball Passes, you’ll find a veritable treasure trove of content to dig through.
The slight input lag and dark visuals are disappointing, but Pinball FX has so much content that pinball fans will struggle not to find the fun here. The biggest problem with this package is its messy monetisation: the developer can’t decide whether to lean on its subscription-style Pinball Pass or traditional DLC, and its hybrid approach is neither here nor there really. When you consider that no previously purchased content carries across, it’s hard to recommend reinvesting so heavily here – especially when, even with all the bells and whistles, the core nuts-and-bolts of playing many of these tables remains the same as in past games.