Review By: Nick Arvites
|# Of Players:||1 (2-4 online)|
|Accessories:||Xbox Live (online play), Xbox Live Vision camera, HDTV 720p|
Perhaps one of the biggest casualties from the death of arcades is that most of the major pinball manufacturers have ceased production of new cabinets. Yet, in the last few years, we’ve seen pinball games appear on the PC platform, exchanging a physical table and buttons for a Windows time-killer game and mouse clicks. In other words, think of this as the video poker style of pinball. It’s the same action, but no bulky table. To throw the disclaimer out there, I’ve always enjoyed playing pinball. I’ve probably dumped far too many coins into pinball machines over the years, and I was excited to see Zen Studio’s Pinball FX land on Xbox Live Arcade. The biggest question that Pinball FX must answer is if it delivers enough to meet the cost of admission.
For 800 MS points (about $10), you get three boards. The first board (and the demo board) is a car-themed Speed Machine. Speed Machine looks like a standard pinball table, with various ramps and multiple levels. The second board is called Extreme, and this is somewhat harder to describe. I think the best term is hip-hop, though I ultimately detest the board design. It has a small lower level where the ball seems to stay, and a top level that has a flipper and a few bumpers. The third board is Agents, a James Bond styled board that is in the same vein as Speed Machines, albeit slightly stripped down.
Out of the boards, Speed Machine is by far the best one. It looks the best, plays the best, and generally is more enjoyable than any other board present. I just don’t like the playstyle of Extreme. The board is too short, and it feels like the table just wastes space. Agents is pretty fun, but the table artwork gives it a cluttered look and it can be hard to figure out where ramps and other table devices actually are.
The gameplay is actually solid. The flippers are extremely responsive, and the controls are simple. Flippers are mapped to the triggers, A shoots and selects options, X switches views (1 and 2 being the best) and the left analog stick shakes the table. You can apparently use the XBL Vision camera and use your arms as flippers. I never tried that, and I can’t think of many people that would.
Multiplayer is shockingly fun. You create a room, pick a board, and set a total point goal. Each player plays simultaneously, and you either see their gamertag picture or the Xbox Live Vision feed of that player. Each player gets unlimited balls, although you can set a penalty for each ball lost. The penalty will take a set percentage of your total points away. I’ve seen some rooms set to no penalty, and I’ve seen some set to 100% penalty (meaning you lose everything), so it really depends on what you’re looking for.
The sound effects are pretty much dead on from what you’d expect from pinball cabinets. They keep with the theme, and like their real world counterparts, they border on annoying. The music is a dead miss on each board, and it might be a good chance to test out streaming music to your 360 from your PC or iPod or other MP3 device. I’m just not a fan. The Extreme board is probably the worst offender, and is up there with the cornball factor of the end credits in Gears of War.
I think the biggest problem with Pinball FX is that 800 points seems a bit steep for three tables, out of which only one is a dead-on hit. Zen Studios has left the option open for more tables in the form of downloadable content, but it remains to be seen if this will be used and how it will be priced. I’d suggest downloading the demo, as it offers the best board. It isn’t that the game is bad or the gameplay lacks (it’s actually solid), but 800 points is simply too much to charge for 3 boards, especially when the best board is available as a free demo.
Posted: 2007-05-21 18:31:17 PST