The trouble with digital representations of pinball is that often they don%26rsquo;t match up to the physics and tactile sense of the addictive clackey-clack of real flippers and balls. Pinball FX 2 has successfully slid right past that obstacle %26ndash; it claims to have a new, improved physics engine and it shows. The illusion of a real ball bouncing around in a real machine is complete. We%26rsquo;re pinball fanatics here at GR, and it%26rsquo;s not easy to please our discerning tastes, so we%26rsquo;re happy to say that FX 2 finally overcomes the main hurdle for virtual pinball.
Above: Pasha is our absolute favorite table. The purple area slides back to reveal a second, mini pinball table
The original Pinball FX came with three tables, while FX 2 comes with four when you purchase the core pack. What%26rsquo;s much more important, though, is that the table designs of these four new offerings are across the board far superior to the original FX tables. In the original game, each table was a bit cramped, with a similar theme across all three tables: a lower area separated by an upper area, with one extra flipper on the left hand side. Also, just comparing how the tables generate flow of play shows how much better the new tables are %26ndash; the old tables feel clunky and full of dead spots where your ball would just bounce off scenery and not provide any delicious points. In the new tables, there is so much more to interact with.
Above: Biolab is probably our least favorite table, but that only means its a bit less awesome than the others
Each table has its own tricks and special events to set it apart. Secrets of the Deep offers an oceanic theme, with jellyfish, submarines, and shipwrecks adorning the layout. It has a small upper play area with its own set of flippers, giving you almost two boards in one. Biolab presents a mad scientist theme with minigames involving the engineering of creatures that change species inside a big canister near the top of the playfield. Pasha is a Persian adventure, and our favorite of the new tables. Its challenges include opening a book of tales and then choosing a story, a merchant who plays the old %26ldquo;ball hidden under three cups%26rdquo; game, a neat effect where the table turns into sinister blacklight when you%26rsquo;ve primed it to lock balls for multiball, and a really cool secret where part of the board opens up to reveal a miniature, second pinball game inside. Finally, there%26rsquo;s Rome, which sports some beautifully combo-able ramps and a minigame where you fire cannons at a ship.
Score chasing and Achievement mining are particularly compulsive in FX 2, with an overall Superscore which combines all of your top scores and adds them together, measuring you up against every other player. Since the only way to improve your Superscore is to beat your old high scores, getting close to nailing a new record on a table becomes tense and heart-accelerating. You can also play two-player splitscreen or online four-player battles, with the goals being either to reach a certain score first or have the highest score in a set amount of time.
Above: Rome sports some delicious ramps
The online multiplayer unfortunately has been a bit patchy in its playability, but it%26rsquo;s not due to lag or gameplay issues %26ndash; there simply is hardly anyone playing. When we did some initial quick matches, we found several games in a row after a brief wait. After that, though, the three or four other people who had been playing seemed to have quit. We started getting placed in lobbies where no other players were present %26ndash; we don%26rsquo;t know if it%26rsquo;s a bug or if people were just quitting immediately before we could see them in the lobby. When we came back a few minutes later, more people were playing, so finding opponents will depend on luck. When we did get games, though, they were hyper-intense as we watched each player%26rsquo;s icon racing toward the end, with some people suddenly leaping ahead of the others with mega-bonuses.
Above: Secrets of the Deep is probably the most aesthetically pleasing table. We also like hitting ramps to make the little submersible on the right hand side creep ever closer to the docking tube
When it comes down to it, Pinball FX 2 is just unhealthily addictive. Our fingers are still aching from mashing the triggers with too-enthusiastic motions. And if the four main tables aren%26rsquo;t enough, you can import any Pinball FX 1 tables you already have (gussied up with the new improved graphics and physics) and purchase all the other tables that have been released over XBLA. If you're not sure about the purchase, you can download the game with one table as a kind of demo. We%26rsquo;re going to keep playing probably long after this review, and we%26rsquo;ll have no qualms ponying up for extra tables. Pinball heads unite %26ndash; this is as good as it gets without having an actual table in your house.
Oct 29, 2010