Pinball FX2: Zen Classics For Xbox 360
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Arcades were pretty much impossible to find when I was young, so my introduction to pinball was done with an old and slightly decrepit PC running Windows XP. My first pinball game was called 3D Pinball: Space Cadet (bonus points for any other lovers of this classic), and in those days I did little more than hit a metal ball for as long as possible. The thought that these kinds of games required some modicum of skill never entered my still squishy skull.
We’ve travelled a long way on the virtual pinball landscape, and Zen Studios is leading the charge with its digital tables. The original Zen Pinball came with four tables pre-loaded onto it, and now these same tables are available on Pinball FX2 for the Xbox 360 as a Zen Classics download. This means the original tables benefit from a new physics engine and updated artwork, but are they still fun to play?
The four tables in question are: Shaman, Tesla, El Dorado and V12, with each having its own unique signature style and mechanic to it. While I’ll outline each of the table’s strengths and weaknesses, I need to make something clear: my abilities and knowledge have improved only slightly from my squishy-skulled days with regards to pinball, so take this review as a collection of observations from someone who enjoys gaming, but isn’t particularly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of this genre.
Beginning with Shaman, a table that features the player as a novice sorcerer, who will learn to cast and master spells. This table is probably the simplest in design of the four, having the fewest passages to aim for. As a burgeoning Shaman, you must collect elemental signs in order to cast spells. The signs each spell different words like ‘JADE’ or ‘ELEMENT’ and each will cause a different spell to trigger once completed, such as an extra life or multiball. Aesthetics are synonymous with the title, and everything on this table from the tribal statues to the pounding drums in the background make you feel as if you were playing in the middle of a jungle.
Tesla goes in a completely different direction from Shaman. Based on the famous scientist, the design includes electricity, copper wire, hidden laboratories and a little bit of steampunk style and music to set the tone. This is also the table I enjoyed the most as I felt it was the one that communicated your objectives the clearest. I soon found the hidden laboratory, triggered a multi-ball bonus, and was racking up points like nobody’s business. Having three metal ball bearings zipping around and activating an electric tesla coil is not only satisfying, but gets you into the high score leaderboard all the faster.
El Dorado, the third table, is clearly a love letter to Indiana Jones and his ilk. You play the role of an adventurer who must traverse a jungle laden with traps and hidden treasures – hopefully avoiding the former and gathering the latter. This particular table has missions to unlock, which you then beat or fail depending on if you can skillfully access all the numerous pathways that litter the board. I found the table frustrating at times, not because I lost my ball, but because I wasn’t skilled enough to consistently hit targets when needed. This table requires a lot of practice to master.
V12, the final table, shows some affection to the gear heads of the gaming community. When you first launch, a motor will rev in the background, and your aim is to win races and collect the awarded cash. However, while the design is wonderfully crafted, this final table was the least fun for me. While I understood that the goal was to win races, I never quite learned which pathways had to be hit in order to do so. I felt this was less an issue of my ability, and more a problem of the table communicating what needed to be done.
Overall, my experience with the Zen Classics collection was very positive. Despite having to learn what needed to be done on each table on my own, online leaderboards constantly pushed me to study the tables in order to get greater and greater scores. I’m also pleased to say that practice did pay off, and the displayed numbers had a tendency to go up and up. For anyone who is interested in reliving some arcade memories in a bright and beautiful way, this collection will certainly deliver some retro-fun in stunning quality.
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