Pinball FX 2
Pinball is designed to be a social game. When arcades were thriving and bars didn’t make the mistake of replacing their pinball tables with Big Buck Hunter machines, a pinball competition with friends (and that weird drunk guy no one seemed to know) was a great way to spend a Friday night.
Sans watered-down beer, Zen Studios’ Pinball FX 2 brings the silver ball’s lost social legacy to Xbox Live. The way Zen Studios achieves this standing is much different from what I’ve seen in any other game. Rather than displaying a high-score meter onscreen at all times, a window containing an image of a friend’s avatar wearing a crown will appear when your score approaches theirs. Even without having your friend near you, this image establishes the sensation that they are taunting you. And it’s not just their image that throws off your game. As your score inches closer to theirs, the game updates you with the number of points required to break their score. I told myself that I wouldn’t let this window distract me, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. If you let this window affect you, like I did, it can up the intensity. The score battle takes place even when you aren’t playing. If a friend beats your score and wants to brag, you’ll be alerted through a gloating Xbox Live message.
The high-score competition isn’t just about achieving a high score on a table. Your pinball skill level is calculated in a Superscore, which is based on your skills across all of Pinball FX 2’s tables. So, if your friend is a pinball wizard on the Secrets of the Deep table, but is terrible on every other table, their Superscore will reflect their lack of overall skill.
As much as you want your score to dwarf your friends’, you simultaneously benefit from their high scores through another ranking tier called Wizard Score. This rank compiles you and your friends’ Superscores and multiplies those figures by the number of tables you’ve played. For instance, my Superscore (120) added to my friends’ (256) and multiplied by my tables (13), gives me a Wizard Score of 4,888.
While it may look like just another number, Wizard Score changes the social and competitive dynamics of Pinball FX 2. I wanted my friends to achieve higher scores on each table just so that my Wizard Score would go up. Depending how much you value your Wizard Score, you may find yourself playing the role of a door-to-door salesman on your Xbox Live friends list. Convincing a friend to buy another table or two will raise their Superscores, and in turn, greatly up your Wizard Score. Through this slightly evil system (I say "slightly" because I love it), Zen Studios has found the ultimate way to promote DLC. As long as people care about their scores, any new tables they add will surely sell.
And even if you don’t care about scoring, or perhaps you have no friends with competitive pinball spirits, Pinball FX 2 is the best pinball video game I’ve played. The four new tables offered (Bio Lab, Pasha, Rome, and Secrets of the Deep) are all excellent. I’d put each one of them up there with my favorite pinball tables, The Addam’s Family, Twilight Zone, and Tales of the Arabian Nights.
Each table offers fantastic action, fun missions, dot matrix minigames, hidden compartments, animated components, and my favorite, ramps galore. These tables give you plenty of bang with each ball you launch, and are loaded with skill shots requiring different approaches and techniques. All four of these tables are of modern design, but if you are looking for variety, Pinball FX 2 is fully backwards compatible with Pinball FX 1. This means that, if you purchased Pinball FX 1, all of its tables – many of which are classic in design – are available for play. And of course, that begs the question: If I already played these tables, why would I want to play them again?
For the purposes of chest pounding, they up your Wizard Score. More importantly for the pinball enthusiast, Zen Studios has enhanced the ball physics, giving each table a far greater shot of realism. The ball carries more weight, and the action off of the flippers and bumpers deliver that kick you’d expect from an authentic pinball machine. Between the two games, Pinball FX 2 offers 13 tables with many more coming in the future.
Heated tournaments and enjoyable four-player scoring challenges are available through Xbox Live. Friends can also compete in scoring challenges via split-screen. And for those looking to scratch that Wizard Score itch, tournament scoring is a digit factored into your Superscore.
Pinball FX 2 brings the excitement and authenticity of modern pinball to Xbox Live Arcade. Banging around the silver ball is a blast in and of itself, but the social options turn this experience into an addiction. Not since Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 have I had this much fun competing with friends on Xbox Live.