Pinball FX 2 is a totally revamped platform for pinball on consoles. Back in 2007, Zen Studios came out with Pinball FX and only offered a couple of tables for your enjoyment.  Now with a new version out the door, Zen Studios has new tables, polished physics, and a redone platform for all you pinball fanatics.  The sequel offers much more variety for a realistic experience.  Zen Studios offers up eight brand new tables with four coming from Pinball FX.

The Pinball FX 2 platform is free to download and it’s just that, a pinball platform, a game engine if you will. The platform alone doesn’t have any levels so you’ll have to pony up some XBL/Microsoft Points to get the tables, unless you already own the first Pinball FX and can import those tables to enjoy in the new platform.  The tables are broken up into packs and consist of the Classic Pack and Core Pack.  The Classic Pack costs 800 MS Points and contains Speed Machine, Extreme, Agents, and Buccaneer (which you can import for free if you own the first game).  The Core Pack is also set at 800 MS Points and contains Biolab, Pasha, Rome, and Secrets of the Deep. Besides the Classic and Core Pack tables, there are also four more tables you can download on XBL for a mere 200 MS Points each. The four separate tables include Excalibur, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Nightmare Mansion, and Street Fighter II.

At least when new tables are released they will only cost 200 MS points each and not 800 to 1600 MS points each like some games on the XBL marketplace. Now before you go and throw down some cash on Pinball FX 2, and find out you might not like it, you can download a trial version of each table to get a feel for it.  The trial only allows you to play each table for a couple of minutes but it is just long enough to see if you want it or not.  I, myself have only purchased a couple of extra tables to add to the collection and I can’t wait to see what Zen Studios has up their sleeves for new tables in the future.  I have some pretty cool ideas for new tables already but I’ll leave it to Zen Studios.

Each table, as you can see has a theme which sets the table apart from the others.  Some are very minimal, while others are super fancy with set goals and tons of animated features. Secrets of the Deep and Biolab are good examples of tables with just about everything in it plus the kitchen sink.  One table even has a maze in which you have to rotate to get the ball to the exit.  The more minimalistic tables like Extreme don’t have all the fancy animated objects and mini-games to play.  These tables provide the player with an alternative to tables with fewer challenges, requiring the player to have more skill at pinball to rack up additional points.  Out of the twelve tables available, there should be at least one or two to peak your interest.

Zen Studios has added some new multiplayer features to Pinball FX 2 as well, that is as long as you have people on your friends list to play with.  Each table is setup to have its very own leaderboard stats, which also includes your friends’ best scores, individual ranking, Pinball Wizard Score, and who is the current Pinball King among your friends. The Pinball Wizard score is a culmination of all your table’s scores multiplied by your friends’ ranking.  There are new achievements to unlock on every table and a new Superscore system that rates you according to your performances across all of the tables you own and is equal to the number of millions that your top scores amount to when added together. The Wizard Score concept is on its own leaderboard and scores on multipliers based on factors like how many tables you own and how many of your friends own the game.

There is also local 2-player split-screen and up to four-player online modes available to play, giving it just enough game modes to satisfy any pinball player no matter the age.  The game modes allow you to create goal based play among friends or others online. The split-screen mode works the same way but you have to share your screen against your opponent and you both can see each others table and progress right there.  Online modes don’t show you your opponent’s table but you can see their progress with an easy glance at the corner of the screen.  The little bit of time I was online playing Pinball FX 2, I didn’t notice any lag.  I say this because sometimes the online games really lag, it just depends how your data is being routed over the global network.  When playing on Xbox Live, you have the options to set a goal for that specific match.  You can allow unlimited balls with a total point amount you have to achieve, but each ball dropped results in a substantial number of points taken away from you.

Pinball FX 2 has a small window in the corner that contains your opponent’s XBL avatar or a live stream of the XBL Vision Camera.  Now while this might not be a huge feature for most people, I found it to be really cool as most games don’t take advantage of the Vision Camera.  I have to say that this is in fact the first game I have played that does take advantage of the camera.  Most people don’t have the Vision Camera and now that the Kinect is out, you can use the Kinect the same way I figured.  I found this to be quite nice as I know I would like to see the person’s face I’m playing against when I beat them, it’s priceless. I think a Kinect version of Pinball FX along with the HD graphics would almost make a future Pinball FX release almost feel like you were really playing the real deal.

Pinball FX 2 is about as close as it is going to get to playing a real pinball table, trust me as I have played a lot of them in my day. Each table has its own unique special effects, lights, and music tracks, with every table being very well designed.  Zen Studios really pulled out all the stops when designing this new pinball platform.  I have been playing pinball since I was a kid and pinball machines weren’t played on game consoles at home, but in an actual arcade. Pinball FX 2 has even taken a hardcore pinballer like myself (yes I said pinballer), and made a very enjoyable pinball game I can play in the comfort of my own home.  While I do prefer an actual pinball machine to play on, Pinball FX 2 doesn’t eat quarters like the real thing.  For those of you that already own the tables from Pinball FX, I would like to note that the imported tables do feature a very big graphical overhaul, the difference is very noticeable.  One of the things I didn’t like was having to look up for specific challenges that pop up during play. You have to look up and focus on the message while also focusing on playing at the same time. The challenges pop up in the top hand corners distracting me from playing, an audio queue would have been better in its place instead.  I did lose a couple of balls during play because of the challenges popup, not really a big deal but not also a deal breaker.  You could just ignore them and go on playing, but you might get less points per round too.  One of the other things that is a con is the payment model.  Now if you already have the first game, you don’t have to worry about this part.  If you don’t though, you have to buy the Classic and Core Packs in separate chunks.  Why not just include it all in one price?  However they did this for the people that already own the first game. I mean what’s the point of buying a game for 1600 MS points and already own half the content?  The visual appeal of Pinball FX 2 is just awesome.  It looks great on my 55″ 1080p TV and sounds great through a surround sound system. If you’re a pinball fanatic like myself, then this game is for you.  It provides a lot of fun and replay value, the graphics and physics are just amazing and each table is unique with its own sound and feel.

Title : Pinball FX 2
Format : XBLA
Developer : Zen Studios
Publisher : Microsoft Games Studios
Release Date : 10/27/10

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*Zen Studios provided with a promo code for a review copy.