Pinball games might not seem highly sought after anymore. Whether you blame it on the death of the arcade in America or the ever-increasing complexity of modern games, you're probably under the impression that the average gamer just isn't aching to flip a ball around a flashy cabinet.
But according to Zen Studios, its last XBLA game, Pinball FX, was one of best-selling games on Xbox Live Arcade. Come October 13, the studio will launch Pinball FX 2.
It arrives as part of Microsoft's new Game Feast promotion, a Summer of Arcade-caliber lineup taking place during the holiday season. Instead of giving it the usual sequel treatment, Zen Studios is considering Pinball FX 2 as a platform -- like Hasbro Family Game Night, the "game" can be downloaded free of charge. It won't include any tables, but you'll be able to import all of your original Pinball FX content, free of charge, and add new tables via custom content packs.
Old and new tables benefit from a revamped physics engine and graphical overhaul. The new tables are way more elaborate and really invoke the feeling of playing pinball at the arcade. While the old tables won't change cosmetically once imported into the sequel -- they're far less elaborate than their newer counterparts -- they will benefit from the updated physics, which dictate more realistic behavior for the ball.
The most fun I had with the game was in the multiplayer mode. It'll work over Xbox Live, but during my demo I was limited to split-screen play. Two players have their own individual tables, but share the goal of being the first to reach a certain score. For every missed ball, a set number of points is deducted. You can calibrate this to be five percent of your total score, ten percent of your total score or you could simply turn it off altogether. Racing toward the maximum score felt hurried and quite fun.
Pinball FX 2 will also offer comprehensive leaderboard data that will tie in some Achievements for good measure. Best three friends' scores on a table and get some Achievement points. In-game prompts tell you that you're closing in on a friend's score and update you on your own personal highlights while you play, and it's all part of the goal to make the sequel a much more social experience than its predecessor and to keep players coming back. And Pinball FX 2 already feels instantly accessible, thanks to the verisimilitude offered by its enhanced tables.
By giving the platform away free of charge, Zen gives fans of the first game a free update to all of their tables with new Achievements to earn. If you're a newcomer, you still get to try out trial versions of the newer tables and, if you enjoy them, can purchase them through a content pack. The first game's tables will also be available via another content pack.
It may be easy to write off Pinball FX 2 because it takes us back to a simpler time, but that's exactly what I appreciate about it most. There are no gimmicks, no crazy game modes, no fireballs or magical modifiers; it's just the pinball you've known all your life, except you play it on your TV.
Other pinball games on Xbox 360:
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection