Saturday, October 13

Review: Pinball FX3 - Williams Pinball Volume 1 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While the Pinball FX3 engine is, without a doubt, has the best overall engine on the Switch for pinball until this point appreciating that fact was a bit more apples and oranges in terms of trying to make comparisons. The fantastic and physically-impossible elements of their virtual tables were always interesting but as a classic pinball fan I was always curious what the power of that engine would bring to bear on the physical tables I’ve loved over the years. Since Zen Studios has now licensed the treasure trove of Williams tables, which are for me hands down the best ever made, we’ll get to see how well they do but with this initial offering they’re off to one hell of a start.


In order to add a personal touch each of these tables has been enhanced with side art (which I love across the board), and then new elements, many of which are somewhat interactive. For purists these can be disabled, which is very much appreciated. One of the nicest features remains the fact that the Switch allows you to play the tables in vertical mode while undocked, giving a great view of the table and unlike playing similarly on a tablet you can use a controller so your fingers aren’t obscuring anything from using a touchscreen. Performance may show an occasional brief stutter but even with the enhanced extras outside of crazier things like intense multiball action there don’t tend to be many issues.


Starting with the table anyone can get and sample for free we have a popular table that I spent some time but never resonated with me, Fish Tales. This is a well-themed table with some nice ramps spaced around the table and plenty of bells and whistles. A fisherman trying to reel in a catch is a nice touch and he isn’t typically too distracting. It’s an excellent appetizer compared to the 3 tables in the first pack which are generally a bit more complex.


Junk Yard is a table with a pretty wide open center area that has multiple targets and a wrecking ball towards the top, complemented by some ramps on either side. It tends to be a pretty satisfying table as it’s not too challenging to get multiball going and you’re generally able to rack up some decent scores quickly when you get on a run. At the high end you’ll be working to collect and combine components so there’s much deeper play as well most certainly. Most of the enhancements here are more minor than in the other tables but in general it’s a more pulled out view so that works out fine.


One of my personal favorites that’s included, The Getaway, has always been a bit of a bastard in terms of its degree of challenge to get rolling. Getting multiball can take some work, and then your Jackpot is tied to first getting a ball in the central Supercharger and then making the skill shot to bring things home. With the extended time I’ve played on this table the quality of the conversion is very apparent as quirks in the behavior of it are very well-preserved. A great example of this is the kickback’s inconsistency in where it will send you, even if you wish it would always set you up with your shot on the top right flipper. In past conversions of the table the satisfying growl of the audio from shifting gears has been a bit muted but I’m very satisfied with the audio for this version. The enhancements here are just middling as the officer with the radar gun is just sort of there and I actually don’t like how it goes overhead when you make the Supercharger shot. I’d swear the speed on the ball on the left lane coming off the ramp is just a bit on the fast side, and it throws me off, but I may be accustomed to tables with a little more wear perhaps.


Probably the most notable table for pinball enthusiasts I’ve saved for last, and that’s Medieval Madness. I enjoy the table but since I only played on it physically a few times I don’t have the connection to the physical version the way I do to the others. It has a very ramp-heavy design, there are simply tons of ways to trigger a variety of multiball scenarios and the action is extremely satisfying. Zen Studios really pulled out all of the enhancement stops with this one as well as the dragon is quite active and will fly around the table and blow fire at some points. It can be a little distracting but the theme blends together so well that it feels right. Flaming trails on the balls are also satisfying and make more sense here than on Getaway, it just all feels really good.


I must say that this pack has me very excited to see what the next collection of tables will be. Williams made some of the most iconic tables of all-time and I actually helped back the Kickstarter campaigns for “the competition” to help them get over some serious licensing hurdles to convert some of their top tables like Twilight Zone and The Addams Family. Even without those tougher nuts to crack there are simply tons of great tables I’d love to see from older classics like Haunted House or Funhouse, to the incredible Monsters of Rock or Theater of Magic, or even table I have a personal weakness for like RollerGames. Zen has gotten off to an extremely strong start, proving they can not only bring the authentic table experience to consoles but even enhance them in the process (though with varying results). It’s an exciting time to be a virtual pinball fan!

Score: 9

Pros:
  • A pack of 3 very diverse and exciting tables, with Fish Tales thrown in as a freebie!
  • Some incredible nuanced play that absolutely reminds me of the physical tables
  • While the enhancements aren’t all winners some of them absolutely elevate already great pinball experiences to another level

Cons:
  • There can be some performance hiccups as the intensity goes up, though they’re forgivable
  • The dragon enhancement on Medieval Madness, where they went all-in, was a great touch. The more superficial on-table characters are more “just there”
  • While super-specific the left lane to the flipper feels like it can be too fast at times in The Getaway, throwing my muscle memory from the table off