The problem with Pinball FX on the PC

, | Game reviews


It’s a good thing Pinball FX 2 is so good, because I have a few complaints about its recent arrival to the PC. Imagine that. Someone complaining about the PC port of a fantastic console game.

After the jump, tilt?

The things that bother me about Zen Pinball FX2, newly available for the PC and conveniently integrated into my Steam friends list, bother me because I’m such a dyed-in-the-wool Zen pinball fan. You might not notice some of these things. You might not care about some of them. You might just want some good pinball with smart table designs and popular licenses. In which case, boy are you in luck!

But I want to play the multiplayer mode in which two players compete simultaneously to reach a certain score. Traditionally, multiplayer pinball is each player getting three balls, highest score wins. But one of Zen Studios’ nifty innovations in the console versions of Pinball FX2 is letting players simultaneously work towards a target score. Losing a ball simply applies a score penalty. Why can’t I play that way on the PC?

At least I get a new scoring indicator when I’m playing the traditional multiplayer.


See those colored arrows underneath the display? Now I can see how close I am to passing the other guy’s score, or how close he is to catching up to my score.

I can change the controls using a few preset options, but why can’t I get some sort of analog control for the plunger? I have a mouse, and Zen knows it, because they specify on the control options screens “mouse and keyboard”. But how am I supposed to get a skill shot with the harshly decisive enter key, especially after years of finessing an analog stick on a gamepad? I shouldn’t have to hook up a 360 controller to my PC to play pinball. But it’s come to that. I need my skill shots.

Can someone get those big ugly buttons off my screen? In case you can’t see them in the screenshot at the top of the page, let me zoom in for you:


How would you like those hovering over every table? Because they are. As if PC gamers were old people with bad eyesight. If Zen insists that I have those buttons hogging precious screen real estate, can’t they make them smaller? And if they’re not going to make them smaller, can’t they make them less aggressively functional? They do it again when you’re entering your initials for a high score:


Of course, those buttons are there for people who want to use the mouse. The mouse they can’t pull back to finesse the plunger.

I like my dot matrix display at the bottom of the screen, near my flippers. I can’t be the only one who does that. So why is Zen covering up my ideal dot matrix display location with these social challenge messages?


I can turn off the challenge messages, but I like them. I just don’t like them in that spot.

Finally, any Pinball FX fan is going to grouse if his favorite table isn’t included, so here’s my obligatory “where’s my Paranormal table?” and “where’s my Earth Defense table?” jeremiad. I suspect they’ll be along in due time, but if I’m going to whinge about a game this good, I might as well get it off my chest.

Other than that, Zen Pinball FX2 is superlative pinball on the PC, featuring a spread of some of Zen’s absolute best tables. It’s not my place to comment on pricing — whether Pinball FX and however many tables you feel you need are worth the price is between you and your wallet — but among the six $10 packs, each with three or four tables, there’s not a one of them that doesn’t have an absolute winner. Well, okay, maybe you could skip the classics pack, which features four tables from back when Zen was still perfecting the art of table design. I have a soft spot for El Dorado and Tesla sure is stylish, but they don’t quite hold up next to the latest and greatest.

For instance, the Star Wars set knocks one of the entries off my list of five pinball tables I’d like to see. It includes the Empire Strikes Back table, perfectly Star Wars and perfect for players of all skill levels, and the Boba Fett table, a demanding and atmospheric visit to Tatooine that will make you better at pinball before you know it (review here). You can’t very well not get the Avengers set, since the Avengers table has one of Zen’s cleverest gimmicks with different balls representing different superheroes. I like to open with Hulk. The cool blue cool of Secrets of the Deep in the basic set holds up against any of Zen’s later tables. In the basic Marvel set, the dual mode gimmicks in Iron Man (Tony Stark has a business to run, but he sometimes puts on his Iron Man suit to save the world) and Blade (night and day, natch) are both selling points. Even the Marvel Virtue and Vengeance pack is a must for its Moon Knight table, which does for pinball what Arkham Asylum did for Batman videogames.

I’m tempted to say I can’t complain, but that ship has already sailed. Suffice to say if you’re going to virtually pinball on the PC, this is the way to do it.

4 stars