So, has Zen Studios finally settled on a name, then? Pinball FX3 is the successor to Zen Pinball 2, a game which itself was named Pinball FX2 on other platforms. The good news is that despite the adjusted moniker, you can import practically all of your tables from the previous version into this all-new release – although licensing issues mean that South Park, Plants vs. Zombies, and a couple of others have not made the leap. Thems the breaks, we’re afraid.
But why release Pinball FX3 at all? Well, with the developer dropping new tables on a regular basis, the wrapper containing them all is incredibly important – and this is the best slice of fantasy flippin’ to hit the PS4 yet. The dynamic lighting and graphical improvements are great, but it’s all of the new modes that are the star of the show here.
Let’s rewind first, though: Pinball FX3 is free to download from the PlayStation Store, and you’ll get access to a single table (Sorcerer’s Lair) if you’re new to the series. Purchasable tables range from originals like the RPG-inspired Epic Quest all the way through to tables inspired by various Marvel superheroes and Star Wars. There are over 65 tables at launch.
Previously you’d play these tables, set the high score, and move on – but with this edition, Zen Studios has seriously enhanced the progression system. Now, you’ll unlock perks the longer that you spend with a table, which can be used to boost your scoring potential. You can still play with all of these extra bells and whistles disabled if you prefer, but it’s quite fun unlocking them.
Moreover, there are new challenge missions, which see you attempting to set a high score on a table with a single ball – or within a designated time limit. These all test your mastery of a table, and then once you feel confident enough, you can pit your skills against other players by creating your own tournament brackets – or even engage in asynchronous multiplayer match-ups, too.
At some point, the game does expect you to start buying tables: your Wizard Score – which essentially determines your community standing – is calculated by multiplying the scores of your friends by the number of tables you own. Moreover, you get bonus season points in multiplayer if you play different tables, essentially encouraging you to shell out.
But you could never accuse Zen Studios of being greedy really. As mentioned, you can import virtually every table you’ve ever owned, and there are even free timed trials for those that you don’t. Sure, the game wants you to spend money on its content, but each table is thoughtfully crafted and filled with sound samples and neat gameplay mechanics.
It’s worth nothing that Pinball FX3 does subscribe to the “fantasy” side of pinball games. Where the likes of the Pinball Arcade and others have strived for unnerving accuracy, this particular game goes hog-wild with visual effects and minigames that would be impossible in the real-world. Subsequently, the physics can be a shade unrealistic, but the key thing is that the game is consistent, so it doesn’t take long to adjust to its laws.
The only major gripe we have is that the developer’s done an outstanding job of adding all of this cool content, but the user interface is really ugly. Like, it’s functional to navigate – and the loading times are lightning fast – but it’s just a shame the studio didn’t hire a graphic designer to do away with the ugly fonts and large blue box outs.
If you’re already invested in the Zen Pinball games, then Pinball FX3 with its roster of new gameplay options is an essential upgrade. It’s a shame that licensing issues mean that some tables have been left behind, but the new progression system adds replayability to every other table that you already own. The user interface is disappointing, but it’s feature packed, and depending on the number of tables you've bought, you could quite feasibly spend thousands of hours trying to dominate the leaderboards in this game.