Pinball M launches at a time when creator Zen Studios’ reputation has been dented. For well over a decade now, the Hungarian developer has dominated the virtual pinball market with its beautiful table layouts and feature-packed apps. But this year’s Pinball FX crushed consumer confidence by failing to carry forward previous purchases, and generally offering a turgid client with slow loading times and some notably absent features.
This new version will run concurrently with the existing game, and carries a higher age rating, allowing the developer to incorporate some more mature material. The structure is much the same, though: you can download the core game for free alongside a Director’s Cut of the existing Zen Studios original, Wrath of the Elder Gods. You can then purchase four further tables as part of the Death Save Bundle for $19.99/£15.99, or individually for $5.49/£4.49 apiece.
The tables, it has to be said, are bloody brilliant. Dead by Daylight Pinball takes inspiration from Behaviour’s asymmetrical multiplayer game of the same name, and sees you picking between a killer or survivor. You’ll need to hit lanes in order to either escape your pursuer or track down your prey, with all sorts of features from the main title replicated, like generator repairing and so on.
While a strong effort, the video game adaptations in this inaugural bundle only get better. Duke Nukem’s Big Shot Pinball is decorated with low-poly models from the source material, and even includes a first-person shooter minigame where you need to step into the sizeable shoes of eponymous aggressor and kick a whole lotta ass. It’s tremendous fun.
Then there are the movie tables, too. Chucky’s Killer Pinball has a huge layout, with the deadly doll perched just off to the side. You’ll need to reassemble a mask at the end of the middle lane to launch missions, all of which are based on scenes from the film franchise. One really neat touch is that the LCD display in the corner actually includes footage from the flicks.
This is a trick replicated by The Thing Pinball, too, which has an extremely atmospheric feel to it, with snow falling around the table and chaotic lighting. Once again, you’ll see scenes from the John Carpenter classic in the corner, while tons of iconic voice lines from the film have also been included to give it that familiar flavour.
To be honest, there’s not a bad table among the bunch – even Wrath of the Elder Gods, which in terms of gameplay is identical to its more sanitised Pinball FX predecessor, is a good time. The wrapper is vastly superior this time out, too: loading times have been drastically reduced and the user interface really leans heavily into the horror theme.
Each table now has a small campaign mode attached to it, which draws upon various different gameplay modes and sets you score challenges to complete in return for cosmetic unlocks. These can be used to customise your “play corner”, which adds decorations and scenery to the room. You can also use in-game currency earned when you level up to change the lighting or add unique ball trails.
These cosmetics add incentive to master each table beyond the usual leaderboards, and there are of course achievements you can earn, which you can even display on your profile. Furthermore, beyond the traditional gameplay modes from Pinball FX, a handful of new ones have been incorporated, like Dread, where you need to achieve set score targets within predetermined time constraints.
It all makes for a cohesive package that feels similar to Pinball FX, but more refined. In fact, so obvious are the improvements here, we hope Zen Studios revisits its previous game and retroactively rebuilds it based on the lessons it’s learned from this horror-themed version. As it stands now, even if we’re not in the mood for its darker tones, we’d much rather play Pinball M for our virtual pinball fix.
Pinball M exists to provide Zen Studios with a venue to explore more mature material, but launching several months later than the underwhelming Pinball FX, it also fixes a lot of core structural problems with its peer. This is a more cohesive, rewarding package overall – and the first batch of five tables are bloody fantastic to boot.