Pinball might be extinct but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some flipper fun at home on your console.
Pinball machines are great. They’re big, they’re loud, they’re bright and they are a lot of fun to play…and even harder to be good at. If I had to pick between a pinball machine and a video game to be stuck with on a desert island, I’d pick a pinball machine. Too bad you’d be hard pressed to find any working pinball machine these days. You might find one tucked into the corner at Dave & Buster’s but even then the chances of it working seem to be slim. Pinball machines are a pain to maintain and expensive, so I can understand why they’ve faded away along with the arcades at large. So what does one do when they want to play some pinball? Seems funny that the only good option is video games. Pinball has a long history in video games. I owned the original Pinball on the NES…and it was horrible game. That little 8-bit machine just couldn’t create a remotely decent pinball experience, although it tried. Thankfully we’ve come quite far since then and now we have some great options for playing pinball at home.
Pinball FX is king
The best pinball game out there right now is Pinball FX 2 on the Xbox 360 Arcade. The base download is $10 which gets you four basic tables, but where Pinball FX has exceeded all expectations is with DLC. There are 28 original tables you can download and each of them is a wonderful world of pinball fun. And because each table is original and not trying to recreate something that already exists, you’ll find a lot of great parts about each table. Sure, you have your spinners and bumpers and stuff you’d expect to find, but Pinball FX ramps things up by adding a lot of exaggerated play, more moving parts and mini-games. If the best part about pinball is bells and whistles, then Pinball FX is the king. It’s hard to find any faults in Pinball FX. It’s a great game that performs as well in presentation as it does in gameplay. But what do you do if you’re looking for “real” pinball?
Well, unless you have a time machine at home, the best you can do to having real pinball machines in your home is buying one of the few pinball video games that have gone to great lengths to recreate the classic tables you remember. A new Xbox 360 Arcade title was recently released, and it does just that.
The Pinball Arcade, a pinball time warp
The Pinball Arcade works just like Pinball FX but is a little less flashy and a little more real. Whereas Pinball FX has created brand new tables that sing and dance, The Pinball Arcade promises to recreate some of the most memorable pinball tables from the past. The physics aren’t a jacked up in Pinball Arcade as they are in Pinball FX and you won’t find any licensed Marvel Comics tables. It’s a more subdued video pinball experience that targets a different audience.
I’ve read some people writing about how Pinball Arcade won’t dethrone Pinball FX and that it will die on the vine. I’m going to say that Pinball Arcade isn’t really competing with Pinball FX because they are two totally different experiences. Yes, they’re both pinball simulators and all pinball games share common mechanics, but I don’t think Pinball Arcade is looking for new gamers, they’re looking for old(er) gamers. They’re trying to sell to the people (like me) that remember real pinball games. Pinball Arcade is banking nostalgia. Pinball FX has to rely on creative, energetic table designs…and it does a damn good job.
The tables you get in the base Pinball Arcade are something to be desired, none of them do I remember seeing or playing when I was younger. This was a bummer as I would think if you wanted to make a splash with your new pinball game that you would include some of the more popular tables that existed, like Pinbot or Addam’s Family. However, Pinball Arcade will also rely heavily on DLC so we can only hope that they’ll be releasing new tables on a somewhat regular basis. The only table that really sparked my interest in the base download was Black Hole, which has an interesting smaller table within the larger table…kind of cool. Pinball Arcade plays a little slower and is a lot less flashy than Pinball FX. Pinball Arcade makes you feel like you’re back in the corner of the arcade, whereas Pinball FX makes you feel like you’re at a rock concert. Personally, I prefer the rock concert but it’s hard not to have fun playing and thinking about these tables that really existed.
More pinball options
The Pinball Arcade is a new addition to the world of video game pinball, but you don’t want to wait for it to offer the more popular tables as DLC, you can search around for an older title that does, Pinball Hall of Fame. This release includes several of the most popular tables from Williams including my beloved Pinbot and Funhouse. You can probably find this used for pretty cheap. I have it and can certainly vouch for its awesomeness. If you’re an old pinball fan then you shouldn’t be without it in your collection…it might be as close as you’re gonna get to these wonderful tables.
Pinball FX will always be more popular because it’s flashier and plays a lot faster. If you take someone that has never played pinball before (and I know a few of these people) and ask them to play each title, they’re enjoy Pinball FX more than Pinball Arcade. How can real world tables compete with tables that bend the laws of physics? Pinball FX is a true video game. Pinball Arcade is offering a look into the past, which if nothing else, is good to play and see so you can appreciate Pinball FX even more. If you’re a pinball fan, then you’ll buy all of these titles like I did. I just want pinball action, I don’t really care how it comes, although I do enjoy remembering my days of playing them in the arcades.