Despite growing up past their prime, I’ve always been a big fan of Pinball machines. They’re just a fascinating game and it’s always been a dream to own an actual machine. The reality of that is a lot harder than you’d think; they’re expensive because, well, they’re not really made anymore — and they break a lot. If you’re handy and have the time you can work on it, but that’s not me.
Instead, over the years, I’ve resigned myself to just playing Pinball in video game form; it’s never the same, but some come close and even do some interesting things that a real table could never do. Pinball FX 3 is one such game, it takes the pinball to a place a real machine could never go, but at the same time still feels like an authentic pinball experience.
It’s really hard to review what is essentially a free game — you can download Pinball FX 3 right now for free on the eShop and you get a table to check out (it’s not the best table, however). The entire range of tables that Zen Studios have in their Pinball FX library isn’t here on the Switch yet, but there was a Back to the Future one which was enough for me. Pinball tables are all different and have a different game or story to tell through it (usually with the dot-matrix screens at the back and audio). If there ever was a reason arcades were truly noisy, it’s pinball machines.
There’s a number of different ways to play Pinball FX 3, and the HD Rumble in the controllers helps with the authentic pinball feeling, with ramps, hits and bumps all faithfully replicated with the rumble system. You can play the game entirely on the touchscreen as well, like a tablet, but you miss out of the HD Rumble features. If you have a Hori Play-Stand or any other stand you can also quickly rotate the display and have it vertical for the full experience (you can do this docked as well if you have a monitor or TV that can change orientation). The physics in Pinball FX 3 are on point, it’s different to a real pinball but it feels more fun and is more forgiving than a real machine.
Outside of the games, Pinball FX 3 thankfully is a lot better than the previous game on the Wii U; the menus aren’t the slickest looking UI but they move quickly and they’re easy enough to get around. The eShop also not taking an age to load helps.
There’s a lot on offer with each table: there’s a classic mode, a hot seat mode for swapping around with friends to see who can get the high score — there’s even a leveling up system which can help you get higher scores with combo modifiers and other upgrades. The Wizard Power system, which is unlocked after playing each table a while, allows for slowing down time or rewinding in order to nail that high score. There are also challenges for each table which mix up the objective of each game, this could be hitting the mode score in 5 minutes or off one ball for example. You’re not just getting a pinball table with your purchase but instead more to explore and do on each one aside from just getting a high score.
The game is also connected to outside world the entire time, this means there are social features and high scores popping up midgame all the time. You’ll be egged on to try and top a friends score, or you can join in tournaments with the rest of the world. The game has full leaderboard support, you can see where you sit in regards to the rest of the world or your friends. It’s standard leaderboard stuff, but it loads quickly and is connected to the leaderboards on the Xbox One, Windows 10 and Steam versions of the game.
To match the games authentic feel of pinball, it also matches the look and sound. The game runs silky smooth docked, with only the occasional hitch in handheld mode. Docked, the game looks a little rough with aliasing, but the developers have suggested they’re hoping to bump the resolution in the future. All of the tables look great and are filled with the little details. The Back to the Future table, for instance, has all the different time periods they travel to in movies, and the graphics, lighting and the audio table change with each flash through time. Pinball tables are busy things with a lot of lights, and some of this can be lost in portable mode, though putting the screen vertically helps with this. How much you get out of Pinball FX 3 is really up to you. Because the game is free to start (even if the free table isn’t the best) you can see how much you’d like to get invested. To buy all the tables isn’t cheap but that’s not really the point — buy the ones you like.
Pinball machines will always have a place in my heart, and until I can afford one for real, this is the next best thing. That being said, because it’s digital Pinball FX 3 does some things that no real pinball machine could ever do. It can pit you against your friends, have multiple game modes on one table, and let you see where you stack up against others all over of the world — not just on that one machine. Give it a shot, unlike a real pinball it won’t need any coin to get started.
Rating: 4 / 5