Pinball in some form has been around for a very long time, though the form that most people are familiar with came about between the early 1930s and late 1940s with the inclusions of coin mechanisms, bumpers, and flippers. Over the years pinball has grown and evolved into what we have today with multiple bumpers, flippers, multi-ball, and even various missions you can complete by hitting certain targets at certain times. Pinball video games have evolved to, from the classic Pinball on the NES to the Pinball FX series of modern times, and today I’ll be taking a look at the latest entry in that series with Pinball FX3 for the Nintendo Switch.
Pinball FX3, like its predecessors, basically takes real pinball tables and puts them into a virtual environment. When you first start up the game you’ll see options for Single Player, Matchup, Tournaments, and Leaderboards. The game comes with Sorcerer’s Lair for free and two other tables, Adventure Land and Son of Zeus, are available as free DLC. Overall there are thirty tables in the game and include themed tables such as Excalibur and Rome, as well as tables based on popular IPs such as Back to the Future, Aliens, Family Guy, and more. For this review I was given access to the three aforementioned free tables as well as the Universal Pinball Pack which includes Back to the Future, Jaws, and E.T. Most of my time was spent in Single Player and you have a few options there including normal Single Player, Classic Single Player, Hotseat, and Practice.
Single Player and Classic Single Player are essentially the same but with one major difference. As you play a Single Player game you’ll earn various upgrades and Wizard Powers. The upgrades are unlocked naturally as you play the tables, and the better you do the faster they’ll unlock and level up (each table has their own upgrades and powers to unlock individually). You can play with up to three upgrades when you unlock them as well as a Wizard Power. The upgrades are basically things such as more points when hitting the bumpers or during multi-ball, but the powers allow you to slow down the game, multiplies any earned points, or rewinds time for a second, but each power only lasts for a limited amount of time and you can only use one per game, so use them wisely. If you don’t want to use any powers and would just like to play a normal game of pinball, that’s where Classic Single Player comes in. In Classic Single Player, any selected upgrades or powers won’t be in effect, but you also won’t gain any progress towards leveling up your upgrades either.
The other two Single Player options are Hotseat and Practice. Practice lets you basically play a table for one hour with unlimited ball saves, meaning you can’t really lose. Naturally though any powers or upgrades won’t be in effect and your score won’t save to the leaderboard; this mode basically lets you just practice the table and explore the different things you can do with it. Finally there’s Hotseat which is actually a multi-player mode in reality as you can play with up to four players. Each player takes turns on a single Switch system and attempts to score as high as they can. When their current turn is over they’ll pass to the next player, similar to how you’d do multiplayer on an actual pinball table. Again, upgrades and powers aren’t available in Hotseat mode. A small gauge under the score box will show the colored flags for each player and give a good idea as to who is in the lead and how far back everyone else is.
Each table also has challenges you can do to not only test your skills, but increase your Table Mastery score as well. Challenges include getting a high score with just one ball, your highest score in five minutes with unlimited ball saves, and beating an ever increasing target score within a limited amount of time (the timer resets as you hit each target score). These challenges each have fifteen possible stars to collect and it takes a lot of skill to get all fifteen. Needless to say I have yet to max out any challenge on a table, but I am enjoying every attempt I make. As you increase your mastery score you’ll earn rewards which are basically just 3D collectibles you can look at. However, each time you play a table in Single Player or Classic Single Player you’ll earn experience for your profile. As you level up you can unlock different frames and backgrounds for your profile picture that can also be used for the game’s leaderboards.
The other two main options you can play with are Matchup and Tournaments. Matchup is basically a league-type of mode that’s made up of seasons. Each season has four tables you can play matches on (provided you own those tables). The more tables you play on, the higher your Diversity bonus will be. At the end of each season (which lasts a certain number of days), you can advance to the next league depending on how well you did. For instance, you’ll start off in the Bronze III league and to advance you have to finish in the top twenty percent of all players. Once you choose your table you’ll then choose from three opponents. The harder your opponent and the more you beat them by, you’ll get more of a Domination bonus. You only have three minutes and unlimited ball saves. I’ve read that sometimes the goals are different, but at least for the tables I have and the current season and league I’m on (Bronze III), they’re all three minutes and high score. You do get a five league point loss though if you fail to get a higher score than your chosen opponent or if you just back out entirely.
However, one thing I’m confused on is the Domination bonus. For my first attempt with this mode I chose the hardest of the three opponents (strangely, all three opponents used the same upgrades and had the same score on the chosen table, Adventure Land). I beat my opponent’s score by almost double, but got no Domination bonus. I also didn’t have any upgrades selected (not that I had any for Adventure Land anyway) so I doubled my opponent’s score without using any upgrades, yet didn’t get any bonus for it. That’s kind of confusing and doesn’t really make me want to put much effort into these matchups beyond just hitting the target score, then letting the ball drop out for the rest of the game. If the game actually said “you need to at least hit X score to get a domination bonus”, that would be different. Another minor issue here is that you essentially need to purchase more tables to progress further in the league. The season we’re currently in includes two of the three tables I own, but with thirty tables there’s bound to be a few seasons where I don’t own any of the four tables, meaning I need to purchase more tables to compete more. The tables range from three dollars for a single table (there are only a couple with that option), or between five and ten dollars for packs that include two to four tables. It’s not much, but it does mean that to participate in most of the leagues you do have to buy more tables.
Finally there’s Tournament mode which lets you either join tournaments or create your own. This lets you setup tournaments with friends and challenge them to see who can get the highest score on a particular table. You can also change the rules options to five minutes, one ball, survival mode, or none for a classic pinball experience, how long the tournament lasts 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 14, or 30 days), who can join (open or private), and whether powers and upgrades are allowed. When first checking this out I also saw a couple of tournaments created by Zen Studios themselves so I can see this being used in the future as a way to do official pinball tournaments, possibly for prizes or other things…or just to have fun. That’s always an option.
Normally I suck at pinball but love playing it. That being said I enjoyed my time with Pinball FX3, Matchup mode aside. If you want a more authentic experience than what you see at first, there’s also the option to play with the Switch vertically which, believe it or not, works pretty well. Everything is touch activated including drawing back the plunger to launch the ball, tapping either the left or right half of the screen to use those respective flippers, and swiping the screen to tilt the machine. Personally I prefer the Joy-Cons as they more closely resemble hitting the buttons on an actual machine. Not going to lie, I spent most of my time with the game on the Back to the Future table. As a huge fan of the movies (the third one included) it was nice being able to choose from each of the time periods visited in the movies including both times in 1955, 1985, alternate 1985, 1885, and 2015, and each time period has three missions to complete to move onto another time period. There are also lines from the movies included and most of them sound like they came either straight from the movies or the voice actors did a great job sounding like Doc and Marty. My only minor nitpick with the table (and this is really minor) is that sometimes the lines wouldn’t match the time period, such as hearing “Are you two related?” in the second trip through 1955, which was a line in Back to the Future 2, but was heard in 2015. Yes, I am a huge nerd.
I’ve enjoyed the Pinball FX series over the years and Pinball FX3 is no exception. With three tables to start with (including the free DLC) that’s a good way to get started and if you don’t want to purchase any other tables, you still have quite a bit to keep you going. Each table has their own missions and table-related challenges to complete to help you earn a higher score, and the Pinball FX3-challenges can help improve your skills over time. The Switch version also has cross-play so you can challenge players on the PC or Xbox One. For the low cost of absolutely nothing to get started, it’s really hard not to recommend this one as a great pinball experience. You’re getting essentially three tables and they don’t require a single quarter? Count me in.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.