Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Simply put, Pinball FX3 is a fantastic fit for the Nintendo Switch, and its new set of tables (which are free if you hurry up and download them) are a welcome addition to the family. Pinball FX3: Carnivals & Legends provides two tables, one of which is good and the other which is great and both of which should be played immediately if you are a fan of Zen Studios’ creative brand of video game pinball.
So this review is a bit of a two-part affair, because I want to talk about the core game, which serves as something of a hub as well. Pinball FX3 is the latest and greatest version of the Zen Studios pinball ecosystem, and while it released on PS4, XB1 and PC somewhat recently, it has now made its way over to the Nintendo Switch as well.
There are a couple of negatives to address right out of the gates. First and foremost, the video quality is a bit lower than what I have come to appreciate on the PlayStation 4 or the PC. Now, please do not take this to mean that the tables are unattractive, because as always Zen Studios has provided a fantastic looking experience with its array of activities taking place on the screen and splashy colors combined with flashy lights. It all works and provides a fantastic pinball aesthetic regardless of platform. However, from a technical level, the detail is a bit worst if you blow things up onto a large enough screen, but that feels a bit more of a product of the Switch hardware than anything else. That being said, Zen Studios has addressed this limited concern on their Twitter account, and frankly I am glad they kept the game’s focus on smooth gameplay over perhaps less detailed overall graphics. Besides, you really only notice this on a big screen. If you’re playing the game in portable mode, it looks fantastic on the smaller screen.
My only other quibble is that there are a lot fewer tables. The PlayStation 4 has some of my all-time favorites such as the Bethesda Pack, and a roster of tables just over sixty, where as the Switch is home to about thirty is all. You have a handful of licensed tables like the newly released Universal Pack or the older but enjoyable The Walking Dead table, but the majority of what comprises the Switch tables are the Zen Studios ones like Sorcerer’s Lair or Excalibur. All of these are fantastic tables, but I definitely felt the lack of the Marvel and Star Wars licensed tables that I enjoy so much as well, and hope that they eventually make their way over to the Switch platform down the road.
So with those two shortcomings out of the way, let’s talk about what really works about the title on the Switch, and there are two features that stand out to me. The first is what you see with all Switch games – the portability factor. I’ve played the Zen Pinball titles on 3DS and Vita before, and they work just fine, but the larger screen and additional of rumble support really help to make the Switch version the definitive portable platform. Now the rumble can be a bit overdone at times, because in actuality real pinball tables don’t outright ‘rumble’, but it does work as an additional tactile feedback sensation all the same and a feature I enjoyed.
Next up, the Switch sports a vertical mode, which visually speaking is a much more natural way to view the pinball table. These are vertical spaces by nature, so playing them on a wide screen television has always felt just a little bit off. To get the best view of the action, you have to play in one of the more zoomed in modes, but I always feel slightly disadvantaged in those views because I like to see the entire table. This is especially true in multiball scenarios. As a result, I wind up zoomed out with lots of open space on either side, and while the backgrounds look nice enough, they feel like wasted space. So being able to take the Switch and flip it to a vertical view is just a much more natural way of viewing the table and I am a big, big fan of doing so while it is in portable mode. The only downside to this is that buttons are a bit more oddly located and don’t feel quite as natural as they do in landscape mode, but it’s a small price to pay.
As to the core Pinball FX3 experience, it is a huge leap forward for the Zen Studios pinball series. Online leader boards have always been the primary hook, and that remains true today. I have a handful of friends I love to compete against online and Pinball FX3 continues to make this competitive aspect easy and fun. Additionally now, Zen Studios has spilled some RPG on my pinball game, and what I mean by that is you earn experience that grants you levels and unlockable items for the tables themselves. If you are good at nailing skillshots, you can unlock bonus modifiers that grant you additional points for pulling them off. Some might quibble with the idea that you can unlock modifiers to your scores, but the same options are there for everyone and they allow you to tailor the game to your particular skills, which I think is a fantastic idea.
On top of this core progression system, there are various challenges associated with each of the tables as well that have further bonus modifiers you can unlock. See how many points you can score in five minutes, or see how long you can keep the game going on a single ball. These are fantastic little challenges that give additional legs to an already entertaining game of pinball.
So how about these two new tables that have released? Pinball FX3: Carnivals & Legends comes in two distinctively different flavors. The Legends one is a mythology based table that makes great use of lights and color that has some interesting segmented chunks of ‘landscape’ to interact with and provides a good challenge that is fun. However, that being said, Carnivals is really the star of the show.
Carnivals has an amusement park theme to it that just fits in beautifully. One of my wife’s favorite pinball tables at a local arcade is a Roller Coaster Tycoon one, and while the Carnivals themed table might not be officially licensed in that way, she enjoyed it for all of the same reasons. Different missions are represented by different thrill rides, and there is a ton going on in the background while you play. That sort of sights and sound blend helps to recreate the carnival atmosphere while the table itself plays fantastic. It is challenging, but in all of the right ways, teasing me into risking more challenging shots but seldom feeling ‘cheap’ like some tables can where the ball just seems to go out way too easily.
I really did not know what to expect form Pinball FX3: Carnivals & Legends, but I have to say it has become one of my favorite new packs in recent memory and is well worth playing. Pinball FX3 is a great fit for the Nintendo Switch and I am thrilled to experience the series on a new home. Hopefully over time Zen Studios will be able to expand the roster of tables to be more in-line with the other platforms, but for now the tables that are there are a lot of fun and the Carnivals & Legends pack should absolutely be picked up and played as well.Score: 8.5 / 10