Pinball tables aren’t just games. They’re a work of art, a collection of lights and graphics that you can interact with. In an industry that needed to rely more on eyeballs being captured with a single glance rather than word of mouth, pinball tables were masters of this visual advertising long before PR firms drummed up hype cycles and the internet provided instant satisfaction.
If I could own a pinball table, I’d grab dozens of them. As much fun to look at as they are to play, history is filled with all manner of licensed tables that deserve a spot in an art museum. There’s the iconic pull of a trigger found in the Guns ‘n Roses setup, the devious plot twists found in the Twilight Zone table or the utter purity of the game personified by the flashing lights of Dr. Dude and his Excellent Ray.
Each table has memories attached to it, of high scores that were barely scraped and people typing in “ASS” when the table asked to preserve their legends. Is money an object when it comes to owning one of these pieces of history? Yes, yes it is. It’s finding the space to house such a collection in however, that’s the real issue.
These days, you can slap a pretty sizable collection together thanks to developer Zen, who have pretty much cornered the market on digital tables. They’ve got the licenses, plenty of talent and a regular stream of new content that does provide some scratching for an itch to tilt. As good as those tables are on Xbox One and PS4 with the most recent addition, Pinball FX 3, it’s still lacking a certain…something.
A certain physicality that you just cannot find on even the best 4K TV today. Ported over on to the Nintendo Switch however, Pinball FX3 is a decent attempt at addressing that lack of balls to the wall physicality. Docked, it’s the same setup that you’d expect from the PS4 and Xbox One versions: A free table in the base version that you can download for gratis, with new additions to the pinball formula being a few RPG elements that encourages players to pursue high scores via various goals.
So far, so good right? The caveat here, is that Zen’s Pinball FX 3 doesn’t exactly look as nice as the versions being punted on other consoles. It’s not ugly by any means, but it certainly is a fair bit rougher around the edges. Is this is a case of the Switch not having enough power to smooth those balls over, or a port that still needs some work done on it? A good question, which I wish I wasn’t technologically deficient in my brain meat when it comes to answering.
That being said, the overall execution of that game is at least consistently smooth, with nary a frame being dropped as a digital Quinn muses over getting a bigger boat in the Jaws table. Pinball FX 3 has a fair number of the more recent tables available, clocking in at 30 tables so far. The content so far includes more of Zen’s original collection than licensed tables, although I’d expect that to change soon enough.
Much like everything else on the Switch however, the real magic kicks in when Pinball FX 3 is used on the go. Sure, its visual flaws take a larger backseat in undocked mode as you play it much like any other game on the Switch, but Zen does have one hell of a trick up their sleeves: A proper vertical mode with which to experience the game properly.
It’s a hell of a difference, and something we’ve yet to see properly implemented on the Switch. Granted, going vertical is something that would only work for a select few games, but it makes all the difference in Pinball FX 3. The only challenge of course, being in the fact that you need a sturdy surface to prop your Switch against as the Flim-Z stand doesn’t exactly play well at that orientation.
When you’re sorted on that front though? It’s magical. You’ve got the option to detach the Joy-Cons and pretend you’re standing at an actual table, although I personally prefer to let my thumbs do the heavy lifting here. The touchscreen is a dab hand at registering your digits, as players can tap bumpers to clobber their pinball all over the screen with utter ease.
Marvellous stuff, and well worth a try considering that the free to download version of Pinball FX 3 chucks in three free tables as it tempts you to part with a few dollars for anything else in its library. Zen’s Pinball FX 3 is the closest digital equivalent to owning a proper pinball table for a hell of a lot less in terms of fiscal and spatial requirements.
Last Updated: January 8, 2018
It may have a sparse selection of tables on the Nintendo Switch and visuals that looked more jagged than the inside of a shark’s mouth, but Zen’s Pinball FX3 is a magical replication of the joy of pinball thanks to some savvy use of the Switch hardware that’ll delight any pinhead on the go.