Zen Studios just took their first crack at recreating classic tables thanks to their new partnership with Williams Pinball.
A few months ago, it was announced that digital pinball developer FarSight Studios was losing the licensing rights to the Williams and Bally tables and that those tables would be delisted from Pinball Arcade on June 30th, 2018. The only explanation given was that the license holder chose not to renew the license with FarSight. However, not long after the delisting, Zen Studios announced that they acquired the Williams and Bally licences and have begun work on developing many of their popular tables for Pinball FX3. The first 3-pack of Williams tables released last week and an additional table (Fish Tales) was made available for free to all Pinball FX3 players.
The Getaway: High Speed II
The Getaway is a recreation of the classic 1992 table and features a colourful tachometer that lights up as you make progress and the table even requires you to shift gears using the modified plunger with the right stick. A massive freeway-like ramp is featured at the top of the table which lets you rack up some serious points if you hitch a ride on it. I found this table to be relatively challenging which is expected from recreated pinball tables as opposed to Zen's original creations which are usually crafted for more casual players like myself. I was also quite charmed by The Getaway's bright lights and visuals that are excellently recreated digitally.
Each Williams and Bally table that Zen plans to release will include a classic and a remastered variation. The classic version is a true-to-life simulation featuring more realistic ball physics and table interactions that you would find on the real-life pinball machine. The remastered version adds visual extras and Zen's more forgiving pinball physics. For example, the visual extras on The Getaway include the ball occasionally turning bright red and a radar-wielding cop standing in the foreground of the screen. I found most of these extras to be a little hokey and I'm sure most purists would probably cringe at the sight of them but it is cool to have the option nonetheless.Pinball FX3: The Getaway: High Speed II gameplay video →
The Junk Yard table is even more colourful than The Getaway and it challenges you with a fun premise of collecting random junk items in order to score points. For example, it regularly encourages you to collect blow dryers, weathervanes, old TVs, and other such items. This table also features a cool crane at the back that dangles above the ground and has a pinball attached to it which serves as a wrecking ball. By hitting the crane, you can score points as it rams into targets near it which is a very clever mechanic.
The music and sound effects are fantastic on all 3 tables but they were the most noticeable for me on Junk Yard. Characters will regularly tell you which item to go for next which is helpful when you have your eyes trained on the playfield and it's hard to glance at the dot matrix display. I wish Zen's own tables would use more audio cues like this to help you figure out what you're trying to do as you play. Visual effects added to the remastered version of Junk Yard are less distinct than on The Getaway, making the two variations feel relatively similar besides the ball physics. By the way, all of the tables have a new feature where you can use the right stick to glance up at the table's display and backboard which is a nifty little addition that makes the tables feel more realistic.Pinball FX3: Junk Yard gameplay video →
It took a little while to grow on me but Medieval Madness ended up being my favorite of this new set of tables. It features a large castle at the back complete with a drawbridge, gate, bottomless pit, and even a dragon! There are many objectives, too, and the one that I had the most fun with was breaking into the castle then destroying it. This is accomplished by hitting the castle drawbridge until it lowers then ramming the gate with your pinball until it is destroyed. You then hit your pinball into the castle and watch a fun animation as you ransack the place. Alongside the castle invasion, it also features a Merlin's Magic sinkhole that is easy to hit and provides benefits such as automatically lowering the drawbridge or triggering whack-a-troll where you aim for pop-up trolls and score points with every hit.
The physics differences between classic and remastered mode are quite apparent in this pack but they stood out to me most on Medieval Madness. Quite frankly, the pinball rapidly flies down the table too fast in classic mode. Your reflexes will be thoroughly tested so be prepared for the pinball to regularly come rushing down the table towards your flippers. It's not necessarily a bad thing as I actually found myself really enjoying the classic table physics even if my plays were significantly shorter than when using the Zen physics. I had a great time playing Medieval Madness and it felt like good practice for me as it's basically like playing a Zen table on hard mode.
Unlike the visual extras on The Getaway, I actually enjoyed the additions in Medieval Madness' remastered mode. For example, the dragon at the top is animated and breathes fire when you infiltrate the castle and the castle's destruction scene is tweaked a bit to add some crumbling debris. Oh, and your pinballs leave flame trails when you activate multiball which looks rather awesome.Pinball FX3: Medieval Madness gameplay video →
When I heard that Zen Studios was getting in the business of recreating real-life tables, I was a little wary; not because of fears that they would ruin classic tables but because I'm a fan of their over-the-top virtual tables and I wasn't sure if I would get as much enjoyment out of more realistic ones. I'm happy to say that these classic tables are just as fun (if not, more fun) than any of Zen's originals.
I'm far from a pinball expert so I don't know enough to weigh in on how the realistic physics and table translations actually fare but as a novice player; I had a great time with all 3 of these tables. I anticipate that purists may not be fans of the remastered versions but fortunately for them, those can be completely ignored by just playing classic mode. I think Zen did an excellent job of making the tables appeal to pros and amateurs alike and I can't wait to see what's next from this Zen and Williams partnership.