Pinball FX3 (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 18.12.2017

Review for Pinball FX3  on Nintendo Switch

Whether going by the name of Zen Pinball 1 or 2, or Pinball FX 1 or 2, or even through some dedicated hub games and apps such as Star Wars Pinball, Marvel Pinball or even Aliens vs Pinball, Zen Studios has flooded the market with excellent quality Pinball games in recent years. The Wii U did receive Zen Pinball 2, which then received some decent support through the first year or two of the game's existence on the Wii U eShop, bringing newer tables to the platform every now and then, though often times later than on other platforms. However, support then abruptly declined when it was clear that the Wii U wasn't a very popular system, despite the game remaining fairly popular amongst its small community of fans chasing down top scores on the leader boards. Recent tables added to the roster never reached the Wii U, but this offence to Nintendo fans is about to be rectified now that Pinball FX3 has just landed on the Switch eShop after a short delay. It's time to dive right in and see how things have evolved!

Instead of a proper stand-alone game, Pinball FX3 is not much more than an engine on top of which players get to purchase pinball tables of their choice. This has not changed since previous releases such as Zen Pinball 2 on Wii U. Pinball FX3 does come with a freebie table though, the same as what Zen Studios is offering on other platforms, even on smart devices: Sorcerer's Lair. It is a welcoming table for newcomers of the genre, telling a childish ghost story with a good magical atmosphere conveyed through both visuals and audio. The perfect entry point for people looking to be initiated to the genre, including younger audiences who may have even less chance to be exposed to real life pinball tables in this day and age (bingo type pinball games still found by and large in pubs will never count). It looks decidedly nice on the eyes, it's colourful and the objectives are easy enough to understand and grasp from the get-go, which is not always necessarily the case in all tables released by Zen Studios, not that it is a bad thing since there has to be tables for players of all levels of skill.

This is however all still very similar to what already existed before, even on smart devices. What Pinball FX3 adds on top is a complete revamp of the interface and a slew of new additions thrown into the mix. Now, a character progression system is in place which, through countless hours of bouncing the ball in the vast array of available tables, nets experience points. Levelling up a profile allows one to boast about their prowess on the now much more visible online elements of the game, be it tournaments, challenges or the newly added duel mode to play against others online. It is now easier than ever to set up tournaments with friends to take part in, setting up specific rules not so far off what can be done in an online game of Super Smash Bros.

Screenshot for Pinball FX3  on Nintendo Switch

Duels, which were not part of the experience until now, vastly expand the online experience to bring it firmly into this day and age of constant online interactions. The incentive to play is therefore stronger than ever then, since Pinball games are, understandably so, purely score-based games. The classic online rankings are of course still very much present and will continue to attract those who are the most devoted. That is not to say however that only the most devoted can have a bit of fun! A tutorial is in place to teach newcomers tricks that they can perform, from trapping the ball with a flipper to carefully assessing the situation before aiming a precise shot, or how to pass the ball from one flipper to the other with a bump of the table and so on and so forth. Since Pinball FX3 regroups so many mainstream franchises in its packs, such as Aliens or, not yet available on the Switch Star Wars, it is likely to attract fans of the franchises who may never have touched a pinball game in their life, whether a real one or not. Therefore the tutorial is a very welcome addition indeed.

Going even further and still on the same register as character progression, unlockable upgrades are also available which helps to score more points when hitting bumpers or do things such as slowing down the ball to make it easier to perform tricky shots, under the right circumstances. This gives a little bit of an RPG feel to the experience that feels surprisingly good! These upgrades come in two forms: Wizard powers and passive upgrades. The former needs to be unlocked by scoring stars in the challenge mode and is triggered manually in-game, while the latter is, as their name suggests, passive and always active once selected, and are earned and levelled up by performing certain actions on said table. Indeed, these powers are tied to the tables themselves so progression on a table, indicated by a progression meter, is primordial to broaden the array of possible special upgrades.

Screenshot for Pinball FX3  on Nintendo Switch

On top of all these features, the fact that the Switch is also a portable system makes this version of Pinball FX3 more desirable than any other, since the same profile can be played both at home and on the go. Naturally however, playing on the go in offline mode, means that scores earned will not count towards online leader boards. But that doesn't mean that fun can't be had otherwise on the go of course, and Zen Studios has made sure that the portable mode of the system is fully supported. For example, the touch screen is 100% supported, whether to control the menus or to simply play the game with no controllers connected, as if playing the game on a tablet. Though physical controls tend to be preferable for this type of game, but the effort of fully supporting the feature is commendable in a world where not all developers go to such lengths. Granted the work on touch screen features only needed to be ported over from iOS and Android in this case. The Switch can even be held vertically, JoyCon R pointing down, to get a full bird's eye view of the table and play. In that configuration, the tiny B and X buttons of the JoyCon R then become the left and right flipper buttons, respectively. These buttons being small doesn't make it the most comfortable set up, but the effort to support physical control even in vertical, or "TATE" mode is yet again a commendable one, since touch screen input may not always offer the best response, not because of how the game is programmed but simply because that's the nature of touch screens in general requiring a response time.

The fact that these tables can even be enjoyed on the go, especially in hot-seat multiplayer mode in addition to being playable on the big screen, is a big plus for the Switch version over its competitors. However that does not come without a few sad shortcomings which one can only hope will be improved upon in the near future.

Screenshot for Pinball FX3  on Nintendo Switch

In docked mode, the game seems to run at a native 720p and mostly at 60FPS, though a few dips can be observed here and there. The overall result, without any sort of anti aliasing applied, looks rather rough around the edges and ends up a bit disappointing at the end of the day. It is understood that Pinball FX3 does do a bit more in terms of visual fluff than its predecessor Zen Pinball 2 on the Wii U, most notably on real time lighting effects and shadows of objects being naturally cast over the tables... but the former version did look much more smooth in comparison. In handheld mode, the resolution seems exactly the same, which on the portable screen looks a lot crisper and clean, but sadly this once again comes at another cost: performance. The game in handheld mode targets a locked 30FPS frame rate and sadly it does not always manage that. For comparison sake, Zen Pinball on smart devices is optimised to run extra smooth on Tegra-based devices, taking full advantage of the extra feature of the GPU on devices such as the Nvidia Shield tablet or handheld gaming console, as well as on Tegra-based smartphones.

This reviewer can attest that the game runs at a native 720p and butter smooth 60FPS on a Tegra 4i-based Android phone with 4-times less RAM than the Switch, and that the textures on there may even look a bit sharper. That chipset is two generations behind that of the Switch, so the fact that the more recent game seems to have trouble running on much more advanced hardware is more than a little bit puzzling, more so since Zen Studios have previous experience working with Nvidia's mobile hardware and optimising their product for it. Again, it is understood that Pinball FX3 features a whole new version of the engine that produces more effects, but if one had to choose between visual effects and performance... performance should have been a higher priority for the Switch release, and this is but the only shadow cast over this particular release which is otherwise pretty flawless. With that being said however, we have seen Switch games before this one receive massive updates that dramatically improved performance, such as Minecraft now supporting 1080p when docked and Super Bomberman R being updated to run at 60FPS, so there is still hope for this one to be improved upon after release.

Screenshot for Pinball FX3  on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Pinball FX3 leaves some things to be desired on the technical side of things, which can only be hoped to see fixed in the near future through an update since it looks and performs rougher than even its predecessor on the Wii U and, at least in terms of performance in handheld mode, worse than on the 3DS. Nevertheless, Pinball FX3 is an excellent way to experience original virtual pinball tables in this day and age, if not the go-to and indispensable way of doing so. Fans of pinball and/or Zen Studios' previous efforts in that area should then definitely give this new hub game a flip, but bear in mind the current technical limitations that are hard to fathom and which are yet to be resolved.

Developer

Zen Studios

Publisher

Zen Studios

Genre

Table Games

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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