I’ve been a massive fan of Zen Studios’ Pinball FX series ever since it debuted in 2007 on the Xbox 360. Since then, the sequels – Pinball FX 2 and 3 – have had the feel of true pinball platforms, rather than just a small collection of individual, digital tables. Zen have been able to secure some absolutely phenomenal licences, including Marvel, Star Wars, Bethesda (covering Fallout, Skyrim and Doom), Aliens (and Predator!) and even some classic Universal Movies such as ET, Back to the Future, Jaws and Jurassic Park. There’s a table within the Pinball FX 3 selection for everyone, it seems, with some incredible tables that really showcase a passion for – and understanding of – the licensed property that’s been adapted into pinball form.
I was absolutely devastated when rival platform Pinball Arcade lost their licence to produce tables based on the real world machines produced by Williams in 2018. With Pinball Arcade’s entire platform being based around recreating classic pinball machines from a number of different manufacturers and Williams being the company responsible for many of the most popular and acclaimed tables in history, it concerned me that I’d no longer be able to play their machines in digital form – especially as their presence in the real world is becoming ever rarer as the years go by.
However, when I learned that Zen had acquired the licence, I breathed a sigh of relief. Not only was Zen’s platform a much more technically accomplished way to play, but also Pinball FX 3 generally goes the extra mile to make machines feel a little more elaborate than a real world table could be, with fully animated, 3D models often roaming the playfield. Would they apply the same design principles even when recreating the real tables from Williams? They absolutely did – and the machines themselves have arguably never looked or sounded better as a result.
The two tables included in the Universal Monsters Pack are the ones I was most worried about losing access to via Pinball Arcade. Both The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster Bash are tables I’m extremely familiar with after playing the real machines extensively – I’m so fond of the former, in fact, that I wrote an entire article about it. Those of you that know me well also know that I’m a big fan of Universal Monsters in general, so Monster Bash was always a favourite of mine too.
Both tables have been recreated beautifully, as is to be expected given Zen’s usual attention to detail. They’re vibrantly colourful and the extra elements – such as the Gillman emerging from his holographic lagoon on the Creature from the Black Lagoon table – have been wonderfully, respectfully implemented. They play well, too – with Zen’s physics engine just feeling so much more satisfying than the model in Pinball Arcade.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon is an endlessly appealing design to me, from the wonderful art to the drive-in movie theme and great recreations of classic 1950s rock and roll songs. The hologram lagoon on the playfield, just above the flippers, is a thing of beauty too – with the aforementioned 3D creature emerging from it during gameplay (a real step up from the hologram featured on the real table). It’s a tough table to do well at though, with some monstrously placed targets to reach (curse those damn Snack Bar targets!).
Monster Bash has a brilliantly kooky theme, with Dracula seeking to gather the classic Universal Monsters together to play a rock concert. The colours are appealingly lurid, the illustrations wonderful and the table goals pretty straightforward to work out. It’s a very satisfying game with loads to aim for at any one time, giving it a much more open feel than The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Pinball FX3 allows players to level up and use power ups too, which can make things a lot easier to play, eventually. They may be a bit too harsh and unforgiving for players either unfamiliar with the real machines or those more used to the slightly less old school original Zen designs. But for fans, these are a brilliant way of playing fondly remembered tables that are very difficult to find in the real world, in gloriously colourful high resolution.
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