Pinball M is a horror-themed pinball simulator from genre leaders Zen Studios, best known for their Pinball FX series. As with the FX series, M (which we’re told stands for ‘mature’) is a hub that allows you to purchase new tables as DLC as and when they’re released and with Zen’s reputation taking something of a battering after Pinball FX3, it’s interesting to see them branch away from it and release something standalone.
At launch, Pinball M supports five tables. Wrath of the Elder Gods is the bundled-in freebie and offers a decently playable table with some Lovecraftian horror. There are some good opportunities on the table for some early high-scoring and we didn’t find ourselves plagued by the outlane drains or unhittable zingers right down the middle, so this is a good table which should appeal to most types of horror fans.
Along with that one, there are two videogame themed tables based on Duke Nukem and Dead By Daylight and two film-based ones based on Chucky and, most excitingly, The Thing. They’re all very good, as you’d expect from Zen (even with Pinball FX3‘s issues, none of the problems were with the tables themselves).
Duke Nukem is full of low-polygon enemies and is based outside the iconic cinema location from that game’s first level. Borrowing events from key set-pieces in the game, this table excels and it even drops in a fun little first-person sequence. And, of course, it’s peppered with Duke’s famous one-liners. It’s a fun table that should win over any gamers, even if Duke Nukem was some shit their dad played.
Dead By Daylight brings things more up to date as it is based on Behaviour Interactive’s still-popular 2016 online shooter/slasher. Borrowing from the game’s asymmetric multiplayer gameplay, this table sees you either playing as the killer or a survivor. Obviously, playing as a survivor is more tense as you frantically try to hit targets before the killer ends your run. Again, a very playable and interesting table.
Chucky and The Thing both focus on ’80s horror films and both do a great job of making challenges out of key scenes from their respective source materials, as well as using the table display screen to show clips from the movie. We never much cared about Chucky so we can’t say how well it captures the spirit of the movie but it is another good table. We spent a lot more time enjoying The Thing though. Set outside the wooden cabins of Outpost 31, this one sees you fending off the titular Thing while a top notch impersonator recreates lines from the movie. We never imagined we’d be playing a pinball game that makes a challenge out of burning mutating dogs but here we are.
As ever, each table enjoys Zen’s superlative use of ball physics, making Pinball M as realistic in the areas that matter as it needs to be while using the videogame format to put in elements that couldn’t be achieved mechanically on a real table and, as far as these early impressions go, Pinball M is looking like it’ll be a good package for horror-themed pinball fans everywhere.
What we enjoyed is the game’s meta structure. As with FX3, there are several ways to play if the traditional ‘three balls’ way isn’t for you. You’ve got your usual challenge modes (one ball, limited time, limited flips), upgrade-enable play (which allows you to incorporate time rewinds and slo-mo) and online tournaments which will extend the game’s life span considerably for you. And there are plenty of customisations to be earned that allow you to change the decor in the areas where each table sits (they each get their own corner rather than being set in a wooden games room now). For some reason, the tournaments don’t always show up for us though, as if something is wrong with the netcode. There’s a workaround which seems to eventually pull the list through but it’s pretty frustrating. Although not as frustrating as us finishing second in multiple tournaments but not actually winning one yet. As ever, there are some truly gifted players out there in the leaderboards.
That said, there are some concerns. From stuttery performance on some tables (which led us to actually check that we were in ‘performance’ mode as opposed to the graphics mode which never seems to look any better anyway) to overall worries about how this package will be supported and monetised in the future. Currently the tables are a fiver each with a ‘Death Save Bundle’ offering all four for £15.99. That’s not a bad deal. But we’ll be annoyed if the horror-themed tables we’ve got for FX2, such as the Aliens ones, get resold on here. Also, there’s just a general sense of bafflement as to why this couldn’t just all be done in FX3 where the rest of our library is. I mean, we guess it’s so that Pinball M can safely stick to that mature rating in terms of violence and language, but it seems a shame to have to split our collection up.
But none of that matters too much right now. We’re just happy because we love horror and we love Pinball FX, so this marriage made in Hell works well for us conceptually and we’re sure that any performance issues will soon be ironed out as the FX games were always well-maintained with server side patching. We’re also very keen to see what other horror IPs Zen will be bringing to Pinball M.
+ Good early selection of tables
+ Plenty of ways to play
- General worries about future monetisation
- Did it really need to be a separate place to collect more tables?