STAFF REVIEW of Pinball M (Xbox One)

Friday, December 15, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Pinball M Box art I’m glad I grew up in the early years of gaming, as I got to experience actual arcades in their prime, being some of my fondest gaming memories. I was lucky enough to be given a few quarters each day before school, as my mom would allow me to stop at the local arcade on the way home and play a few games before returning. I swear, at least half of those precious quarters went to pinball machines. The arcade I frequented had all the pinball machines in a corner, with dozens of different choices to play, though I generally tended to gravitate towards my favorites that I could play longer than others.

While playing pinball at home on the TV isn’t nearly the same experience as pressing those buttons for the flippers in real life, it’s simply going to have to do these days. This is where Zen Studios comes in, easily the biggest name in virtual pinball. Having played their pinball games for many years now, their latest release, Pinball M, is now here for horror and pinball fans alike to enjoy.

I’ll admit, I was a little confused at first, as I reviewed their last title, Pinball FX, which was more of a platform and service to house all your virtual pinball purchases in one place. That’s why Pinball M being a separate game on its own surprised me, as I thought they would have simply added more tables and packs to their core FX game, though there were some monetization choices I didn’t fully agree with.

Like their other releases, the game itself is free to download and play, giving you one table to play endlessly. How they hook you is teasing other tables for you to play on, adding as standalone tables or getting a minor discount if you purchase the bundle. Pinball M is horror themed, so you can expect a bloody good time on these more mature rated tables. Purchasing tables are $6.99 CAD each, or $25.99 for the pack of 4 DLC additions, as the base table is free, for a total of 5 tables.

Wrath of the Elder Gods: Director’s Cut – This is your free table, which may seem familiar if you bought the original version for Pinball FX. This Lovecraftian inspired table seems to be largely the same table as before, though with a little more blood and different music I believe. The top of the table has a sinister monster overlooking the playfield and a Cthulhu creature on the left that may aim for your ball as it passes nearby.

The Thing Pinball – Based on the 1982 classic from John Carpenter, this table has you battling the alien from U.S. Outpost #31. I found this table challenging with some of the quick speeds and steep ramps, never able to get much of a high score compared to some of the other tables. With a handful of different missions, you’ll need to collect blood samples to work towards finding who the impostor is.

Chucky’s Killer Pinball – Based on everyone’s favorite killer doll, Chucky is back, albeit in pinball form. This table was by far the bloodiest and creepiest of them all. There’s a bloody axe that chops away when hitting certain targets, you can see Chucky, his bride Tiffany Valentine and their deranged kid Glen/Glenda painted in the middle of the playfield. A large slashed up Chucky head sits atop the table and watches your ball movement for just that extra bit of creepiness, as is seeing the Good Guy’s packaging off to the side of the table. I too found this table easy to lose my ball down the middle, though became better with more practice.

Dead by Daylight Pinball – Based on the popular online asymmetric multiplayer survival horror game with the same name, this interesting table gives you the choice of playing as a survivor or killer (sadly only Trapper), just like in the game it’s based on. This offers many different quests to work on and each survivor is unique as well. There’s plenty of references to the original game here and if you enjoy numerous skill shots and quests, this table is for you.

Last and not least was by far my favorite table of the bundle, Duke Nukem’s: Big Shot Pinball. Having grown up with the original Duke Nukem games and thinking he was a badass, they’ve incorporated everything Duke you’d expect to find in pinball form. You’re going to have to have BALLS OF STEEL to take down all the alien scum, and I was easily racking up millions and millions of points on this table. There’s some fun quests and skill shots here, one where you even go into the iconic theater and use the flippers to shoot aliens, rewarding you with that sweet pixelated (but clothed) stripper dancing all us young kids enjoyed seeing.

Options allow for portrait or landscape mode, depending on your setup, and you’ll constantly be trying to climb the local and online leaderboards, and just having play a table for ten minutes and think you have a score on one can possibly beat, you’ll get humbled real quick when you see it’s a fraction of the top of the online leaderboards.

Like Pinball FX, there’s numerous ways to play each of the tables. Yeah you could play it in Classic mode, but there’s a number of different ways to play, each of which help you raise your pinball skills in unique ways. For example, one mode may only give you a certain amount of flipper hits, like 200 or so, needing to get the highest score possible without using the flipper as much as you normally would. This forced me to do much less hold and aim shots, as that counts as a use. Or maybe you want to see how high a score you can get in a set amount of time, or maybe with one ball. These modes offer a bit of variety to the standard gameplay that makes a return from Pinball FX.

What is new though is a Campaign Mode for each of the tables. A campaign mode in a pinball game? But how you may ask. Well, the title is a bit misleading, as it’s really just a number of different objectives you pick from the beginning, usually broken up into different modes as described above. The challenging mode was where your score continually decreases after a set amount of time, so you better keep racking up those points to survive as long as you can.

The best part and what makes Campaign Mode worthwhile is the unlockable cosmetics you earn for your individual table's play space. Somewhat like how Pinball FX had unlockable items to decorate with, here there’s no terrible microtransactions or Pinball Pass to deal with, simply earning a currency the more and better you play, allowing you to unlock banners, titles, table skins, icons, ball and flipper skins, and more. Each Campaign mission unlocks a specific ‘upgrade’ to your room for that table, like having a life sized Duke standing beside the table once a specific mission is complete. These don’t do anything to alter gameplay, but certainly made me play each table’s Campaign missions to get all of the unlocks.

Tournament play returns, allowing you to create or join anyone’s specific ruleset. The best change though was giving you a special currency for playing in other players’ tournaments, which will then let you spend a certain amount to be featured, thus have more players play your unique challenges. With seemingly endless tournaments and events, there’s plenty to challenge yourself with regardless of what table(s) you purchase.

Just like Pinball FX, the tables look and play fantastic. Sure I would have loved to have a 120fps mode to match my TV, but each table looked unique and truly represented its franchise quite well. While having two titles, Pinball FX and Pinball M, might confuse some, Pinball M is arguably the ‘better’ title simply given the fact that Zen Studios didn’t try and nickel and dime with shady Pinball Passes or useless microtransactions. With a wealth of horror based games and movies, I’m hoping to see more tables come to Pinball M in the future, as its success will be based on continual table additions. Make a Friday the 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween or SAW based table in the future and I’ll continue to come back for a bloody good time.

**Pinball M (DLC Bundle) was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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