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Pinball FX3: Universal Classics
Score: 70%
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: MMO
Genre: Action/Classic/Retro/Online

Introduction:

Reviewing Pinball FX3: Universal Classics has left me torn in half. On one hand, Iím floored by the attention to visual detail and the extraordinary care taken in table and mission design as it relates to the licenses being adapted. On the other hand, Iím much too distracted by the cringeworthy radio play nature of its thematic sound design. Here we have three excellent pinball tables adapted from three of the best films of the late twentieth century; youíd think one of two things: that great pains were taken to ensure comprehensive, faithful adaptations or the project would have been scrapped. Iím sorry to say, while Universal Classics absolutely nails half of its aesthetic design, the other half is bad enough to inflict severe, irreparable damage to the product itself. Part of me wants to give them credit for at least trying to fill in the gaps, but what they came up with falls desperately short of what these films deserve. The pinball is fantastic and absolutely worthy of Zenís sterling reputation for design. But I have a feeling very few fans will be able to ignore Universal Classicsí biggest flaw.

Back to the Future:

Zen is clearly a fan of Back to the Future; visually, itís an excellent adaptation of that timeless 1985 original. Visual flair abounds, from the use of the color scheme and font from the filmís title card used throughout, to the fire trails emitted by the ball when traveling at high speeds. The flux capacitor pulses with rhythmic light, the time circuit switch serves as the ball launch, and special effects reflect all four time periods featured in the trilogy.

I got scared when Alan Silvestriís classic theme failed to fire up, and I knew I was in for some real hurt when not-Christopher-Lloyd offered a desperate "Great Scott!" The bland adventure motif that accompanies this Back to the Future table lies in contrast with the incredible production design and attention to detail. Movie fans with a keen eye are going to find a lot to love, provided theyíre not wrestling with the unfaithfulness of the music and voice acting as I was. Marty sounds just enough like Michael J. Fox to make it work. Oddly enough, some of the sound effects are clearly assets from the film; take for instance the spinner. The steadily increasing whine accompanied by a series of quickening beeps sounds exactly like the DeLoreanís remote control during that iconic scene in the parking lot of the Twin Pines (later Lone Pine) Mall. Only so much of this can make up for the music and voice acting, which is equal parts unfaithful and trying way too hard.


E.T. The Extra Terrestrial:

I suppose E.T. The Extra Terrestrial has had something of a dubious reputation as far as our medium is concerned, but this is something of an exception. The table is well-designed and borders on reverent throughout. Tons of little throwbacks to elements both memorable and nitpicky are all over the place: for crying out loud, the ball launch mechanic is the Jaws-style shark-on-a-stick. There's a neat day/night cycle, and the most important moments from the film are hardly glossed over. Zen loves E.T., that much is clearly apparent.

So why in the name of Keys does Elliott sound like a girl? I know itís 2017 and weíve got weirdos clamoring for a female James Bond, but E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is untouchable. Henry Thomas may have been incredibly shrill in parts, but he was too good to shuffle under the rug in favor of someone who sounds like sheís never even seen the film. And once again, John Williams' uplifting, wistful soundtrack failed to make the jump, and all we've got to work with is more bland adventure music that can't hope to replicate the same emotion.


Jaws:

The movie that basically started the tradition we know as the summer blockbuster gets a table. And unlike the comprehensive nature of the other tables, this one dedicates almost all of its real estate to the final act of the film, in which Chief Brody, Matt Hooper, and Bartholomew Quint are on the water in pursuit of the shark. It works; not much of the other drama would really work on a pinball table. After all, do you really expect a mission dedicated to poor little Alex Kintner becoming a mid-day snack? Of course, there's less focus on Amity Island politics and more on barrels, harpoons, and air tanks.

Robert Shaw's performance as Quint is easily one of the most memorable parts of the film, and this table knows that. However, we're dealing with another one of those second-hand asset emulations. Fortunately, this one isn't that bad; I couldn't tell if Brody or Hooper had anything to say, but the Quint stand-in is mostly solid, even though he sounds more like a stereotypical pirate than a haunted, obsessed old sea dog. Capping it off is the music, which is no substitute for the original, but about right in terms of theme.


Conclusion:

Iím going to hold my nose and recommend Pinball FX3: Universal Classics, but only if you can look past how unofficial and second-hand the music and voice acting is. For my part, I almost canít stand to play these tables for that reason alone. From a gameplay perspective, I know thatís unfair; it's entirely possible (and for my part, recommended) to turn off the voice acting and music, but I just canít shake the feeling of incompleteness. I remember being disgusted at how South Park Pinball was presented, but at least they had enough in terms of official assets. They had the music and the voice clips to ultimately make it work. Pinball FX3: Universal Classics is, by comparison, painful to witness. I personally donít think these tables should have even been greenlit until Zen was absolutely sure theyíd be able to deliver something 100% faithful to the source material.

In the future, if Zen is able to retroactively patch in official assets, consider Universal Classics a must-buy and its score twenty percentage points higher.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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