I love virtual pinball games. And pinball in general.
And even though I’ve already downloaded, purchased tables for, and played both Pinball FX 3 and Stern Pinball Arcade on other platforms…I immediately installed both of them yesterday on my Nintendo Switch, ready to start all over again.
I couldn’t be happier.
This is basically a first impressions piece, and I’ll do reviews in about a week.
It’s not all perfect, but both of these conversions are still capable Switch releases of these games.
PINBALL FX 3
Pinball FX 3 is a radical overhaul of a base game that Zen Studios has been developing for a decade now.
Zen completely upgraded the graphics and physics for each table, with a fully dynamic lighting system that looks great. They added in a bunch of cool asynchronous multiplayer features based on stuff they developed for the mobile versions of the game. And they added a whole RPG-style profile progression system, where you both level up your own profile and level up special abilities on each table.
The result was a lot of fun when it first launched on other platforms earlier this year.
The Switch version brings all of this over to Nintendo’s hybrid console…mostly.
All of the gameplay modes are still here, and the graphics look great…in docked mode. The game seems to run at 720p both docked and in handheld mode…but only when it’s docked does it hit a full 60 frames per second. The framerate in handheld mode is halved down to 30FPS, and while it’s still totally playable…it’s a little jarring for me since I’m so used to how the game feels at 60.
I’m happy that they kept all the new graphical features in handheld mode, so that’s something. But docked mode is the best way to play for framerate purists.
Also, the Switch version currently has the smallest catalog of available tables.
It does have the free Zen-created “Carnivals and Legends” bonus tables this week that are also free on other platforms, and it does have some of the newer licensed stuff like the Aliens pack and the Universal Studios pack.
But it doesn’t have any of the Star Wars or Marvel tables. Or the Bethesda tables.
I assume the licensing deals are being worked on for that content. I hope so, anyway! The Disney stuff is not that surprising considering how prickly they’ve been towards licensees lately…but Bethesda has released several games on Switch this year. So I have to assume those are coming soon?
On the plus side, the game does make use of HD Rumble in a huge and wonderful way. Every table has a ton of different HD Rumble effects. You can also play the game with the touch screen in portable mode, complete with a vertical screen option, and leave one Joy Con connected to still get the rumble. Pretty neat!
In spite of the halved framerate in portable mode and the lower number of available tables…the Switch still provides the full online-connected Pinball FX 3 experience and all of the gameplay. Once the table selection is brought more in line with the other versions, there’s no real reason to select the other platforms over Switch unless you’re super picky about resolutions or frame rates or hate cool rumble.
STERN PINBALL ARCADE
First let me be that guy: I wish Farsight studios had ported Pinball Arcade to Switch instead of Stern Pinball Arcade.
Maybe that larger game is coming later?
Anyway, this conversion is content-identical to the other versions, but has some sacrifices. The framerate is nice and smooth in both docked and portable modes, but the graphics sit somewhere between the mobile and console versions of the game. They look a little bland compared to the bigger, more powerful machines, but still okay.
Also, the sound is entirely in MONO.
Come on Farsight, really?
I know not everyone is the sound-obsessed dude that I am, but it’s weird to play a game with mono sound in 2017.
This has randomly happened in different other versions of Pinball Arcade over the years. I understand that a lot of the original Pinball tables had sound in mono, but many of them used stereo sound. Also, even if the table sound is in mono, couldn’t the menu music and the flipper sound effects at least be in stereo? And even though storage space is a little cramped on portable systems…couldn't they have used a higher bit rate?
Pinball FX 3 sounds and looks much better, overall. Even with its framerate cut in half in portable mode.
Those technical grumbles aside…Stern Pinball Arcade is still a fine version of a decent emulation of a bunch of Stern’s pinball machines. The difficulty is much more brutal, since these are tables that were originally designed to suck quarters out of players…so bear that in mind!
I complain because I love.
I plan to write more about both of these games in the near future, and I’m very happy that both of these fun pinball titles came to Switch. I might have some technical complaints about each of them…but they still allow me to take mostly un-compromised versions of some of my favorite games on the go. And that’s still super cool.