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Pinball M Review - Horror Pinball With The Thing CHUCKY And Duke?



Pinball M Review by SilentSigns

PC/XBOX/PS/Switch

Zen Studios

11/30/2023


Zen Pinball fans, assemble!!! It's time to talk about the latest release from the now infamous Zen Studios, Pinball M -- a horror themed digital pinball experience. 


I've always loved digital pinball games.  While I might suck at the real thing because I never had enough quarters to hone my craft, you best believe I could sit in front of my windows PC in the late 90s - early 2000s playing 3D Pinball for Windows (aka the Space Cadet table) to absolute death! I can still hear the electrifying sounds in my head to this very day.  Core memories.  


In the more recent past, I've been playing pinball games from Zen Studios for a good decade and a half now.  My first title from this Hungarian team was 2009's Zen Pinball for the PS3, which I played to death as well, recapturing that Space Cadet feeling and competing with my friends and family to see who could get the most impressive score.  I have many fond memories of these friendly competitions and I played the hell out of those original tables.


Fast-forward to present day and the release of Pinball M.


screenshot from Chucky's Killer Pinball
Chucky's Killer Pinball

First things first, the Wrath of the Elder Gods: Director’s Cut table is free to play, so you can sample the overall look and feel of the Pinball M experience without having to get out your wallet.  If you like what you see, there are additional tables available for purchase including Chucky's Killer Pinball, Dead by Daylight Pinball, Duke Nukem's Big Shot Pinball and The Thing Pinball.  Personally I'm not really sure I consider Duke Nukem horror, but it's bloody enough that I'll let it slide.  Regardless of my feelings on the theming, I did play through all five tables, so let's dive a bit further into what it included with your purchase. 


Let's start things off with the free Elder Gods table, which is a lot of fun.  While it might not have the same recognition factor as some of the other more franchise-themed tables, it has eerie sounds and tentacles with the fun voice clips you've come to know and love from Zen.  And hey, if you've played Pinball FX, this might even look a bit familiar to you.  We'll get to that later.  


Next up, we have The Thing table and Chucky's Killer Pinball.  I'm lumping these two together because they're both movie-based and it just feels right.  Hearing soundbites from the movies and watching the occasional scene unfurl on these tables really enhances the experience.  Having recently watched through all of the Child's Play films, I can say with confidence that Chucky would be proud.  The blood effect used on these tables is a great touch and the unlockables you can earn relate directly to these horror classics, which is a fun incentive.  I did find that I was particularly dreadful at The Thing table, but hey--can't win 'em all.  


Then we have our video game themed tables -- Duke Nukem and Dead By Daylight.  Duke's table still feels classic pinball to me, featuring our titular hero jetting around and spewing his classic catchphrases.  Dead By Daylight has some really unique twists, like the ability to choose between killer and prey at the beginning for different events and effects.  This element makes the whole thing feel more strategic and adds some replay value that I was not expecting.  Both tables are fun and fresh; I certainly wasn't disappointed with either, but I surprised myself by liking Dead by Daylight a bit more despite never playing the game.  I know, shame on me, but in my defense I am deathly afraid of playing online with strangers.


Screenshot of DEAD BY DAYLIGHT Pinball
DEAD BY DAYLIGHT Pinball

Now that we have a basic rundown of the available content, let's break down what you can do with each table as there are a number of different ways to play .  First, there is your classic pinball mode.  3 balls, two bumpers and unlimited time to net yourself a high score and potentially a spot on the leaderboards.  If you're tired of playing regular-shmegular pinball, there is an "arcade mode" that features powerups to spice up your gameplay a bit, like the ability to slow down time to perform a death-defying ball save.  


Then there is a practice mode, a competitive mode where you can pass the controller with local friends, and classic challenge modes that limit your time, flipper usage and distance traveled.  BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE.  Each table also features a set of Pinball M challenges, including a "madness challenge," where you compete for a high score in chaotic multiball mode, or the "shiver challenge" that has you playing on a pitch-black table.  There is definitely no shortage of ways to play these tables, and each mode features its own leaderboards so you can see how you stack up against your competition.


Did you think we were done talking about all the ways to play? Ah, so naive.  THERE'S MORE! If taking on random challenges without any sort of guidance isn't your speed, each table features its own separate campaign where you can play through specifically designated challenge types to score yourself unlockables.  


Not enough for you? How about tournaments, events and daily challenges? All the while, you'll be leveling yourself up and earning even more unlockables to customize your play corners, banners, badges, titles and so much more.  There is definitely a lot to create and customize here which is a nice touch, though seeing my name on the leaderboards (even if it's for a fleeting moment) is usually enough incentive to keep me coming back for more.  


Any way you play, the game runs beautifully and it is going to be a welcome addition to any piball loving horror junkies.  HOWEVER.  


While I deeply enjoyed the theming and aesthetic of these tables, I do wonder why this had to be its own separate game.  Zen Studios released Pinball FX earlier this year with a plethora of themed tables ranging everywhere from South Park to Snoopy and My Little Pony.  I am curious why it would not be possible (or preferrable) to add these horror themed tables to the already-existing game that people are already using and purchasing tables for.  


Screenshot of The Thing Pinball
The Thing Pinball

Out of pure curiosity, I booted up Pinball FX to search for an explanation, but couldn't find any glaring reasons.  The only real differences that were immediately apparent between these two games is that Pinball M offers the campaign mode, has the additional "Pinball M" challenges and provides horror-specific content.  Honestly, everything else feels pretty identical.  Hell, you can even play Wrath of the Elder Gods in Pinball FX  (granted it's not the "Director's Cut" table, but it feels very much the same).   It's just an odd choice to make this an entirely separate product and have your consumers download another game.


My second qualm is that available content for Pinball M is pretty limited as of right now.  Anyone familiar with any of the Zen Studios pinball titles knows that you're going to have to pay to download most additional titles that become available, and it's either a price of admission you're willing to pay or it's not for you.  Either way is fine, but I could see folks getting a bit tired of these limited offerings and returning to Pinball FX instead.   


Regardless, if you're a diehard Zen Pinball fan, I think you'll really enjoy the assortment of tables and content in Pinball M.  I had a lot of fun with these original tables, customizing my banner and play corner and trying to boost my score and I'm sure you will too.  As a horror fan, this set of tables feels meant for me and I can't wait to see what other themed tables are released. I am awarding Pinball M the bronze genie lamp of approval. While it's an absolute blast and has no real glaring issues, you have to wonder why it exists outside of Pinball FX. I'm sure there's a reason, I am just not quite sure what it is.


Pros:

  • Great pinball physics as always

  • New horror-themed tables are awesome

  • Tons of modes and ways to play

Cons:

  • Not much table variety

  • Unclear why we needed a second, separate pinball game


Bronze Genie Lamp
Bronze Genie Lamp

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