Pinball FX is a free to download pinball game with over 80 unique tables to fuel your pinball fever. Launch, flip, and tilt your way to victory in this updated classic that features a huge number of game modes, diverse boards, tons of ways to customize your playroom, and oodles of chances to compete in tournaments and cement your place in the leaderboards. What’s not to love about options?
After downloading the base Pinball FX game, you have a few options. The first is that you can play the tables released daily and play trials of other tables. The second is you can purchase a few (or all!) of the tables, which unlocks all of the table’s game modes. The third is you can purchase a monthly ($14.99) or yearly ($99.99) Pinball Pass that grants access to all of the tables – minus the Marvel and Indiana Jones ones – to play as much as you want.
Once you’ve made your choice, you get to get in on the sweet pinball action! The controls are super easy to pick up, and even more fun on PC; you just hit enter to use the plunger and shift keys for flippers. If you’re feeling really professional, you can use the alt keys and spacebar to tilt the machine to the side or forward. With the controls under your belt, everything else is a matter of practice.
It’s admittedly easy to fall into the “just one more try” mode of thinking once you find a table you like. The Snoopy, Garfield, and Captain America tables got me pretty fired up, but the World War Z table was by far my favorite. Most of the tables are interesting; the Williams collection are all based on real tables, which includes Monster Bash, Attack from Mars, and The Addams Family, the Universal collection’s got tons of tables based on classic films such as Jaws, and there’s even a DreamWorks collection with tables for How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda.
You can try out a number of different modes, including classic (no power-ups), arcade (yes power-ups), hotseat (four players, one table, classic rules), and practice (just you and the table for an hour, no worries or penalties). There’s also a few challenge modes, including timed, which gives you only five minutes to get a high score, and flipper, which challenges you to rack up as many points as possible with only 200 uses of the flippers. Flipper was one of my personal favorites; I’m admittedly accustomed to button-mashing with pinball, so it really was a challenge to only use the flippers when necessary!
As great as everything sounds, there’s a darker downside to Pinball FX that makes it hard to recommend: monetization. I mentioned earlier the game is free to download and not necessarily free to play. I also mentioned the tables either need to be purchased or you need a Pinball Pass. It’s hard to call the free download a “base game” because there isn’t much game that comes with it. You only get a day to play the free tables, and trials eventually end unless you pay for the table. If you like a certain table, you’ll end up paying $4-24 for it. This feels dishonest to call the base anything more than an extended demo that leads to you eventually paying for the game.
You’ll notice I said “$4-24”, which is because few tables can be purchased individually. Most have to be purchased in sets, which means there’s a good chance the table you want is going to come with tables you might not want. Paying for tables would feel less sleazy if they could all be purchased individually; $4 for the table I want and will play a lot is not that much. $24 for a pack of tables I’ll only play one of? It’s unforgivable in a game like this.
Many other games ask you to pay for new courses – in fact, a favorite of mine, Walkabout Minigolf, charges around $3 for each new course – but you still have the option to just buy what you want à la carte and leave it at that. In full disclosure the publisher did provide several tables unlocked for this review, but this means my experience will be less expensive than yours.
Pinball FX is hard for me to recommend. The actual game itself is great, with realistic pinball physics and tons of personality in board designs. But the way it’s presented feels dishonest as the “free” game is little more than a demo and only a few tables are playable each day. I don’t like microtransactions on mobile games and I don’t like them here, either. Ultimately, pinball fanatics might be okay with purchasing tables, accessories, and Pinball Passes, but even then, there are plenty of other games – including this one’s predecessor, Pinball FX3 – that can help you get your fix.