Pinball M screenshot

Review: Pinball M (PC)

Adults like pinball too.

6 mins read

I’m not entirely sure what the point of Pinball M is. It’s Zen Studios quality pinball through-and-through, and yet it is a distinct app and download, rather than a DLC drop onto the existing Pinball FX platform. I can only assume that the goal here was to include content that is adult enough that it wouldn’t have been appropriate for Pinball FX itself, but Zen Studios has handled horror-themed tables well in the past and not needed to release them as a separate app. It certainly isn’t doing enough with this “adults-only” platform to actually provide an adults-only experience.

Related reading: We interviewed the Zen Studios team about pinball a few years ago now. Check it out here.

It bothers me because as enjoyable as Pinball M is – and again, it’s Zen Studios quality pinball, and they’re the best in the business as far as virtual tables go – it’s also very limited, and therefore may well not build the kind of critical mass community that has made the Pinball FX series so popular for so many years now. In Pinball M, there are just five tables and… well, it’s anything but a comprehensive look at horror.

Of the five, the best two are The Thing, and Wrath of the Elder Gods. Wrath of the Elder Gods is free with the download, which is a Lovecraftian table with plenty of wet tentacles and a near-perfect drinking dankness that comes through Lovecraft’s writing. The Thing is DLC (along with all the other tables), and has a nice, wide, and classic pinball table design that perfectly suits a film from a few decades ago.

Pinball M screenshot

The Thing is also one of the all-time great horror masterpieces, so belongs in any horror-themed collection. Beyond that, though, things fall off a cliff. Chucky’s Killer Pinball is indeed based on a horror property, but one that sits a very distant place behind the classics of the genre. Dead by Daylight is a perfectly fine horror game, but again, while commercially successful it’s not the masterpiece of an Alan Wake or Resident Evil. And then there’s Duke Nukem’s Big Shot Pinball which is… well, look. If I was creating an anthology of horror classics, and only had five titles to draw into the collection, Duke Nukem wouldn’t even enter the conversation.

These are good, well-playing tables, to be clear. Zen hasn’t messed with its basic approach to pinball, and at this point, most pinball fans will know what Zen does, so they should have a good idea of how the game plays, but as good as it plays, the curation is just shocking. It feels like the entire package was cobbled together from what Zen Studios could obtain in terms of licenses, rather than a sincere effort to create a “special edition” of adult, dark, horror-themed “special edition” of Zen’s work. You could well argue that the base Pinball FX, which includes a Lovecraftian table, Jaws, Aliens, and Doom-themed tables has actually done a better job of curating a horror-themed experience.

Now, in terms of the content being adult-themed then, yes, to an extent. I can’t see Chucky or Dead by Daylight being particularly appropriate for the all-ages platform, but at the same time, it’s not like Zen Studios is really pushing boundaries here. The theming is dark and violent, but people aren’t going to be shocked by what they experience across these tables.

Screenshot from Pinball M

For all of that said above, Zen Studios has announced that there will be more coming to the platform. For Pinball M to have any chance of building a sustainable community that sits alongside Pinball FX, I would suggest that they need to get things up to around 20, and quickly, and hook in some A-list shockers. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare on Elm Street are all essential. I would also suggest that the developer need to grab some more classic horror and bring us Dracula, Frankenstein, and perhaps the non-Disney version of Grimm fairy tales. Finally, the developer needs to actually push boundaries. If you’re going to give people an anthology of horror-themed pinball tables, take the opportunity to actually deliver some shocking material.

I like Pinball M. I like Zen Studios’ work and I like the idea of a mature platform for adult pinball games. This launch is underwhelming, however, and rather than mildly more mature than all ages, Zen really should be looking to go all out. Drench our screen in blood, bring in some of the eroticism of horror, and really shock us, Zen. Make Pinball M both mature and comprehensive, and these two platforms of yours really could exist side-by-side effectively.

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