Before we start, I want to note the irony that, for nine years now, my fans at Indie Gamer Chick have complained that I don’t put enough stock (or any at all) into local co-op when I review some games. What can I say? Maybe if my Daddy had sat me in front of a Double Dragon coin-op instead of a Firepower pinball machine when I was a child, it’d be different. Alas.
I’ll cut to the chase: local multiplayer scores in Pinball FX3 don’t count for online leaderboards. Among the three modes offered for each table, if you don’t play single-player, you can’t chase records. This won’t matter to a lot of people, but it does for Oscar and myself. While I’m not exactly an elite-level player on the majority of tables, I have briefly held a few world records on a variety of tables, including Masters of the Force from Star Wars Pinball on Switch and, no matter how I did it, I am still legitimately the console world champion of Mustang for Pinball Arcade. My Dad is currently a top player a few Zaccaria tables on Xbox and hovers near the top 10% of several Pinball Arcade tables, and has been a top Judge Dredd player for the month a few times in 2020. But, when it comes to Pinball FX3, we have to chase records alone. That sucks for us, because the majority of our video pinballing we prefer to do via duels. Over 80% of the total accumulated playtime (and we’re talking hundreds of hours) spent playing Pinball Arcade for our review was spent competing against each-other. Frankly, we learn way more about tables via a duel than we do playing solo, because it puts a sharper focus on what targets matter and where the scoring balance lays. If Oscar is able to build a lead through sharp shooting and guile only to watch me evaporate it by exploiting a scoring quirk and repeating low-degree-difficulty shots, it proves the table has a problematic rule sheet.
Well, we can’t do that with Pinball FX3, and that really sucks since all our highest scores actually have come in versus mode. It’s really to the point where we don’t even duel at it anymore. Our competitive spirit burns, but we also want to, you know, be on the leaderboards. There’s not a single Williams table, with the exception of Safe Cracker, where we haven’t put up a total that would be the highest of the week. Mostly Dad, if I’m being honest. In fact, the amount of leaderboard spots he’s given up from those times where we do duel is insane. So, I feel like we need to have a talk with Zen Studios. Take a seat, gang, and note the following:
#1: Playing in multiplayer gives no competitive advantage.
In the day of multiball ball-locks that featured a mechanism physically locking a ball in place, with no “virtual” locks, duels in certain tables could result in players stealing locks you shot. This was a common theme when Oscar and I dueled at tables like Swords of Fury in Pinball Arcade or Fathom. Dad and I coined the term “unlocked door” for it. Hypothetically, if you wanted to cheat in a high score, you could play a two player – four player and and use all but the main game to secure the locks, presumably at higher risk, and then use the main game to start an instant multiball. It’s dirty pool, but it could be done. Only, there’s no table in Pinball FX3’s Williams collection that has unlocked doors. If anything, it would be hypothetically harder, because for those tables that do physically lock a ball + use virtual locks (such as Fish Tales), you might not get a plunge when you lock a ball, but instead have to play off a kick-out. Kick-outs are almost certainly higher risk.
#2: You might have to deal with being iced.
“Icing” is a sports term used for deliberately stalling a game in a pressure situation in order to build up the nerves of your opponent. Examples are calling a time-out before a field-goal kick in football, or before crucial free-throws in a basketball game. Competitive pinball players do it too, along with my father and I when we duel each-other. If one of us has an especially high-scoring ball and is hitting their shots at a high clip, whoever goes next is likely to play deliberately slower and more conservative their next ball. There’s also unintentional icing: if you watch a player have a long, prosperous and high-scoring ball, sitting there waiting for your turn could throw-off your game greatly. Combine this with the pressure of having someone you’re immediately competing against, and really..
#3: It’s more impressive to set a world record in a duel!
I mean, it is. Both my father and myself have won multiple weekly or monthly high scores on a few tables or been near the top of the boards. But my Dad’s recent climb to the top of one of Xbox One’s Zaccaria Deluxe tables (Cine Star, 3 Ball Simulation, which granted, need a much bigger competitive field to truly impress) happened while dueling me. That made it more special to him, since he set his record in part because he was beating me in the process. The funny thing is, we were both smoking the targets that game, to the point that it either one of us could have walked away with a world record that match (in fact, my score would have put me third on the board if Dad hadn’t topped it). Hell, imagine if Pinball FX3 had a physical, local-only tournament. It’d be a shame if top players showed up and performed extraordinarily only to not have their scores appear on leaderboards. Who cares if it shows up as the person who owns the machine’s user name? Nobody. Just ask my Dad, who is on top of a few leaderboards under the name IndieGamerChick despite never going by that name. Well, except when he plays fantastic rounds of digital pinball.
It’s a huge regression since the previous game, Zen Pinball 2 / Pinball FX2 had excellent multiplayer support. Not only did it allow a secondary logged in user to earn trophies it also had the exciting head-to-head modes for all its tables where you raced for a top score.
Another, minor, complaint I have about the local multiplayer in PBFX3 is that the ‘winner’ is always shown at the right at the end of a game, even if this is player one. It should really follow the default format of counting players from left to right and make the #1 icon take the right spot.