Damn you muscle memory!

Because as I played these classic tables, some of which I had a fair bit of experience with already, it was sheer muscle memory that screwed me over more than anything else. But that's what's going to happen when you have the same core table, operating under an entirely different physics engine.

I should back up a bit. We're kind of in uncharted waters here for reviewing, and you need a little history. So, pinball. Great game(or perhaps genre would be more accurate), I could write an entirely separate article about its history, but that's a story for another day. If you've ever played a pinball game you know the basic idea of how they work; ball comes up, call comes down, hit it with the flippers and try to get the high score.

For a long time, there have been two major sources for pinball videogames: Zen Studios's Pinball FX line, and Farsight Studios's The Pinball Arcade. Zen has always focused on explicitly videogamey pinball. Characters move around, the board does physically impossible things, and so on, while Farsight's mission top to bottom is to make recreations of classic real tables.

Earlier this year, Farsight lost the license to the line of Williams-Bally tables, which include a long line of classic tables running a good 30 years. It was a huge blow to the world of archival, and even I, a relatively casual fan, did a desperate purchase of what tables I could afford on iOS just to ensure I'd have them.

And now we've seen where that license went. Zen Studios has gotten into the recreation field, making their own forms of Williams and Bally pinball tables inside Pinball FX 3. They've started with this first pack, including Medieval MadnessThe GetawayFish Tales, and Junk Yard.

We're kind of in an odd boat here, because these are each individually a whole game, but also part of a larger package...So, first, we're going to talk each table real briefly, and then swing back to the whole package. It'll be a bit big for a solo review, but should be worth it. Sound fair? I hope so, because that's what I'm doing.

The first place for me to start is, naturally, my favorite out of the Volume 1 selection. Medieval Madness is a fantasy parody game, of dragons, knights, princesses, and a brutal assault on a central castle. There's tons of things to do on the table, lots of cool gimmicks, and the castle toy is an amazing little bit of packed tricks and responses. Between the several ways to get a multiball, the array of goals, and an overall great iteration on a classic 'fan' layout, it's just a great table.

Which brings the question of Zen Studios's interpretation of it. Or rather, interpretations. Every table in the Williams-Bally line that Zen's putting out comes in two versions: One a straight recreation, and one that takes the core layout and applies that Zen Studio touch. Here, this mainly comes in the form of the dragon toy actually breathing fire and flying around the board, and the castle toy having some proper explosions go off when you take it down.

I don't mind these touches too much. Since Zen Studios still sticks pretty closely to the original rules even in their enhanced version, the table isn't overwhelmed. That said, at least on this table where I've got some real-world experience and a ton on previous digital incarnations, I find myself preferring the more true-to-life Classic version.

But none of that knowledge applies to The Getaway. A table I've never seen in person, and which unfortunately wasn't in one of the packs I could actually afford in its Pinball Arcade self, this is my first time stepping up to this table. And it's...Well, the contrast is profound.

The Getaway: High Speed II's core gimmick is around a 'supercharger', a loop that has electromagnets built into it to whip your ball around faster and faster and slam it back at you. The whole layout is built around this, with multiple launchers and arcs designed to replace, retain, or increase momentum.

But speaking personally, it's just a little rough for my tastes. It's far too easy for the ball to lose control, and while that supercharger loop would be pretty damn impressve working on a real table, the effect loses some of its charm in digital form and has to fight a lot harder to justify its sheer bulk on the playfield.

And, real talk? One of the big things I come to dot-matrix display era games for is their sense of story, of trying to loop a strong progression and tons of character into the experience. Which is all stuff that The Getaway simply doesn't have as much of.

This is one place where the little touches on the enhanced table do actually add a lot. The ball getting red-hot as it's fast enough, or leaving an actual fire trail when it whips through the supercharger, make it feel faster. (The old-timey beat cop with his scanner poking and laughing at me when I drop the ball is, however, slightly less of a joyous addition to the experience) Not a bad table by any means, but not my favorite out of the bunch, especially in its original form.

And then there's Fish Tales. A table built around a good old fashioned fishing trip, with gimmicks around clean castings and getting a fish thiiiis big, it strikes a solid balance between the extremes of the first two tables. While it doesn't carry as many voice lines and graphical additions as Medieval Madness, it's got tons of character in the art.

The gameplay is just superb on this one, too. It's a bit simple at first blush, with a lot of tricks centered around the ship toy in the center and the rails coming off of it, but once you get a good flow going, you can just start racking up points from swirling the ball back and forth, and it feels amazing.

Of course, then you run into the fact that there's a momentum-killing captive ball right in the center, which will drop your ball back down into the slightly wider than usual gap between your flippers and completely screw you over. The game gives, and the game takes away. And yet somehow, I kept coming back to it, trying to recapture that flow and loop the ball around like I’m netting prize fish.

(It was no surprise to me when I saw that the design work for the physical game was done by Mark Ritchie, the same man who did Taxi. Because that game, is one that's had me beating my head against the wall trying to carve out a high score for hours. His designs are straightforward, but they're brutal.)

So the last table on our list is Junk Yard, and this one is...Interesting. It's not a table with a lot of complicated toys, with the central plaything being a crane at the top center, but it has a lot of layered rules. Given its original era, this doesn't really surprise me: It's a 1996 game, wellllll into the era of dot-matrix displays and more complex computing underneath pinball hoods, and it uses all of that thoroughly.

But on the flipside, the game's layered, complex rules and the way it feeds all the information to you, don't scale down well to Pinball FX3's design. This is kind of a recurring problem I noticed with all the games, but as it was the worst with Junk Yard, let's talk about it here. 

A real pinball table is big. Like, massive. And it uses a lot of lamps and lightup areas to feed you a ton of information as you play. Sadly, a lot of this information simply is not legible when I'm playing this game in a normal way. (I say normal, because there is a rotate mode. If you're going handheld and get yourself a Flip Grip, or if you're deep into pinball and willing to put a TV on its side, this is a hell of a useful thing.)

To some degree, you can solve this with a thorough examination of the table, but...Well, it's just not a thing that scales down as well. There's a reason that Zen's original tables tend to use bigger indicators that can read well on a TV across the room, or on a phone, you know? And while I like the guides each table includes to run through their rules, if I compare them to the equivalents back in Pinball Arcade, that game benefits a lot from extra camera detail that Pinball FX3 just doesn't put in. And while Junk Yard is a good game, it really does suffer from this shrunken form.

So, okay, full set of tables as a package. Let's look at it that way. Good and bad?

There's a lot of good here. All four tables are at least solid, they've included one of my all-time favorites, and while these are all DMD games, they're all good examples of the genre. These being recreations of games that have been recreated before, there are obvious questions and comparisons to be made, but the gameplay holds up to those comparisons well.

The physics are a bit different than I'm used to, and the flippers sometimes don't feel as strong as I'd like...But that could easily be perception and getting used to the different little touches as anything else. I certainly never had any crazy bugs or weird failures. I’d really say my gameplay experience was top notch.

But...Well, there's one big elephant in the room.

See, to keep their E10+ rating (or your local equivalent), Zen Studios has elected to edit the graphics on these tables. Blood's removed, outfits on women are a bit less risque, and a whole lot of cigars got edited out. Actually now that I write that down, it's kind of weird how, like, every 80s-90s bad and/or tough guy chomped on a cigar, right? Like it's not just me that thinks that's a little weird?

Anyways. So on the one hand, I get it. I get why you want to make sure that these games can be played by a younger audience based on today's standards, and I get why you want them to fit a bit more neatly into the rest of the Zen Studios identity. But on the other hand, these are historical pieces, and it feels kind of off to me to be scrubbing them in what is an explicit package of classics, you know?

That said, I do have to acknowledge that to my understanding the Steam version doesn't even have an ESRB rating, and so has a toggle you can turn off and put all these games back to their original art. And there's been some loose talk of possibly doing a classic-tables oriented side game, similar to Stern Pinball Arcade, that could have a higher rating and show these tables as they originally were, warts and all.

But that's all on other systems and hypotheticals. Right here, right now, on the Switch, you're playing a bit of a cleaner version of these titles. That might be a dealbreaker for you, it might not. Like I said, it's mostly just taking chomped cigars out of people's mouths.

And if you do go in on it...This is a damn good package, and a hell of a value. Ten bucks gets you three separate tables, since Fish Tales is actually a freebie. I've gone to arcades where a single goddamned play on a pinball machine is a dollar or more, these days. As far as I'm concerned, these digital versions basically pay for themselves after the third go at it. And I played each of these a lot more than three times.

So, even with those art edits and some little quirks and troubles, I'm pretty damn happy to see what Zen Studios can do with these classic tables. I'm more than happy to recommend them to anyone else, and I can't wait to see their next set in action.