Alright, more pinball time!

Fun fact, did you know actual game of pinball predates the invention of the pinball flipper? The original games, made by nailing pins into a board, were closer to a pachinko game lounging back than what we now know as pinball.

Anyways. Pinball FX3 has brought us a new Williams collection, with three games: Black RoseAttack From Mars, and The Party Zone. Once again we have an interesting mix of a much-beloved classic, a quirky game built around a mechanical gimmick, and something a little more obscure and different. But how do these stack up, compared to the previous set? Let's dig into it.

First in the lineup, and most intriguing for me, is Black Rose. A pirate themed game originally released in 1992, this table's core gimmick is a rotating launch mechanism underneath the playfield. When you feed a ball down into this system, on top of which rests a slick piece of art of a cannon, you can fire the ball just about anywhere onto the board with the right timing.

Right out the gate, Black Rose sticks out to me as a game that is just so, damn, good at theming. While a lot of the moment-to-moment gameplay is kind of standard, ramp on the left and right, basic targets kind of stuff, that cannon at the center of the table (plus the channel hovering over the board, for when you get a ball shot at you) just feeds so much interest and gives a great hook for the gameplay. You really feel like you’re on the high seas, engaging in frantic battles with enemy ships through the medium of pinball.

Which makes it a shame that it's a game that really suffers, at least in Classic mode, from the physics engine here. A quick casual flick of the right stick to launch my pinball almost inevitably makes it bounce square down the center or into the far-right outlane, without ever giving me a chance to do much actual interaction with it.

But this table, more than any of the ones in the first pack, also shows what the extra touches of the enhanced mode can do. Between the more forgiving Zen physics engine, and things like dropping the camera down into the cannon chamber when you lock in a ball to fire, the game ends up feeling a lot more vibrant. Which, considering how fantastic the original theming is, says a lot.

And then there's Attack From Mars. From 1995, it's a game that really embodies what that era of pinball was. Increased complexity of modes, more layers of effects, heavy use of video modes on the dot-matrix displays, and inflation of point values. The result is an era that almost feels like you have to label it with excess.

Which isn't to say that these are bad games. Inside that heavy use of shiny new technology, and promises of ever-higher score possibilities, lay some really solid work, and Attack From Mars is no exception. While it technically has a traditional fan layout, the game has a completely different setup for what those points of interest actually feed to, including a pair of habitrails down either side that immediately bring the ball back to your flippers.

It's an interesting table, and one that gave me a lot of smooth flow almost immediately. One of the single best things for me in a table is when I get good flow, instead of the stop-and-start rebounds of a more target-heavy layout, and here we've got a lot of the goodness. To say nothing of just how many different modes and layers we have, and the really slick UFO toy at the top to draw the eye. Making the one big, shiny toy be the central target is a bit of an old trick, but it's still a good one.

Unfortunately, that complexity does mean that Attack From Mars suffers particularly heavily from the camera layout problems of fitting these tables into this engine. On a game that relies so heavily on lightup markers all up and down its length to indicate board state, it really hurts to not be able to properly see what those markers mean...Especially because of the table guide. But we'll come back to that.

Because last on our list is Party Zone. A 1991 table, it's a very interesting celebration of Williams's own history. It's a grand party of stars from previous pinball successes, complete with a DJ. You can even nail a shot to request a song, including a chiptune recreation of the famous Pinball Wizard.

From a layout and toys perspective, Party Zone is really interesting. It doesn't lean nearly as hard into a fan layout as some others, focusing more on multiple layers up the length of the playfield. And aside from its wild whirling plastic tracks for the ball to ride, there's also the very fascinating gimmick of our DJ's head sticking up out of the table as a central toy.

From an original mechanical perspective, this toy is super cool, because it'll snap to the location of anything and everything the ball triggers when passing by. While not absolutely perfect, it means that Captain B. Zarr here is following your every move pretty damn well. It's, admittedly, a somewhat less impressive effect in a videogame recreation where the trick is far less difficult to pull off...

Which perhaps explains why it is easily the most visually different table when you kick on the enhancements. The mere head toy of the Captain gets replaced with a live figure of him riding on his rock-it, with the 'follow the shot' gimmick replicated on a spotlight.

From a play experience, in both forms, this one can be a bit...Chaotic. There are only a few spots that will directly arc the ball around; far more common are things for it to bounce off of, or electromagnets to catch the ball and kick it back out. This ends up producing an unpredictable game state, where it's hard to tell what any one shot is going to do.

Which isn't to say it's a bad board. There's a lot of really neat gimmicks, and someone with more skill than me could probably turn that chaos into its own kind of flow state. It's just...Well, if I'm honest, I'm a lot more likely to go back to one of the other two in this pack and really work on my high scores.

So, overall, it's a pretty solid trio. But that's all just game-by-game stuff. What are the things I noticed about the pack overall, particularly the troubles?

Well, two big ones stick out.

The first is the table guide. I'm gonna be real here, these table guides aren't great. They're kind of vague, and just go down how to activate each major mode, often just pointing an arrow at where to send the ball from the default camera view.

While it might be a bit uncouth of me, I have to compare them to the guides from the Pinball Arcade incarnations of these same tables. Because those guides go deep. Dozens of entries, laying out the exact path for each mode and scoring opportunity, often in multiple sequences, and zooming down deep onto the board to show you both where to go, and what the effect will be. The simple fact that a lot of these guides show you what will light up, makes the boards a thousand times more readable on even my damn phone, let alone a larger display.

The other thing that I keep noticing, is sound. Now, this could just be the defaults are wonky and I need to go adjust some things, but the mixing really over-emphasizes the music. And with how low volume and historically poor-quality a lot of these old 1990s samples are, it can often be really hard to tell what in the hell a character is actually saying.

(Oh, and it didn't come up in the gameplay itself...But getting this pack loaded on the PS4 was a real mess. It simply refused to download the full data for the tables, despite clearly showing I owned them. I had to actually go into the store and download the trial versions manually to make it all line up. But I'm not even sure if that's a problem with the game, or something on Sony's end, so I won't count it against them. I certainly have never had these problems getting these packs on other platforms.)

So what I'm left with is a bit of an odd pickle. Because these are really well done recreations of classic pinball games, including some fantastic stuff I'd been waiting for since the initial announcement of the license...But even moreso than last time, I feel like there's a very distinct lack of on-ramp effort to make these games approachable to an audience that isn't as familiar with their specific rulesets.

The good news is, these problems aren't core. The classic-mode physics engine can be a bit unforgiving, but none of the problems here are huge bugs, they're just decisions. Unless there's some real chaos in the back-end, patching in some more detailed table guides and adjusting the default volume levels would, I'd hope, be really easy to do.

At the end of the day, I do think these are worth the money, and if you're into classic pinball, I do think you should buy in. You just might have to do a little extra work to get the most of them, is all.