I know I've said this before, but man do I love pinball. It's a game with such a simple core to it, such a basic idea, but then you get all of these really interesting experiments and ideas to do different things with the core principles. Different gimmicks, unique play field tricks, weird toys, cool secret modes...

And all of that is here in spades. As I usually like to do, I'm gonna talk briefly about each game in the pack and then give my overall thoughts at the end, so let's get to it!

Tales of Arabian Nights

Oh man, this table's a classic. It's one of the first ones I remember playing, it's got two separate interesting toys...And it's one of the best ones to compare multiple iterations of pinball digitizing, because it's been done by multiple people over the years.

Tales of Arabian Nights makes some really great use of its theme. A spinning lamp is the centerpiece of the table, but the genie toy near the back is arguably the more important, as it uses a cool electromagnet gimmick to start up various mini games set around the eponymous tales. These are basically variations on target-shooting games, asking you to make a series of specific shots on the board.

The big thing gameplay wise, are just how many layers there are. Between all of the Tales, and the genie attack mode, and the lamp gimmicks, the various ways you can interact with the bazaar pocket, this is a table where you're always being asked to do something different.

It's also hard as nails. That spinning lamp can be brutal. I've lost more than one ball because they hit that lamp in exactly the wrong way and screamed down the center of the board, and a lot of the mini game shots are [i]incredibly[/i] precise. Back when this game was on the Pinball Arcade collection, I spent literal weeks practicing just to get onto the internal high score list.

Of course, like with all of the games, the standard Pinball FX physics are quite a bit more forgiving. As much as I like the realistic physics option being included, I won't lie, you're gonna have more fun with the looser default ones. But we'll talk about that at the end. Because next up is...

Cirqus Voltaire

Oh my god. I'd never had the chance to actually play this table before, but it is just...God damn. You want to talk 90s design, you want to talk gimmicks and tricks? You want to talk unique experiments in play, and using the physicality of the machine?

Cirqus Voltaire has a mini game that's built into the goddamned backboard. Your ball gets captured and then the lights come on on the backboard for a mini shot, crafting the illusion that your same ball got launched up there for the trick.

Like, I want to be clear. I was impressed, amazed by this, in the digital recreation of the game, where nobody had to actually put mechanisms together with their hands. It is such a wild and creative use of the physical construct of the machine, I can hardly imagine what it was like on the physical unit.

And while I'm gushing about this because of how buck wild it is, you gotta understand, that's not all this game has going for it. The play field uses more of a left/right arrangement than the classic fan, with bundled chunks of things to hit on either side, which keeps things nice and interesting. The main toy, the Ringmaster, is no slouch either. He mixes electromagnets and a spring-mount to create this elaborate, difficult to predict trajectory whenever the ball interacts with him.

What I'm saying is that, bluntly, Cirqus Voltaire might be worth the cost of admission all on its own.

And yet we've still got one more table to talk about.

No Good Gofers

I have a deeply, deeply love hate relationship with this table.

It's another one of those ones I used to play a lot in other digitizations. And let me tell you, I am so very very glad that the Pinball FX version has some anti-frustration features turned on, because I cannot even begin to tell you how, many, damn, times, I have had a ball go hurtling down the middle or straight for an outlane.

Like, I can't entirely get mad about it. The table's design is incredibly complex, and with the amount of quirky little gimmicks they slipped in, these little sorts of things were always going to be difficult to fix if they came up. (And I must emphasize, since Zen Studios didn't design the board, that's not their fault) The original solution when Williams was putting the board together, was to add a kickback down the outlane and just turn it on for a second or so after any interaction with the trouble spots. A bit of a hack, but it works.

On the love side, the gimmicks on this table are just fantastic. There's the hole in one shot, where you've got one chance at the start of a ball (and a few other triggers) for a ramp to drop down and let you pop the ball up onto a clear plane above the playfield, where a chute down into the hole-in-one hole rests. It's a hell of a tricky shot, you only get one chance, and it feels so damn good when you get it. Then there's the gofers, who can pop up to block off multiple ramps and banter at you when they do. Plus the entire golf theme feeds into pinball really well, with several key shots the game wants you to make throughout the golf course.

It's...The best way I can describe it is this table, on its own, its reach exceeds its grasp. There's a lot of great ideas, but they manage to be just a bit frustrating. It's far from the only table I can say that about, of course, but still. (Just wait until they get to Taxi. I never considered a table my mortal enemy until I tried to get the high score on Taxi.)

Still, a great table, an amazing table, and an ambitious table isn't a bad mix! But let's wrap with some broader thoughts.

Volume 5 as a whole

So let's get a few quick things out of the way. First, the artwork modification is still a thing. Zen Studios want to keep their E10+ rating, and I mean, I get it. I don't blame them for the decision. Characters chomping on cigars, wielding bloody swords, or showing off their bosoms doesn't fly in that rating space anymore, and that goes double when you consider Zen's animated figurine stuff makes them a part of gameplay.

The good news is that, from what I've read, the Steam version lets you turn on all the original artwork and stuff. So even if we're not getting it in console land, the original is being preserved to be experienced.

The contrast between the regular Zen ball physics, and the Classic arcade physics, also remains a big thing. I'm gonna tell you now, I respect the classic physics a lot...But they're brutal if you're more used to the regular Zen physics, or even the physics of Pinball Arcade. It takes some real time to get used to just how cruel that ball can be in its utter refusal to listen.

My one concern at this point is in Zen's overall strategy. I get wanting to start off with a bang, and those mid-late 90s tables absolutely give a bang...But at some point they're going to run out, and I just hope that the more vintage alphanumeric display tables of the 80s, or even the full on electromechanicals, will be deemed worth doing. It'd be a real shame if those got harder to play legitimately because of licensing stuff.

All that said, the overall package here in Volume 5 is a really good one. The tables are fantastic choices. Even No Good Gofers, a table that so often makes me feel like the poor golfer on the art, has some unique and stellar tricks up its sleeve.

So, yeah. Go buy this one right now. A little post-holiday treat for yourself. Chase some high scores, have a good time. Trust me, it's worth it.