Game Review: Pinball FX – Super League Football (PS4, PS5)

Since launching the latest incarnation of their pinball engine, Pinball FX, Zen Studios have been actively working to not only release a healthy selection of new tables but also bring players updated versions of many of their classics. We’ve already seen remastered versions of all of their licensed Marvel and Star Wars tables, with many others joining the collection as well. But there’s one that I never thought would see a re-release… Super League Football.

Super League Football – A Collector’s Nightmare

When this was first released for the PS3 and PS Vita back in 2014 for Zen Pinball 2 (the predecessor to Pinball FX) it was arguably the most expensive release on the platform. Rather than releasing a single table, or a pack of different games, this football-themed release came in no fewer than EIGHT variants. Seven of these were licensed from major European football teams and the remaining table featured a Zen Studios theme with original graphics and on-table characters.

For completists like myself it proved to be costly, with each table costing more than this new release so the entire set cost over £20. And with each team license being for a fixed period of time, eventually the tables were delisted and no longer available for Zen Studios to recreate for any future version of the game.

Enter Pinball FX

So for this new incarnation of Super League Football the publishers have opted to stick to just a single version of the game and used their own branding for the release. But what exactly is Super League Football? Super League Football has taken a radical approach and blends the pinball mechanics that Zen Studios have been delivering so well for the last few years with a novel twist on football itself. As soon as you start to play, you can see why this table is something rather special…

At the start of the game a league table is displayed showing a set of fixtures with other teams available in the game. On there you’ll see your team up against another and this is the first match in the current league. Straight away you know that you’re in for a different gaming experience as the commentators begin to talk about the upcoming game – yes, this game has commentary throughout! Once you’re ready the match begins. There’s no plunger here unlike previous pinball tables. Instead the player runs up to the ball alley and using the right stick you control his leg to set the shot strength. Let go and he kicks the ball to kick off the “match”. The basic idea as you can no doubt guess, is to win the match and position your team as highly as possible in the league table compared with the rival teams.

The Match Begins

To score goals in Super League Football you have to shoot the ball up various ramps and against targets on the table to build up attacks, move the ball forward up the pitch and to weaken the other team’s defense until you’re in a position to take a shot on goal. Once you are able to do this, the two ramps that lead to the upper playfield light up and by flipping the ball to this area, play changes slightly. You gain control of two flippers in the upper play area and in front of you is the opposing goal with a goalkeeper moving from side to side. In front of him are rows of defenders (this number varies depending on how many you have managed to remove during earlier play) and to score you just have to flip the ball past the defenders and the keeper. Score and you’re rewarded with a score bonus but if the ball gets past your flippers the game returns to normal play. But if you flip the ball off to the side of the goal, it goes out of play temporarily for a goal kick… and is summarily launched into the “air” and back into play on the table!

But that’s just a small aspect of it, even though you have full physical control of the ball throughout, depending on how well you play in the match itself you can lose posession of the ball and that’s when you have to play defensively. If the ball goes out of play to the left or right side lanes you can “tackle” the opponent by flipping the ball with smaller flippers and knocking the ball through a small trap door back into play. You also have a short time to recover posession by flipping the ball at a number of targets in sequence and if you don’t manage this within the time limit then your opponent scores a goal.

A Game Of Two Halves

That’s all well and good but that still doesn’t sound like a full game of football though. That is until you look at the bottom corner of the table where you see a timer counting down in an accelerated form from 45 minutes to zero. Yes, as you can probably guess by now, Super League Football is played in halves. Assuming you can play long enough for the timer to reach zero, you are treated with a half time “show” entering the game’s multiball mode (this also occurs in the main game as a post-goal celebration if the right circumstances have happened) for a brief bonus game.

At the end of this show, it’s back for the second half and if you can last until the final whistle you’re presented with your final score, the results of all the other matches and your current league standing. The game then moves onto the next leaague match where you have to play another game…

The Beautiful Game

As someone who has relatively no interest in football I found Super League Football to be an incredibly addictive and compulsive table to play. The variety of play throughout made it an absolute delight to play from the build-up to trying to score goals to the frantic tension as you desperately try to defend, it really added a freshness to the table that I wasn’t expecting. When I first heard about this table being developed for the PS3 and PS Vita I was expecting little more than a football themed table with graphics and sound to the usual Zen Studios standards but I wasn’t expecting anything this original and this remake for Pinball FX has retained everything that made the original and added an extra touch of visual quality to it.

Everything about this table shouts quality and polish. Whether it’s the on-table presentation, the way the game recreates a football match from start to finish and even the novel way you use a player to launch the ball, it all manages successfully to come together to adds up to being one of the most atmospheric games that Zen Studios have released. Visually, as you would come to expect from one of their tables, it is superb packed with detailed, great animation, lighting effects and the smallest attention to detail throughout – even the balls this time around have been replaced with footballs and you can tell that the game has been crafted with a love of football.

Feel The Roar!

As I’ve said, this is an incredibly addictive table and I’d have to rate it as one of the best so far to come from Zen Studios. Certainly it offers more variety in terms of gameplay than most of the others that they have released so far, oozes originality throughout but the real highlight has to be the sound and Super Leage Football is arguably the best sounding table they have ever created. While all of the previous tables I have played (on Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX) feature music throughout and a mixture of sound effects and soundbites for speech, Super League Football offers full match commentary throughout the game.

This was the biggest surprise as part of all of this for me and it’s the last thing that I expected to hear in a pinball game and while it makes no mention at any time of players names, team names or anything else specific, it fits the game incredibly well. It reminds me a great deal of some of the early football games on the original PlayStation when commentary was first introduced to sports games and what difference it made from the old 8-bit and 16-bit era and how much extra depth it added and it does exactly the same here. This commentary really does bring the game to live in no way that I have experienced in a pinball table before, with probably the Star Wars tables being the only other exceptions because of the atmosphere created by the sounds from the movies.

Hearing the constant roar of the crowd, the commentator encouraging you to score, the cries as you score or disparaging remarks as you waste opportunities to take shots… every single comment made makes you forget sometimes that you’re playing a pinball game and draws you deeper into a football game instead and the lines between the two genres blur constantly throughout and then blending of the two is handled remarkably well.

Overall

As a pinball table I have no hesitation in recommending Super League Football as it is without a doubt one of the best tables that Zen Studios have released to date and certainly one of the most addictive. It’s one that you’ll be playing for a long time to come whether you’re a fan of football or not, and I can’t say better than that. Removing the licensed teams from the original release has made no impact on the quality of the table and if anything it’s made it a much more affordable release as well. This really is an essential purchase for pinball fans everywhere.

About Simon Plumbe 218 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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