When I first heard about Pinball M by Zen Studios, I assumed it was a new expansion table pack for their latest Pinball FX game which was released toward the beginning of 2023. That release did a major overhaul of the UI with streamlined menu ribbons and a new customizable game room. Pinball M also incorporates those new features but it’s a unique and intimate way since it’s completely wrapped in a horror theme.
Pinball M (yes “M” for mature) is a horror-themed pinball experience. And I’m saying experience because once you boot up the game, you are engulfed in a beautifully eerie version of Pinball FX. The menu background music sounds like it is straight out of a classic slasher film, and the happy-go-lucky narrator has been replaced by a demonic character with a deep sinister voice. The pinball tables are displayed in a horror movie poster-type layout.
Before I go any further, let me tell you that this is my favorite feature. I love the card/movie poster design layout for the pinball tables instead of a list or card title menu. Selecting a table will cause the table poster to fade out and its place display an animation of the table in action. Right below the table card is a brief description with the options to purchase, preview, or play demo. This is such a clean, straight-to-the-point UI. At the top of the screen is the menu navigation ribbon which displays the following:
- Daily Challenges
- Events (Coming soon)
- Vault (unlock items with earned tokens, no microtransactions)
As you can see, every option on the ribbon is self-explanatory. OH! And the best part is there are no microtransactions for any of the tables. All items in the Vault must be purchased with tokens. These tokens are obtained by completing challenges or achieving milestones on each table. Do you want that Chucky eyeball skin for your ball? Earn 40 tokens on that table. This is EXACTLY how these games should be handled in regards to unlocks. On that note, let’s talk about gameplay and modes.
Pinball M is a free game download and comes with one free table called Wrath of the Elder Gods Director’s cut (the non-director’s cut version is in Pinball FX). You can play this game an unlimited number of times with no time limit. You can go for all the challenges, unlock all the cosmetics for the table, and have plenty of fun with this alone. However, there are currently 4 other pinball tables available for purchase, they can be bought in a bundle or individually. Excluding Wrath of the Elder God’s Director’s Cut which is free, we also have:
- Chucky’s Killer Pinball
- Duke Nukem’s Big Shot Pinball
- The Thing Pinball
- Dead by Daylight Pinball
This is a rather limited selection with one debatable if it qualifies as “horror” that being Duke Nukem’s Big Shot Pinball. To its credit, it’s a fun table to play and includes a mini shooting gallery mode in which you look to be transported back to 16 big Nuke Nukem and playing monster away by pressing the (A) button. Dead By Daylight also has an interesting gameplay element in that you can play as the killer or the survivor. As you progress through the table, more of the story plays out.
So far, my favorite is Chucky’s Killer Pinball. The audio is straight out of the movies and the table design is outstanding. You have this big Chucky head front and center staring at you with blood all over the table which also tracks on the ball. As expected, there are multiple camera angles to fit anyone’s playstyle. I tend to switch from a zoomed-in view to ball tracking once I expand the table. That way I can get a closer look at all the details and alternate ball paths. Each table is fully loaded with assets from the respective source material. This applies to all the cool cosmetic items you can unlock in the vault.
Each pinball table has its play corner which is uniquely themed to reflect the selected pinball table. For example, Dead by Daylight’s play area has a pinball table in a creepy wooden cabin. Completing this pinball table challenge unlocks items not only for the pinball table but also for the play corner, such as sound, lighting, and effects. It’s crazy to see the number of customizations that can be made. But what’s even crazier is the list of game modes which includes the following:
- Pinball M Challenges
- Classic Challenges
- Flip Challenge
- Distance Challenge
- Time Challenges
- Dread Challenge
- Rescue Challenge
- Survival Challenge
- Madness Challenge
- Shiver Challenge (you are playing in almost complete darkness)
As you can see, there is plenty to do in Pinball M and no that last one is not a mistake. There is also a campaign mode. Honestly if someone ever tells you there is only one way to play pinball PLEASE show them this above list. I’m having an absolute blast with Pinball M and I think it’s mainly due to the horror theme presentation. The game looks beautiful and well thought out with all the challenges and unlocks. Yes, I would have liked to have seen some other horror tables from other Zen Pinball games in this collection such as The Walking Dead or DOOM. And I’m sure more tables will be available over time.
I’ve also been playing Pinball M on my OLED Steam Deck. As of this writing, the game has no playable rating but I can tell you it runs fantastic with no issues on high graphics quality. Above is a video clip I made using Decky Recorder with performance overlay on. The clip quality isn’t great but key info is the performance stats, and the FPS never drops below 50. I would also like to mention if you plan on picking up any of these tables and want to save a few bucks, they are currently on sale in the Steam Store until Dec 7th. I’m telling you right now people, this is my favorite Zen Pinball game, and for the low price of FREE! I highly recommend you give this one a play.
This review was based on a digital copy of Pinball M provided by Zen Studios.