I’m a notable fiend for all things Godzilla, so a set of Godzilla vs Kong pinball tables should be an easy recommendation, right? Not quite so…(Updated:Impressively, most of my issues have been resolved with a patch!)
|You get three tables in the pack||Kong table design is rather dull|
|Authentic to the movies||Visual design notably less sharp on the Switch|
|Nice variety of game modes||Ball physics feel off|
Update: So, when I originally reviewed the Godzilla vs Kong pack shortly after its Nintendo Switch debut, it was… a bit of a mess. Visually murky and notably slow in places, it just felt off. Having more recently reviewed the newer Star Trek: The Next Generation Pinball FX table, I ducked back into Godzilla vs Kong to check a sound issue… only to find that it had been patched and substantially updated. I’ll leave the majority of this review as it is, but the sluggish feel of the game has been substantially improved. More on this later.
I am, it’s safe to say, something of a Godzilla fan.
I may be understating this a little, given my long-standing practice of taking a mini Godzilla figure with me wherever I travel, for example.
Look, here he is taking in the scenery at Miyajima recently:
Or looking out over the Seine a few years back:
Or quite a few years ago, taking down AEW (then WWE) superstar Bryan Danielson by submission:
He gets around is the point.
For the longest time, Godzilla and pinball did not mix well, with the only option being Sega’s incredibly mediocre 1998 effort, if you could find one. Frankly, it wasn’t worth finding one.
Then in 2021, Stern released its own Godzilla table, and, well, they knocked it out of the park. Yes, I have an obvious interest in the source material, but it’s absolutely one of my current favourite machines. A little easier to find, whether one takes in the delights of Silverball Planet Osaka:
Or, indeed, the middle of Victoria:
Needless to say, if budget and space permitted, I’d love to own a Stern Godzilla.
But real world pinball machines are big, heavy and above all pricey for those of us on real-world incomes. Which is where digital pinball tables come in.
The Godzilla vs Kong Pinball pack for Zen Pinball’s Pinball FX has been around for a while now, but I very much wanted to wait until it was available for the Nintendo Switch.
Why? Basically because digital pinball games are just about ideal for on-the-go gaming, and it’s a bit tricky to do that with a PlayStation 5 unless you’ve got strong shoulders and some very long extension cables. The Switch meanwhile can go just about anywhere, so even if I’m not the world’s best pinball player (and I’m not, far from it), I can enjoy a quick go at just about any time.
That didn’t happen until relatively recently, with Zen refreshing its Pinball FX platform for the Switch (and, grumble grumble, removing the existing classic tables I’d already purchased).
But as the name suggests, this isn’t the Stern table made digital – it’s been a long while since there’s been any official Stern digital tables, and not via Zen Pinball to speak of – but instead a collection of three new tables built around the Legendary Pictures version of Godzilla and King Kong.
I should pause at this point and state that while the Legendary pictures Godzilla flicks are OK by my estimation, I don’t hold Kong: Skull Island in anywhere near the same level of esteem. Frankly, I found it dull, but then the big ape is… well, he’s a big ape, not much of a Kaiju in my view.
What you get from the Godzilla vs Kong Pinball pack are three tables; one each for Godzilla and King Kong, and one Godzilla vs Kong themed table.
The Kong themed table is… well, it’s very brown. Exceedingly so, and it’s not helped by the fact that on the Switch, the visual presentation is notably less sharp than what I’ve seen of at least the PS5 version of the exact same table.
Brown plus murk plus ape plus a rather open table design does not equal thrills, or at least not many of them. But again, I’m not a huge Kong fan, and maybe that’s affected my opinion a little. Pinball’s definitely like that; a good theme can go a long way, but one that doesn’t resonate with you has to work extra hard in the design stakes as a result.
The Godzilla table then, should appeal a little more, and it does, with a nicely rendered Hong Kong skyscape (I guess that’s a very minor spoiler for Kong vs Godzilla, sorry about that!) drenched in neon to play with.
The table design and goals are a little easier to manage too, though the classic issue of digital pinball and viewing angles is still very much in play here. At least you can set a manual view to your own preferences, but it’s not quite – and never can be – quite as good as the real thing.
Finally there’s the Godzilla vs Kong table, which is kind of a hybrid of both table’s visual approaches – for better and worse. There’s certainly a little more going on here, but I found the targets a little tougher to hit and the objectives harder to get to as a result. Not a bad table, but certainly not up there with the best in terms of Zen’s own designs. Out of the three, the Godzilla table is the best of the bunch.
Is it unfair to compare it to a real world Godzilla table? Yes, it is… but I can’t deny that my brain did this with every one of these tables as I was playing, too.
It’s nice that you get more than just a bare-bones pinball approach here too, with a variety of game modes allowing powerups, single ball or flip limitation challenges, and even a one hour practice mode with unlimited ballsave to allow you to really learn the ins and outs of how each table moves through its goals. Frankly, there’s some goals here that I’m only ever going to see in practice mode.
The other issue to bear in mind is that while portability is a big plus, the price you pay (beyond the asking price for the tables, $21.95 when I was purchasing) is in visual clarity.
The Switch can’t measure up to the power of the PS5, to the surprise of nobody, but (at least for now)
this feels like a definite step down from the previous version of Zen pinball in terms of brightness, sharpness and – from my reckoning – ball physics.
The ball has just a little too much drag to it across all three tables (and indeed, across the handful of free tables you get with the new version of Pinball FX as well), and while digital can’t quite replicate physical, it definitely feels to me less faithful than the prior Zen Pinball did. The new version loads a fair bit faster than the older version, and that’s nice, but I think I’d rather have smoother ball motion.
Update: As at 1/09/2023, the update to Pinball FX for the Switch has amped up the brightness and sharpness of the visuals and given the ball speed and physics a serious kick in the behind — and one that fixed most of my original complaints with the pack. I still don’t like Kong much, though, but no patching is likely to alter that.
One odd side effect of all of this is that this is one of the rare Switch games that I reckon looks a little better in portable mode, simply because it’s harder to see the cracks in the presentation on a smaller screen. That’s maybe not a plus, of course.
Where does that leave the Godzilla vs Kong pinball pack? Zen’s done a nice job of representation here based on the source material, and I can’t fault that.
The general table design varies a little – I do think Kong’s the weakest table design by a fairly wide margin, but there’s potentially some fun to be had with both the Godzilla and Godzilla vs Kong tables – but it is hampered right now by the fact that it just doesn’t run all that smoothly or well on the Switch hardware.
I’m hopeful that this is an optimisation question, not a hardware power one. In the former case, updates and upgrades could bring those tables more up to par, and the rest of Zen Pinball with it.
In the latter case, this might be as good as it’s going to get, or at least until we get an actual Switch Pro with upgraded GPU capabilities.
Update: And that’s what they’ve done. Insert applause here for devs realising problems and fixing them!
However, you should never buy on what a product might do in the future, because it’s far from guaranteed. For now, as much as it pains me, this is one for the die-hard fans only.
Update: It’s more generally suited, so I’ve updated my copy and its score appropriately.
This review is based off code that I paid my own money for, because Godzilla.