Pinball FX 2 isn't a game so much as it's a platform on which to purchase, download, and play games. The games in question are different pinball tables, and at launch there are no fewer than 13 of them available. It's a good selection, and what all of the tables have in common is that they look and sound great, they behave realistically, and they get a little better every time another of your friends shows up on the robust leaderboard system. Pinball FX 2 is free to download, while tables are reasonably priced at 800 points for packs of four and 200 points each for those that are available to purchase individually. If you enjoy pinball, downloading Pinball FX 2 is a no-brainer.
Most of the tables currently available for Pinball FX 2 have been carried over from the first game and now benefit from the enhanced visuals and functionality of the new game. If you already bought them once, you don't have to buy them again, though you might be disappointed that none of your high scores get imported to the new leaderboards. It's not all bad news, though; there are new achievements to unlock on every table and a new "superscore" system that rates you according to your performances across all of the tables you own. Your superscore is equal to the number of millions that your top scores amount to when added together; it works, but it's unfortunate that where your superscore is concerned there's no system in place to reward high scores on tables that, by design, are much lower-scoring. Pinball FX 2 also introduces the concept of a "wizard score" on yet another leaderboard, but given that score multipliers are based on factors like how many tables you've bought and how many of your friends own the game, this isn't so much a competition as it is a marketing tool.
Regardless of whether or not you care about your wizard score, Pinball FX 2 is definitely a game that you want your friends to be playing. That's because the game does a great job of communicating your friends' all-time and recent best scores to you while you play. The pop-up windows that include mug shots of your friends' avatars are optional, but they're recommended because being alerted to the fact that you're closing in on a rival's high score adds to the excitement. If you plug an Xbox Live Vision camera (Kinect isn't supported yet) into your console, you can even video chat with rivals while you compete with them in online multiplayer games. Multiplayer is a lot of frantic fun; up to four of you can play simultaneously, and your goal can be either to score the most within a time limit or to be the first to reach a specific score. Furthermore, you can choose to impose a score penalty on any player who lets a ball drop, ranging from five percent of the player's current total all the way up to his or her entire score. You can't see other players' scores during this competitive mode, but a small progress bar with arrows indicating the position of each player lets you see at a glance how well you're doing.
If online multiplayer isn't your thing, local multiplayer options include both the requisite turn-based play for up to four players and split-screen support for two. The latter option works well and uses a zoomed-out view of the table that neatly fills each player's side of the screen while affording them a good view. That same camera perspective is one of several that can be switched between in multiplayer, and although it doesn't show off Pinball FX 2's crisp and colorful visuals as well as some of the closer views, it definitely offers the best view of the action, especially on tables that have a lot going on up top. Controls can also be customized, though there's little reason to mess with the default settings unless you have a preference for using a particular analog stick to launch your ball or want to nudge the table using the bumpers or D pad rather than the left analog stick. Regardless of which buttons you use, the controls work great. It's best to steer clear of the option to play using the Xbox Live Vision camera, though, since waving your hands in front of it clearly doesn't afford you the same level of precision as a regular controller. And if there's one thing you need in order to attain high scores on most of Pinball FX 2's tables, it's precision.
You certainly don't need to be a pinball wizard to have fun with Pinball FX 2, or even to rack up some respectable scores. Some of the tables are quite challenging, though, and a couple of them can be frustrating if you have trouble making specific shots that they demand of you. On the flip side, other tables are easy enough that you can score millions and hit plenty of cool-looking rails without having to try too hard. You can play trial versions of each table before taking the plunge and purchasing, but it's unfortunate that not all of the tables are available to buy individually--especially since you don't get any kind of discount for buying in bulk. Furthermore, you have to buy at least one of the four-packs before you have the option to play any of the singles. The "core" pack comprises four all-new tables: Secrets of the Deep, Biolab, Pasha, and Rome. The "classic" pack comprises four tables from the original Pinball FX: Speed Machine, Xtreme, Agents, and Buccaneer. The tables available individually include Nightmare Mansion, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Earth Defense, and Excalibur. There's certainly no shortage of variety in terms of themes and table styles; Rocky & Bullwinkle is an uncomplicated and somewhat old-school table, while Biolab is high-tech with lots of moving parts, for example.
If you're at all interested in playing pinball on your console, you've got nothing to lose by downloading Pinball FX 2 and taking it for a spin. You'll almost certainly find at least a couple of tables that you like, and once you start competing with friends, there's a good chance that you might eventually end up buying all 13 that are available at launch for a total of 2,600 Microsoft points ($32.50). That's still significantly less than the price of most retail games, and when you consider how many hours of fun each table has to offer, Pinball FX 2 is a great value when compared to other downloadable games as well.