Big Shot is a conversion of a 1973 Gottlieb table that uses billiards as its main theme, challenging players to “sink” all 15 balls in one turn. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but skill and a bit of luck are needed to score well on this table.
The basic objective of Big Shot is simple: “sink” all 15 balls by hitting drop targets and a special 8 ball shot via the top center rollover or the capture hole in the center of the playfield. Doing this lights Special on one of the outlanes. The balls reset at the beginning of each turn, so the challenge is to drop all of these targets in one ball… and that’s much easier said than done.
Big Shot doesn’t have too many extras. There isn’t any kind of multiball to speak of, for example, and there aren’t any ramps to shoot for. There is a gate on the right outlane that can be opened by hitting the center capture hole. This gate prevents the ball from draining that way and allows the player to shoot the ball back into play. There’s also an interesting outhole bonus feature that increases for the last two balls. On the fourth ball, the outhole bonus increases to 2,000 points per ball sunk (or target hit). The final ball increases the outhole bonus to 3,000 points per ball sunk. This bonus feature magnifies the importance of the last two balls and can turn a tough early effort into a huge finish with a little luck.
This table runs very smoothly on iOS, and looks even better than it did when we last saw it in Pinball Hall of Fame: Gottlieb Edition. The ball physics are definitely better, as there are no more instances of balls jumping over flippers to speak of. There is, however, a more noticeable trend of balls drifting towards the left outlane or draining straight down the middle with nudging being the only defense. This is customary for pinball machines, of course, as arcade operators didn’t want credits to last too long or for players to score Specials too often… but this trend may put off some players since credits are unlimited and it’s all about the score here. Players will have to earn their scores on the Big Shot table. 100,000 points rolls over the Big Shot analog scoreboard. I topped 120,000 points after a few tries, though I never managed to sink all 15 balls. I did have some problems lining up my shots for the bottom targets on each bank, and ball trapping to set up shots was a bit more difficult that usual.
Big Shot isn’t the best table in the Pinball Arcade arsenal, but it is fun to play if you’re looking for a no-frills test of your pinball skills.
Pinball Arcade is a very good explanation of why Farsight Studios– the team behind the excellent Pinball Hall of Fame series– has been out of the spotlight for quite some time. Rather than producing a new disc-based experience with several tables to choose from, Farsight has borrowed a page from Zen Studios and has delivered an experience that is very open-ended with more tables expected in the coming months. The overall Pinball Arcade package doesn’t have the bells and whistles that Pinball FX2 has, but it does deliver realism with proper ball and table physics and actual tables straight out of the arcade.
Pinball Arcade costs 800 Microsoft Points via Xbox LIVE Arcade, or $9.99 on the PlayStation Store. The purchase entitles players immediate access to four tables: Tales of the Arabian Nights, Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and Theatre of Magic. The first two tables should sound familiar to those of you who have played the two Pinball Hall of Fame games. Arabian Nights was part of the Williams Collection and Black Hole was found on the lesser-known Gottlieb Collection. The other two tables are completely new, and they’re quite good. Two more tables, Medieval Madness (a returning table from the Williams Collection) and Bride of Pinbot (a new table) will be the first DLC tables available, likely arriving in May.
Of the four initial tables offered in Pinball Arcade, Theatre of Magic is the most attractive and most accessible to all skill levels. Scores are high, flippers are long, and the table objectives are pretty straightforward. Racking up a billion points or more can be a common occurrence once you learn the ins and outs of the table, and there are some neat secrets to unlock. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is another very good table, although it’s not nearly as easy to learn. It does have a rather interesting sense of humor and a jewel collection system that can open up some nice bonuses, such as double scoring, Super Jackpot shots, a Million Plus shot, and more. Black Hole, for the uninitiated, is highlighted by a separate lower playfield that is basically played upside down. Flippers are at the top and having the ball drain without opening the right outlane gate (via drop targets) beforehand leads to disaster. Finally, Tales of the Arabian Nights challenges players to collect jewels and save a princess from an evil genie. A spinning lamp shot in the upper middle of the playfield is key to earning big end-of-ball bonuses and learning the timing for specific ramp shots is vital to mounting a run at a high score.
One fact needs to be understood when talking about Pinball Arcade: It’s not Pinball FX2, Marvel Pinball, or Zen Pinball.
Zen Studios has made very impressive strides in delivering quality pinball experiences, but Zen’s strength has been making pinball accessible to everyone and very social. If you try Pinball Arcade after having spent many hours playing Zen’s pinball games, you’re going to probably get rather angry. Balls tend to be lost a lot quicker. Scores tend to be lower on at least three of the four current tables. The social element has been replaced by a crude user interface that doesn’t really promote a community. At the same time, for those players out there who have had experience with actual pinball machines, Pinball Arcade is very close to the real deal and a fair amount of skill is required to score well.
The ball physics in Pinball Arcade are slower than what we’ve seen from Zen Studios. It will take time to adapt to the slower speed and calculate shots accordingly. Some players may prefer Zen’s faster pace, but faster and lighter physics aren’t realistic. If you’ve had a chance to hold a pinball before, you’d know that they’re quite heavy. Heavier objects tend to move slower. It’s not impossible for ball speeds to increase, especially when it’s been affected by bumpers or gaining speed off of a ramp, but speeds on actual pinball machines tend to be a bit slower than what we’ve seen in most pinball simulations.
The physics engine in Pinball Arcade is excellent, but the game isn’t without its problems. Some players may have a hard time finding a camera angle that is comfortable. Varying camera angles for plunger skill shots are missing, for whatever reason. This leads to a lot of trial and error when trying to execute them. There are also some bugs that can affect the game, such as balls hopping over flippers. So far, these haven’t been anything more than an annoyance; however, until a patch resolves bugs like these, it’s important to note that they do exist.
Each table is accurately modeled after its real-life counterpart. You’ll notice little visual touches like light reflections and moving parts on certain playfields. In my experience, the frame rate has been very consistent, even in multiball situations. There have been times when the action will stop for a moment, especially when balls are being launched into multiball play. This has thrown off my concentration at times, but it hasn’t been a game-breaking problem. The in-game scoreboard has been smoothed for high-definition. I tend to prefer the option of keeping it more pixelated, but no such option exists here. This is a minor stylistic quibble, but one that I was nonetheless surprised to see.
The sound and music for each of the four tables is accurate and authentic. Aside from Black Hole, the other tables all have great music and voice work to hear. The mechanical sounds aren’t quite as crisp as we’ve been hearing in the last few tables from Zen Studios, but this isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. It is worth noting that Black Hole has a very droning, robotic sound that plays repeatedly in the background. It probably will drive many to turn the volume down before long, but it’s certainly authentic.
I realize that Pinball Arcade isn’t perfect, but its flaws don’t prevent a recommendation from me. It’s realistic, authentic, and makes players work hard for their leaderboard spots. It doesn’t have the social or community feel that Zen Studios has worked hard to implement for its pinball experiences, but Farsight Studios does have a solid foundation in place with actual tables and the most realistic physics engine around. Whether you’re an old-school arcade rat like me, or if you’re just a fan of pinball in general, Pinball Arcade is worthy of your 40 quarters.
Note: Playing time was spent on the Xbox 360 version, which was self-purchased on April 4th. The PlayStation 3 version is available now.
With a revamp of Zen Pinball due in a few months on the PlayStation 3 and the impending release of Pinball Arcade from Farsight Studios around the same time, Creat Studios has thrown its own set of flippers into the pinball arena with Pinballistik. Creat has some interesting ideas at work here, but the execution is unfortunately a step backwards for the genre with poor ball physics and vague table objectives that kill any semblance of table and scoring progression.
Buying Pinballistik ($4 on the PlayStation Store) includes only one table, called Circle The Wagons. The table has a Wild West theme and has its share of ramps, drop targets, and capture holes. There are several table goals that players can accomplish, but it’s not always clear how to do so. Some are obvious; for example, the Royal Flush mode is triggered by lighting all of the spinners and then hitting the Saloon ramp shot to get the ball to a smaller upper playfield where a series of drop targets guards a capture hole. Others, like the Revolver Multiball mode, aren’t at all intuitive and almost require players to read the instructions to figure them out. This was a problem with some of Zen Studios‘ early pinball tables, as well. Unfortunately, Creat didn’t do their homework when working on table design, and it shows.
Ball physics are a major problem in Pinballistik. The ball feels like it has very little weight to it, which leads to rates of speed that you just don’t see on an authentic pinball table. It’s more difficult than it should be to line up or plan shots, and even when your positioning is right, the ball sometimes doesn’t carry the momentum it should into ramp shots. There are also too many instances of the ball jumping off of the table or strangely kicking back into play from the outhole back through an outlane. Worst of all, the frequency of balls shooting down the middle or down through an outlane to the drain seems a bit high. Pacing is almost punitive, like a pinball machine at the local arcade that wasn’t level and seemed to steer balls down the side.
The poor physics model is exacerbated when playing Pinballistik‘s Battle Mode. In this mode, two players face off on an extended variation of the table at the same time. One player controls the flippers on the left side, and the other player gets the flippers on the right. It’s a big challenge to track what’s going on, as balls fly all over the table– and sometimes from your side to the opponent’s side, or vice-versa. It’s chaotic, which might be what Creat was going for. Unfortunately, with floaty physics and so much going on at once, it feels like a battle of attrition rather than a challenge to score well. Having a ball drain can take points away from your score, and when it’s out of your control, the experience just feels unfair.
Speaking of scoring, don’t expect very high scores when playing Pinballistik. Unlike Zen Pinball or Marvel Pinball, you won’t see scores in the billions here. My scores average between 2-3 million, and considering my averages in just about every other pinball game available, that’s low. This isn’t necessarily a fault. High Speed and Pinbot, two popular pinball tables from the ’80s, routinely had high scores average less than 10 million. It is, however, a problem when the low scores result from a lack of directed scoring opportunities. It’s possible to just keep the ball alive with flippers and randomly hit things to rack up scores, but the best pinball tables have clear scoring opportunities… and Pinballistik simply doesn’t have these unless you do a pretty intense read on each table’s feature sets and how to do things. It doesn’t feel intuitive at all, and that’s not fun.
There are two other DLC tables that you can add to Pinballistik for $3 each, but neither one is a marked improvement over Circle the Wagons. In fact, they’re arguably worse. Sector X is a dull sci-fi table that has even more vague objectives than Circle the Wagons. Made of Money is a table all about glitz and cash, with a somewhat interesting lower playfield that breaks up traditional play when triggered. Sadly, neither table fixes the pacing as balls drain far too quickly. The Battle Mode for the Made of Money table has a “Change Sides” sequence which can take you by surprise, but with so much going on, it seems that all you can do is keep tapping the flipper buttons and hope for the best.
Visually, the tables look decent enough. The level of detail isn’t on par with the other pinball games available, but the themes are varied and the tables are colorful. There are several camera angles to choose from, and the animated dot-matrix scoreboard is authentic with different animations that occur based on actions from the table. There’s no slowdown to speak of, including during multiball situations. One detractor is that there are some playfield effects that can sometimes interfere with keeping tabs on the ball. On the Circle of Wagons table, for example, a dust storm that can be triggered completely obscures the middle of the table and can hide the ball. This can make for late reactions as the ball shoots down towards the flippers and can be costly. Target overlays, like UFOs, mounds of cash, or Can-Can girls, don’t always work well and can redirect the ball in a negative way.
The sound is probably the best part of the package, surprisingly. The music for the Circle the Wagons table feels like it could have been pulled from a Wild ARMs game, which is not a bad thing. Table sounds like flippers, bumpers, and drop targets are generally authentic. There’s some sporadic voice work, and a few familiar sound samples for those with a discerning ear… such as a sound effect lifted from Nick Arcade on the Made of Money table or a sample of Offenbach‘s Infernal Galop (from Orpheus in the Underworld) for the Can-Can mode on the Circle the Wagons table.
If Pinballistik had come out before Zen Pinball, it might have been perceived as a better experience. It’s far from unplayable, but it’s also a giant step in the wrong direction when compared to the other pinball options available. Even with some unique modes of play like the flawed Battle Mode or setting timed or score goals to change up the usual “lose all of your balls and it’s game over” mentality, the game’s flaws win out. Unless you’ve tired of Zen Pinball, Marvel Pinball, and Pinball Hall of Fame and just have to have a new pinball game to satisfy your steel ball cravings, your quarters are better spent elsewhere.
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection has been one title in my collection that’s seen a lot of playing time– for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms. Farsight Studios made key improvements from its earlier Pinball Hall of Fame title (The Gottlieb Collection) in terms of ball physics and the inclusion of online leaderboards and the addictive qualities of Achievements and/or Trophies were important. The licensed tables were all great choices and were certainly improvements over many of the Gottlieb tables. The Williams Collection is, arguably, the best version of virtual pinball around… so I was naturally excited to learn that a portable version for the 3DS was coming. The port had seen its fair share of delays, but the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions were also subject to numerous delays. I had some concerns before release about how the frame rate would be affected, moving from console to portable and with the inclusion of 3D support, but I remained positive about what Farsight Studios would accomplish.
After spending some time with The Williams Collection on the 3DS, I have mixed feelings about it. The tables still look great, two sets of objectives (or goals) for each table were carried over from the console versions, and having playable versions of great tables like Pinbot and Whirlwind on the go is nice. There are, unfortunately, several tables that didn’t make the cut for this version, though, including the popular Medieval Madness, No Good Gofers, and Firepower. There’s also an inexplicable lack of online leaderboards. In fact, the game doesn’t take advantage of any of the 3DS’ communication abilities such as StreetPass or SpotPass.
Let’s back up, though, and look at The Williams Collection in more detail.
What The Williams Collection does offer on the 3DS is a total of seven tables to choose from: Gorgar, Black Knight, Pinbot, Space Shuttle, Taxi, Funhouse, and Whirlwind. There aren’t any extra tables to unlock in this version. The level of detail for each table is about on par with the console versions, which means that they’re very close to the original arcade tables. The 3D screen is the playfield screen and the touch screen becomes the scoreboard. Unlike the console versions, the scoreboard is the full marquee for each table, which is a nice touch for purists. Each of the seven tables plays as expected, with bonuses, multiball opportunities, and key scoring shots. Each table also has two sets of goals to accomplish. The first set of goals, called Table Goals, will “unlock” a table for Free Play when the goals are all completed. Free Play means not having to use virtual credits to play certain restricted machines. The second set of goals, called Wizard Goals, will unlock a small set of additional options when completed. These options include using a custom ball for that table or turning the Tilt Penalty off.
The controls are pretty straightforward. The analog disc launches the ball, and the L and R buttons are for the left and right flippers. The accelerometer inside of the 3DS allows players to shake the device to nudge the table, rather than pressing a button or using a stick to achieve a similar effect. The accelerometer is a bit sensitive, though, and too much shaking will lead to a Tilt Penalty and immediate loss of turn. While the flipper controls are fine, expect some cramping of the wrists after playing for extended periods. There’s no way to avoid this as your wrists must be bent to play using the L and R buttons. It may be a minor complaint and it may not bother some players, but it did affect my time with the game.
If you’ve played the console versions, you’ll almost immediately notice the severe drop in frame rate in this version. The console versions run at a smooth 60 frames per second, even in multiball situations. The 3DS version runs at half of that rate, and sometimes less in multiball situations. This leads to the need for quicker reflexes and recalculated timing for certain shots. The frame rate does improve somewhat when the 3D slider is set to OFF, but it’s still a jarring adjustment from other versions of the game. The lower frame rate doesn’t make this port of The Williams Collection unplayable, but it does make for a less than optimal experience. There are also delays and hiccups with the sounds in the game, but this isn’t as major a problem. Most of the sounds are faithful and the quality is rather good.
A couple of additional gameplay modes add to the replay value in The Williams Collection. The Williams Challenge sends players through a gauntlet of all seven tables, as certain minimum score levels must be achieved in order to move on from table to table. The Tournament mode is similar, although it can be customized and multiple players can participate. These are nice features, but without online leaderboards or some kind of StreetPass functionality to update high scores, competing against your own scores eventually becomes tedious. This decision may stem from Nintendo‘s lack of online focus or it may have been a publisher or developer move, but when you consider that the 3DS is capable of internet and wireless communication, it seems like a wasted opportunity.
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection for the 3DS isn’t a bad game. It’s a functional port of the console versions of the game and, after some adjustment to the lower frame rate, it plays fine. The asking price of $30 seems a bit much, though, when you factor in the missing tables, missing leaderboards, and that the superior console versions can be had for much less money. You’ll be competing with yourself more often than competing with friends or other skilled players. It’s nice that we can play these tables on the go, but the appeal fades far too quickly.