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.
It’s another work day for me today, but since I have a little bit of downtime before heading out, there are a few things that I wanted to talk about.
For starters, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the real deal. It’s a beautiful game with another brilliant soundtrack. The play controls carry over familiarity from the 2007 original while gradually implementing new tweaks, such as the return of Yoshi or some of the new suits that Mario finds. What I really enjoy about the game as a retro fan is the virtual tip of the cap to Mario games gone by; even early on, influences from Super Mario World and Super Mario 64 become apparent. I always thought that the original Super Mario Galaxy paid tribute largely to Super Mario Bros. 3, which is arguably the pinnacle of the series… but Super Mario Galaxy 2 seems to go far beyond that, and I like it more that way. The game is also considerably harder than the first. I’ve lost a good 15 lives or so over my three play sessions so far, and many of those were attributed to the Flip-Swap Galaxy. I have read some complaints about the difficulty or about the lack of originality here, but these complaints aren’t as bad as they seem. Yes, the difficulty is harder, but continued play and practice does lead to eventual success. The lack of originality is hard to fault, though; the first game was so radically different than most other Mario games before it and now this game is almost like a second serving of video dessert. This is the first game that’s been able to keep my attention on the Wii for longer than an hour at most, so that’s a good sign. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is, quite simply, an excellent game.
I’ve been spending a lot of time playing pinball. Virtual pinball, that is, by way of Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection. I now own both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game and am happy to support these kinds of games… even though I’m not holding out much hope for a new collection from Crave Entertainment anytime soon. It’s too bad, really, because this particular collection does pinball just right. The tables included in the Williams Collection are at least solid, if not stellar, examples of great pinball machines from years gone by. Gorgar was one of the first pinball machines to implement speech. Pinbot was right behind High Speed in terms of pinball popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s. No Good Gofers and Medieval Madness showcased some of the late greatness of the Williams tables. The ball physics feel great; shots realistically ricochet off of side bumpers and careen through rollovers with reckless abandon. To me, these games are symbolic because they bring back that arcade feel which has been gone for far too long. I remember days kicking around arcades in my local malls and watching somebody rack up big points playing Whirlwind or Space Shuttle; I’d sometimes get credits left to me if the played had to bail early and even remember some dominating runs where two tokens could last me an hour or more. While Crave’s earlier Pinball Hall of Fame offering– The Gottlieb Collection– had its fair share of glitches and unfamiliar tables, this collection gets just about everything right. This is, unquestionably, the best pinball video game available. If you can find it and you’ve ever enjoyed playing a pinball machine in your lifetime, this very affordable collection is worthy of a purchase– and the tables have never looked better than they do in high definition.
Speaking of arcades, Game Room support has improved and we’ve been seeing new titles weekly for the past few weeks. River Raid highlighted today’s releases, and is easily worth the $3 to own. I’m thrilled to see that new games have been arriving with regularity, even if some of the release decisions are a bit odd. Konami‘s arcade releases, for example, have been rarities and relative unknowns. Even with my vast arcade experience, titles like Strategy X and Mega Zone don’t ring any bells with me. Time Pilot did get a release, which is nice, but there are still much better– and more recognizable titles in Konami’s vast coin-op library that need to start getting some attention. What about Time Pilot ’84? Where’s Hypersports or Boot Camp? How about Double Dribble or Super Basketball? I can certainly appreciate seeing rarities and getting to play games for the first time, but this should be balanced out with more familiar titles that will get the more casual player to take an interest.
Moving on to sales talk for a bit, Red Dead Redemption continues to be a monster at retail. At least in my anecdotal experience, as soon as new copies are received, they sell within hours. The game continues to be the main topic of conversation at the store level as customers either talk about their own experiences with the game or have questions about it. While Super Mario Galaxy 2 seemed to have strong sales on launch day, interest has begun to decline already. While I believe that Galaxy 2 will have legs, it’s definitely being swallowed up by the buzz around Redemption. What interests me is how that title became the juggernaut that it’s become. Is it because of the Rockstar name? GTA associations? Is it the violence or controversial content? All of these factors may be important, but the trend lately has been word of mouth; people are interested because they heard friends talking about it or saw other people playing it. Whatever the reason, I’m sticking with my prediction that Red Dead Redemption will gun down Super Mario Galaxy 2 to be the best-selling game for May. Both the 360 and PS3 versions will find spots on the Top 10 charts, along with Pokemon SoulSilver and HeartGold, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and UFC Undisputed 2010. Blur and Split/Second are cannibalizing each other and I fear that neither game will have a great month.On the hardware side of the house, I’m not quite ready to predict numbers yet, but the order of platforms will likely remain the same: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. I hope to put up my NPD predictions for this month sometime early next week.
I made the move today.
Gone is the PlayStation 3, which was supplanted by the Xbox 360 in almost every facet of gaming imaginable for the HD generation. Blu-Ray wasn’t enough to save it, and exclusives like inFamous and Uncharted 2 just don’t have enough to hold my interest. Truthfully, I hadn’t played a meaningful game on the PS3 since March. Perhaps I’ll replace the console at another time, but with a price cut possible sooner rather than later, the window of time was closing to get the best possible value on the PS3. I know that some of you will scoff at this decision and tell me that I’ll regret it come E3, but I’m not convinced. God of War 3 was the last remaining exclusive that I held out hope for, and that game is not coming for awhile.
In the place of the PS3 is a new Wii. Why? A few reasons. Some of the recent game releases like Punch-Out!! and Mad World became hard to ignore. More publishers and developers are starting to focus more resources on Wii game development. The Wii is still the best source of classic console gaming, as well… I’m always going to have a soft spot for games from the 8-bit and 16-bit generations, and the Wii has the goods in this department. Now that SD card support has been (finally) enabled, I can buy as many classic games as I want without having to constantly pick and choose which games to keep on hand. All of these reasons– along with some strong games in the Wii library like Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3– added up to enough of an impetus to make the switch.
Here’s what I picked up for the Wii today:
- Castlevania Judgment: This is the only game in the series that I’ve never played. Yes, it’s a fighting game instead of the classic action/adventure formula that we’re used to… but it’s still Castlevania, it has characters from most games in the series, and the Castlevania atmosphere seems intact.
- Ghost Squad: The first of two light gun-driven games that I got, Ghost Squad is fun for quick gaming sessions. There’s a fair amount of replay value to be had in trying to uncover all of the unlockables and see where you rank on the leaderboards. I’m going to enjoy this, I think.
- House of the Dead: Overkill: I’ve heard some really good things about this game, so I’m giving it a shot. Maybe it’ll be a bit over the top in terms of violence and profanity, but I think I can handle it. Will I be any good? Well… that remains to be seen.
- Mad World: This purchase was solely rooted in word of mouth advertising. I like the art style, and many colleagues have said that they really enjoy it. Between this game and Overkill, I think that I’m going to get my share of gratuitous violence. I hope I like this one like I enjoyed No More Heroes, for the most part.
- Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection: Although I have the PS2 version of this, playing with the Wiimote and Nunchuk will simulate flippers… and I am a huge fan of pinball sims. Pinbot, Whirlwind, and Funhouse? Sold. If Crave releases a version of this for the Xbox 360, I’ll gladly triple-dip for Achievements.
- Punch-Out!!: I impulse-bought this game after some quick indecision. The tipping factor? Nostalgia. I was never great at any of the Punch-Out!! games, as Soda Popinski would gleefully point out. However, the game’s allure fell on its easy play control and quirky character designs. Next Level Games sure looks to have kept the nostalgia while adding a Wii touch. If I can’t get into the motion control, at least there’s a more traditional control pad option for me to experience the game with.
- Wii Play: A second Wiimote with a cheap tech demo? Sold.
I also got 3000 Wii Points today, so I’m deciding what Virtual Console games to buy to start with. I’m sure that those points will be gone fast. I can almost guarantee that I’ll be spending more of my Wii budget on Virtual Console and WiiWare games than I will on disc-based titles… much like I’ve been doing with the Xbox 360. (I did snag one 360 game today… Crackdown for $15 new.)
I’ll be posting my Wii Friend Code soon… but for now, I’m relaxing as I’ve been battling a bug lately. Thankfully, Retro Game Challenge on the DSi has been keeping me company during downtime. Look for some impressions over the long holiday weekend… which I hope that you and your families are able to enjoy.