I decided to do a little something different today, and cover several games at once in a genre that I adore: Pinball. The NES was home to several different pinball games and derivatives, and I spent my WedNESday playing five of these. I’m going to rank them from worst to first. (Note: High Speed is not included on this list as I don’t have it in my collection.)
5. Rock ‘N Ball (NTVIC, 1989)
Rock ‘N Ball is less a pure pinball game and more a pinball derivative. In addition to a basic pinball table, variations on gambling, hockey, and soccer themes cover the other three gameplay options. The game is a “jack of all trades, master of none” type of offering, and pinball purists should approach this game with caution. The pinball table is not at all compelling and there aren’t enough features on it to hold interest for very long.
Although the pinball table wasn’t much fun, the soccer and ice hockey sports-themed games were enjoyable for a time. The games feel a bit like foosball, with two flippers a side. One flipper is for defense and the other for offense. There is also a goaltender on each side to block shots and even put an extra kick on the ball to take the opposing team by surprise. These games are best played with a friend, as the computer doesn’t put up much of a fight.
Collectors may want to give Rock ‘N Ball a second look, especially if found with a manual. The game is rated 5 on the Nintendo Age Rarity List, which makes it the most uncommon of the NES pinball games. For everyone else, though, Rock ‘N Ball is forgettable.
Let’s move on to #4:
4. Pinball Quest (Jaleco, 1990)
Pinball Quest thinks outside the box by combining pinball with basic RPG trappings in its RPG Mode, which is this game’s highlight. The story is standard fare: The Pinball Princess has been kidnapped and it’s up to you to save her from evil. Defeating enemies by plowing the ball into them increases the ball’s attack power, but if the ball drains from its current playfield, that accumulated power is lost and must be rebuilt. There are shops that sell helpful items, such as stoppers and extra flippers, but it does take a considerable amount of time and gameplay to build up a bank of funds. While the RPG Mode is a unique concept– something that Zen Studios likely took some inspiration from for its Epic Quest table for Zen Pinball and Pinball FX2– the execution is lacking.
Pinball Quest also offers three more traditional pinball tables for players to enjoy, each with its own theme. Pop! Pop! is a nod to American culture, with bowling, billiards, and lots of stars decorating the table. Viva! Golf takes place on a golf course and has water hazards, sand traps, and mischievous gophers to contend with. Finally, Circus is just as it sounds with clowns, lions, and… a slot machine? These tables are functional and very basic, although Circus has an interesting bonus game to try by lining up the correct shot. The tables are better than what Rock ‘N Ball offers, but are still relatively weak offerings for those looking for more traditional pinball experiences.
Pinball Quest is a relatively common find, and is worth a look for the right price. Your mileage may vary as far as the RPG Mode experience goes, and it’s certainly a departure from the usual pinball fare. It just doesn’t measure up to the other NES pinball games that I played and winds up in the #4 spot.
Now, on to #3:
3. Rollerball (HAL America, 1990)
Rollerball is a very traditional pinball experience. Drop targets, bumpers, rollovers, spinners, and other common traits of a pinball machine are all present here. There is a multiball feature, an opportunity to earn extra balls, and the scoring system is fair. The game also offers a playfield that spans four screens in height. These are all good things… so why is the game only in the third spot?
Well… it’s rather boring.
Rollerball‘s unique identifier is its large playfield, but it’s also the game’s biggest weakness. There just isn’t very good pacing. Playing for 5 minutes feels like playing for for 15 minutes. Perhaps that’s because the playfield is too large, or it could be due to the speed of the ball being a bit slow, but it translates to a lack of excitement or urgency. Rollerball becomes a test of endurance with no real payoff. High scores aren’t saved to the cartridge and there isn’t a sense of accomplishment when all is said and done. It’s fun at first, and stays amusing for awhile, but the experience does degrade over time.
The game’s one redeeming feature comes once multiball comes into play in the top level of the playfield, which occurs after rolling over lit, flashing letters that spell S-K-Y-H-I-G-H and then locking the ball in the upper capture hole. At that point, the race is on to pop a series of bumper balloons before one of the balls drains at the very bottom of the lower screen of the playfield. Multiball keeps you on your toes, but there’s one caveat: If one ball drains from the current level of the playfield, play continues on that one level until the other ball drains. This makes multiball a bit easier to manage if you struggle with tracking two pinballs at once. Unfortunately, activating multiball is a bit more challenging than it should be, thanks to the layout of the playfield’s top level and propensity of the ball to drain through the outlanes.
Rollerball is an average pinball game, with neat features being cancelled out by generally dull gameplay. “Average” puts Rollerball right in the middle of the ranking, at #3.
And now… #2:
2. Pinball (Nintendo, 1985)
The gap between Rollerball and Pinball is slight, but Pinball wins out and gets the better ranking here. Pinball doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but what it does offer is a solid pinball experience that’s engaging and entertaining while throwing in a few surprises. It’s a more exciting game than Rollerball, despite the smaller playfield and lack of multiball. It’s easy to learn the ins and outs of this table, which makes Pinball very accessible to players of all skill levels.
There are two levels on the playfield in Pinball. The top level has several different shots to master, including an orbit on the left side that is worth 2000 points and initiates a neat ball-bouncing animation from the seals on either side of the center bumper. The slot machine just below the seals is started by hitting a shot through the rollover on the right-hand side of the level. Lastly, there’s a target that gradually increases in point value from 100 up to 1000 with successive hits. The center bumper is the big hazard here and its presence forces players to time their flipper shots just right to hit desired targets.
The lower level is more dangerous, in that a drain here means the end of the ball. Five rollover slots comprise a straight flush and neat bonuses if you can hit them all. Drop targets on the far left can reopen the ball entry lane and get players back up to the top level. Rollover symbols between the two side bumpers can activate outlane stoppers, which are important to extend turns. Finally, a bonus game featuring Mario is available by hitting a shot into the hole located in the upper right corner of the level. A trio of bumpers in the middle of the playfield pose a challenge since getting the ball caught in them can wildly affect its trajectory and lead to quick drains down the middle or via the outlanes.
The strategy is simple enough, but the challenge is less obvious until you start playing Pinball for yourself. What comes off as a fairly simple experience gets addictive as your score increases and you start getting the hang of things. For good players who break 100,000 points, the game pulls a nasty trick with the flippers that will surprise you and test your skills more than ever before. Unfortunately, there isn’t a battery backup to keep track of high scores, but that’s what cameras and notepads are for– just as they were more than 20 years ago.
Pinball gets a bit of a bad rap because it does come off as so simple, but sometimes simplicity is better than trying to reinvent the wheel. Don’t overlook this game when putting together a collection. It’s a solid #2, but not quite the best.
So what’s #1, then? I’m glad you asked.
1. Pinbot (Nintendo, 1990)
I suppose that it’s no surprise that a conversion of a real-life pinball machine tops my list of NES pinball games, but that spot is well-deserved. Despite a few wrinkles that RARE put in to differentiate the NES port from the actual table, Pinbot still offers the best traditional pinball experience for the console. Skill shots, ramps, accumulating jackpots, and exciting multiball action are some of this game’s highlights.
The main objective on the Pinbot table is to initiate multiball by completing the set of multicolored lights just below Pinbot’s visor. This is achieved by hitting two banks of targets; one is along Pinbot’s visor and the other is to the right. Once all of the lights are lit, Pinbot’s visor lifts, revealing two capture holes. Locking two balls starts multiball, which challenges players to re-lock one ball and then hit the Solar Ramp located on the upper left of the playfield to earn the Solar Value Jackpot. Once this is achieved, the playfield changes color and the difficulty ramps up… which I’ll get to shortly.
Aside from multiball, Pinbot offers a couple of other challenges and shots that are worth completing to improve your score and earn some extra balls. All nine planets (Yes, there were nine planets back when Pinbot came out) plus the Sun can be lit, starting from Pluto and working towards the Sun. Planets are spotted by either completing a bank of drop targets on the left side of the playfield or by hitting an enclosed target on the right side. The drop targets are easier and pose less of a drain risk to the player if the shot is missed; the enclosed target on the right lies just above the right outlane and, if missed, a rapid drain can occur. Completing all planets and the Sun earns Special, which lights one of the outlanes for an Extra Ball. Aside from the planets, a capture hole just to the left of Pinbot’s visor gradually increases in value from 25,000 points up to 50,000, 75,000, and then lighting one of the outlanes for an Extra Ball. Finally, hitting a lit drop target on the bank of targets to the left lifts the Solar Ramp and reveals an enclosed target that, when hit, awards an Energy Value.
As it stands, Pinbot is an exciting table with lots to do and multiple scoring opportunities. The one downside to RARE’s conversion of this table is the addition of creatures onto the playfield after each completion of Solar Value Jackpot objective. After getting the jackpot for the first time, a blue slime creature gradually makes its way around the Solar System and, when it reaches the Sun, becomes a vacuum that attempts to suck up the ball. If the creature succeeds, it chews up the ball and spits it out, effectively ending that ball. After collecting two jackpots, a winged creature shoots missiles at your flippers. Two hits on a flipper eliminates that flipper until the ball drains. The missiles can be destroyed by the pinball, but if you miss… look out. After three jackpots, a different winged creature flies around and attempts to capture the ball and carry it off the table, ending that ball. These additions are interesting ideas, but they damage the authenticity of the Pinbot experience and arguably sour the experience to the point that collecting jackpots is no longer the best course of action. That’s a bad move.
That complaint aside, Pinbot is the best of the pinball games that I played today for the NES. It was, at the time, as close to having the pinball machine as you could get. Now, of course, you can buy Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection and play a strictly authentic simulation of Pinbot, but this game holds its own as a fun overall experience. I strongly recommend it as an addition to your own NES collection, if you don’t own it already. It’s still relatively common and is very easy to pick up and play.
As you can see, pinball was well-represented on the NES. Six pinball games in total were released for the platform, and High Speed (also developed by RARE and is similar to Pinbot in terms of conversion) is the one of these that I’m missing. These games helped me to carry my love of pinball machines home in a cheap and more convenient fashion, and set the stage for pinball video games that would arrive later. Zen Studios and Farsight Studios have done a great job of keeping pinball alive and relevant in the present day, but it’s been fun to go back in time and relive some of the earlier days for the genre.
Below is a slideshow of pictures that I took during gameplay with my iPhone 4S:
Popzara Press recently published two articles of mine that I wrote in order to get the E3 ball rolling there.
The first one is from an analyst perspective, breaking down each of the three hardware companies: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Microsoft was the easiest of the three to talk about, though I found it interesting that early fears of a strong focus on non-game entertainment seem to have cooled with word of several big third-party game announcements during the Monday morning presser. I think that we might be surprised with what Microsoft brings to the table, but I’m not sure whether it makes a difference in terms of hardware sales for 2012 given the saturation status of the platform. Sony’s event could be the most intriguing, as there are several possible storylines. How will Sony address the Vita situation? What of this rumored cloud-based gaming acquisition that we’ve been hearing about? Is a revamp of PlayStation Plus in the cards? I’m personally very interested in what comes from that event Monday night. Finally, Nintendo’s true unveiling of the WiiU is extremely important. Nintendo needs to start selling the world on what WiiU is, and this is the company’s first big chance to do that. Launch date and pricing won’t be revealed, but games and hardware capability will be center stage.
My other piece has to do with some downloadable games that I’m looking to see on the show floor. I named three in particular. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a personal selection. I hold this series in very high regard and am excited to see the work that Josh Tsui and his team at Robomodo have put so much effort into. I’ve been following the progress of THPSHD since it was announced last December; from what I’ve seen, this has the potential to be one of this summer’s bigger releases. Zen Pinball 2 is another game that I’m looking forward to seeing. If you know me, you know I’m a bit of a pinball freak… and it’s great that the PlayStation 3 is finally getting its own Pinball FX2 kind of upgrade from Zen Pinball. Hopefully I’ll get a peek at the new Avengers tables, too. Finally, Double Dragon: NEON is an appointment that I set up because of my arcade roots. WayForward has done some great things with arcade IP in the past (Contra 4, anyone?) and I’m eager to see what they’ve done with Double Dragon here.
I hope that you’ll take a look at both pieces, and I invite you to comment on either or both.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that most of my writing for the next couple of weeks will be for Popzara Press. I’m not sure how much extra writing time I’ll have during the event, and I’m going to be playing catch-up for another week or so after I return from Los Angeles. I will post some more personal stories and content from the trip here as time allows, though, and most definitely after my Popzara workload slows down a bit. If you’re interested in more frequent updates from me during E3, I recommend following me on Twitter. You can follow along as I’m terrified during my flight, you can find out what I’m playing and who I’ve met, and it’ll basically be a running diary of my experience.
Although the thought of flying to Los Angeles is still freaking me out, I’m extremely excited to be able to attend E3 this year. It’s going to be a big show and I am even more excited to be able to share my experience with so many people. Some call this work– and it certainly is– but I consider it an honor.
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.
Zen Studios has come a long way from its initial Pinball FX offering for Xbox LIVE Arcade back in 2007. Pinball FX2 (XBLA), Zen Pinball (PS3/PSN), and Marvel Pinball (XBLA/PSN) have gradually shown improvement in terms of ball physics, table design, and general appeal. Zen Studios continues to support Pinball FX2 and Marvel Pinball with new tables regularly, and Zen Pinball is slated to receive a makeover a bit later this year. I’ve easily spent dozens of hours playing these games, and that time has been enjoyable.
Now 3DS owners can take the pinball experience on the go with Zen Pinball, which is available now via the eShop for $6.99. Four tables await players; two are formerly Zen Pinball exclusives for the PlayStation 3 and the other two may be familiar to some as add-on tables for Pinball FX. The overall package is enhanced with some 3D graphics effects and active online leaderboards. The transition from console to portable isn’t quite perfect, but Zen Pinball maintains its identity as a solid pinball simulation that will keep both new and experienced pinball fans flipping for hours.
The four tables are all markedly different experiences. The Shaman table has a tribal theme with unique challenges like a ramp-accessible upper playfield with flippers and drop targets, as well as a cascading ball drop called the Volcano. The El Dorado table has a bit of an Indiana Jones or Uncharted feel to it, sporting an expanding totem pole shot and a “U-Turn” ramp in the lower playfield. The Earth Defense table is a sci-fi table with plenty of ramps and orbits to traverse as players attempt to thwart an alien invasion. Finally, the Excalibur table is a nod to medieval times and requires accurate flipper shots to take uncover all of the challenges that it offers. The Earth Defense and Excalibur tables are better overall experiences than Shaman and El Dorado, but none of the tables are bad and all of the tables are worth playing at least a little bit.
The control scheme is easy to learn. The analog disc (or the A Button) launches the ball into play. Flippers are controlled either via the L and R triggers at the top of the 3DS or via the directional pad (for the left flipper) and the B Button (for the right flipper). Several different camera views can be accessed via the X Button. It’s a little surprising that the 3DS accelerometer wasn’t used for nudging the table, but the analog disc handles the task just fine. Table nudging isn’t as vital in virtual pinball games as it is when playing a real table, but it can come in handy when a ball is heading towards an outlane. The controls are responsive, which is important in a pinball game as accurate shots are needed for the best success and highest table scores.
The biggest difference in the Zen Pinball experience for the 3DS versus its console-based relatives is the frame rate. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions run at a smooth 60 frames per second, but the 3DS version runs at half that speed. It’s similar to Pinball Hall of Fame for the 3DS; console players will have to adjust to the frame rate difference as it does change the overall experience. The difference forces players to alter shot timing to ensure accuracy. It’s not an impossible or problematic adjustment, but some trial and error will be necessary to find the right flipper window for certain ramp shots that were second-nature on consoles after lots of practice. Aside from the frame rate difference, the visuals are identical to the console versions with the exception of the addition of some 3D effects. The 3D isn’t overdone and it doesn’t make a ton of difference, but it does make the graphics pop just a little bit more than normal. The music and sound effects are also pulled right from the console versions, for better or for worse.
Zen Pinball boasts online leaderboard support, which is something that Pinball Hall of Fame sorely lacked. There are several different leaderboards, tracking all-time high scores, weekly high scores, Pro Scores, and Team Scores. The first two boards are self-explanatory, but are still key to replay value. The odds are that there’s going to be someone who has posted a better score than you have, so having a mark to shoot for aside from your own personal best is something that promotes regular play. The Pro Score is the sum of your scores on all tables; for example, if you’ve amassed 70 million points combined, your Pro Score would be 70. The Team Score is the sum of the Pro Scores of all of the people on your Friends List. This promotes building Friends Lists and exchanging Friend Codes with other players. (Speaking of which, I’ll plug my Friend Code, which is 1719-3185-8983.) Each table also has a few “achievements” that can be unlocked by accomplishing certain table feats.
Zen Pinball for the 3DS delivers a fun pinball experience with lots of replay value and the promise of new tables via downloadable content later this year. Fans of Zen Studios’ console pinball experiences will feel right at home after adjusting to the lower frame rate, while newer pinball wizards-to-be will have no problem picking up the controls and learning the ins and outs of each table. This game sets the bar for portable pinball, and I happily recommend this game for your 3DS downloadable library.
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.