Apr 11 2012

Review of Pinball Arcade

If there’s any market that’s been crowded lately it’s been the digital pinball market. Pinball FX 2, Pinballistik, Marvel Pinball, and now the recently announced Zen Pinball 2 (which in fairness will essentially be Pinball FX 2 combined with Marvel Pinball but on PS3) are all vying for a crown. The only issue with these games is that all the tables contained therein are designed as digital pinball tables; not necessarily a bad thing but they often lack the true arcade feel of real pinball as a result. It’s the simulation aspect that’s been missing, real pinball painstakingly recreated for all to play as the real deal becomes harder and harder to find. Thankfully the fine folks at Farsight and Crave have put together a new platform for just such titles. They made the Williams Collection, the Gottlieb Collection, and know how to do sim pinball right. So how does their work transition to a digital platform? Read on and find out.

So the first thing I want to talk about is the selection of tables, and by that I mean both the actual selection and the potential selection of tables. You see unlike their other collections which were confined to a single company’s body of work they have gotten rights to use Williams, Bally, Gottlieb, and Stern tables allowing for a larger selection of potential tables many of which haven’t been featured in other games. That said that potential lies in DLC tables being released in the future, the actual selection here is limited to four tables with one table representing each company. Williams gets Tales of the Arabian Nights, Bally gets Theatre of Magic, Gottlieb gets Black Hole, and Stern gets Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Black Hole features a table within the table, making it one of pinball's many unintentional "Yo Dawg" jokes.

These are all great tables and good choices for each company though I have a couple minor quibbles. The first is the choice of Tales of the Arabian Nights as it was in the Williams Pinball Collection which I (and I imagine the target audience of this game) already own. Choosing a Williams table that wasn’t in the previous game would have been nice for returning fans and they could have always put out Tales later for new players. This may also apply to Black Hole but I can’t remember if it was in the Gottlieb Collection or not (I’m not the biggest fan of Gottlieb tables in general, I find the drains too big). The other issue is that they’re obviously trying to showcase a wide-spread of pinball history but they chose not include some earlier tables. Ripley’s is from 2004, Tales is ’96, Theatre is ’95, and Black Hole is ’83; they really could have a used a ’70s era table in there instead of two ’90s tables. My suggestion would have been to replace Tales with something earlier, perhaps Gorgar (’79), which was also in the Williams Collection but a fantastic example really good early pinball.

That's not a high score, Bally just scores its games that way, a free ball is 600,000,000 points in this game.

Despite those tiny issues though these are still pitch-fucking-perfect renditions of classic tables and they are a joy to play with all the physics feeling absolutely bang on. This is as close as you’re going to get to playing these tables without actually finding a real life version and in some cases it’s closer than that. As an example there is a small arcade I go to now and then that has Theatre of Magic, a great table and one of my favorites, tragedy is though it’s been neglected and doesn’t play right anymore. It plays like it hasn’t been calibrated properly in years and is probably in need of some replacement parts which are tough to find as they only made 6,600 tables and lord knows how many still exist. Getting to play it properly in the comfort of my own home is like a dream for me and while a non-enthusiast may not appreciate exactly what that means I’m sure the target demo here all share a similar dream with their own sadly neglected public tables.

Despite being from '04 this totally looks like a table from the '90s.

This whole thing is also great as they have Stern on board which are pretty much the only company actually putting out pinball tables anymore. Most of the tables they make, average gamers won’t find in the wild because realistically how many arcades are really out there and actually adding new machines? If you’re anything like me all you have is an okay arcade that’s a pain to get to, costs too much, and never changes out machines all that often. Did you know Stern made a CSI pinball table? Or a Sopranos one? There are tons of new tables based on recent franchises that I desperately want to play and probably will never get to in real life which again makes this collection a godsend!

While you'll rarely if ever actually get to see the ball this close up, that sure looks great doesn't it.

The last thing I want to talk about is the presentation which is a little bare bones but to the point in a way that I like. The music and voice samples sound great and authentic as they really help establish the classic arcade atmosphere. The menus are rather basic but they crammed a lot of stuff in there like the history and original flyer ads for the machines and instructions for how to achieve all the goals they establish for each table. The simulated dot-matrix displays look perfectly cheesy and the graphical renditions of the tables look fantastic. It’s all in the small details but they really make the difference here and you can see that putting this stuff together is a labor of love for these guys.

So what’s the final verdict with this game? It’s a fantastic way to play a lot of great classics but its true value is in its yet to be achieved potential. I can’t wait for them to start releasing tables for this game and honestly every single one will be a guaranteed buy for me. That said the initial offering of tables is in and of itself a great vertical slice of pinball history and good way to spend $10. While this certainly feels like it’s made for a niche of a niche of an audience I think anyone interested in pinball or just wanting the arcade experience will get a lot out of this product. I really hope this great game helps more people come to enjoy a genre I love so dearly and a product this high quality shouldn’t have any trouble, as such Pinball Arcade gets a 5 out 5 stars.

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