Publisher: Crave Entertainment
Developer: FarSight Studios
Release Date: November 16, 2004
Everyone loves pinball, I think. At one point or another you’ve probably been sitting in a pizza shop, waiting for your buddy/spouse to finish eating up, and noticed the light shining off of the glass of a nicely polished pinball table. And chances are you checked your pockets for a quarter or two, told your dining mate that you’re going to visit the restroom real quick, and snuck in a game of glorious pinball.
Developer FarSight Studios attempts to recreate the special feel one gets while playing pinball by making exact replicas of classic tables dating back from the 1950’s up to the 90’s. There are seven tables here, all in fine form and all of them emulated down to the tiniest detail. Included with each one are some neat bonuses or the unfamiliar player or the pinball fanatic – high resolution historical art, for example, the fliers advertising each one; fun facts about the table, and a short history about each one. For example, I never knew (or cared to know, before?) that Tee’d Off sported one of the very first dot matrix screens to display points as well as other information. There are some interesting little tidbits tucked away here.
This pinball simulation – really, that’s what it is – is quite impressive in it’s replication abilities. The ball inside flies around with realistic (though not perfect) physics; the sound effects are impressive and lifelike, especially the Cha-Chings and Thumps and Clicks that are easily distinguishable as pinball noises. The flippers react quickly to the Xbox controller’s triggers, and while the Tilt is there for those who know when to use it. Topping everything off is a nice effect on the glass of the machine, which allows you to see, vaguely, the tall back of the cabinet and the surrounding area it’s in. About the only true gripe I have (aside from very rare bad physics accidents) is that the “plunger” (or ball launcher, for those not down with pinball lingo) doesn’t feel like a real plunger at all. You use the right analog stick to pull back and release it, but it moves with absolutely no tension – not to mention that fact that it requires no skill to get its full potential. It’s a slight flaw in an otherwise stunning sim.
There are quite a few options presented to you when picking out a table for play. You can play in either Arcade or Tournament mode – playing a quick round by yourself or with friends, and creating a bracket and seeing who scores the most with each round, respectively. You can change a few things like the number of balls for each player, toggle off the Tilt Lock or table shaking altogether, and so forth. Nothing terribly exciting, but worth mentioning.
A few of the tables are pretty basic. Ace High, for example, is certainly a classic table but it’s fairly straightforward and gets dull rather quickly. Central Park isn’t terribly interesting, either, but offers up a few more features. The other tables were more fun to me: Big Shot, and 8-Ball themed table; Genie, an extremely wide table with lots of fun stuff to play with; Victory, another wide table based around race cars; Tee’d Off, a golf based board with some quirky art and a very annoying but cute gopher voice taunting you; and my personal favorite, Black Hole, which features another mini table underneath the main playing field viewable by a second sheet of glass). The mini table is really cool because the slant is opposite that of the main table, as if gravity is reversed (or a little like a “black hole”). It’s charming, in a way.
There’s some stuff to unlock, so you’ll get some extra playtime out of this game once you’ve exhausted the seven main tables. There’s an old 1932 creation called Play-Boy which isn’t exactly a traditional table as it doesn’t have flippers, but it does have a plunger and a number of pins and holes to score points with. Two other mini games, Xoltan and Love Meter, are available to have a little bit of fun with. There’s also a slideshow of the Gottlieb factory in the 1960s, and an unlockable option that lets you change the appearance of the pinball.
The developers also implemented a few of Xbox Live’s features into the product. The main focus here are leaderboards. No matter what your score is, you can upload it and see how you rank against other players. I was pretty proud of a few of my runs, but I’ll never come close to some of the scores that people have already posted. The game also allows you to check your friends list and receive messages from pals at any time, so this might be a good time killer if you’re waiting for some guys to get together for a Halo 2 match. It’s too bad that there’s no true online play, but in all honesty, taking turns playing pinball over the internet wouldn’t have been the most exciting multiplayer game available. It would have been nice, but it’s not terribly missed.
The graphics in the game are not overly impressive, but they are pretty much all that’s needed to capture the look and feel of these classic tables. Textures are sharp enough, motion – what there is of it – is smooth enough, and the few nice touches, like the glossy sheen of the glass, are indeed nice. There’s not much else to mention, but the graphics get the job done nicely.
Sound is a bit of a mixed bag. All the sound effects are here in fine form, certainly – no doubt about it. And if there was music accompanying a certain table, it’s here too. The problem is, if there wasn’t any music, those tables are eerily quiet, with the only solace being some rather strange background noise. In addition, what music there is on the tables can get terribly bothersome as it repeats often, and will probably drive you and your friends mad after a short period of time. I would have really loved for there to be custom soundtrack support for those who wish to play without silence, as one rarely plays real pinball in silence anyway – whether it’s the blaring jukebox or the rowdy people getting in a bar fight.
The game is basically what it says it is: a pinball hall of fame concerning classic Gottlieb tables. One can’t argue that the simulation isn’t nicely done – oh, it is. And while a few of the tables aren’t going to be very fun for new players, all of these are either instant nostalgia for old players or intriguing, playable history for pinball fans. At $20, it’s not bad. It may not be the best pinball game ever – it certainly isn’t the most original, nor does it make use of video game pinball potential – but it is a suprisingly solid piece of history and should provide you with at least a few hours of point-raking fun.