When Crave Entertainment and Farsight Studios released Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection for the Nintendo Wii early last year, they brought out what was considered one of the best video game representations of pinball. Everything — physics, graphics and sound, and table selection — was brilliantly done. The compilation was so good that it wouldn't be topped until the companies released the game a few months ago on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, this time with more tables in tow. Fans have been waiting with bated breath for the next entry in the series, so both companies wasted no time in bringing out the latest iteration, Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection. On the surface, this is more pinball goodness that we've come to expect. After some play time with it, though, players will soon discover that things aren't as they seem.
The game has you peruse through a museum of classic pinball machines made by the Gottlieb pinball company. There are 11 different machines to play, dating all the way back from 1937 (Play-Boy) or from the recent past of 1995 (Strikes N' Spares). As with any standard pinball machine, your goal is to gain the highest possible score on each machine. However, each table has its own special goal which, if completed, can gain you more credits to play other machines or also open them up for free play. As a special bonus, a love machine, used to tell how much you and another person are in love with each other, and Zoltar, the fortune-telling robot, are also included. While there is no objective associated with each machine, they prove to be nice little diversions and an alternate way of earning credits.
There are several different modes offered in the game, most of which are the same ones found in the previous title. Arcade mode has you playing through each table at your leisure. Credits earned in each table can be used to play on other tables or buy codes to unlock other modes and tables. Tournament mode lets you and a few other people try to win on one table via an official, but complicated, rule set and scoring system used in official pinball tournaments nationwide. The Gottlieb Challenge has you going through each table and trying to meet or beat the given score before advancing. New to the game is the history mode, which gives you a visual tour of the Gottlieb pinball factory. You don't really get much information on the company through this mode, but the visual history through black-and-white pictures counts for something. You also get Payout Mode, which has you trying to make good Blackjack or Poker hands via your skill on the Play-Boy machine.
This all sounds fine for any player, especially pinball fans, but there are a few things that make this inferior to Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection. The biggest fault is that it is an exact replica of the GameCube game released several years ago. Aside from the title's support for the Wiimote controller, every feature and flaw is the same as it was on the GameCube release years ago. The same 11 tables are here, with no signs that additional ones were planned. The menus are the same, the backdrops are the same, the historical anecdotes for each machine are the same, and the goals for each table are the same. Worse yet, the codes to open up all of the tables for free play are the same, meaning that anyone with an Internet connection can easily look up all of the codes to unlock all of the tables, negating the need to work at unlocking them. The only reason to pick up the title for the Wii would be if you don't have a GameCube controller or you can't find the original GameCube release anywhere. It's really a shame that not even one feature could be added to make this different or build upon the success of The Williams Collection.
Another flaw present here is the ball physics. For the most part, they feel fine. However, there will be a few times, like going up ramps, when the ball feels a bit floaty. When it feels like there's no weight on the sphere, it really breaks the illusion that this is a pinball simulation.
The controls are responsive, something definitely desired in a pinball game. Both the Z and B buttons are used as flippers, while the analog stick on the Nunchuk is the plunger for the table. The 1 and 2 buttons control camera angles, and the table shakes are performed by shaking either the Nunchuk or Wii Remote. There may not be any tables that really take advantage of the skill shots performed by analog stick movement, but it's good to know that those who wish to have accurate plunger control will have it. Also, for those worried that tilts can accidentally occur, you'll be pleased to know that you have to violently shake either controller in order to get anything to happen on-screen. Overall, the control method works well enough that the only real complaint that can be levied against the game is lack of either GameCube controller or Classic Controller support.
Graphically, The Gottlieb Collection is rather good. The tables all look nice, though some tables have their parts blend so well together that it may be hard to tell the difference between the table background and the projecting piece. Other details stand out in a more positive light, like the reflection of the uprights on the glass and the hints of dirt on the balls as they slow down the field. The environments, while a bit rustic, fit the theme nicely. The only real complaint — aside from the game not supporting widescreen — can be levied against Zoltar. His hands tend to clip the crystal ball when he moves them, and in a package that barely contains clipping at all, it hurts a bit.
The sound does its job, though you get the feeling that it's not being done very well. The effects are accurate to the machines they're representing. You'll get the same chimes and flipper noises, music, and voices that you would when playing with the actual machines. It's a bit disappointing that both the music and voices sound muffled. The voice for the gopher in Tee'd Off, for example, is barely audible over the musical score, and it's a bit difficult to decipher what he's saying once you realize that he's trying to say something. Compared to the prior offering, this feels like a step backward in what the team can do with sound.
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection is not a bad game. The pinball tables are varied and fun, and there's plenty of historical content for pinball aficionados to pore over. However, this is a port of a GameCube game, and no real changes have been made to the formula. Players will be disappointed that the improvements seen in The Williams Collection aren't here, and only hardcore pinball fanatics who are more forgiving about the title's flaws and shortcomings will find this to be a suitable addition to their pinball video game library.
More articles about Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection