I love pinball. It's one of my nerd dreams to own a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" table at some point in my life, and pinball is one of the reasons I find it a shame that the arcade scene in North America is in such poor shape. You can get a lot of arcade experiences on home consoles today, but video game renditions of pinball never seem quite right. That brings me to this title, Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection for the Nintendo 3DS.
Pinball Hall of Fame isn't particularly bad, and there certainly aren't any alternatives on the 3DS. I've played this title three times now — on PlayStation 3, PSP and Wii — and I've pretty much enjoyed each version, so my disappointment with the game on the 3DS doesn't stem from being burned out, as I could easily go back to any of those previous iterations and play a round or two on numerous tables. It's the porting of the game to the 3DS that is such a letdown.
Let's start by detailing what's contained in this version. You've got seven classic Williams tables, some of which you're probably familiar with, like Black Knight, and others less so. I've played a couple of these in real life, and there's actually a Whirlwind table at a local laundromat. It doesn't have working sound, so when I first heard the music and sound effects for Whirlwind, it kind of blew my mind, but it's still a perfectly playable machine. Other tables, like Taxi, are less popular for some folks, but you've probably seen them at a bowling alley, amusement park or rundown arcade. Then there are tables like Space Shuttle and Funhouse, which I had never laid eyes on until these collections were produced. Finally, you've got the Gorgar table (I'm a pretty big fan of the off-the-wall artwork) and Pinbot, which also looks really awesome.
Because I find the business and development of pinball to be pretty intriguing, I also wanted to include a little background info on the tables in this collection. Black Knight is one of the older tables on the list, and was also designed by Steve Ritchie, a very talented guy who did a lot of work for Williams over the years. It's also the first table to feature split sections, with a small top section that contained its own flippers and goals, and then a bottom section with your more standard setup. Another table in the game, Taxi, was also designed by Ritchie. Taxi was a bit more basic by comparison, but it was the first game to showcase a four-player scoreboard.
Gorgar, which has strange human sacrifice art and pretty much guaranteed that my parents would never had let me play it as a kid, is the first table to feature any voices. They're pretty basic, but it's a noteworthy table because of that addition. Funhouse, Pinbot, Space Shuttle and Whirlwind aren't particularly outstanding Williams tables, but there's some additional information about the creation of Funhouse that's interesting if you seek it out. Part of its design was featured in a much older table by the same name released in the 1950s, and at one point, the game featured a clock mechanic not unlike the classic Twilight Zone table, but it was removed for cost reasons.
These are the seven tables in the collection, and it's definitely not a bad assortment to play through. They're rendered well enough, and while this doesn't quite hold up in comparison to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, everything animates like it should, and the sound effects and music seem to be in place. One significant change, and something that hit me right at the start of the game, is that the lighting has apparently been removed. When I say lighting, I mean that the entire game just looks extremely dim, which is really odd. It's particularly noticeable if you pop in any other game, or if you have the Williams Collection on PSP and do a side by side comparison. I'm not sure what happened here, but it does make some of the tables look a little dull, which is disappointing.
Another aspect of the game that I find lackluster compared to the other versions is the number of tables. The only other iteration that included seven tables was the PS2 release. The PS3, PSP, Wii and Xbox 360 versions all had additional tables. The PSP and Wii versions have three more for a total of 10, while the PS3 and X360 have six more for a total of 13. To a certain degree, I can understand not being comparable to the home console ports, but why this release is lacking the tables found in the other portable release is beyond me. It doesn't seem like it should be a space issue, and it certainly isn't because there's other content taking its place because there's not much here.
Aside from the actual tables, the only additional background material is found in the manuals for the tables. You can scan through these curiosities after selecting the table, and they're certainly neat in a one-off kind of way. Beyond that, this game is devoid of significant extras. The funny thing is that the 3DS iteration incorporates the earning credits system from the other versions. You earn credits by completing goals at all the tables and can use these credits to purchase the ability for free play at the different tables; it doesn't do much for video pinball since you're not spending actual quarters. In the other versions of the game, the tokens could be used to unlock additional tables, but since those tables aren't present here, it's a nearly pointless system.
The game includes a couple of the unlockable variants from the other versions. Mirror mode, which allows you to flip the system upside-down and play that way, and textured pinball effects also are included. Finally, you can turn off tilt detection, which is the only useful option of the three. For the 3DS version, you can "shake" the table by shaking the 3DS, using the system's gyroscope to detect movement.
The 3-D effects are pretty awful. They negatively impact the frame rate, and while it's not a significant drop, it is enough to distract the player. Enabling the 3-D effects has little effect otherwise, as neither the tables nor the ball really pop from the screen. Overall, the game doesn't make great use of its hardware.
Finally, something about the physics in this release just feels off. I haven't noticed this in the previous versions, but there are plenty of instances here where I would lightly tap the ball with a flipper and send it flying. At times, the ball seems almost weightless, as if the slightest nudge will rocket it across the table. This can definitely screw up a shot or two, and in pinball, that's not a good thing at all.
Other than those issues, you can still have some fun with Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection for the Nintendo 3DS. I'd urge you to pick it up for a different platform if you have the means to do so. It's a very competent pinball title on every other system, but something has fallen apart in its transition to the 3DS. If you can get past these flaws, you'll probably have a good time with it, but I can't, knowing that this content exists in a better form elsewhere.
More articles about Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection