Epic Pinball – PC
Action Zero’s Christmas Memories
Platform: PC (DOS)
Developer: Digital Extremes
Release Date (NA): November 1993
Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Action Zero
On this first installment of what will hopefully become a holiday tradition for me and Nerd Bacon, I’m going to look at the games whose impact with me started when I finished pulling off the wrapping paper on Christmas Day. Epic Pinball was gifted to me because I really loved the shareware version, even if it only had one table. I loved it to the point where I tried to order the full game over the phone, which was probably the clue for my parents to get it for me that same year’s Christmas (and also to be glad that I had no idea what a credit card was at the time). It came in squeaky-clean CD format, as opposed to ugly and clunky floppy discs, and held an amazing twelve pinball tables in total, each of which promised entire evenings of fun. Given that I was a child who milked all of the fun out of a single shareware disc that I possibly could, this was like a dream come true.
Epic Pinball runs in DOS and uses the keyboard as most PC pinball games do, but where it excels over other similar titles of its time is in the presentation. It’s programmed entirely in assembly language, one of the last games ever to do so, meaning that even a modest PC can play it at full capacity. On top of this, each of the twelve pinball tables has its own theme and play-style, with accompanying mechanics, special effects, and music for each. Super Android, for example, has you undergoing the heart-pounding process of creating a super-intelligent man-machine, boosting his IQ level with each tap of the bumpers and hitting a ramp to upgrade his AI. Another table is the adrenaline-fueled Crash and Burn, throwing you in the midst of a do-or-die race to the finish, hitting ramps and pockets to make pit stops and avoid calamity upon the race track. Like they would in an actual arcade, each of these tables stands on its own as being a fun pinball experience, whether you plan to beat old score records or just enjoy one of your favorite tables for a little while.
Being a pinball game, I can’t imagine that Epic Pinball wins many prizes for innovation. The game’s table layouts and the chosen elements play it pretty safe, satisfying the player’s need for pinball fun without pushing them out of their comfort zone or really pushing the envelope very much at all. The only exception is Enigma, an interesting experiment which has an impossible layout and plays by its own rules. There isn’t much evolution of the pinball experience beyond this, but that’s more a symptom of the game itself: Pinball features a ball, at least two flippers, and a field for the ball to run around in. If you change any of these things, it’s not pinball anymore. The most you can do is decide what the ball has to play with on the field or how many flippers the player can control the ball with. You could try adding one of those neat mini-tables raised above the main field, but that’s kind of hard to pull off in two dimensions.
What makes Epic Pinball really memorable for me isn’t in how the game is played or what new moves it tries, it’s actually the music that it uses to set the mood for its tables. I know that the soundtrack of a game is usually my kryptonite, but for this game, it’s actually what anchors the memories of it in my mind. I swear that I likely would have forgotten about this game if not for the MIDI tracks summoning the table layout every time I hear them. Revisit the table concepts I mentioned earlier, but this time, listen to the music featured in each one: Super Android, Crash and Burn, and Enigma. Each of the tracks gives depth and character to these otherwise flat pinball tables that would be separated by nothing more than layouts and decals, and if you’ve played the tables as much as I have, the music will be just as much a part of them as the flippers and the bumpers. It helps that I love just about every track in this game, too.
At the end of the day, Epic Pinball does what it does fairly well, giving players a fun pinball experience, and that’s all that we can really ask. I recommend this to anyone who loves pinball and just wants to have fun with it. You can find this title in its entirety on Abandonware, my preferred site for reconnecting with my old DOS favorites. Just give the ROM a download, load it up into DOSBox, and you’ll be all set for a few dozen rounds of good, solid pinball. Don’t worry about your computer not being up to snuff, as even the simplest of today’s computers will be more than a match for this old thing. Just make sure to be smart this holiday season and download only from sites you trust.
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