The Pinball Arcade – PC
A Blast From The Past…
Developer: Farsight Studios
Publisher: Farsight Studios
Release Date: November 4, 2013
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
SPECIAL NOTE: This game is available on Android and Kindle devices, OSX (Mac), PS3/PS4/PS Vita and Xbox 360. It will most likely come to 3DS and Wii U shortly.
When I first entered the world of video games it was through a Tandy knock-off of Atari’s Pong. Yeah, I’m THAT old. I can remember going to my first arcade when I was very young. In those days, there were still more pinball machines than arcade video games, and I think the explosion of video game popularity helped pinball machines hang on for a while longer. See, because there were so few video games in the arcades you often had to find something to do while you were waiting for a turn on the video game, so I played a lot of pinball. In fact, there were some of the old machines that I liked better than some of the arcade games at the time.
So, you’ll have to forgive me but I’m getting a little maudlin about this game. Farsight Studios has taken the time to painstakingly recreate a number of the old tables from the major manufacturers including Bally, Gottlieb, Stern and Williams. For those of you who have great memories of pinball, or for gamers who have never played on an actual table, this is a great, (relatively) inexpensive opportunity to experience a really fun form of uniquely American entertainment that died shortly after video games hit the scene. While real pinball tables are still out there, kept lovingly by devoted collectors real tables range in price from several hundred to thousands of dollars depending on condition and rarity.
Table controls are ultra-simple. The left and right Shift buttons control the flippers, Space launches the ball and W,A,S and D bump the table to simulate a player jostling a real machine to nudge the ball in a specific direction. Just like a real table, if you hit it too hard or too rapidly the table will “Tilt”- you lose control of the ball and it drops into the chute. I will say the default controls make bumping the table a bit difficult, but like most PC games you can always reassign keys to your liking. By comparison, the flipper and ball launch controls fall readily to hand.
For young gamers who have never played pinball, the basic object of the game is simple- keep your ball in play by smacking it with flippers on either side of the bottom of the table (some tables include more than one set of flippers, the extras are usually about midway up the table) and some tables have multiple levels of play and other features.
Before you start playing on a table, the splash screen includes a brief history of the machine including the designer, a list of unique or special features on the table, and the statistics on the number of copies that were built.
Each table has its own “goals”- specific scoring areas including ball traps (sounds s lot worse than it is… you won’t feel a thing) ramps and tunnels that award special bonuses. Sometimes you will unleash multiple balls that activate a scoring bonus and you try to keep all of them on the table as long as possible. Your overall goal is to score as many points as you can given the table limit of balls during a specific game. Pinball Arcade features the ability to post scores along with other players around the world, with the top player on a table being awarded the tile of Grand Champion- until someone else comes along and knocks them off the mountain.
The Bottom Line
I installed the trial version and ended up purchasing a “Season” of tables for $30. Farsight offers limited free play so you can try out different tables, and sells packages of two tables (they are bundled together so you can’t choose which two you want) for $5 or different “Seasons” for $30 that have about 20 tables each. It was a no-brainer for me.
I did find something out about myself that I had forgotten- I’m not that great at pinball, but at least now I can practice on specific tables until I get better.
The graphics are really good, and the action stayed fluid even on the POS (native 1440 X 900 monitor resolution and 2XAA). Farsight did an incredible job of rendering the fine details of a mechanical device on the PC monitor. Flashing lights, reactive bumpers, ball targets and more are detailed and life-like. One thing I didn’t like (but can live with) is that the screen follows the ball’s movement around instead of rendering a smaller image that stays constant. For me, it was more difficult to anticipate the ball’s trajectory as it approached the bottom of the table with this interface than if the table top remained static. On a positive note, you do get a better view of all the wonderful details of the tables as the ball travels around.
Each game also features the authentic, original music, bumper noises and speech capabilities of the original machines. They even got the sound of the ball hitting the various parts of the machine to sound like actual mechanical events. Again, awesome job by Farsight.
The physics of ball movement as it bounces around the table seems spot on. Although this is not groundbreaking (I had and frequently played a pinball simulator on Turbo Grafx 16 and have an older one for PC), it’s important to note that it’s these little details that make or break a sim like this. The flipper action is also realistic. I even imagined (?) that one flipper was slightly weaker than the other on certain tables (a phenomenon I now remember on real tables long ago) but its more likely the result of the ball’s collision with elements of the table that make it hit harder on one side.
What made pinball tables great was how creative the original designers got in order to make specific things happen on the table. Anything from linking mechanical elements and audio events to using magnets to change and even reverse the ball flow was done in the industry, and all those cool features that I had forgotten are here in Pinball Arcade. I’m convinced that the designers of the original tables were as much artists as they were engineers.
One of the high points of this title is you don’t have to devote a lot of time or thought to the game. Just like a real pinball table all you need is a couple minutes of spare time- drop your virtual quarter in and start hammering away. It’s one of the things that made pinball such a successful form of entertainment during its life cycle. These days, every game wants you to upgrade and specialize- sometimes so much of that goes on that the purity of the game is lost amid the gear and power-ups… pinball is just pure relaxation (and sometimes frustration) for its own sake.
I’ve scattered some screen shots throughout this article showing just a few of the tables I played, but they don’t do justice to even one season of tables. I just pulled some up that I remember from my youth. I started with one featuring Elvira (Mistress of The Dark) because… well, let’s just say I was a big fan of hers in my adolescence and there are two good reasons for that. I’d never played that table before and scored some cool bonuses even on my first try.
Some others I sampled were Gorgar, Black Hole, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and StarTrek: The Next Generation. Replaying all these old games really brought back some fond memories and renewed my appreciation for this lost art form/entertainment venue.
If it weren’t for space/budgetary constraints I might venture out and see if I could pick up a real table for my game room. Luckily I don’t have to go through that. Farsight Studios has brought the nostalgic world of pinball to the magic box on my desk. As stated before, they’ve done an amazing job recreating pinball machines on the computer.
The experience is not cheap, especially if you nickel and dime yourself by buying table packs instead of seasons. With three seasons out now and more on the way, you are looking at close to $100 for all the current content and $30 each for additional seasons. But when you measure that against shelling out $50-$60 for the next cookie-cutter installment of an FPS franchise it’s not outrageous. Pinball Arcade is eminently re-playable because even though a table environment won’t change, each game is different. And if you do get tired of one table, pick another from the season’s selection and go to town. I personally have no problem rewarding the developers for bringing a well-executed and novel concept to market.
As mentioned above, the default controls were lacking for me. I found it to be much more comfortable to assign the flippers to the left and right arrow keys, leaving my left hand free to tap the table in a certain direction. Since you only touch Space to launch the ball this seemed a much better arrangement.
My only real gripe is with the interface. The more I play, the more I wish they had just reduced the size of the table and left the perspective static. Especially on more complex tables I found myself trying to guess exactly where the ball was headed. More often than not I was wrong to varying extents, and by the time the balls arrives it’s way too late to make adjustments.
This little quirk is the only minor issue I have with Pinball Arcade.
So, if you’re like me and want to take a trip down memory lane, or if you’re just intrigued by the notion of playing the kind of games your parents grew up with, check out Pinball Arcade. It’s a great simulation of a simpler time in gaming.
I’m giving this one 7 out of 10.
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