Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pinball Resurrected

Someone who grew up during the birth and golden age of video games would also have to be at least passingly familiar with the electronic pastime it replaced... pinball.  In practically every arcade there would be at least a few pinball machines vying for the attention of someone looking for something a bit more physical than Pac-Man.  I remember one of the troika of video game palaces here in downtown Toronto being the Pinball Spot.  After carefully traversing down the slick-tiled steep and dark stairway, one would be greeted by a huge square basement of video delights, as well as a long line of pinball machines stretched back along the left wall.  It was a pinballer's paradise to be sure.

Hoping to recapture that sultry allure is FarSight Studio's Pinball Arcade for iOS devices.  There is no shortage of pinball game simulations for game devices these days, so how does Pinball Arcade shape up against the competition?  PA's main hook is the painstaking detail that has gone into the recreation of the featured tables.  Tales of the Arabian Nights is unlocked when the game is installed, with The Black Hole, Ripley's Believe It or Not and Theatre of Magic available for paid download in-game.  These games range from between $1.99 to $3.99, and you can pick up all three in a pack for $8.99.  The app itself is 99 cents.  Other classic tables are promised in future updates.

The tables are great to play, lovingly constructed with no detail overlooked.  Each table also features a tutorial to take you through the scoring system, as well as an interesting text screen outlining the history of the machine.  Problems arise, however, with the game's physics.  Pinball games are the epitome of 'feel' in coin-op amusement.  How the ball interacts with the flippers, the speed it travels around the board, and the player's ability to influence these events are all critical elements to a pinball game's success.  There is a tangible connection between player and pinball.  I believe it is possible to recreate this connection and 'feel' in a computer simulation, but Pinball Arcade doesn't quite feel like it.  For all the love and care that the creators obviously poured into the tables, they skimped a bit on ball physics.  It moves wonkily quite often, changing speed or direction for no good reason.  The ball's movement off the flippers feels a bit strange too, all of which equals a bit of frustration on the player's part and failure to close that gap between the physicality of pinball and the cold calculations of computer simulation.

Wacky ball movement notwithstanding, I would still heartily recommend this app to all you Pinball Wizards out there.  Pinball Arcade sure plays a mean pinball.  

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