The Pinball Arcade Review (XBLA)
Posted by Jim Cook, Apr 09, 2012 19:09
When it comes to video game pinball, you have two basic routes: unrealistically designed (the physics may remain realistic however) yet fantastically themed tables that take advantage of the medium, or ones that are inspired by real pinball. The Pinball Arcade takes the latter approach, offering four licensed tables in one product (and likely more as future DLC). They are Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Tales of the Arabian Nights, and Theatre of Magic. Anyone interested in historical pinball play will be pleased by both the table variety on display, and the nods to how they were originally played.
Once you select a table, you’re dropped into a quasi-first-person view that makes it look like you’re playing in on the actual table in a dimly lit arcade. From there, the face button controls your camera angles, the left analog stick handles nudging/bumping the table, the right stick controls the plunger, and the triggers work your flippers. Each table has their own gimmick, but the basic controls are the same. As these are based on real world tables, the ball can get stuck on rare occasions but a handy ’call attendant’ feature will un-jam it. Additionally, each table comes with a paragraph or two explaining its significance to the genre and copies of the sales flyers used to advertise them to arcade operators back in the day; it’s a neat touch.
If you’re not an encyclopedia of pinball knowledge who immediately made a buy/don’t-buy decision just based on the table names, that’s okay. Hopefully the following overview of each table will help you learn more about how they play and what they’re about.
Black Hole (Gottlieb, 1981): Set in an outer space theme, Black Hole at first seems like a minimalist table; its mid-field is almost empty, and even the back-field has only a few targets. However, skilled play can reveal this table has a very interesting trick: there is a ’sub-table’ beneath the main one! It’s inverted and rather small, but does add a neat twist. As an early 80s table, its sound effects are reminiscent of video games of the time; a flatly mechanical voice informs players that “No one escapes the black hole.” Two relatively simple playing areas and an obvious historical/retro charm add up to a decent whole.
Theatre of Magic (Bally, 1995): Styling itself after stage magic, this table features all the usual trappings of pulling improbable stuff out of top hats, sawing things in half, illusions, and so on. It’s actually a pretty ’busy’ table with lots of targets to hit and nearly any shot will hit something interesting, so the skill lies in being precise enough to hit the exact object you wanted. Strong presentation and good table design make this a good choice.
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