Pinball machines are often part of the under-appreciated section of the last remaining local arcades. They've been around longer than video games, but eventually grew to share the same space as it and of course was eventually over taken by video games.
Farsight studios brings gamers The Pinball Arcade, a title made to bring us back to those lonely corners of the arcade. They're not new to bringing pinball simulations into video games, having created the Williams Collection, which made it to the Xbox 360, and the Gottlieb Collection, which unfortunately did not.
They provide a small offering of four tables to master: Tales of the Arabian Nights (Williams), The Black Hole (Gottlieb), Theatre of Magic (Bally) and Ripley's Believe it or Not (Sterm). Each table comes with a set of scores to beat and goals to complete, along with the standard achievements tied to all 360 titles. You are given the ability to change the controls and camera angles to provide an experience tailored to the gamer, as well as scans of the flyers for each machine to provide interesting historical information for each table.
Each table has been lovingly recreated down to the smallest detail, the coin slots, the lights are all near identical recreations of the tables, only a few parts stand out as noticeably not realistic, such as the flippers, with no wear or tear and other items which you interact with, like the lamp on Arabian Nights, which stand out due to an added sheen that was never apparent on the physical machine. Along with the physical machine, there is the added bonus of the score/story dot matrix which is perfect to the last detail which were indistinguishable from the real deal. The one thing that is missing is a way to tour the tables, in part to view the craftsmanship of the table, the other to familiarize oneself with the table, otherwise many of the tables finer details on targets are unreadable, which can at times make the game more confusing.
Aside from physical appeal, the other thing The Pinball Arcade boasts above other pinball recreations is sound acuity, which is also incredibly accurate. From the subtle sound of the ball rolling on the table, the various pings and pangs of the machine, the voices to the actual music of the tables, it works very well in conjunction to provide one of the most immersive pinball experiences one could without a physical machine.
Each table has a different set of play, but you're free to enjoy any of the tables in freeplay mode, which is a departure from previous collections, in which you unlocked games via credits. However, you still gain credits in this game, although there is no reason given as to why.
Tales of the Arabian Nights is a Williams table from 1996, where players go through the motions of completing various tales in order to gain the jewels required to free the captive princess from the genie. A fun and addictive table with a lot going on to keep the player busy like spelling words, but not too much, things like sneaking in to the harem give this game a cheeky yet fun aspect. Tables made by Williams always had a very good structure to them that allowed for immersive game play that isn't overbearing.
Ripley's Believe It or Not! the recreation of this Stern table from 2004 is the newest table in the roster and it shows. The game play is confusing, riddled with too much to do and the physical machine is clogged with too many things and little air space in the middle to maneuver. Tied with annoying sound effects, this machine is the low point of the selection and one can only speculate that it was chosen as Stern is known for mainly creating pinball machines for licensed intellectual property, while Ripley's Believe It or Not! falls under that category, it is probably the least known IP of the machines they've made.
The Black Hole by Gottlieb is the oldest table on the roster, dating back to 1981, while the age of the machine shows, with no flashy dot matrix score, it certainly makes up for it in game play. As the name might suggest it is a sparsely populated machine, with few targets and pockets, but this is not to its detriment, but rather it adds to the sense of loneliness about this table. The background music, the voice, each sound adds to the tables classic appeal. The table even has a twist, as once sucked into the table you enter into a secondary small hidden area in which directions are reversed and the ball falls backwards, just watch out on that re-entry to the main table.
Theatre of Magic by Bally is another wonderful choice and is somewhat similar to Tales of the Arabian Nights. Created in 1995, this table instead features magic tricks which one must accomplish, along with advancing the clock and spelling out various words. It is a very addictive and interactive experience, including a pinball mini game which can be played on the dot matrix display when triggered in game. Great music, sound and voice provide for an overall immersive experience.
Overall The Pinball Arcade does great justice to the world of Pinball, providing a world without quarters to give you one of the best pinball experiences you can get right from your living room. With DLC as the intent of this game, to expand on roster of tables, one can look forward to what's just around the corner. I personally hope that games which made it to the iOS selection, like Bride of Pinbot and Medieval Madness are on their way to the 360.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of The Pinball Arcade.