*Reviewed: Vita/PS3 Version*
When it comes to playing pinball on consoles, there’s a definite lack of games for enthusiasts to get their hands on. We’ve got a few front-ends, like Pinball FX2 and Zen Pinball, as well as some neat collections such as the Marvel Pinball table sets, but there’s really not a whole lot to choose from. And, while the aforementioned games are definitely loads of fun, they’re not exactly the most realistic pinball experience out there; they might be flashy and explosive, but they’re also the kind of game that pinball wizards might snub because of that.
And then FarSight studios entered the mix. After years of experience handling pinball games on the PC side of gaming, the developer shook the table a little bit and made The Pinball Arcade, available on just about every current platform under the sun. And, if you’re one of those hardcore players that have been awaiting a solid, realistic pinball experience, I can’t imagine you could do better.
Yes, the game is littered with gleeful fan service, and has some of the most amazing recreations of classic tables in my (admittedly unextensive) experience with virtual pinball games. Even if you’re not familiar with pinball tables, you’ll certainly be impressed by the efforts put forth here: every single light and sound effect is flawlessly represented, and every trick and effect on each table plays out just like it would on a real, solid mechanical machine.
This is all aided by the competent physics engine FarSight implemented within the game. Nothing is moving too fast or slow, the ball doesn’t “float” at all, and feels like it’s weighted perfectly, especially noticeable when multiple balls are in play. The flippers are tuned in just right, giving them a satisfying “crunch” when you’re using them.
Speaking of which, you’ll use the shoulder buttons for that purpose, or the touch screen—which surprisingly worked well enough for me to use in situations where I wasn’t holding the Vita at an appropriate angle to use the shoulder buttons. The left stick controls nudging and tilting, as does the rear pad, if you so choose. In addition to this, you can tilt your Vita to the side and play with the entire field in view, an unexpected yet fun little addition to try out.
I’ve detailed how the tables look fantastic and play wonderfully, but a bit of background on them is necessary. Theater of Magic, a 1995 release under Bally’s label, is a rather hectic table with tons of features, and one you can have a blast on even if you’re not that great at pinball. Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the newest release as far as the physical tables go, is a great table to run through for a ton of points and easy fun, but newcomers beware: it has some intense accuracy requirements if you want to master it. William’s Tales of the Arabian Nights is perhaps the most challenging table of the bunch, with a ton of rules and trick shots that’ll keep you busy for a long time, and might even infuriate you if you’re an inaccurate shooter. Finally, Black Hole rounds out the bunch; the oldest table, hailing from the 80′s, has two playing surfaces and is simple, chaotic fun.
Again, all of these tables are re-created perfectly. The actual ROM from the original tables is used, and I’ve been told that specific errors that could happen in real life are possible in the game, a testament to how accurate FarSight was in their handiwork. And, the pinhead goodness doesn’t end with the included tables: already, four extras are available as DLC, with more to come. I’ve tried out the extra tables, including the Bride of Pin*Bot, Circus Voltaire, Medieval Madness and FunHouse, and there’s no doubt that as much attention went into these tables as the ones from launch. Plus, Medieval Madness is a definite must own, and seeing it recreated here is one of those beautiful moments of nostalgia. In addition to this, there are four other tables out, as well as a few coming soon—including one of the greatest tables of all time, The Twilight Zone.
The graphics themselves are outstanding, showcasing the tables with some serious realism on the PS3. The Vita version suffers from a bit of jagginess, but that’s easily overcome after a few minutes of play; it seems the game’s beautiful 1080p resolution was just a bit too high for the Vita to handle flawlessly, but it still looks good enough to show off to friends. The crossplay between the two versions is assuredly awesome, and speaking of friends, the rather unobtrusive leaderboards are there for you to beat high scorers on a weekly, monthly, or all-time basis.
For how phenomenal it sounds, however, I do have several gripes, and the biggest one is probably my issue with the cameras. Past games from FarSight, and even its digital competition on the PSN/XBLA, have a handful of camera options; The Pinball Arcade, however, only has three, and not one of them is static, meaning that tracking the ball can get confusing at first. You can try flipping the Vita to the side to alleviate this, but don’t plan on switching it back in mid-game. Also, you can’t restart a table mid-game; you’ll have to exit to the main menu, and then go from there. Don’t be discouraged, though. Obviously, those are minor gripes in what’s otherwise one of the best pinball simulations I’ve ever played.
The Pinball Arcade is a game that’s clearly been created with a lot of heart. From the moment you turn it on and it presents you with the developer’s mission, to the carefully crafted replications of the tables complete with 300-page manuals, poster ads and more, to the history presented about each pin upon selection, everything is just bursting with love. It might not innovate on the video-pinball genre, but it doesn’t need to; FarSight’s innovation was to bring a level of realism and detail to consoles that in all likelihood won’t be matched in the near future.
If you’re looking for a fresh pinball experience, trying to relive some of those classic machines, want a hell of a value, or are just a pinhead looking to give a new pinball game a spin, you won’t be disappointed picking this up. For $10, you’ll be able to grab the Vita and PS3 version together, one for the big screen and the other for portability. Even if you’re a devout fan of Zen Pinball or FX2, don’t worry; these two complement each other in a way where it’s worth owning both.
That’s about it. If you’ll excuse me, I think I can hear that enchanting Circus Voltaire theme is calling my name.
Final Score: A-
- Zen Pinball 2 Launches on Sept. 4th for PS3 & Vita