My balls are hard and made of steel.
Originally released on the Playstation 3, last year saw Pinball Arcade come to the Vita as one of the first games to include the cross-buy initiative. Unlike Zen Pinball which takes a fantastical theme and creates tables from the ground up with moving characters, Farsight Studios instead decided that they would hone their pinball obsession into faithfully recreating some of the most popular pinball tables the world has seen. Initially released with four tables and now containing about twenty more via DLC unfortunately this only serves to highlight the lack of content the initial game had. Available as an initial trial download anyone can delve in and see what is on offer but the question remains – would you rather plump your money on Zen Pinball 2 or Pinball Arcade? Well, that all depends on your perspective of pinball as a whole.
Released with four tables, Pinball Arcade features Black Hole by Gottlieb (1981), Theatre of Magic by Bally (1995), Tales of the Arabian Nights by Williams (1996) and Ripleys Believe it or Not by Stern (2004). Every tables looks brilliant and is a pixel perfect interpretation of it’s real life counterpart. Graphically Pinball Arcade looks great on the Vita screen and detail is crisp and sharp. The top left of the screen shows the same dot matrix display that is found on the original machines so you won’t find a more faithful creation of pinball machines anywhere. All the original sounds effects are also in place as is the exact physics of each machine. You have to give credit to Farsight where it is due; the whole package is delivered with such detail that it really does feel like playing the real thing. Where the game is let down however comes from the absolutely bewildering instruction manuals for each table and also the vertical viewing mode (ideal for this type of game). For relative newcomers like me, I spent the first half an hour on each table reading the rules on each table’s objective. Each table has instructions which span up to 200+ pages long. It’s good that everything is explained extremely well but the way the instructions are handled is archaic. A video walkthrough of each table with it’s goals and objectives would have been much more sensible and enjoyable as the more complicated tables have so many icons, objectives and rules that things are very over complicated if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. If you jump into a table and haven’t played it before you really are firing blind and while part of this is due to the table designs, I feel the instructions could definitely have been explained better.
Another slightly annoying point is the inclusion of Black Hole. While it stands as a slice of history and is one of the most popular tables of all time you can conceivably understand that a table from 1981 lacks the bells and whistles of more modern designs. While it has a unique catch (you can fire the ball to a new table below the existing one for huge points that plays in reverse) it feels positively bare when you compare it to the bustling, busy tables that the other three are. Luckily the other three tables are easily strong enough to hold their own, but given that there are only four tables in the main game things can get boring. Maybe it’s partly me; pinball is a lot more popular in America than it is in the UK, but I just found that while engaging for a while the lack of true variety hurts the experience in the long term. Perhaps predicting this the trophies in game are tied to sets of objectives that Farsight has included. There are five standard goals and five pro goals that are tied to the goals and achievements of the main game and this does help longevity. The problem again however is that newcomers will find a lot of these nigh on impossible to achieve. Those with experience will probably have much less of a problem but for your average joe gamer it means the whole experience feels a little too hard.
As I mentioned earlier there is a vertical view mode in Pinball Arcade. Playing horizontally is fine and has four camera angles that do the job but because of the length of pinball tables the standard view tracks the ball rather than staying static. In vertical mode the whole pinball table can be seen but the screen can only be rotated one way and there is no way to customise it. Control becomes touch based only with the top half of the rear touch pad used to nudge the table. The touch controls work just as well as the physical or shoulder buttons but nudging with the rear touch pad is terrible and becomes a chore meaning horizontal control is more comfortable with nudging the table controlled by the left analog stick. Since releasing Pinball Arcade loads more tables have been introduced but these of course require cold hard cash to unlock. You can get a bundle of 18 tables for £23.99 which represents good value, but those looking for one or two extra tables may be disappointed by the price. As it stands the main game just doesn’t really offer enough to warrant purchase unless you’re obsessed with the real thing. I’m not doubting the commitment of Farsight for bringing such perfection when it comes to table representation but the problem is in doing so Pinball Arcade will only appeal to pinball aficionados. There is fun to be had but the truth is Zen Pinball 2 is a much better game for the average gamer with it’s fantastical effects and immersive characters. If you’re really into pinball and love the history you can easily add another 2 onto the score but as a gamer who doesn’t have that same passion Farsight just haven’t done enough to draw me in. What is here feels a bit too clinical and while they Farsight achieved what they set out to perfectly, Zen Pinball 2 is where it’s at for the wider gaming audience.