Review: The Pinball Arcade (Sony Playstation PS3/Playstation Vita)
by Alex Lucard on April 26, 2012

The Pinball Arcade
Developer: Farsight Studios
Publisher: Farsight Technologies
Genre: Pinball
Release Date: 04/10/2012

If you’ve read Diehard GameFAN for any length of time, you know I’m a huge pinball fan. In fact, this is my third pinball review of 2012, having already reviewed Zen Pinball 3D for the 3DS and Epic Quest for the PS3. I even nominated Addams Family Pinball for a successful entry into our Video Game Hall of Fame. So of course I was excited when I learned Farsight was making a new pinball compilation for the PS3. I was doubly excited when I learned The Pinball Arcade would be digital reconstructions of some of the most famous and beloved pinball games of all time. With the announcement that the purchase of the PS3 version would net you the Playtation Vita one for free, I was ecstatic. After all, I needed SOMETHING to play on that besides Disgaea 3 With Farsights announcement that Bride of Pin-Bot, Medieval Madness, Attack From Mars, Cirqus Votaire, Funhouse and Monster Bash are all on their way as DLC, could my beloved Addams Family Pinball be far behind? After all, look at all the Bally/Midway titles! Of course, it doesn’t matter WHAT games Farsight is able to license if they don’t play very well. So is this double shot of pinball worth your ten bucks? It’s time to find out.

Let’s Review

1. Modes

The Pinball Arcade comes with four classic pinball tables, each by a different pinball company. The oldest is Black Hole from Gottlieb. The others are Theatre of Magic by Bally/Midway, Tales of the Arabian Nights by Williams and finally, Ripley’s Believe it or Not by Stern. Each of the tables are nicely replicated although there are a few very minor things hardcore fans of the tables will notice, like Theatre of Magic not having its Mortal Kombat 3?/Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 code anymore.

Black Hole is the most unique table of the four, with a mini game of pinball that is not only set in a lower level of the machine, but everything is reversed – including gravity as the ball falls up and the flippers are at the top. Sure it’s an optical illusions, but it’s still a nifty design. Black Hole is very stingy with points compared to the other tables and it’s my least favorite.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is a pretty fun table. Here you’ll be using all the ramps and locations on the board to complete “stories.” Completing a story earns you a jewel. Earn enough and you save the princess. It’s all fairly neat. Multi-ball is very easy to trigger so expect to see a lot of balls on the screen.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not has you travelling the globe in search of weirdness and points. Each continent has its own special goal. Complete it and you earn one of Ripley’s “letters.” As in the letters in the word Ripley’s. Earn all seven and you “win.” There are a lot of neat things on this board, from a giant shrunken head to various goals to accomplish. It’s a very chaotic board by design, but it’s also designed to make sure even novice pinball players can activate various quests and thus rack up some big points.

Finally we have my favorite board in the set, Theatre of Magic. This thing is amazing. It’s always been a favorite pinball table of mine and it holds up wonderfully as a video game. There are tons of ramps, hidden secrets and more. It’s the easiest board to score big on, but the hardest of the boards to “beat.” There are multiple ways to get multi-ball and all sorts of neat goals to trigger. This board alone should have you falling in love with the game.

So I enjoy three of the four boards. I’m indifferent to Black Hole and I love Theatre of Magic . Getting both sets of tables for two different system, and for only ten dollars to boot? This is an awesome deal. Down the road The Pinball Arcade will have tournaments, challenges and the like, along with more boards to download. You can edit the board settings like in Zen Pinball or Marvel Pinball, but that’s okay, because this games ensures you play each board the way they were meant to be. Awesome across the board.

Modes Rating: Great

2. Graphics

All the tables look wonderful, whether you’re talking the PS3 or the Vita version. At times, you might even forget these aren’t the real thing once you are on a roll. Of course the PS3 version of the game has more detail and everything on the screen can be seen better, but the Vita version is no slouch either. Some might even find the Vita version easier to rack up a high score on. The detail may be less, but the smaller screen makes it easier to keep track of things.

Now obviously, these tables aren’t going to push the graphical capabilities of the PS3 to its limits. They’re digital reconstructions of things that were never high definition or graphic intensive to begin with. It’s pinball after all. The Matrix bits look as they always did. It’s just this part is now in the upper left hand corner of the screen since the back of the cabinet isn’t there like it would be with a real machine. What’s here won’t blow you away if you’ve been reared on Gears of War or Heavy Rain, but long time pinball aficionados will be quite pleased with the virtual reconstructions here.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

All of the music, sound effects and yes, even the voice acting, have been perfectly preserved in this collection. Now note that all of the voice acting is pretty bad, but that’s part of the charm. Plus having the original voices will make fans of these tables far happier than if they re-did them. I mean, you can’t help but love the terrible fake Caribbean accent of the shrunken head on the Ripley’s board, or the nasal, almost atonal female voices in Theatre of Magic or Tales of the Arabian Nghts. It’s all a blast of nostalgia.

The music in all four tables are still as wonderful has ever. Whether it’s the creepy sci-fi tones of Black Hole or the incredible high fantasy sounding score for Theatre of Magic, the music to these tables really helps make the game feel authentic. Add in the sound effects that actually sound like a little metal ball hitting a bumper or flying up a twisting ramp and pinball fans really don’t have much more they can ask for. I’m quite please with the aural aspects of all four tables and it gives me hope that we’ll be hearing the late Raul Julia in a downloadable table at some point in the far future.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

I really enjoyed my time with all four tables. Each one has a set of goals to accomplish in exchange for a silver trophy (You can earn it twice – once on the PS3 and once on the Vita). Once you earn that, the goals are upgraded to some pretty intense things. Beat these and get another silver trophy. To do that though, you’ll have to master the game.

Controls are pretty straightforward. Use the right analog stick as the plunger, the two shoulder triggers as flippers and the left analog stick to tilt the machine. I find that the tilt doesn’t work especially well as its effects seem to be reversed. By that I mean, if you tap the analog stick right the table tilts left. Odd choice to make and there’s no way to swap out controls or reverse this.

As well, there seems to be a bit of almost miniscule lag with the flippers at time and I’ve seen a few cases of extremely wonky physics in my time with The Pinball Arcade. These are all minor things to me but some more…zealous pinball enthusiasts will probably swear a blue streak at these things. I got annoyed and cursed when a ball didn’t follow the trajectory it would have in the real game (say straight down like a rock instead of at an angle), but would I rather pay a dollar twenty-five for each digital recreation, or several hundred to a thousand dollars for the real thing, plus trying to find space for the machine and the upkeep on repairs? It’s not much of a choice to me.

For the most part, the tables perform quite well and I’m happy with what’s here. it is frustrating to see the occasional bug or glitch in the table, but there’s nothing here that is game breaking. It’s just a reminder that we still can’t perfectly recreate a physical pinball table in digital format quite yet.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable

5. Replayability

You have four tables for two systems. Each version of the game has their own trophies and goals, so if you’re doing well on one, you can probably do it on the other Sony system and net yourself those trophies a second time. Of course, those are secondary to things like advancing further in the table, setting a high score, beating your friend’s high score and, of course, just plain having fun with some of the best pinball tables ever made.

There’s a lot of replay value just in these four tables, and with more classic conversions on the way, you can easily spend dozens of hours, if not more, with The Pinball Arcade. I know I’ll be picking up all the tables that come out for this, if only to support keeping these tables alive and helping younger or more casual gamers encounter them for the first time. Whether you want to play on a big screen plasma, or pass the time on a flight or bus ride, The Pinball Arcade has you covered.

Replayability Rating: Great

6. Balance

Talking about balance for four pinball tables is a bit tricky as they all play so differently. You could make the case that some of the tables have their flippers too far apart, making it easier to lose a ball than in other tables. Some balls don’t have a ball save, while others do. Some tables let you have insane scores, while others give out a very low score by design. So how do you talk balance when each table has their own design goals?

Well, the only thing one can do is look at each table individually, Black Hole is pretty bare bones compared to most of the tables, it’s extremely easy to lose the ball on either level of the table and the flippers are the slowest to react. It’s not a bad table, but you can definitely see that it’s the oldest of the four in this collection and most pinball fans can look at it and say that there are few things they would tweak.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is well designed. About the only complain I have is trying to do the harem sneak. It’s hard to pull that off. Everything else is pretty solid. There’s some wonky ball physics here and in Ripley’s but that the developers of the digital version’s fault, not the table itself.

Believe it or Not is probably the least balanced table of the four, but it was purposely designed to be both inviting to newcomers or casual pinball fans but also filled with some things specifically for pinball wizards. It’s very easy to lose a ball down one of the gutters or see it drop straight down between the flippers here. This table also has the most physics issues and you’ll see a ball go down instead of up when you hit it, thus losing you the ball.

Theatre of Magic is the best designed of the four tables. It can be a bit hard to get the ball in the “basement” when you first start playing and one of the goals for the higher echelon is a bit unfair as it’s completely random as to whether that target even comes up for you. Still, it’s the most solid of all the tables.

All in all, there’s room for improvement with all of these tables in some respect, but everything here is still quite well done. Building a solid digital pinball game is hard enough. Re-creating a classic physical one in electronic format is even crazier.

Balance Rating: Enjoyable

7. Originality

Digital pinball is pretty common these days. On my PS3 alone I have Zen Pinball, Marvel Pinball, Pinballstik and now The Pinball Arcade. The only thing that really sets TPA apart is that these are recreations of classic pinball titles. Some of the table for The Pinball Arcade have already been digitally reconstructed – not only for current gen systems but by FarSight themselves! Tales of the Arabian Nights is on Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Several of the DLC titles for this game are on there as well. Black Hole is on the Gottlieb collection too. So half the tables on this collection half be released by FarSight several times before. Only Ripley’s and Theatre of Magic are newly collected. That’s a bit disappointing. So if you have all of FarSight’s pinball games released over the past two console generations (or handhelds), you probably have half the game already. Still you’re getting both the PS3 and Vita versions of the game for a flat ten bucks, so it’s still a good deal if you just want the two new tables.

It’ll be interesting to see if FarSight keeps rehashing out the same tables they already have licenses for, or if The Pinball Arcade will end up primarily consisting of new tables that have never been converted into video games. Only time will tell.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

I had a really hard time putting this game down. I started off with the Vita version and ended up playing the game until the battery died. I wasn’t playing for trophies or anything. I just wanted to see how good of a score I could get and how many of the imposed goals I could beat. What can I say? I love pinball. A few days later I moved on to the PS3 version and began plugging away at that version as well. Even though I had already played the hell out of each table on my Vita, the PS3 versions still felt as fun and enjoyable to me as ever. Pinball is extremely hard to put down, especially after you’ve had a solid game going. You may play for a lot of reasons – higher scores, beating your friends, beating the tables, getting trophies or whatever. In the end though, you’ll find yourself saying, “Just one more game…” or spending hours on something that was just meant to be a quick game.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

I don’t think I’ve ever met a gamer that doesn’t enjoy pinball in some respect. Which makes it a shame that physical tables are so hard to find these days. I’m lucky enough to live near the actual physical Pinball Hall of Fame, so I can get my fix whenever I want. Most people don’t live anywhere near a single table, much less of collection of them. At least we can still enjoy digital versions though, right?

Let’s break down the pricing for those few still on the fence about purchasing this. For ten dollars you get four tables. That’s $2.50 per table. But wait – you also get the Vita version when you purchase the PS3 version (or vice versa) so that’s technically two games or eight tables for ten bucks. That’s $1.25 cents a table. If you play each table roughly five times, you’ve basically paid for the game itself! Remember, back in the day, pinball was a quarter per game to PLAY, not own. So this is just mind bogglingly awesome to older gamers like myself.

The only people I can see not getting their money’s worth here are those that flat out don’t like pinball, have a thing against digital recreations of pinball tables or digital-only titles. For everyone else, this is pretty much a must-have, especially with more tables to come.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

10. Miscellaneous

I’m really glad to see FarSight back hard at work at preserving classic pinball games. I was disappointed in The Williams Collection for the 3DS as it was missing three tables compared to the other versions of the game, but that at The Gottlieb Collection consumed a decent amount of my time. Now FarSight has not only brought us a few new tables with the promise of more to come, they’re doing it even cheaper than they have before! That’s awesome. I’m still incredibly blown away by the fact FarSight bundled both the Vita and PS3 versions of the game together for one low price. It’s gives people more support for their Vita (which the system desperately needs. There’s what, half a dozen games coming out for it in the next eight months? OUCH.). It also gives players the option to play on a big screen or to take pinball on the go. About the only thing missing from this package are some of the Pinball tables I’d love to see get a new digital life, like Addams Family and Jurassic Park. I have my fingers crossed that we’ll get them in the near future.

The Pinball Arcade has all the promise of being everything a pinball fan could want. You’re getting classic tables preserved as video games, two versions of the game for one low price, and the ability to play at home or on a handheld. What more could one want?

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores:
Story/Modes: Great
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Good
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
The Pinball Arcade is a wonderful game no matter how you look at it. For only ten dollars, you are getting four classic pinball tables faithfully recreated for the console world, but you’re also getting it for both the Playstation 3 and the Playstation Vita. That’s an incredible deal no pinball fan should pass up. Hell, even if you’re new to pinball, you should grab this two piece set of faithfully reconstructed tables as it will give you a glimpse of not only why this genre of gaming is so fondly remembered, but a taste of arcade glory days to boot.



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Alex Lucard

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