Giant Bomb Review


The Pinball Arcade Review

  • XBGS
  • IPHN

The Pinball Arcade provides a safe virtual home for your pinball worship, complete with accurate re-creations of real tables and appropriately realistic physics.

Hit the genie to start multiball!

Forget about pelicans or fish or whatever stupid animal out there is "going extinct" or "can only be viewed in a zoo these days." The endangered species that I care about is the pinball machine. It wasn't even 20 years ago that you could expect to see a healthy flock of pinball machines gathering at local bowling alleys, laundromats, and, before their native habitat was destroyed by careless hydrofracking, actual video arcades. These days, the best that most of us can do is to visit virtual pinball machines via packages like Pinball Hall of Fame or downloadable front-ends like Pinball FX2. The Pinball Arcade from FarSight Studios combines both of those things, taking the licensed, real-world tables from the developer's previous work on the Pinball Hall of Fame discs and bringing them to a zillion different downloadable formats, from Vita to Android, in an updatable package that starts with four tables and will expand to more via regular downloadable (and paid) updates. If you have ever connected with pinball, real or virtual, in the past, Pinball Arcade is quite awesome.

On consoles, the base package goes for $10 and includes four tables: Tales of the Arabian Nights, Ripley's Believe It or Not!, Black Hole, and Theatre of Magic. These four tables are notable for presenting a good deal of variety in eras and manufacturers, representing the titans of pinball manufacturing like Bally/Midway/Williams, Gottlieb, and Stern, the only manufacturer still creating real-world tables today. With that in mind, the developers should have a healthy number of tables to choose from for some time to come, and around a dozen additional tables have already been announced. On some platforms, like iOS, the first set of additional tables--The Machine: Bride of Pin-bot and Medieval Madness--have already appeared as a $5 bundle.

Perhaps the most important thing in a pinball simulation is its ability to handle the physics of an actual pinball machine. Here, The Pinball Arcade does quite well. The tables feel about as fast as they should, and the action on the flippers also just feels right. The ball itself carries an appropriate amount of weight, and in multiball situations, colliding balls careen around the table with angles that feel wholly appropriate. Personally, I think it plays a better game of pinball than Pinball FX2 does, mostly because FX2's balls feel a little light, causing them to rocket off the flippers in ways that just feel a little strange.

Black Hole should be nice and dark, like this.

But physics only really tells one side of the story. Pinball Arcade also benefits from including some very sharp table designs. Black Hole has a really neat lower playfield that lights up when you send a ball down there. Theater of Magic has a rotating magic trunk that uses magnets to steal the ball away. Tales of the Arabian Nights has a huge, spinning lamp to aim for. Ripley's, as the newest table in the lot, has a little bit of everything, from shrunken heads to an abundance of penguin noises.

Control-wise, the Xbox 360 version lets you choose between the shoulder buttons or triggers for flipper control, both of which feel pretty natural. The analog stick makes nudging the table around pretty easy. On touch devices, like the iPad, you tap the lower quadrants of the screen for flippers, and your left/right nudge control can either be done by tapping the upper quadrants or by shaking the device itself, which is a neat idea that doesn't work particularly well. Overall, I found that I was in better control of the action with a gamepad, but the iOS version doesn't lag very far behind on either iPad or iPhone. For owners of "The New iPad," the game takes advantage of the higher-resolution display, making table art easy to see and read. But that visual quality comes with a trade-off, because the lighting on the iOS version looks awfully flat. Black Hole doesn't look as dark as it should. The Xbox Live Arcade release presents much nicer lighting, but the visuals aren't quite as sharp as an iPad 3 is. Minor stuff, overall. It's a great-looking pinball simulator on either platform, and both offer numerous camera options that let you get a few different angles on the action.

The real tables go a long way, showcasing some expert design work and grounding The Pinball Arcade as a real-feeling document of pinball's past, right down to the sales fliers used to sell the machines to arcade operators and a bit of additional historical data. With a long list of already-confirmed tables waiting in the wings, The Pinball Arcade stands out as a great counterpart to Pinball FX2's more fantastical take, though it lacks the more prominent leaderboards and competition that make Pinball FX2 stand out. If you're into pinball, you should probably own both. But if you're like me, and you're interested in something that more closely simulates real pinball, The Pinball Arcade just barely edges out the competition.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
Edited by MikeGosot
He's a pinball wizard...
Posted by SuperSambo

Seems like its worth a shot

Posted by Twinsun

When are they going to make a pinball rpg? Someone get on that.

Posted by Xander51

This is one of my favorite games of the year so far. Now I just need the DLC to deliver and be everything that Game Room was not.

Posted by CosmicQueso

Picked it up for my Vita and although I want it o be just a little bit better it's still great. The screen size doesn't help, but overall a solid port.

Edited by SpicyRichter

The physics on the iPad 3 version were borked after the graphics update, did they fix that yet?

Also: my favourite pinball game of all time? Epic Pinball. I played that android table like crazy

Posted by damswedon
Posted by mrcraggle

@Twinsun: There's always the Epic Quest table for Pinball FX2.

Posted by corganmurray

Great review! My wife and I have been playing this every night since we got it. Really looking forward to getting some new tables!

Posted by SoothsayerGB

Flight Club VS Pinball Society.

Posted by Brackynews

@MikeGosot said:

He's a pinball wizard...

and that physics is fucked up. ;)

Posted by LordAndrew

@Twinsun said:

When are they going to make a pinball rpg? Someone get on that.

If you enjoy pinball in genres where pinball has no business being, you might want to check out the pinball RTS Odama. Or better yet, don't. It turns out that pinball and real-time strategy aren't a great combination after all.

Posted by ThreePi

I very rarely bother with mobile games, but I picked this up along with Bride of Pinbot (only because I hit the score limit on one ball and I had to pay for the table to keep going). Decently fun. As a kid who was dragged around to bowling alleys by his dad for much of his youth I recognize a lot of these tables, but never had the money or coordination to really be good at them. I'll keep an eye on the new tables that get released, but I'd most like to see The Champion Pub, which was a table that I watched my dad play a lot when he would let me come into the bar with him at one of the bowling alleys we frequented.

Posted by Rayeth

Does anyone have any comments on the Android version of this? I know the Bombcrew are big Android haters, but I'm not and I was wondering if any duders might have played it over there and think it runs ok on a high end phone.

Posted by sirdesmond

I've been hooked on this game since it first launched on iOS. There is something about pinball that I just love on mobile platforms (see Zen Pinball on 3DS). Both of the new tables are awesome, easily my favorite tables released so far. I can't wait for more.

Posted by LordAndrew

@Rayeth said:

Does anyone have any comments on the Android version of this? I know the Bombcrew are big Android haters, but I'm not and I was wondering if any duders might have played it over there and think it runs ok on a high end phone.

One of the tables I tried was missing a lot of textures. I cleared the app's data (apparently the only way to redownload tables) and tried the table again. Still missing textures. I then gave up and uninstalled Pinball Arcade, glad I didn't spend money on any of the tables. It could just be a problem with my phone though. It's free to try, so test out the tables before deciding to spend any money.

Edited by freakin9

I enjoyed the tables, but I think only Tales of the Arabian Nights and Theatre of Magic are the only "quality" tables. While it's nice the Ripley one is hailed as "from the makers of the Addam's Family", it's a fairly ho-humm table.

Posted by UnbreakableVow

I've always found it odd that Jeff finds the physics of the Zen Studios pinball games to be a bit odd. To me they feel just right, and this was the game that felt odd. I didn't take it past the trial version on XBLA.

Posted by JoeyRavn

I can't wait for this game to be released on PC...

Posted by BBQBram

And I haven't even completed my Pinball FX2 collection yet.

Posted by ThreePi

@Rayeth said:

Does anyone have any comments on the Android version of this? I know the Bombcrew are big Android haters, but I'm not and I was wondering if any duders might have played it over there and think it runs ok on a high end phone.

Runs perfectly fine on my Droid 4. No glitches on my Asus Transformer (original, Tegra 2), but the framerate is not as good as I'd like. Pinball is kind of something that needs a solid 60fps to really get the best experience. I'm also not a huge fan of touchscreen controls, they work, but if you're thumb is just barely hovering over the screen you may find yourself hitting the flippers accidentally.

Posted by oldskooldeano

As a XBLA player and owner of the disc based Williams Collection as well, I really don't want to see any more of the tables from that game released as DLC for this. We have Tales Of The Arabian Nights already, one I can live with, more would be annoying.