"You have the magic!"
This review is also posted at my game writing portfolio, Visual Memory Unit. Would you kindly pay a visit?
Sometimes it's hard to imagine that pinball machines used to be pretty well everywhere. My town had a couple arcades littered with them. I even remember some restaurants with a machine or two to play around with while you waited for a table. But now, in these joyless, pinball-less times we live in, less fanatical enthusiasts must usually turn to virtual pinball with fantasy machines to satisfy their insatiable ball-lust.
In a seldom-seen move, The Pinball Arcade's focus is strictly on recreating real, classic tables, and it comes with four to start: Williams'Tales of the Arabian Nights, Stern's Ripley's Believe it or Not, Gottlieb'sBlack Hole, and - of course - Bally's legendary Theatre of Magic. All four tables look and sound like the real deal, and a brief history and scan of their marketing flyers accompany each. It's clear that the developers, veterans of virtual pinball, have some serious reverence for these tables, and with more on the way through DLC, it's exciting to think about what'll come next.
The feel of the virtual tables is uniformly great; the physics of paddling a ball around the playing field feel natural and realistic, and I always felt like I could maneuver the ball with skillful play and careful attention. The action is satisfying, tense, and fun.
This is in large part due to the outstanding design of these tables, as well. Each of the four are a total blast to play, and all are complex in design, imparting an almost narrative-like touch into their gameplay. In Arabian Nights, for instance, you can light locks, battle a blue genie for bonus points, collect jewels to power up a scimitar and rescue a princess, and more. All in the space of a single pinball field. In Black Hole, you can drop into a miniature playing field that's built below the full table. These tables really make you want to explore every last loop and tucked away secret they have to offer, and sets of goals for each table keep track of when you nail some of the trickier, most satisfying accomplishments on them.
Basically, playing on these four machines is a ton of fun, and it's very easy to get caught up in them, trying to complete their many objectives and racking up high scores. These can be shared through online leaderboards, but it's a shame that the crazy scores people are uploading are just numbers. The game won't save replays of your wildest shots or break down the score into metrics of any kind. Certainly a small misstep, though; competing on the leaderboards is still addictive.
Although virtual pinball will never be quite as fun as the real thing, The Pinball Arcade is a fine way to emulate the ever-fun pastime. There are sure to be debates as to which machines are eventually added to the lineup, and its a shame there aren't some more in-depth ways to look at players' high scores and craziest shots. But if you're any kind of pinball fan, you'd lament not checking out this great collection of tables that'll only get greater over time.
Just try not to keep the menu set on the Black Hole machine too long, OK? That sound really gets into your head.