3D Pinball: Space Cadet is a video pinball game with pseudo-3D graphics and an emphasis on progression through completion of missions. As you earn points, your cadet will be promoted to the next rank, making new missions available. There are a total of nine ranks in the game, from Cadet to Fleet Admiral. Due to the format, many mission objectives consisted of hitting certain targets or passing through certain areas on the table a set number of times. As with many pinball games, there was a penalty for overusing the tilt controls. Up to four players could play at once using a type of pass and play mechanic on one computer. Whenever one player lost a ball, it would become the next player's turn to continue. Players were limited to three balls with the possibility to earn extra 'lives'.
Both the difficulty of the completion requirements and the point values of the rewards for these missions stepped up with every promotion you received. Common mission mechanics included hitting certain targets, entering tunnels, and upgrading certain table elements. There are nine tiers of missions.
The first tier of missions consisted of three regular missions and one special assignment.
- Target Practice: Hit eight attack bumpers. Reward: 500,000 points.
- Launch Training: Hit the launch ramp three times. Reward: 500,000 points.
- Re-Entry Training: Pass through the entry gates three times. Reward: 500,000 points.
- Science Mission: Hit three flags and collect a sample. Reward: 750,000 points.
The default controls for the game are:
- Left Flipper: Z
- Right Flipper: /
- Plunger: Space
- Bump Right: X
- Bump Left: .
- Bump Up: Up