The Pinball Arcade is less a game, and more a platform; specifically, it‚Äôs a game that gives you access to a promised stream of additional downloadable tables, each of which will be released over time as DLC. As yet, there are no additional tables available (in our region), so early purchasers (and indeed, this review) will need to focus on the four that are included.
Before we get into that, a little bit of an explanation. Pinball, for the unaware, is a relatively rare form of arcade game. Once commonplace, before being supplanted by video-based games in the late 70‚Äôs and early 80‚Äôs, the medium managed to stick around with at least moderate success until quite recently, and now can be considered to be practically on death‚Äôs door - relatively speaking.
In pinball, your goal is to fire a real, physical ball along the surface of a sloped playing field, which in turn is populated by all manner of mechanical targets and interactive doo-dackys. Ultimately, you want to hit as many of the doo-dackys as you can, without letting your ball drain out the bottom of the playing area. To prevent that from happening, you‚Äôve only got a limited amount of interaction options, chief among them being little bat-like ‚ÄúFlippers‚ÄĚ at the bottom. You can also whack the table to nudge the ball, but it‚Äôs generally discouraged and you risk ‚Äútilting‚ÄĚ the table (disabling your flippers and ability to score).
Still confused? Watch this.
The Pinball Arcade, then, is an attempt to digitally conserve real pinball tables by recreating them as accurately as possible within a videogame. This attempt, while admirable, has its downsides; most significantly, tables designed to be played within the limitations inherent to a videogame (specifically: a fixed perspective) have a better chance of being successful in that medium. That‚Äôs not to say the games here are bad; far from it. But the slight awkwardness of replicating a physical object in a virtual way is, nonetheless, undeniable.
The tables included are Black Hole, Ripley‚Äôs Believe It or Not!, Tales of the Arabian Nights, and Theatre of Magic. Each has its own charm, but for me the standout successes were certainly Theatre of Magic and Tales of the Arabian Nights. The combination of well-placed ramps, understandable objectives, and outstanding lighting and sound make for a remarkably compelling experience. Not only are they similar to the originals (I have an extensive background in pinball play, and have played all four tables before playing them here), but they‚Äôre also very compelling in their own right.
Purchasing one version (either PS3 or PSVita) grants you full, unrestricted access to the other, so I spent time playing on PlayStation Vita as well. While the pocket version lacks the vision afforded by the 46‚ÄĚ TV hooked up to my PS3, it‚Äôs still an amazingly compelling diversion while you‚Äôre out and about. Both versions could benefit from the ‚Äúcoming soon‚ÄĚ challenge mode hinted at in the game‚Äôs menu, but learning how to best leverage each table‚Äôs scoring systems still provides hours of entertainment.
The menus are a bit, well, crappy, however, making the ‚Äúmeta‚ÄĚ experience of the title somewhat underwhelming. You can jump in and fiddle with the settings, which is nice, and there‚Äôs also an outstanding walk-through guide for each of the tables. You can‚Äôt help but wonder if the developer has missed an opportunity to wrap the tables up in a slick, retro interface however...
Still, if you‚Äôre a fan of the tables, you‚Äôll love poring over each of the included flyers, reading up on the game‚Äôs history, and generally soaking up the care and attention that‚Äôs gone into each game‚Äôs digital double. The sounds are great, the physics feels ultra realistic, and being able to fit a massive pinball table (let alone four of them) into your pocket is a rare treat. Add in the promise of more tables over time, all of which will be available - like the base game itself - at a budget price, and you‚Äôve got a no-brainer purchase for anyone who has an interest in pinball.