Pinball machines have been a mainstay in arcades for over a decade and continue to delight gamers of all ages. It’s hard to imagine a time when there won’t be pinball machines in every shopping center across the country. Of course, owning a real pinball machine can be expensive. Not to mention the amount of room it would take up. That’s where video and computer games come to the rescue.
Game footage courtesy of NESGuide.
There are a multitude of pinball video games that have come out over the past five years, many on various computers. The one that I’ve been playing the most up until now has been David’s Midnight Magic on the Commodore 64. It may look simplistic, but the game has a certain addictive quality to it that makes it fun to play. Up to four players can take turns to see who can capture the high score. I really like how the ball can get stored away for later use, assuming the special is activated. It can be super chaotic and exciting if multiple balls are flying around the board all at once.
Game footage courtesy of Kayserillumina.
Now that the NES has arrived, I was eager to try out Nintendo’s version, simply called Pinball, to see how it compares to the ones I have played in the past. Immediately I was taken aback by the two-screen setup. That’s right, the entire field of play doesn’t fit onto one screen. So, as you launch the ball from the bottom field, it rolls up to the top screen where there are a set of flippers and a bunch of ways to earn points from kickers, lane lights, and even a slot machine.
If the ball falls between the flippers or off to the left side, it will progress down to the bottom of the table. Here there are various mechanisms to award points. The most striking is the set of cards located near the top of the screen. Hitting a ball through the facedown cards will flip them over. Each one is worth 500 points, but if you can turn them all over you’ll get an additional 5000 points. Bumpers and other obstacles will often send your ball flying in unpredictable directions.
If you can manage to shoot the ball into the hole in the upper right of the lower screen you’ll make it to the bonus round. Here you play as Mario trying to rescue a girl (who sort of looks like a cross between Pauline from Donkey Kong and Olive Oil from Popeye the arcade game) trapped at the top of the screen. Mario is holding a platform above his head to bounce the pinball off of. You can move him left or right to prevent the ball from escaping into the pit below. This mode is a bit reminiscent of Breakout, except instead of breaking blocks with the ball, you’re trying to change the lights in the columns above to the same color. When successful, a piece of the floor the girl is standing on will vanish. The goal here is to make enough of the floor disappear so the girl will fall. When this happens, Mario needs to catch her and direct her to the exit on the left or right of the screen. A bonus of 10,000 points is awarded if she makes it out alive.
Nintendo has packed a bunch into this pinball board. It keeps the action fresh and exciting, but the dual screen setup can be a bit disorientating since every time the ball moves up or down a screen there’s a split second changeover. A wiser choice would have been to have the screen scroll up and down to follow the ball. Ice Climber had no issues with vertical scrolling, so I’m not sure why this game would either.
Graphically the game is OK. The black background is a disappointment, but the actual pinball machine is presented well. There are various animations, such as the penguins on the top part of the board and the ducks on the bottom portion that add a little flair to the experience. It looks better than most of the pinball games that have released prior, but it’s not a showstopper and can’t compare to the colorful backdrops and blinking lights of a real pinball machine.
Like many of the NES launch games the audio in the game is serviceable, but doesn’t deliver a wow factor. There’s almost no music in the game whatsoever, aside from a short jingle on the title screen. This leaves a sort of emptiness while playing, with just the sound effects left to pick up the slack.
The ball physics feel right and the game plays like you’d expect a real pinball machine to perform. The flippers feel responsive and there’s always something going on, keeping the action fresh and exciting. There is a two-player mode for you to compete against someone else for a high score. Unfortunately, once the Control Deck is powered off the high scores disappear.
Pinball is a fun, if somewhat shallow Game Pak that most families should derive enjoyment from. It’s a good package that offers up hours of mindless entertainment. I had a good time playing against friends and the board harbors enough complexity to make each play feel unique. It’s good enough that I would recommend having it as part of your new NES Game Pak library.
SECOND ACT – OTHER REVIEWS
Added on May 25, 1986
Taken from the May 1986 issue:
Computer Entertainer awarded Pinball 3 out 4 for graphics and 2.5 out of 4 for quality of game play and entertainment value.
Computer Entertainer Review Guidelines:
THE RATING SYSTEM:
4 SYMBOLS = EXCELLENT
3 SYMBOLS = GOOD
2 SYMBOLS = FAIR
1 SYMBOL = POOR
♦ = ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMS (1st set of diamonds = quality of graphics; 2nd set = quality of game play and entertainment value)
Any program for a given system is compared only to other programs for the same system. In other words, all C64-compatibles are judged separately from Apple. Some programs, which are virtually identical for multiple systems, will be so noted. When we review software for more than one system, we will note differences and which system we reviewed.