Pro Pinball: Fantastic Journey has many features one would expect to find on a standard pinball machine. You'll see bumpers, buzzers, bells, ramps, flippers, gates and plenty of lights. The machine also has a LCD screen where you see your score, current ball count and graphical outputs of on-screen adventure. An option is provided to make it a full color display or leave it in the traditional colors found on a standard pinball machine.
Each of the machine's quests or adventures requires you to trigger spinners or buttons in order to advance; to even get a chance at a journey will require you to hit a specific "lit" area of the playing surface. Several other features, such as multipliers and multi-balls have also been included. The game boasts accurate physics that allow the ball to spin, jump, roll and slide.
Several external features have been incorporated in order to offer a more realistic Arcade experience. For instance, the machine can actually be nudged to simulate aggression or to move a ball one direction; too much abuse of this option can cause a "tilt," at which point the machine resets with your current ball lost. Several other options can also be selected, such as the difficulty of the game and selecting one of three different camera angles.
Two other features are included in an attempt to heighten the realism of the game. The first is the customization of flipper power, which allows you to alter how hard or soft the flippers hit the ball during gameplay. The second feature, which is machine condition, allows you to decide how well the pinball machine is maintained and, therefore, how accurate and true your game will be.
High scores are chronicled in the game's record books and can possibly earn you a free-play or extra credits. Additionally, the game uses the number-match feature after every game in a lottery-like chance of awarding a free play.
To the dismay of pinball fans everywhere, Williams recently announced that they were shutting down their pinball division. It is my sad duty to report the death of PC pinball as well: the latest Pro Pinball offering is a step backwards for the series. It not only fails to excite, but shows that perhaps there is just no more room for improvement in this genre. Obviously influenced by the works of Jules Verne, Fantastic Journey pits you against the evil General Yugov, who wants to blow up the moon. You are aided on the way by various steam-powered devices. None of this really matters, as the game does nothing to progress the story.
Here's a snippet of hype: "A revolutionary changing play field, where amazing steam-powered contraptions such as the Drill, Boat, Submarine and Balloon appear to change the gameplay." The key word here is APPEAR. The thing pops up, and then... you continue to shoot the same targets for points and combos. This is a really bland table. Two sets of drop targets, two ramps, some out-of-the-way bumpers, one spinner, and one set of flippers. Didn't we learn 10 years ago that at least two sets of flippers are necessary to maintain enough interaction to keep players interested?
Another aspect of PPFJ being hyped is the color dot-matrix display. Gee, that's great, but where are the display mini-games? Very few are here, and they're not that exciting. Indeed, "not that exciting" sums up the game as a whole. There's no sense of progression, and even multiball falls flat in terms of generating any kind of frenzy. Just look at the wide-open space in the center of the board. One well-placed bumper there would have done wonders to speed up the pace of the game. Instead, it's a total yawnfest. I had to force myself to keep playing.
Controls are the same as ever: left flipper, right flipper, launch, and 3 directions of nudge. There is one new control: Magnosave, which will occasionally save your ball from a quick death down the left-hand lane. Nice to have, but hardly revolutionary. The operator's menu gives the usual assortment of fine tuning options. Unfortunately, none of them allows you to turn up the "fun".
The few sound effects are irritating, but worse is the voice acting. After a few minutes of play, you'll be begging General Yugov and Professor Steam to shut the hell up. If I have to hear the Prof say "it appears that LUCK is lit" one more time, I will introduce him to a few steam-powered devices of my own design. The music as well is annoying pseudo-funk, a big letdown after the great music that propelled Big Race USA.
Despite Empire's new lighting engine, there are no noticeable enhancements in the graphics. The table is shiny and detailed, but prone to annoying patches of slowdown, particularly during multiball (6 ball maximum, as opposed to last year's 10 balls). The color dot matrix is not used well enough to be satisfying, and the "contraptions" slowly rotate to the surface of the board, and... well, do nothing except turn around once in a while. The ball physics are spot on, but this hardly saves the game. In fact, it's the only area where Fantastic Journey shows any improvement in the series.
Multiplayer is hot seat only. The head to head LAN/Internet mode is gone. Why? So they could spend more time working that really neat color dot matrix? Big points deducted for this.
Fantastic Journey is simply a disappointment in light of last year's Big Race USA, an amazing game that is still delightfully fun to play, the pinnacle of the genre. Empire Interactive really "dropped the ball" on this one. I recommend it only for those who must have every PC pinball game. The rest of us can skip it, and mourn the death of pinball.
People who downloaded Pro Pinball: Fantastic Journey have also downloaded:
Pro Pinball: Big Race USA, Pro Pinball: Timeshock!, Pro Pinball: The Web, Pure Pinball, Pinball Illusions, Addiction Pinball, Microsoft Pinball Arcade, 3-D Ultra Pinball
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