Microsoft Pinball Arcade could best be described as a playable reference simulation. Not only is it a highly enjoyable game that will give hours upon hours of pinball fun on a choice of seven machines, but also a nostalgic look at the evolution of pinball in America over the last seventy years of the 20th century.
The seven machines are represented in perfect photo-quality, with authentic noises, voices and sound effects. Baffle Ball (1931) is a version of pinball that became popular during the Great Depression and has no flippers! Humpty Dumpty (1947) was one of the first modern style tables. Knock Out (1950) is based on the ever-popular boxing theme. Slick Chick stems from 1963 and has some far out bumpers, man. Spirit of '76 (1976) celebrates the U.S. Bicentennial, complete with pictures of John Glenn and Davy Crockett. Cue Ball Wizard relives the early 1990s. The most fun pinball table of all in this game is Haunted House (1982), which is complete with haunting sound effects.
As a straightforward pinball game, Microsoft Pinball Arcade is great fun. The flippers are responsive, the balls are fast, and you don't have to tilt the machine. The colors are magnificent, the sounds make you think that you are in some smoky arcade somewhere, and the gameplay is addictive, especially on the later machines. Skill levels will certainly increase the more you play this game.
As a nostalgic trip into American history as well as a pinball simulation, it's a must have.
Graphics: Photo quality reproduction of the original machines
Sound: Authentic sounds from the machines themselves
Enjoyment: How can you not enjoy pinball?
Replay Value: Seven great machines to choose from.
Video Pinball on the PC has had to fight a long hard battle for credibility, but over the last few years the genre has gained some acceptance with some extremely playable efforts. This venture into the realm of pinball action actually serves the noble cause of being a history lesson as well. The meat of the game involves simulating pinball games from Gottlieb that have come out every decade from the 1930's to the present. So, not only do you get quite a few tables (seven), but you can also view the actual history of the game as it evolved over the years.
Unfortunately, if you are a casual pinball player, this pack will only make you conclude that pinball as a genre has always sucked. Out of the seven tables presented only two are worth playing, and despite the overall high production values of the pack nothing can really save a bad table from being immediately boring.
The really sad part of this whole story (if you find this type of thing to be emotionally involving that it) is that the games are all flawlessly produced. The graphics are crisp and clean, the ball physics are great, and the sounds are as accurate as they can get. Even the tiniest details have been reproduced like the reflection of the table on the ball. In fact, gazing at a shot of the game the only way it's possible to tell that you're not looking at a real table is because of the lack of spilled beer and cigarette burns -- visually the game is simply amazing.
The real problem lies with the fact that video pinball is entirely different from real pinball. It's just not the same experience and not all tables can successfully make the jump over to video simulations because of the obvious differences in the two mediums. History is great, but in the end we need to have fun playing the games as well. Here's how the tables stack up:
Baffle Ball - 1931
It's amazing that pinball ever got off the ground as a pastime if this is its roots. Think "Pachinko" but slower. There are no flippers and you just shoot the ball and see what you score. Whee!
Humpty Dumpty- 1947
Well, there are flippers in this game, but they adorn the side of the board all of the way down and the object is to keep the ball from reaching the bottom. This table is just barely interactive and there isn't really anything to score on. Yawn.
Knock Out- 1950
This game actually resembles the pinball we know and love today except for the lack of real targets and the inhuman space between your two flippers. The boxing theme is well done and the game is actually moderately fun to play except for one big fatal flaw. This flaw is, of course, the huge gap between your flippers which leaves approximately 1/3rd of the board undefendable when the ball comes down at you. To prevent you from dying there is a barrier in this gap for a little while, but once you hit a certain score it drops and you die. It's really depressing and you'll feel quite hopeless the first time this happens because, no matter how well you've been doing you're going to die soon.
Spirit of '76- 1976
This is your basic pinball table. In today's terms it's about as generic as it gets with 3 bumpers at the top and a few scattered targets to knock down. If one remembered this Pinball machine fondly it might be a good trip down memory lane, but for the average pinball player it's just not exciting.
Haunted House- 1982
Finally, a pinball machine that is close enough to modern day to be fun. With three levels and plenty to do, haunted house is a lot of fun. The haunted house theme is nice with a graveyard and ghoulies everywhere. The sounds are all classic 80's arcade though, so get ready for lots of bleeps and bloops. This is the table you'll play the most if you buy this product.
Cue Ball Wizard- 1992
This game is a classic case of overkill. Between the voices, the skill shots, the cheesy pool theme, and the dozens of flashing lights this game is far more impressive to watch than to play. In fact, the whole giant pool ball in the center of the board really detracts from the experience instead of being the creative touch the designers were hoping for.
Well, there you go. As a game Pinball arcade fails because the tables just aren't much fun. As a history lesson or trip down nostalgia lane it's great because of its top notch visuals and accuracy.
People who downloaded Microsoft Pinball Arcade have also downloaded:
Microsoft Return of Arcade, Microsoft Revenge of Arcade, Addiction Pinball, Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, Pure Pinball, 3D Ultra Pinball: Thrill Ride, Atari: 80 Classic Games in One!, 3-D Ultra Pinball
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