Give kids anything to do with Thomas the Tank Engine and they'll happily play with it all day. Thomas has become the John Travolta of the toddler set. With a toot toot and a hi diddle hey. Thomas's enduring popularity with children of many different generations means that the acid test of Thomas The Tank Engine Pinball has to be letting one of the Thomas The Tank cognoscenti loose onto the game.
Unleashing my five year old niece was an education in itself. Tasks have been deliberately limited so there are fewer rows of lights and sequences for high score bonuses. Some would say this restriction is detrimental to the game. Whatever you might think this restriction is real and slightly disturbing.
Thomas has been programmed by Spidersoft, the creators of the lacklustre Pinball Mania. With Thomas the Tank Pinball, it's all been seen before in Pinball Mania, only less so. But then things have to be put into perspective. Thomas isn't aimed at adults. It's aimed at kids. Not only is it aimed at kids, it's aimed at young kids of three and up. Much of the appeal of the game isn't going to be in the particular mechanics used to mimic a game of pinball, the appeal lies in the vibrant graphics, the music and the sociability of child/adult interaction.
Up to eight kids can play against each other or against adults and part of the fun when playing against a five year old is pointing out to them the lights they should hit. When they manage to do so, praising them and cheering has an uplifting effect. Dust as effective is letting the ball drop down the middle when it's your turn and then feigning disappointment. It all adds to the fun.
The biggest disappointment is that the game doesn't play as well as it could. The box reports that there are three difficulty levels. Unless you play it on the easiest though the going's too hard. It's impossible to get the ball to the top of the table except by accident and the flippers don't seem to send the ball in the direction they should, thus rendering Thomas more a game of luck than of any learnable skill.
If your kid loves Thomas and they're under the age of six, go for it. In moderate usage the game is an entertaining and fun package. It's just that it's appeal is much more limited than it should be. Pity.
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