Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Game Review (Pinball Arcade for PS4)

As long as I've had this blog, this is the longest I've gone without a post... so here I am with one for Pinball Arcade. This review will not only cover how the game feels, looks, sounds, and all of that good stuff, but will be updated as I play and/or purchase tables for the game.

Every now and then I develop a bit of a pinball habit. A handful of years ago on the Xbox 360 I downloaded Zen Pinball and paid for a few tables packs. I played the game steadily for a month or so, but my interest faded. Until I started Pinball Arcade, I never really understood why... but now I know.

Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball just aren't comparable. Sure, both are pinball games, but the similarities end there. While Zen Pinball uses fictional tables that have unrealistic graphics and some minigames during the pinball action, Pinball Arcade is committed to creating gaming friendly replications of real life pinball tables. After playing Zen Pinball and then Pinball Arcade, I'm not so sure there is any going back to Zen -- the latter's authenticity simply can not be matched.

Within moments of playing my first ball in Pinball Arcade, I loved everything about it. The detail of every table is simply stunning, and the amount of attention put into every corner of the table can be seen, and felt when playing. While nothing can ever match the feeling of physically playing a real, live pinball machine, Pinball Arcade becomes pretty damn close, and for a tiny fraction of the price. Hm, Pinball Arcade and all of its tables for roughly $120 (if you get the season passes as of now), or a single pinball table starting at $2k, and only going up?

Pinball Arcade is a phenomenal game. Its only fixable flaw would be its menus -- they are very simple and have a very amateurish feel. Additionally, at no fault of the developers, a vertically shaped pinball table just can't be experienced entirely the same way when transferred to a landscape shaped television.


I think I just about covered the game in that brief review... the game is just fantastic, addicting, and, well, craveable. With that said, I'll go ahead and briefly review and score each table that I've played. Continuing on what I said a bit ago, you can get season passes of tables for $30 a piece, or buy individual tables for $5 each. Of course, the best value can be had when getting the season passes. The first two passes feature, I believe, 18 tables. Three and four (and presumably any released afterwards) have 10 tables -- all four passes are the same price. Naturally, passes one and two are the better value if you're looking to get a bang for your buck. Additionally, no matter what first pack you choose, you will be given four additional tables that are added on.

Okay, and now I'll start the table reviews, ordered by season number, and alphabetically. The first number after the name of the table is my perceived difficulty of the table. Of course, 1 means it is easy, and 5 means that it is difficult -- according to me, a pinball newbie. Expect to see a lot of easy tables get high scores, and more difficult tables get low scores. Just kidding, but seriously, it's only natural to prefer tables that are easier, right? Easier means more playtime and higher scores. Whatever, I'll try to be objective.

Season One

Attack from Mars: 2/5 This is one of the easiest tables that I think I've ever played, and it is also a very fun one. The idea here is that you want to blow up martians' spaceships that are in specific countries. Once you blow up spaceships in six (or is it five...?) different locations around the globe, you then attempt to destroy Mars to essentially win the game. Of course, the game doesn't end there, as you can keep playing so long as you have balls. The main story of this table is very simple to follow, and the layout of the table is also very amateur friendly, with ramps and loops all over, and with an easy-to-shoot UFO in the middle of the table. There is also a UFO shooting minigame that you play on a screen: this is the most difficult part about this table for me by quite a margin. There's a Wizard Goal for winning this game, but I've yet to have gotten close. All-in-all, Attack from Mars is a table accessible to beginners, but likely still an attractive one to seasoned pinballers, and one that has very nice sound and some pretty funny lines (mostly stereotypes) as well. 4.5/5

Big Shot: 4/5 Here's a table that looks super innocent and simple, but it's actually quite a difficult and unforgiving table. One of the oldest tables in the game, Big Shot has no ramps or loops to give you any sort of break. Big Shot is a billiards theme table where the gist is to hit all of the solid and stripe ball targets, as well as lighting up the 8 ball. When this is done, a jackpot can eventually be won. It is a very simple premise, but the game has a definite learning curve. There is very little saving you from losing a ball on this table, so you'll have to do some table bumps pretty often to try and keep the ball from going bye-bye. Big Shot lacks any sort of soundtrack (due to the age of the machine), and I like it and its vintage feel. The lack of sounds outside of the ball pinging around off targets and bumpers is strangely... soothing, and will also likely keep you focused on trying to hit all of the targets on the board. Big Shot is one of the more frustrating tables in the pack, so be prepared to have a few fits -- especially when you score a ton of points on one ball, and quickly lose your next two or three (that's right, there are five balls on this table). Pinball as a whole is pretty diabolical at times, but this is surprisingly one of the more sneaky-hard ones in Pinball Arcade. 3.5/5

Black Hole: 4/5 Another difficult table, I nearly scored this one a little higher. Black Hole is a table that was a first for many things, including being the first fifty cent pinball machine, and the first with an inverted table within the table. With Black Hole, like many older machines, there isn't any type of story line. This table has a lot going on. Not only because it has a second table that can be played on (and, needs to be played on), but because it's just a very, very fast table. When you get the ball shot up and bouncing off the side panels and bumpers, the ball moves really fast, and you really need to be alert to prevent the ball from shooting itself right out of play. This table took me a little while to get used to, and I'm still not completely comfortable with it, as it's a bit intimidating. Your best bet at getting a high score is to, simply and probably stupidly put, fling the ball towards the top of the table and let it bounce around to trigger multipliers and the like. After that, it'd be wise to try locking balls, and taking the ball to the second table to work on what ends up being your bonus, as there's no other bonus applied after your ball's lost. Black Hole is an intriguing table due to the added inverted playing field, and super fast game play, both of which also make the table more difficult and more fun to play. 3.75/5

Black Knight: 4.25/5 My dear Lord, Black Knight. I don't know what it is, and I don't know if I'm the only one, but this table is wickedly difficult to try and get a feel for. My advice for this table is... well, I don't have any good advice. The two keys for this table, as with most, is to get the multiplier as high as possible, and activate multi-ball. The thing about the multiplier on this table is that it's pretty difficult to hit at first. It took a number of plays on this table before I got a feel for how to hit it, and even still I can't get them consistently. Another thing that makes this table difficult is that it's hard to gauge where the ball's coming down to the bottom flippers when coming from the top -- it happens so fast, it's really hard to tell where the ball's going. It took me several games (albeit with a bunch of restarts) to even score a million on this table, though my last was roughly 2.3 million. Of all the tables in this pack, this is one that will take me some of the most time to feel comfortable with. As for the other aspects of the table, it's not all that impressive, though it was responsible for a lot of "firsts" for pinball. The sounds are droning and repetitive, and the table itself doesn't look very spectacular. It's a decent table, but it's mostly only memorable -- for me at least -- because it's unrelenting. 3.5/5

Bride of Pinbot: 3.25/5 I feel like this is supposed to be a very amateur-friendly table, and at times I feel like it is, but for some reason I personally struggle sometimes with consistently getting the balls to go up the ramp. Anyway, Bride of Pinbot is one of the very best tables in the first season pass. What you want to do on this table is get the balls up the left ramp to morph Pinbot's wife into a human. Once you do this, a wheel spins and you have a chance at a massive 1 billion point shot. It took me half a dozen games or so, but I finally accomplished this feat. Really, if you don't get several 1 billion point shots in your game, you have no shot of getting high on the leader board at all, as even getting 500 million without the shot would take quite a long time. The sounds and look of this table are both pretty excellent, and as I said, the table is pretty newbie friendly, thanks to mostly easy to hit ramps, which eventually make for relatively easy-to-get extra balls. Since the goal of the table is really just getting the ball continuously up the left ramp (and center loop when the billion point shot lights up), it can become rather redundant and one-note. At the same time, it can become addicting like most any table can be when you're in a groove and keep nailing shots up that ramp and morphing Pinbot's wife into a human over and over again. 4/5

Cirqus Voltaire: 3.25/5 This table is as difficult (or, easy) as Bride of Pinbot to learn how to play. On this table, you need to complete a bunch of little missions to eventually join the circus. This is a very newbie friendly table as seemingly every shot finds a ramp or loop, and there are a few different multiball opportunities. Cirqus Voltaire really has it all for any fan of pinball... a fantastic light show, great sound, and interesting missions. The key to getting a high score on this table is to activate one of many multiballs as often as possible, and complete all of the missions. As said, once you complete the six (?) individual tasks, you must finish three steps to successfully join the circus, score a ton of points, and then essentially start all over from the beginning. This table has a lot going on, especially in terms of the lights -- honestly, there are always so many lights flashing that it can sometimes be difficult to see where your ball is at. But also, there's a lot going on gameplay wise as well. The key feature of this table is likely the Ringmaster, who is easily triggered, and is fairly easy to beat. Naturally, there come timed jackpots and the like that only the better pinball players will be able to hit. Cirqus Voltaire is one of the most critically acclaimed pinball tables ever for a reason... it caters to players of all skill levels, has a great aesthetic, and pretty much has it all. 4.5/5

Creature from the Black Lagoon (in 3D): 2.5/5 There are a lot of great tables in the first season, but this is at or near the top for me, as it has a great balance of difficulty. While I can get some decent scores on this table, for whatever reason, I find the "CREATURE" mission dealie to be strangely difficult, despite being what should be a simple two-ball mission. What makes this table a bit on the simple side is how easy it is to shoot up the left ramp to build your combo, and cashing in on that combo by hitting the left-center ramp... it becomes quite easy to get 16 million points over and over this way, and increasing your bumper multiplier as well. I can honestly say that I still haven't found out how to score the jackpot on this table or anything like that, despite playing it a number of times... of course, this likely has to do with my failure to be successful in the "CREATURE" mode. Although the table plays well, what really pulls me in are the sounds and the aesthetic of the table, as it revolves around a late '50s drive-in movie theater. Sure it has a cliche sort of feel to it, but that's what I really enjoy about it. Creature from the Black Lagoon is a must-play for any pinball fan of any skill level, of any age. 4.5/5

Elvira and the Party Monsters: 3.25/5 This is a somewhat difficult table for a couple reasons. One being that the ball seems to like to slip out of play quite easily, and that it takes awhile to build a nice score on it. What you really want to do to score big points is to light up "ELVIRA", and of course, trigger multiballs. Consistently hitting the loops is probably the most effective way of racking up a high score on this table. Probably my favorite thing about Elvira and the Party Monsters is the look of the table and the sound -- one of the more memorable tables to play in the first Season Pass. I like this table because it not only appeals to amateurs, but more hardcore pinballers as well, which probably explains its ranking well within the Top 50 on Pinside.com (currently #43). Elvira is a "funstrating" game, meaning that even though it'll frustrate you time-to-time, it's a blast to play. I had no previous interest in Elvira or anything like that, but I wound up really enjoying this table. 4/5

Funhouse: 3.5/5 I'll be able to say this more as I play the real-life counterparts of these machines, but this is a much easier table to play on Pinball Arcade than it is in person. On this game, it is pretty simply to hold balls on flippers, but that doesn't translate to the actual table. Additionally, the upper left ramp of this table in the game seems much easier to time to get the ball either hit to Rudy, or into the trap door, both of which are important to getting points on this table. I managed 87 million on this table in PA, but on the actual table in just two or three games, I only topped at 3 million. Funhouse is a classic table with a pretty nice soundtrack and a good design. I think it's mostly acclaimed because many people associate memories at the arcade with it. Not having any of those memories with this table, I can objectively say that it's a solid table, even if a bit redundant. Most of what you need to do on this table is simply advance the clock to midnight, and get the ball into Rudy's mouth as he sleeps (heh heh...). It's easier said than done though, because as I said, it can be hard to time the shot. 3.75/5

Genie: 4/5 I'm noticing a bit of a trend... it seems like the older tables tend to be more difficult than the newer ones. Genie is a classic Gottlieb machine, this one with five flippers. Genie is an interesting machine for that fact... five flippers on a machine this old, to me, is unusual. This is a challenging table that really requires you to unlight the "ABCD" lights to get the possibility of an extra ball to keep you going. Even with five balls on this table, it's still difficult to get a very good score. The absolute biggest key to getting a nice score on this table is trying to avoid the bottom left slot area as much as possible... if you happen to get a ball down there, timing a table bump is crucial to get the ball out back in front of the flippers. If you let the ball fall down, more often than not, you've got yourself a lost ball. I was frustrated with this table at first, but after becoming more effective at table bumping on it, I've grown to like it, and think it's Gottlieb's best table in this pack. 3.75/5

Gorgar: 4/5 This is a table that I originally didn't care for. This is the first talking pinball table, and as such, the sounds quickly become droning, tedious, and just annoying. The table itself looks pretty nice though, and it plays very fast. Gorgar is a simple looking table, but to maximize your score, it's not as simple. What you want to do on this table is light up "GOR" and "GAR" as many times as you can to increase the lock and snake pit scores. It sounds easy, but Gorgar can be another table where losing the ball is something that can happen quite often. Fortunately, once you get on a roll, it becomes one of the more rewarding tables to get a good score on in this first Season Pass. This is another table that, while it doesn't look all that intimidating, it's definitely on the challenging side. Unfortunately, the redundant sounds quickly become a bore, and keep me from playing this table a whole lot. 3.5/5

Harley Davidson: 3/5 Straight away I'll say I have no real interest in motorcycles outside of Road Rash on the N64... I don't know anything about them. I will say though that this table surprised me and I found it quite fun. I do find it strange that it has almost an, I don't know, kiddy look to it, but I kind of like that about it -- it feels like a video game or something. This table is easy to play, I think, and doesn't play exceptionally fast most of the time. This is very amateur friendly as it offers quite a few opportunities for extra balls, and a lot of opportunities for multiball -- there are three or four different multiballs to trigger on this table. One thing that bothers me about this table is the video mode, which just comes up too frequently. I liked it at first, but it quickly grew tiresome, especially since the positioning of the items in the video never changes. This is a fun table that'll likely give you your money's worth per game, and for that I enjoy and recommend it, even if you couldn't care less about motorcycles. 4/5

Medieval Madness: 3/5 This is what pinball is all about... so far, the most fun and most complete pinball table I have ever played, and I can completely understand why it is rated as Pinside's number one table in the world. This table has it all -- great soundtrack, awesome looking playfield, fantastic lighting, phenomenal animation, funny premise... it just reminds me why I love pinball. Additionally, like many good tables, it's a table that a rookie can play and get a good score on, and it's also one where veterans can play and rack up massive scores. Additionally, this is a fun table because it's quite easy to get at least one extra ball every game. The point of Medieval Madness is to really destroy the castle six times before reaching the "end game" where you need to destroy the castle a final time for a massive jackpot. Along the way, there's also a video mode to play a minigame, and plenty of loops and ramps to hit to start one of many multiballs available on the table, and to rack up combos. This is most definitely an A+ pinball table, and is one of the most popular tables for a reason. 5/5

Monster Bash: 2.75/5 Another fabulous pinball table... the premise? Get monsters together to rock out and get massive scores in the process. This is a very simple table to learn how to play, as seemingly a shot from anywhere will help advance you to the Bash, making it possible for even the noobest of noobs to manage a billion point score on this table. This table doesn't play super fast, but it does have its moments -- as a whole though, it seems to cater to pinballers of any skill level. I enjoy everything about this table, from the sounds, music, table design/layout... all of it's a blast. Extra balls are also pretty easy to be had on Monster Bash, so expect to be playing for quite awhile once you start a game. Once you get the Bash going, you get millions of points for hitting the band members with balls, and points rack up fast. This is a super satisfying table that must be experienced by any pinball lover of any skill level. 5/5

No Good Gofers: 3.5/5 This is a table that you aren't likely to play once or twice and entirely understand, as the rules take a bit to grasp. Sure, simple enough, it's golf -- but if you can get a lot of hole in ones or low stroke holes, you'll earn a lot more points. As with many tables, a key to this table is to earn multiball. If you can manage that and keep the balls in play for awhile, you'll quickly build up your score. When I first played this table I didn't really care for it because I found it annoyingly difficult for some reason. After giving it a few games, I actually like it a lot. The table looks a little "kiddy" but I like the feel of it as a whole. The gofers are obnoxious and a bit annoying, but that's what helps make this table so memorable. The loop (or are they called "orbit"?) shots are satisfying to hit, and although it's a rarity, hitting the hole-in-one spot at the top right of the table is a great feeling. A slightly underrated, very fun and competitive table to play. 4.25/5

-More tables to be added alphabetically by season as I play them and get feels for them.-