That deaf, dumb and blind kid Jason Compton goes on a flipping frenzy...
omputer games are funny things. They seem to serve two related yet opposite purposes. They can offer experiences we would never come near in real life – taking aim at a hostile MIG, exploring far-off lands with only a sword at your side, or blasting off into outer space. Or they can offer experiences we could just as easily have if we walked around the block. Pinball sims fall solidly into the latter case.
Sure, it keeps you in the house more, but there are all sorts of good arguments for things like pinball sims. You can play all you want for no additional charge, there is nobody to be embarrassed by, and you can really tilt the machine without getting in trouble. The Amiga has a fine tradition with pinball, and this latest Eastern European entry looks to add new tricks to the equation.
There are really two things that need to be evaluated when you are talking about pinball games: the quality of the pinball engine itself (does the game play reasonably like you might expect pinball to in the real world?) and the design of the tables (is this the sort of game you might shell out for and enjoy playing?).
The game engine itself brings a couple of newer notions to the fore. You can configure the ball action in a pre-game menu. On some of the settings, the ball is far livelier than you might expect. It is not as clear as the game suggests, though, as to how this handicaps or assists you. It is really more a question of how you like playing than making the game easier or tougher.
More interesting is the "super high-res" mode. Most pinball games stretch themselves across several screens, meaning you typically see no more than 50% of the pinball table on the screen at one time, giving you a more realistic ability to plan your shots. (The size of the now customary message board at the top of the screen remains unchanged). This super-high res mode can be toggled on the fly and does have its drawbacks – it is flickery, and since the proportions are preserved it takes up a fairly narrow strip of the screen so you may feel cramped, particularly if you switch in the middle of a game.
It is a different way to play, that is for sure. I recommend you give it a real chance. Your initial reaction will probably be negative, especially if you have played a lot of computer pinball and are used to the "old way" of doing things. But you may discover the detail, despite flicker, is sharper and enhances your gameplay. The flippers have a good kick to them. On the other hand, the bumpers are not as wild as many real-world pinball machines can get. The bumpers do not play a huge role, so it is a minor point.
The pinball engine is not as rudimentary as the one from, say, Pinball Dreams. But I found that in what claims to be the most real-world ball action mode, the ball did not behave as it should. On one of the tables there is a corkscrew ramp, and the ball can get stuck on it. Give it a tilt forward shove and it rockets up the ramp in a way totally unlike a real ball would. You might feel this is more of a design than an engine concern but it is a problem all the same.
What can I say about the design? First let me point out that there are only two tables in Pinball Brain Damage – at least two too few for the price, if previous pinball titles are to be our guide. The first, Hypervolution, is another piece of evidence in a long-standing suspicion of mine: pinball games, real or simulated, based around cars are never any fun. This one is plain, it is very difficult to do something interesting (and half the time when you do you are unrewarded), and the music is awful. The other, Magnetic Whirlpool, is substantially more interesting, better accompanied by music and FX, but is over-designed.
I offer as perhaps the ultimate pinball sim table ‘Party Land’ from Pinball Fantasies. That table is fun, whimsical, and has just enough things to do to build progressive rewards that you do not get bored. Magnetic Whirlpool has so many layers and ramps and loops that it is nearly impossible to keep track of what you are supposed to be doing. Just because the digital media means we do not have to actually build the things does not mean the game is more fun if you throw tons of ramps into it. On top of all this, there are only the two bottom flippers – no extra action higher up the table. This is weak, no two ways about it.
I will probably play Magnetic Whirlpool again from time to time despite its shortcomings. Hypervolution will be ignored. I cannot endorse Pinball Brain Damage, despite its "super high-res" innovation, when there are other, superior classics out there.
CU Amiga, March 1998, p.47