Secretly I am fascinated by pinball, but I hate it when people try to make me play it at the pub. "Come on," they say, "it is only a bit of fun. Look - we have selected a three-player game, so you will have to play or it won't work. And it cannot possibly go straight down the middle this time". But it always does.
So pinball games on the Amiga are a great source of comfort to me. From safely within the confines of my bedroom I can play them to my heart's content, the rest of the world insulated from my cries of "No! Not again!". I did it with Pinball Dreams, with Pinball Fantasies. And just recently I have been doing it with Pinball Illusions. And Pinball Illusions is by a slight but at the same time significant margin, the best yet.
Now there are only three
You will probably already have spotted that, while Dreams, with Fantasies had four tables, Illusions has just three. This is the one disappointing thing about it, so we will get it out of the way right at the beginning. Apparently, Digital Illusions decided at the last minute that, out of the four tables they had designed, one was slightly crap. So they threw it away. And now there are only three. And it does note even cost less. Tch, eh?
But still. Distract yourself instead with thoughts of the multiball feature. (I wrote 'multiballs' on the cover when we first did it, but apparently it is 'multiball'. Shows how much time I spend in pinball-playing circles, hmm?). This is activated either by getting two ball locks or hitting the right features, and causes three balls to bounce around the table at the same time.
This could be slightly confusing, especially when balls start disappearing off the top of the screen, but thankfully a swift stab at the H key throws the game into high-res mode. You can now see nearly all of the table on the screen at once, but miniaturised. Initially this evoked similar emotions in the AP office to the first time we saw a Competition Pro Mini joystick. Multiball does have its downside, though - without it the game might have been able to run on an A600.
Just a little American
Also improved in Pinball Illusions are the LED displays above the tables. They are now higher resolution, and have loads of little animations for when things happen down on the table. For example, on the Law and Justice table you get to see coppers chasing criminals across the top of the screen, and shooting them.
And with it being an AGA-only game, the graphics generally are great. The tables have all been digitised from paintings and are tremendously colourful, although sometimes it can be a little hard to tell what is hittable and what is just background.
A swift stab at the H
Really, though, it is Pinball Dreams all over again, just as Pinball Fantasies was. And, when you think about it, it is hard to see what else they could have done. Pinball games like Dragon's Fury on the Mega Drive do their own thing, adding baddies to knock out with the ball and bonus screens that you reach by knocking the ball into the right holes. But Digital Illusions have always aimed to recreate real-life pinball as accurately as possible, and they have managed just that with Pinball Illusions.
Design-wise the tables are even closer to real ones than ever before, and there is not a single duffer among them. The Law and Justice one is the best as far as I am concerned (one of the reasons why you will find a demo of it on our coverdisk), with the other two being just a little too American (but still jolly good).
Lights flash, things go ping and clack, and the ball zips around like thre is no today, let alone tomorrow. The music is great, changing when you activate important features to heighten the drama. It is impossible to conceive of the Amiga getting any closer to playing pinball in a pub than this (at least, according to Steve and Jonathan, who do it all the time).