Pinball eh? At the end of the day it is just a load of old balls isn't it? And bumpers. And lights and flippers and ramps and noises and bonuses and pure, unadulterated, adrenalin-pumping fun-filled chaos. Isn't it? Well that is what it is supposed to be, at any rate. Unfortunately, the best laid plans often do not come to fruition.
21st Century are old hands at the pinball game game, having churned out tons of them in the past. In fact you can almost imagine what it is like at one of 21st Century's software development meetings.
"So what sort of game shall we start working on next then guys? Any suggestions?"
"Hey boss, I have got a great idea, how is about creating a pinball game"
"Wow, that is a great idea, let us get cracking and do it".
We may mock, but on the other hand computer pinball, if done properly, is great and 21st Century has certainly proved itself adept at the art, producing several extremely enjoyable ones in the past few years. Pinball Illusions, released at the beginning of this year, is a prime example of this, being a game which is adored by all and sundry here at CU Amiga Mag.
But enough of the history lesson, "what about the game in hand", I hear you scream? "Surely they cannot continue to flog the same old dead horse without the whip breaking?". Okay, okay, I am getting there. First up, a run down of what 21st Century have got on offer for us this time.
The first table is dubbed Tarantula and, funnily enough, has a subtle but undeniably distinct arachnid theme to it (there is a humungous great spider from hell plonked right in the middle of the table, for starters). The web related activities of this domain include, just to offer a few examples, a Multibonus where you have to light up the WEB letters to notch up a welcome 20,000 points.
Follow this up with a ball shot through the flashing WEB letters and you pick up a huge X2 bonus and one million luverly points. Drop down the Scare rail or the Poison slot to pick up assorted points galore and if you finally manage to spell out TARANTULA (no mean feat these babies are hard to reach) you notch up an earth-shattering 50,000,000 points.
And so it goes on with more and more targets to aim for to open up further point-scoring opportunities to push that total of yours into the multi multi-million bracket. The main attraction to head for, of course, is the multi-ball mode achieved by shooting the ball out of the FANG platform through the FANG escape (a task which is as hard as a very hard thing indeed). Not only is this an irritatingly difficult aim to achieve, but you only get a two-ball multi-ball which is a real let down. Surely the normal three-ball multi-ball would not have completely broken the memory banks?
If you are a bit of an arachnaphone, you can always go for a bit of correctional therapy in Jailbreak. Here a stern looking judge sits in judgement on your activities, while your balling antics can achieve the release or jailing of a suspect, start a riot or sentence a person to something particularly unpleasant. This table has got the unusual feature of a pair of flippers right in the middle which lets you aim for all those elusive bonus (not necessarily with any success, I might add).
For the footie fans there is a soccer themed table with football-associated bonuses such as fouls, goals, kick-offs, penalty shoot-outs and trophy targets to aim the ball for.
My personal favourite was the Jackpot table which is more inventively designed and features coolish bonuses like the Hi/Lo Roulette and Craps shots to go for, which were at least vaguely interactive if a little short-lived (after winning at Hi/Lo I would have preferred to carry on until I lost, for example).
The Bottom Line
I have deliberately left any personal opinions of the game until fairly near the end because, quite frankly, they are not particularly favourable. It is not that Pinball Mania is a particularly bad game or anything, but then neither is it particularly good - it falls slap bang into the realm of average. From a company that has so much experience in this genre, I really would have expected much better than what they have gone and put on offer here.
My main quibble is with the bottom flippers, talk about limp; most of the time they have about much life in them as a fart in a bottle, pathetically nudging the ball barely centimetres up the screen. Consequently, it is very difficult to get near the top end of the table where all the action is!
To make matters worse, in my view, they are completely erratic - I believe in testing games thoroughly so I spent hours teeing the ball off from the exact same spot at the same angle on the flippers and the response was widely different nearly every time I tried it.
Most times, as already mentioned, it was hardly worth the effort, but occasionally it would just shoot off at high speed for no particular reason that I could make out.
Some tables were better than others (I actually quite enjoyed the Jackpot table) but all were afflicted with the same maladies, as in lack of features and a rather flat, unrealistic feel to the gameplay. The music accompanying the whole experience is good but, unfortunately, the expected sound effects on bumpers and flippers are sadly absent.
As I have said, Pinball Mania is not bad and the disk-swapping ration was perfectly acceptable, but I did come away feeling it was a bit of a let down, especially from a company with so much experience in this field.