In my College days I worked at a pizza place for 3 years while I went to school. As on par with other pizza places at the time there were several video games scattered around the establishment. I noticed one day I came into work and there was a spanking new pinball table where one of the games used to be. The Twilight Zone. I
started playing around with it with a buddy of mine from work who apparently had spent quite a bit of time with it already and proceeded to explain to me just about all the possible combos one could possibly shoot for. I think that’s when I can say the addiction set in. Every night after work, pizza, beer, pinball. After at least about 100$ in quarters countless multi-balls, jackpots and dozens of “fighting the power”s later, the day came for Twilight Zone to be replaced with Star Trek: The Next Generation Pinball (which was also killer). But from then on I’ve always been in love with the game. It’s a true game of skill. You have to own that ball. You have to control it. You have to hit those combos in the short amount of time they give you, and you have to set that ball up to get it just right. If you can still find a pinball machine around take a moment to look at the amazing artwork and ramps twisting all over the place. The lights, the detail, it’s just a glass encased playing field of awesomeness!
But time marches on. Nothing stays the same. The bottom line was this: Pinball machines and video games were placed in establishments to make money. Cost occurs when something needs to be repaired. The more moving parts any machine has, the higher probability it will break down. Pinball machines have about a million moving pieces and video games have many less. Long story short, distributers and business owners went the path of video games and started phasing pinball out. Now you’re hard pressed to find a pinball machine anywhere.
In an ironic twist of fate, game developers knew there was something to pinball, and even though video games are what killed pinball, they’ve also been resurrecting them. From the very beginning, there was Atari Pinball on the Atari 2600. One of the first launch titles for the original Nintendo Entertainment System was Pinball. Alien Crush for Turbo Grafix 16 seemed to up the antae with amazing artwork and ahead-of-its-time gameplay. Video pinball tables were a constant during the evolution of PC gaming in the 80’s and 90’s.
Though everyone’s heart was in the right place, video game pinball was just an approximation of what pinball really felt like. It was always still a video game version of something else that was great. But as we already noted, time marches on and technology improves. As we finally came into the current PS3, XBox 360 and Nintendo Wii console generation video game pinball finally came into its own. With the release of Zen Pinball for iOS in 2008 then finally in 2009 for the PlayStation Network, the real feeling and physics of actual pinball have now been achieved. The physics are flawless, and the tables are designed with the care and intricacies of real pinball, Zen studios had finally done the legendary game justice on a video game platform. As real as Zen Pinball feels, it is a bit like pinball on steroids. Every time you hit the ball, you knock the crap out of it and it goes straight and true. The flippers also seem to be a little closer together than real pinball tables making it harder for the ball to drain out (reducing the challenge). But now I’m nit-picking, as anyone who has played Zen Pinball knows, it’s challenging enough and simply amazing.
A little bit later in 2012, Farsight studios released The Pinball Arcade on iOs and PlayStation Network. Unlike Zen Pinball who designs their own fictional tables, The Pinball Arcade takes real existing pinball tables and makes a video game version of them. They are perfect, maybe too perfect. The gameplay is identical to the actual tables and if it was a tough table in real life, it’s going to be a tough table on The Pinball Arcade. Both Zen Pinball (now Zen Pinball 2 for PSN and Pinball FX 2 on Xbox 360) and The Pinball Arcade continuously release new affordable downloadable tables on a regular basis.
There will be nothing that can replace the dimly lit coin-op arcades with the glaring rows of pinball tables lined up against the back wall like something The Who would sing about. But the world of video game pinball has caught up to the real life gameplay of pinball and there are a few developers out there that are doing pinball right. If you’re a fan of pinball, or for heaven’s sake you’ve never gotten into it, do yourself a favour and check out some of the modern adaptations to one of the greatest games ever invented. You vs. the table, man vs. machine.
Buri is Brigg Sabol. A man with a secret identity, and a dark past.