Game Review: Pinball Dreams (PSP Mini)

It’s no secret that some of us here at Vita Player, myself included – have a passion for old games. I grew up with the old Commodore computers, starting with the Vic 20 moving on to the Commodore 64 and then spending many years as a loyal Amiga enthusiast so I was more than a little excited when Cowboy Rodeo converted Pinball Dreams, one of the landmark Amiga games to the PSP as part of the Minis range. Originally released by 21st Century Software, the game started life programmed by a small group of self-taught programmers, artists and musicians from Sweden who originally produced in the Amiga demo scene before founding the company Digital Illusions while still at university.

Anyway, onto Pinball Dreams and this was the first game that they released and using the skills that they had learned, they released this game on the Amiga featuring four varied tables and at the time nothing had been seen like it on the computer and quite rightly it became an instant classic. Great graphics and sound, incredibly addictive and the most realistic ball physics that had been seen up to that point on any pinball game, DI were onto a winner and it proved to be a smash hit with players, critics and at retail.

The game itself features four tables – Ignition (a sci-fi tables), Steel Wheel (a western table), Beat Box (with a music theme) and Nightmare (the obligatory horror table). Rather than release a completely revamped enhanced version of the game for the PSP, Cowboy Rodeo made the decision to release a straight port of the Amiga version so the graphics and sound are identical to the original. Even the controls are the same and kept to a bare minimum to keep the game as easy as possible to get into. Tables are chosen by a simple animated menu where you choose each of the four from sliding images with each table’s logo on them with high score data on the reverse, all displayed on 3.5″ disks!

While the playability remains from the original and it still looks and feels exactly how it did on the Amiga (which is fantastic for those of you who loved the original), this is also it’s main drawback. The tables themselves are reasonably well designed although are a little basic.There isn’t a great deal in the way of side-missions on the tables that you would expect to find on modern tables and while the original game is now 20 years old, being released in 2009 on the PSP it’s only fair to compare it to its modern peers. The big problem the game has is with the ball physics… at the time, this was heralded as being the most realistic of any pinball game. If that was the case, the others must have been really dire. At times, the ball seems to have a mind of its own and goes off in all manner of strange directions no matter how you hit it, and on more than a few occasions I’ve experienced the ball accelerating or slowing down for no reason or bouncing off surfaces when it hasn’t been moving fast enough to build up enough intertia to be able to do so. You learn to be able to adjust to it, but it makes the ball unpredictable so there are times when the game becomes a case of luck rather than skill.

As it’s a conversion of an old 16-bit game, the graphics are only presented in 2D with the table scrolling as you play so you can keep track of the ball’s position. However, there is an option to rotate the table so you can view the whole table at once and the controls automatically re-map themselves. Scrolling is smooth enough and both ways work well so you can choose whatever option you prefer.

Looking at this as a Mini title in its own right, it’s reasonably playable, good fun and certainly worth the money and a good addition to the PSP. However being completely honest it hasn’t stood the test of time particularly well as a pinball game and if you’ve never played it before, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. For Vita owners, for the same amount of money, you could get Zen Pinball 2 plus one of the four table packs and it really delivers a more authentic pinball experience.

Ultimately what this boils down to is nostalgia. If you owned an Amiga before then this is an ideal way to have an Amiga classic on the move and you’ll no doubt be able to forgive the game’s flaws and will love the music, graphics and retro gaming experience so it’s something that is a must buy. If you’re looking for a classic pinball game then you really need to be looking elsewhere as this really just can’t compete.

Simon Plumbe

At A Glance

  • Title: Pinball Dreams
  • Publisher: Cowboy Rodeo
  • System: PSP Mini
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: No
  • Online Multiplayer: No
  • Local Multiplayer: Yes
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 4Mb

Vita Player Rating - 04


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