Game Review: The Pinball Arcade (PS Vita)

Pinball Arcade PS Vita

Farsight Studios are no stranger to pinball games. Their earlier outings into the genre brought us Gottlieb Pinball Classics (for the PSP and PS3) and Williams Pinball Classics (also for the PSP and PS3). Both of these collections brought recreations of classic pinball machines into the home from two legendary pinball manufacturers giving gamers the chance to play on real pinball machines at home instead of the usual tables created for home games that often lacked that authentic arcade feel.

Combining their first two games, they brought over 20 tables into the home of gamers and if you owned either or both of these games, Pinball Arcade will be immediately familiar… In essence, this is an updated version of those two games in a new format for the PS Vita, PS3 (and for those of you who are interested, Android, iOS and *cough* XBox 360). At the very heart of the game is a pinball machine emulator which replicates the operating system that is at the core of all of the pinball machines features in the collection allowing the games to play exactly as they did in the arcades following the table rules exactly. Add in to that exact replicas of all of a wide range of tables from Williams, Stern, Gottlieb and other table designers complete with sound effects, 3D cabinet designs and – in the case of the PS3 and PS Vita – Cross Buy to allow you to have the game on both systems for the price of one.

The core game itself is £7.99 and comes complete with four tables – Tales of the Arabian Nights, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Theatre of Magic, and Black Hole – and then additional tables are available in packs of two for £3.99. A limited number of “premium” tables are released at £3.99 each which have cost more in terms of development and licence costs such as their release of the famous Star Trek: The Next Generation table from Williams and more recently “Pro” versions of tables have been released with advanced features and giving players access to the operators menus enabling them to alter the games settings at a table level, effectively altering the rules and providing greater control over the game. For players who already own these tables, a Pro upgrade is available but for most, the standard tables would be more than enough.

Anyway, starting off with the included tables, they offer players a mix of classic and relatively modern tables intended to showcase a mixture of the range of tables that players can expect to see from the game and this trend follows in all of the expansion packs with one modern and one classic table in each. While this approach ensures that gamers get to experience a wider mix of tables and means that the older tables aren’t overlooked in favour of the more modern releases, it does mean that those gamers who prefer the more recent games have little choice but to purchase tables they may have little interest in.

So looking at them in turn, Black Hole is the oldest of the four and is a table from Gottlieb dating back to 1981. It’s a sci-fi themed table and is one of the more unusual pinball tables available because it offers a dual playfield. During play, you can activate a secondary play area located underneath the main table visible through a transparent panel. My main issue with this is that it is an incredibly difficult and frustrating table to play. Whether it was just me or the table design itself I don’t know but I found games to be incredibly short and there were instances where I barely had the chance to touch the ball before it went out of play. I guess that this is one of those tables where you NEED to use the nudge function to even have a chance to play it for more than a few moments. Not the best start I am afraid.

Next up chronologically is Bally’s Theatre of Magic from 1995. As the title suggests, it’s a table based around showmanship and a theatrical magic act and is from the more modern pinball era featuring a range of mechanically animated objects on the table. A little repetitive although one of the better ones in terms of what it looks like in the set and for those of you who obsess about scores certainly the better of the included set as this is one of the higher scoring tables on the market.

If the title doesn’t give it away, Williams’ Tales of the Arabian Nights from 1996 is a table filled with wonder, mystery, genies, magic lamps, flying carpets… well, you get the picture. Wonderful music, sound effects, animated visuals on the dot matrix display… it all adds up to a great fun table – if it wasn’t for the problem with the positioning of the flippers at the bottom which can cause the occasional problems during play but I’ll come onto that later. It’s still one of the better tables in the bundle but it is hampered by a minor technical glitch.

Finally is Ripley’s Believe It or Not by Stern dating from 2004. Inspired by the series of books, television shows and museums celebrating the unusual and macabre, the table is a guide to the wonders, occult and strange  occurances around the world, giving the player the chance to literally explore the world as you play through the various game modes on the table. A fun table, plenty of variety in it’s modes and probably the most visually diverse in the table itself.

As with Zen Studios’ Zen Pinball 2, Farsight Studios have managed to nail down the most important part that is essential for any pinball game – ball physics. Without this, to be honest, there wouldn’t be any point in the rest of the game being developed by this is spot on. The ball behaves exactly as you would expect it to on all of the tables I have played making it feel extremely natural and simply adding to the realism of the game.

Controls are simple enough – the flippers are controlled with the L and R shoulder buttons, the right analogue stick or X are used to launch the ball and the d-pad or left stick are used to nudge the table. Both the circle and square buttons are used to change between the four different viewing options on offer for the game. Alternatively, the touch screen can be used to operate the flippers but I have always found that buttons are more responsive and give a better tactile feel when playing any pinball game. Also, as with Zen Pinball 2, the game can also be played in portrait mode but it is not as flexible as Zen Pinball 2. While the Vita auto adjusts as you turn from landscape to portrait, this only works in one direction so if you don’t turn the Vita the correct way, it won’t change to portrait mode, unlike ZP2 which will continually rotate and adapt the screen as you rotate the console.

The game has recently been updated with a new front end to access tables making it easier to not only see what tables you currently own but also see what is available to purchase and what has a Pro upgrade available. There is now also the opportunity for players to try tables out before purchasing them. Originally, gamers had little choice but to buy table packs and take a chance without getting the chance to see what tables were like in advance. Since giving the game an overhaul and changing the menu system to replicate the look found on tablets, players can now try tables out first which is a welcome addition, especially for those who may not have heard of or played the original tables in the arcades.

All of the tables have individual high scores, goals to achieve for the more accomplished player plus their own set of trophies so there is plenty for you to strive for. There are local high score tables in addition to leaderboards if you feel the need to challenge your friends, in addition to multiplayer support as well although this is limited to traditional multiplayer pinball games, passing the Vita from one player to another.

The game isn’t without its flaws and certainly the mixture of tables is somewhat hit-and-miss. There are design issues with some of the tables that still need to be addressed (something that Farsight are aware of) and the flipper positioning can make some tables unnecessarily frustrating. What this means is that there are problems that arise on some tables where one of the flippers is slightly mis-aligned so it is positioned on the table incorrectly. While this doesn’t affect gameplay in itself as you can adjust your playing style to what you see on screen, what it does mean is that it can affect the game in those instances where the ball is heading towards the centre of the table. Normally, you would be able to attempt to save the ball and keep it in play by using both flippers, but when they are out of alignment, even by a small margin, this becomes impossible.

The big gripe I do have with the game is the pricing structure. Not all of the tables – both in the bundle or in future expansions – are going to be to everyone’s taste. However, before you can even play a single table, you have to purchase this initial game. For players who may only be interested in specific tables, then that means buying tables that – to be blunt – you have no interest in. A better option would be for Farsight to adopt the same free core game mechanism used by Zen Pinball and then charge for all their table packs instead. While that may mean that some tables may be overlooked by some, it could make the game more popular in the long run.

While I’m not going to review any of the add-on packs here, of some of the ones that I have purchased I have found that I have only really found a single table appealing and given the option I would have prefered to have been able to purchase that as a stand-alone table instead. While I love pinball games, my interest lies more with the modern era tables so I do feel as if I am paying for tables that I am unlikely to play and am only getting half a game. While I appreciate the fact that the intention behind Pinball Arcade is to recreate as many classic tables as possible no matter what era they are from, there will be players like myself with little or no interest in tables from a certain time period.

Pinball Arcade does a fantastic job at recreating these classic tables and manages to bring the real arcade pinball experience to the home. It’s certainly not going to give you the arcade game feel that Zen Pinball 2 provides but that was never the intention. These are near-perfect replicas of a piece of arcade history and sadly for many of us, it’s as close as we’re going to get to being able to play many of these classic machines ever again. We’re incredibly luck as PlayStation Vita owners to have so much choice now with Zen Pinball 2 and The Pinball Arcade. We have almost 60 tables at our fingertips already with more being released all the time and if you have even a passing interest in pinball then you really need to own both. While the visuals and sound here won’t be as flashy, you won’t find a more authentic pinball game anywhere and for that, combined with the sheer variety of tables that are available, this is really an essential purchase.

Simon Plumbe

At A Glance

  • Title: The Pinball Arcade
  • Publisher: Farsight Studios
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: Yes
  • Online Multiplayer: No
  • Leaderboards: Yes
  • Local Multiplayer: Yes (passing the Vita between players)
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 123Mb (for the basic game – additional space required for each table pack)

Vita Player Rating - 08


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About Simon Plumbe 1081 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee:

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