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Pinball (NES) artwork

Pinball (NES) review


"What a stupid, stupid game. Itís pointless, itís repetitive, itís old, itís simple, itís unrealistic, and itís short. If I wanted to play pinball, I would play pinball, right? Or I would at least play a game that simulates it well. Why would I want to dig up this old fossil? Stupid, right? Perhaps. I keep telling myself that, but something inside me just doesnít listen. And I keep playing it. And playing it. I shouldnít though. Itís not really a good game. Or at least it shouldnít be. But it is ..."



What a stupid, stupid game. Itís pointless, itís repetitive, itís old, itís simple, itís unrealistic, and itís short. If I wanted to play pinball, I would play pinball, right? Or I would at least play a game that simulates it well. Why would I want to dig up this old fossil? Stupid, right? Perhaps. I keep telling myself that, but something inside me just doesnít listen. And I keep playing it. And playing it. I shouldnít though. Itís not really a good game. Or at least it shouldnít be. But it is anyway.

This was a first generation NES game; what could it do? There were a whopping three screens: the top, the bottom, and a mini game. There wasnít anywhere near as many bumpers and chutes and passageways as normal pinball games. You have your two flippers, the left controlled with the D-Pad and the right with one of the action buttons (yes, a two-button game). You hit the ball with these, hoping to get it into some of the high point areas, but mostly just to keep it from falling to the bottom, where it is lost. And you can try to get some bonuses like an extra little bumper in the space between your flippers, but they disappear over time. And the mini game is a glorified Breakout, where you must keep the ball from dropping below a paddle Marioís holding. Your secondary object there is to break Marioís girlfriend out of her cage above the playing area and then catch her before she falls, thus receiving lots of bonus points. And then itís back to the pinball game. Nope, thereís nothing else to it.

How can you possibly declare that to be a good game? Itís nothing like real pinball for one. Thereís not that much to do on the playing field, you canít tilt the machine, and thereís no distractions, buzzes, bells, or flashing lights. The ball seems to float its way through the playing field rather than zipping through it. Some of your bonuses, like the extra bumper at the top or the chance of a replay, are pointless, as they tend to disappear long before they can be useful. And thereís a certain amount of randomness to the game. Are you used to steadily progressing, and constantly doing better than the time before? Here, you can rack up 10,000 points before the ball even touches a flipper on one game, and then spend 20 minutes getting the next 10k. Or get used to having gaining 100,000 points with one ball, get excited at the prospect of beating your record, and staring helplessly as the next one rolls happily down the pit without any hope of rescue. You can improve, yes, but not enough to stop this cheapness.

Yet despite all this, despite the randomness and the floaty ball and the simplicity, thereís some glimmer of hope. This is still a Nintendo game, and some of those magical touches still manage to shine their way through to this simple game. With such simplicity, you would expect there to be little balance or no sense of strategy, but there is. The chute on the top left can give you around 1600 points, a hefty sum. But it also resets another bumper whose point value increases with each hit. So, in the long run, it could decrease your score. Getting the ball stuck between the three bumpers on the bottom screen may rack up lots of points, but thereís a chance the ball will shoot out and down the dreaded pit. And the biggest bonuses are the hardest to hit. You may consider these obvious design objectives, but it took me awhile to even consciously notice it. Itís so subtle, yet amazingly works well.

But these are just minor things, and certainly not enough to keep me coming back again and again. So what is it? These old games, with their simplicity and their randomness, present something of a challenge to you. Itís stupid and simple, and you should be smarter than it. If you can conquer Mario, which is infinitely more complex, this should be a piece of cake. You feel like you should never get a sub 100,000 game, and so feel flummoxed and embarrassed when nothing seems to go right and you end up with a paltry 20k points. And you resolve to keep playing until that never happens again. You know you canít ever become perfect, but subconsciously you refuse to accept that. And you can improve - your reflexes will get better and you will learn what types of hits will give you a better chance of scoring big. But when you get two lucky shots in a row, you think youíre on to something - until you try again and fail miserably. It is a constant affront to your human superiority, and it pains you knowing youíre still not good enough to master this simple game. You know you can break that high score. And you will keep trying. Itís not like these newer games youíre used to. You canít beat this one. But you refuse to accept that.

And so, despite its failings, I canít give it a bad score. Heck, video games that simulate pinball better are nowhere near as much fun as this, so maybe itís a good thing itís not realistic. Thereís just something to be said about simple unwinnable games. Sure, maybe my metaphor about the unbreakable will of the human spirit went a bit too far for some of you, but that's the way I feel. However, I canít honestly give it a good score, as itís not exactly a good game. But it is a fun game and addicting game. Try it out if the style intrigues you. Appreciate the simplicity and accept its faults and just play. Become the pinball wizard. There are far worse fates than that.

Rating: 6/10

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (October 08, 2005)

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