Metroid Prime Pinball (DS) review
"So if Metroid Prime Pinball has taken its visual presentation a step further than most, does that mean to say its gameplay has been similarly endowed? Flipping Samus' morphball around the screen in search of bonus multipliers and basic game modes could have been fun. A full convergence of Metroid Prime sensibilities however, would be off the scale. "
From the Twilight Zone to Star Wars, Judge Dredd and our boy Gilligan, it used to be said you were only a part of popular culture once there was a pinball table named after you. It didn't matter how big your name was, or how well known your sounds were, until you had those metallic balls and a dusty corner in a bowling alley somewhere, you were nothing. All that however, was 10 years ago and things have changed: pinball has suffered a decrease in popularity while your local bowling alley is probably a Starbucks. And yet with so many reasons not to bother, Nintendo are looking to carry on the tradition with Metroid Prime Pinball... your next reason to pick up a DS.
Stranger things have happened
By all rights, Metroid Prime Pinball shouldn't have been this good. When the title was first announced earlier this year, fans of the Gamecube First Person Adventure (don't call it a Shooter!) were expecting little more than a throw away pinball sim... how wrong we were. It wasn't supposed to integrate key, Metroid Prime play mechanics, nor were we expecting it to fit the sublime aesthetics of the license so well. Nintendo have obviously learned from their mistakes with Mario Pinball, and through experience, have crafted what is arguably the finest digital flip'em up ever to grace a portable system.
Now if this had been any other genre, that statement might have sounded excessive. Digital pinball however, isn't any other genre, and it's probably the one most in need of development. Take for instance the way other sims have presented the typically standard ball action, dressing the play-field up with a few cosmetic touches and a familiar theme song or three. They look pretty good and play quite well, but they're still not taking full advantage of what the digital realm has to offer. Metroid Prime Pinball on the other hand, explodes out of the starting gate as players are dropped onto the surface of Tallon and thusly rolled off into battle. Metroids hover their way across the screen while a torrent of rain hails down from above. Lightning and thunder then create a suitable air of tropical humidity, reminding players of the Gamecube classic and establishing authenticity.
So if Metroid Prime Pinball has taken its visual presentation a step further than most, does that mean to say its gameplay has been similarly endowed? Flipping Samus' morphball around the screen in search of bonus multipliers and basic game modes could have been fun. A full convergence of Metroid Prime sensibilities however, would be off the scale. Good news then everyone: we're heading into uncharted territory. Scattered around each of the primary two tables (and subsequent four bonus ones) are a number of artifacts that can only be unlocked once a challenge has been completed. And it's only by unlocking each artifact in turn that players are able to move up through the pecking order, ultimately coming face-to-face with some of the game's many boss characters.
Of course, the challenges themselves are fairly basic, and mostly consist of players striking out at a series of rampaging nasties. Space Pirates launch guided missiles at your morph ball, damaging it with each impact, while the ever present Metroid threat will try to attack and drain Samus of what energy she has left. Should you conquer these opponents however, players are rewarded with a new table where the process begins again... only with renewed vigor. Combat mode for example, allows Samus to emerge from her morphball, drawing a defensive line of firepower above the flippers in order to gun down the advancing hordes. Goo flies, beetles shriek, and your attention is glued to the screen as another extra ball draws near.
Metroid Prime Pinball though, isn't always about the big bang. It's the quiet moments between each challenge that impress the most. From some unusually tight physics to the robust, almost intuitive ball control, virtually every aspect of this game has polish to spare. The tables themselves have been brilliantly designed, their thoughtful layout serving to instill a natural flow to the action that only increases the title's overall appeal. Ramp shots can be combo'd with the greatest of ease, earning players some meaty bonus points as well as the opportunity to pick up an extra artifact. To be sure, digital pinball rarely gets this good, and Nintendo need to be congratulated for all their hard work. They've gone above and beyond the call of duty with the graphics, pumped up the variety, and extended the genre's playability, yet it seems they're just getting started...
You see, Metroid Prime Pinball's biggest surprise comes in the form of its free rumble pack. Fitting into the DS' GBA port, its gentle knocking motions match the flipper on ball action to a tee, providing the final piece of immersion needed to draw players in. So precise is it in fact, pinball veterans should have no problems gauging the exact speed, direction, and spin of the ball... just as they might with a real machine. But as good as that gets, the question remains: why can't players post their best scores online? In a shocking oversight, Nintendo have failed to capitalize on the DS' impending Wi-Fi status with a global leader-board of some sort. I mean really, if Nanostray can do it, why can't Samus?
Even still, I can't recommend Metroid Prime Pinball enough. Nintendo have shown they're capable of learning from their mistakes, and eventually exceeding even the best the genre has to offer. Should I complain, I might mention the lack of bonus materials and supplemental game modes, but do such things really matter? The ability to warp between tables during gameplay breaks up the challenge nicely, and failing that there's always the option to hunt out a number of hidden artifacts. So really, what are you waiting for? Hit your local Starbucks, grab a Frappuccino, and indulge in the joy that is Metroid Prime Pinball. It'll be just like 10 years ago, only with less noise and a lot more whoa...
* It plays like pinball, but feels like Metroid Prime
* Awesome physics and ball control
* Six tables ensure variety
* There's a nice number of challenges to be had
* Metroid Prime Pinball has a wonderful flow about it
* Weapon power-ups? In a pinball game?!
* Nintendo's new rumble pack works a treat
* Each table has been beautifully rendered
* The reworked Metroid Prime soundtrack is a great touch
* Some supplemental extras might have been nice
* Where's the Wi-Fi leader-board?
Staff review by Michael Scott (November 13, 2005)
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