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Metroid Prime Pinball (DS) artwork

Metroid Prime Pinball (DS) review

"The amalgamation of genres so inherently different usually elicits a three-letter internet acronym from many a videogamer that begins with a "W" and ends with an "F". This is precisely the reception that Metroid Prime: Pinball got when it was announced, not only because Nintendo rolled up a first person adventure into a tiny pinball, but also because - well - "'s just a pinball game." Further, because developer Fuse Games was also responsible for the utterly mundane Mario Pinball land, it a..."

The amalgamation of genres so inherently different usually elicits a three-letter internet acronym from many a videogamer that begins with a "W" and ends with an "F". This is precisely the reception that Metroid Prime: Pinball got when it was announced, not only because Nintendo rolled up a first person adventure into a tiny pinball, but also because - well - "'s just a pinball game." Further, because developer Fuse Games was also responsible for the utterly mundane Mario Pinball land, it all seemed to roll up into a recipe for disaster. However Metroid Prime: Pinball is undeniably fun to the point that even if you're not a pinball fan, it's worth quite a few rounds of play before deciding whether or not to cast it away altogether.

Metroid Prime: Pinball makes strong first impressions with its aesthetic presentation, kickstarting your experience with the same great sci-fi audio mix that you can find in Metroid Prime for the Gamecube. The low, gutteral chanting and squirming backdrop music from the Memory Card screen in Metroid Prime makes its return here to open the game, and though it's sadly missing the great melody that carries the theme, it still sets the mood correctly. When you choose your game mode and drop into a table, the game treats you to an almost perfect rendition of that table's respective theme from the console experience. Phendrana Drifts' delicate opening piano is replicated perfectly through the DS speakers (better through headphones of course). The heroic and recognizable Metroid theme rings loud and clear in the Space Frigate, and be ready for the frantic Ghost theme to kick in when you kick off a Space Pirate challenge.

Not only does the music bring back the Prime experience, however. The sound effects are also incredibly strong here. Sure, you've got your typical bumps and clashes that are expected of a pinball experience. That's not all though. Monster screeches and explosions are taken directly from Metroid Prime, the better with which to re-create the Prime world in video pinball form.

One could expect a blase reaction to the statement, "This is a fine looking pinball game." However, this game shows that it's possible for even a mere pinball game to look impressive. Everything spans both screens constantly, without any scrolling. This eliminates some of the confusing tracking issues present in most video pinball experiences, and it only takes half a minute to get used to the big "blind spot" in the middle of the DS screens. Each of the six tables available in the game are crafted to directly mimic some of the varied environments you came across on Metroid Prime, such as Phendrana Drifts, Tallon's Overworld and the Phazon Mines. (The Magmoor Caverns are a noticeable omission, however.) The backdrops are impeccably detailed - the Tallon Overworld, for example, mixes a few bright flashy lights from a traditional pinball experience with tiny waterfalls, foliage and Samus' ship docked neatly in the corner. Some of the meatier bosses from the game also make star appearances here with much visual aplomb, animating smoothly as they dwarf Samus in her tiny morph-ball form and the other nasty creatures that skitter about on the table.

These bosses aren't just set-pieces, however. They actually set out to attack Samus, and she must respond in kind. One of the most appealing factors of video pinball is that developers can craft physically impossible experiences from a videogame franchise into a traditional pinball shell. Metroid Prime: Pinball is perhaps the finest example of bringing in such thematic minigames, thrusting you into the aforementioned boss battles in order to garner higher scores and nab the artifact pieces needed to unlock new tables. The Omega Pirate from the Phazon Mines, for example, throws energy waves your way as you deftly attempt to knock Samus into him with the table's flippers. Collecting a missile powerup and activating "Combat mode" allows you to actually fire missiles into his belly.

Ah yes, Combat mode. What Metroid game would be complete without shooting? Metroid Prime: Pinball makes sure Samus gets to squeeze off a few rounds at baddies by incorporating the Combat mode into the tables. Achieving certain table objectives to light up the table's "SAMUS" logo opens a hatch in the middle that, when you flip Samus into it, morphs her into normal form. You can then aim her fire in a wide cone to eliminate one of the many species of Tallon creatures that will spawn to come after her. Succeed, and you get the big bonus. Fail, and you get the big "MISSION FAILED" banner, before being thrust back into normal pinball mode.

Minigames like this are distributed throughout the entire experience; in addition to the shooting of creatures and boss characters, you'll also be tasked to knock into pools of Phazon, run over parasites, eliminate Metroids and antlions by tricking them with morphball bombs just like in the console experience, and even collecting artifacts at the top of wall-jump segments. It all fits within the Metroid theme, and it all manages to be simple, fun, and fast paced, never taking you out of the action too long to make you forget that your main objective was to knock Samus around ramps and bumpers for as long as you could.

It's easy to fall into the trap of cluttering a video pinball game with minigame experiences and goals in an effort to mask uninspired table design. (You'd be forgiven if you cast distastefully menacing glares at Mario Pinball Land's direction right about now.) Metroid Prime: Pinball comes through with some pretty decent designs on some tables, with plenty of ramps and bumpers to satisfy your pinballing needs. Other tables are disappointingly almost all about the boss battles, and are nearly devoid of anything to do except smash into baddies and bump the dreadfully occasional bumper. Fortunately for those tables, the boss battles are intense enough that you almost forget that there's nothing else to do, and when you win, you're almost immediately whisked off to another table with potentially more involving scenery.

The touch screen is actually used to tilt the table in this game, and sadly it's pretty ineffective. The good old days of jerking a pinball machine left or right to cheat your way into saving a ball are gone, because touch screen tilt simply sucks. Mechanically it's alright - you drag on the screen the direction you want to tilt. Personally, contrary to most reports I had no problem using my thumb quickly. The real issue here is that the tilting action just doesn't push your ball enough, if at all. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to actually verify if the ball is even affected by the tilt at all. The bottom line though is that I've never used any tilting in pinball games, video or real, and it's a feature not much missed during my experience. Depending on your tilt-reliance, your mileage may vary.

The only other and admittedly niggling issue I have with this title is that there really are only six tables to play around with, half of which are boss-dominated. The game opens with you only having access to two of them. You must unlock the rest of them in "Multi-Mission" mode, which has you completing minigames to collect artifacts. In turn, this allows you to access the other stages. As you unlock these levels, they are accessible in "Single Mission" mode, which is tantamount to an old school, single table pinball challenge. I can't help but feel that there could have been other great tables to include, such as the frigate after it crashes underwater or the Magmoor Caverns as I alluded to before.

However, well designed tables are supposed to last pick-up-and-play gamers a good while, and the better ones here do that just fine. If you spent hours and hours on end mastering the intricacies of classic one-table pinball gems like High Speed on the NES, then you'll have no problem with the fact that there are just six tables here. If you still get bored, just invite over a few DS-owning friends for some multiplayer score challenge. Only one card is needed, which is a definite plus. Just be sure to understand the bone-headed client-server interface before you try and set up a game, lest your friends get impatient with you.

Metroid Prime: Pinball is simply a quality product. The fact that it's an absurd mix of two completely different concepts doesn't hinder its enjoyability one iota, nor does its seeming "let's use one of our biggest-name franchises" cash-cow concept. Easily catapulting the boring Mario Pinball Land for Gameboy Advance and attaining the high variety of the NES great High Speed, Metroid Prime: Pinball does so much right that its flaws shouldn't come close to deterring any DS-owner from giving it a good play through. If you hate pinball games, perhaps it won't change your view. But if you hated pinball games, you probably wouldn't have read this review.

mrchupon's avatar
Community review by mrchupon (April 06, 2006)

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