Dream Pinball 3D (Wii) review
"When you're playing and the ball is moving too quickly, it seems like the camera just isn't ready to follow it appropriately. The developers chose a default perspective where not everything fits all in one screen and thus the view will drift around to follow ball movement. Sometimes the ball knocks against something along the top portion of the table and then plummets straight down so that it's already dropping through a gap and into oblivion before you can even see where the flippers are."
Wii is well on its way to becoming the video pinball fan's system of choice, at least when such people are paying attention. First Crave brought us Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection, a stunning reproduction of numerous classic pinball tables. Now South Peak Games is on the case with Dream Pinball 3D, a grouping of six virtual tables that aren't modeled after actual machines but certainly feel like they might have been.
In the past, video pinball games have faltered by including either too few tables or by emphasizing stupid play mechanics that felt more like a low-budget video game than anything you'd ever see at the local bowling alley, laundromat or pizza parlor. Dream Pinball 3D nicely avoids such pitfalls by producing six tables that each feel genuine. The digitized voices and other ambient sounds perhaps go just a hair past what you'll find at the local bowling alley or pizza parlor, but none of it is incredible to the point of distraction.
Each of the six tables has a theme, and each theme is carried along not only by the vibrant backgrounds but by a digital voice of appropriate style. Knight Tournament, a medieval affair with the sounds of crowds gathered at an ancient fair or sporting event, is narrated sporadically by a man who sounds like an approving squire. Monsters, a haunting sort of arena that makes reference to a crypt, sounds like someone got Boris Karloff to provide the voices... on perhaps a day when he had a toothache and was feeling particularly menacing. With the exception of the ludicrously inept voice work in the Dino Wars setting--which features a lady who can't seem to get her voice inflection right for any of her cheesy lines--the audio does a nice job of going above and beyond the typical dings, cracks and gongs you'd expect from a pinball table.
Visually, the game looks about as nice as you'd hope. The tables feature vibrant and detailed background work. The numerous bumpers and ramps in the foreground are also presented attractively. It does feel like you're looking down at real tables. That's not to say everything is perfect, though; the game lets you choose whether you want a 'color filter' on or off, which basically amounts to picking which visual flaw you find most acceptable. With the filter removed, there are various reflective surfaces that look more realistic but can sometimes make it difficult to see things when the going gets hectic. That's the default viewpoint. You can also choose to block such effects, but then the definition isn't quite as sharp. Things don't look terribly blurry, but there's no question that they're less vivid.
Most players probably won't ever even touch the setting, since the biggest visual problem is actually a bit more noteworthy. When you're playing and the ball is moving too quickly, it seems like the camera just isn't ready to follow it appropriately. The developers chose a default perspective where not everything fits all in one screen and thus the view will drift around to follow ball movement. Sometimes the ball knocks against something along the top portion of the table and then plummets straight down so that it's already dropping through a gap and into oblivion before you can even see where the flippers are. Most of the time you can hazard a guess and save the ball, but such moments still serve as one of the game's few unfortunate shortcomings. They also can mostly be avoided, thankfully, because the developers yet again saw a problem and provide a potential fix. Pressing the d-pad on the Wii Remote lets you shift between seven options on the fly, including one that displays the entire table at once. It's an easy option to miss if you haven't read the instruction manual.
Some players may also find themselves bewildered by the play control. There are two options. As in Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection, the default one involves use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck device. The 'B' and 'Z' buttons on the appropriate devices allow you to control the right and left flippers, respectively. Launching the ball in the first place is what might cause issues for some people, though. It seems to work only if you first point the Wii Remote cursor at the screen, then replicate the gesture of pulling the controller away from the screen while holding the 'A' and 'B' buttons. It's a simple enough process, but its failure to result in any activity if you don't first point at the screen can be puzzling until you figure out the issue.
Ball launches aside, the control scheme works every bit as well here as it did in Pinball Hall of Fame. If you don't like to get fancy, there's also the option of holding the Wii Remote sideways like an old NES controller, though that hardly feels authentic.
A final point worth mentioning is the ability to select difficulty levels. By default, the tables feel quite fair and you have several balls available to you with each play. Besides that, tables will rescue the ball for you if you've just started playing and it takes an immediate (cheap) dive down the center lane. If you prefer, you can ramp up the difficulty to decrease your stock of balls and the duration of the 'ball save' function. Basically, you can decide just how cheap you want things to be. The default 'Easy' mode is precisely that, meaning that experienced players will likely tweak things slightly.
Thanks to the number of tables and the general level of options and polish (not to mention load times so acceptably brief that they warrant their own mention), Dream Pinball 3D comes admirably close to living up to its name. You'd do well to pick up Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection first because of its greater variety and more straight-forward presentation of pinball, but there are plenty of reasons to follow that purchase by grabbing a copy of Dream Pinball 3D. Topware Interactive and South Peak Games have done a fine job here and, after all, the price is tantalizingly reasonable. Twenty bucks for six excellent pinball tables? Sign me up!
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 25, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
If you enjoyed this Dream Pinball 3D review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!