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Pinball (NES) artwork

Pinball (NES) review

"Some games are timeless. Others are NES Pinball."

You can tell by looking at it that Pinball was an early NES game. It arrived in stores the same day the system reached North America, and it served as the only game of its kind for the console in those early days. Unfortunately for Pinball, such titles have come a long way since then.

Mechanically, Pinball feels fine. The physics are consistent and the controls are suitably simple and responsive. Strangely, the game offers two different sets of physics. Mode A feels like a beginner's mode. The ball moves slowly and feels light. Mode B ups the speed a bit and adds a bit of weight to the ball. Both modes serve their purpose depending on your skill level or your mood, but it feels strange to switch between the two.

Pinball deals with the limited vertical resolution of the NES in a clever way. The table is broken into two separate areas that are interconnected. If the ball falls through the hole along the bottom side of the bottom of the top table, it moves to the bottom table, which features its own separate set of targets and objects. There are several ways to maneuver the ball back to the top table, but it's not easy.

Pinball is quite simple, even for a pinball game. There are no events, multiballs, or complicated rules. There’s no tilt function and there are no time limits. The purpose of every object on the table is obvious from the start. When the slots on the top table start spinning, your goal is, naturally, to stop all three slots on the same image. When your ball passes in front of a card, it flips over. Obviously, something good will happen if you flip over all five (in this case, a “block post” appears between the flippers, helping to keep your ball in play for longer). There aren't really any secrets to find or special tricks that are difficult to figure out as you play the game.

The most complicated part of the package is the bonus stage, which is accessed when you shoot the ball into a hole on the bottom table. This starts a mini-game that is reminiscent of Breakout. You control Mario, who is holding a platform above his head. The ball bounces off the platform, hopefully passing by the three columns of four lights, cycling through their colours. Once all of the lights in a column are glowing the same colour, a tile on the overhead ceiling will shrink. If it disappears entirely, a woman will fall through the hole. Mario can catch her and bring her to safety, and you'll get a nice point bonus for doing so. Whether you fail or succeed, ending the bonus stage will fire the ball back into the top table.

Aside from that bonus stage, Pinball is mostly pretty bland. The soundtrack consists of two jingles. There’s one for the title screen and one that plays once you save the woman in the bonus stage or accomplish something major. The general sound effects are serviceable but nothing special. Backgrounds are all plain black (as was the style for NES games at the time) and there's really nothing on the screen that can't be interacted with in some way. The only sense of progression comes from the fact that the flippers turn invisible once you reach 100,000 points. (They return when you hit 150,000.)

This game's biggest disappointment is the lack of tables. A bit of variety would have gone a long way, but the game only includes the single two-level table. Once you get tired of it, that's it; you're tired of the whole game. It's too bad, because the mechanics are sound and a proper selection of stages that took advantage of them would have been appreciated.

Pinball is a relic of a bygone era. It was a nice game to have in your home in the 80s, but pinball has come a long way since then. Small in both scale and scope, the title doesn't really hold up well in a world that provides options like Zen Pinball or The Pinball Arcade. Pinball served its purpose at one time, but there's not much reason to revisit it now.

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (April 08, 2013)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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