"The control scheme is pure perfection. Controlling the flippers means holding the Nunchuck device in your left hand and squeezing the 'Z' trigger to move that paddle, while holding the Wii Remote in your right hand and squeezing the trigger. The effect is that you almost feel as if you're hunched over an actual pinball table."
I like pinball and I like video games. You'd think that would make me the perfect target for any video game that melts those two interests together, but it really doesn't. Pinball video games, I've found, quite frequently aren't worth playing. That doesn't stop me from trying new ones out when I get the chance, though, and I'm glad. If I'd given up hope too early, I'd have missed out on pinball nirvana. I'd have missed out on Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection.
The pleasingly competent collection gathers together 10 unique tables that Williams released from the late 70s all the way into the early 90s. Considering all those retro video game compilations that have been in style lately, 10 might not seem like much. It barely even hits double digits! Each selection, though, is painstakingly rendered in three dimensions and imbued with nearly perfect physics. You can see the coin slot, the little sticker that talks about multi-play and there are even old fliers to examine that promoted these machines back in the day. Once a ball is in play, it also responds just as it should to each of the various bumpers and slides, loops and pockets. The resulting experience isn't dissimilar from stepping into an old recreation center crowded with glorious pinball tables.
Though the reproduction of each unit is excellent, the selection of tables itself is more difficult to rate. The developers seemed more interested in showcasing diversity and appealing to nostalgia than in gathering together those offerings that could most easily be adapted for video pinball (plus they were limited to tables produced only by Williams, a fine manufacturer but certainly not the only name in the business). Some of the selections here kick total butt and some of them are simply dreadful. Fortunately, it's mostly the former that you'll find.
Take “Whirlwind,” a table where you light up arrows and eventually set spinners going like little tornadoes. As the table's garbled voice yells at you to find shelter, the effect really is that you feel like a little coward fleeing in the face of an impending storm.
“Funhouse” is another example of a great table. There's a clown-faced head along one side and you'll hear the fun house builder taunting you and complimenting you as you knock its various bumpers and send the ball plummeting into black openings. Then the freakish head opens its mouth and if you can line up a shot, you can score some serious points.
So it goes with one table after another, from “Pinbot” with sockets where you can place balls that serve as eyes, to “Space Shuttle” with a mission countdown, to “Taxi” with its high-speed loops and a parade of passengers you must deliver to their stops in exchange for a chance at a mounting jackpot. Most tables have a unique and interesting gimmick, plus a variety of rewarding ways to play.
Of course, there are a few total misses. The worst offender is “Jive Time,” which seems to have been designed for the sole purpose of driving me insane. Every edge and curve is positioned just right so that the ball shoots directly down the center of the table between my two flippers, or to the far left and right where there's nothing to be done about it (shaking the Wii Remote to rock the table is useless except to nudge a ball out of a tight fix). If there has ever been a more frustrating pinball table in the history of the game, I've yet to see it.
Another questionable selection is “Gorgar,” but at least that has the moody atmosphere and a general sense that even though the table's design is a bit vicious, it's at least fair. Most of the time when the ball sinks down one of the unprotected alleys, you'll feel that you could have prevented the catastrophe or at least seen it coming.
Don't stress too much if you've never been great at pinball, either. Each table is accompanied by detailed instructions that outline not only the general point and gimmick of each unit—with helpful illustration—but also the array of scoring opportunities. After sorting through all of that useful information, you'll feel like a champ.
Another nice touch is the system of challenges that are available here. Each table comes with its share of objectives. Completing them all allows you to play as much as you like on that particular unit without dipping into your virtual currency. Goals range from standard things like scoring 100,000 points on “Jive Time” (a feat I can't accomplish for the life of me) to racking up ridiculous combos on Space Shuttle. Most of these are quite nifty. There's definitely a sense of accomplishment when text pops up onto the screen to let you know that you've engineered another pinball triumph.
That's all great news, but ultimately the skeptic in you must be wondering “But how can video pinball ever compare to the real thing?” The answer, of course, is that it can't. Not entirely. Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection for Wii comes closer to doing so than any of its predecessors, though. The control scheme is pure perfection. Controlling the flippers means holding the Nunchuck device in your left hand and squeezing the 'Z' trigger to move that paddle, while holding the Wii Remote in your right hand and squeezing the trigger. The effect is that you almost feel as if you're hunched over an actual pinball table. Even launching new balls with the analog stick feels pretty close to right.
When you consider the attention to detail, the variety in objectives and the general quality of most of the tables in its collection, Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection becomes a noteworthy release. When you add in the general feel of authenticity allowed by Wii's control setup and you consider the $30 price point, it becomes an absolute must-buy for any pinball freak. Someone actually got it right. Finally!
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 19, 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.
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