The Pinball Arcade: Digital Simulations of Real Pinball Tables
Digitally Delightful Pinball
Farsight Studio's The Pinball Arcade is an awesome game that first appeared in the Steam Store on November 4, 2013. Steam, for those unfamiliar, is a major digital distribution platform that is the main way gamers get their PC games in this day and age. There are other platforms, such as EA's Origin, or online stores such as Humble Bundle's Humble Store and Good Old Gaming as well, but Steam is nonetheless one of the bigger and more successful platforms available. It also offers things that The Humble Store and Good Old Gaming in the realm of communities; that is you can add friends, join in on discussions, set up a profile page, and more. The Pinball Arcade is also available on a host of other platforms, such as iOS, OSX, home gaming consoles (e.g. Xbox One, PS3, etc), and even mobile Android phones. Linux, Wii U, and 3DS ports have been proposed too. The game is played via keyboard and mouse on PC (or just keyboard), but you can also plug in controllers and play that way as well - there's even a vibration feature for when the ball gets whacked around. I personally love using my Afterglow controller as it'll blink its red lights as it vibrates. Almost like playing a real table. There is multiplayer, but it's only local and it's hot seat, meaning that players will alternate turns rather than play at the same time.
So what is The Pinball Arcade? Simply put, it's a pinball simulation video game developed by FarSight Studios that aims to faithfully recreate real pinball tables for gamers everywhere to enjoy. Yes, that's right: real, actual pinball tables that you may have played in an arcade. With The Pinball Arcade you can enjoy classic tables like Addams Family, T2: Judgement Day, Victory, Black Hole, Cirqus Voltaire, Class of 1812, The Black Knight (and its sequel, Black Knight 2000) and more. What's even better is FarSight is working on adding even more tables, and tends to update their game with new tables on a regular basis, so what you may see now will definitely not be the end. Tables are available in either small packs of one to three tables, or Season Packs, where you get all the tables to that specific season, including any tables that are added to the latest season - that is, if you buy the latest season (as of this writing, it's Season Five) you get all the tables currently released, as well as any new tables released for that particular season with no extra charge. Of course, it doesn't stop there as Season Packs can either be bought in normal packs or Pro Packs that come with extra content, such as the ability to adjust specific settings for the tables in the season and pro tips from real pinball champions. The Pinball Arcade is free to download, and comes with one free table: Tales of Arabian Nights, an awesome action-packed fantasy table where you journey to defeat an evil genie and rescue a beautiful princess. Who knew pinball games could be so epic?
If you're worried about purchasing tables but not enjoying them have no fear: each table can be taken for a demo play where you can game on until your score is high enough to place on the High Score Table. Even though the game ends then and there you can always go back and play the table again until you hit that high score. It's a nice way to test out tables and see what's out there, and it's great that FarSight incorporated this feature so gamers can try before they buy. In addition, there's always a table that'll have unlimited free play for the month.
How Much Experience Do You Have With Pinball?
Digitized Arcade Fun
One of the really great aspects of TPA is the level of effort and detail that are FarSight puts into the digitization of these tables. I've played some of these tables in real life and playing them on TPA is a blast and almost just as fun as playing them in a real arcade. Every light, every sound effect, bonus feature, mechanism, all of it have been faithfully recreated for TPA. In addition, there's now support for Direct X 11, so if you've got yourself a gaming rig you can gain access to even more detail and special effects, including advanced lighting, shading, reflections, and more that really bring the most out of FarSight's work.
And boy oh boy are there certainly lots of mechanisms! Take the above pictured table, Black Hole, which has its unique miniature field. To those who haven't experienced this old but incredible table, in Black Hole your ball can get trapped in the smaller miniature field. When this happens the camera zooms into it, the field lights up, and it'll take about as much skill as you can muster to successfully open the drain gate to reenter the main play field successfully. In addition this miniature field has lots of targets to hit that will increase your score in various ways and up your multiplier so you can rack up even bigger points. If you mess up though, your ball gets spat back out onto the main field but on the fast track to draining. It's a very exciting high risk high reward situation. It's one of my more favorite tables mainly for that reason, and the primitive sounding electronic voices that come from the game give it that nice retro charm.
And that's only one of the many tables, each with their own gimmicks and mechanisms that keep games fast paced, frantic, and fun. I myself used to just hit the pinball around when I was a kid, but since I started playing TPA I've started paying more attention to the rules for each table and learning the ins and outs of each table.
It's All In the Rules
Those who are unfamiliar with the rules of pinball won't need to worry; each table has its own Instructions that will walk you through all the various mechanics and features, as well as tips on how to score big such as how to up the multiplier for your score and getting into the more exciting modes such as Multiball. As seen in the picture to the side, these guides literally walk you through step-by-step, showing you each mechanic on the table and explaining its purpose, as well as showing the different areas for what you need to hit. So for an example, if you have to shoot up the ramp in Twilight Zone to start the Powerball Mode, it'll tell you the ramp you need to shoot up by either zooming in to that ramp or showing an arrow pointing to that ramp as well as informing you of any additional requirements. This is also another excellent time to see the large amount of detail and effort put into the table as well. Those looking to master these tables should really take a walk through these modes and get a grasp on how to score big on these tables. The walk throughs are also user controlled, so you'll be able to go through them at your own pace without having to worry about the game going by too fast. You can also skip ahead to specific parts as well, so if you need to review real quick on how to activate Powerball on Twilight Zone you can skip right to that instead of clicking through the entire guide.
Each table also has a set of challenges, called "Table Goals" and "Wizard Goals", for you to complete, and are usually based around the rules or modes of the table. For example, one of the Table Goals on Theatre of Magic is to get your ball into the Haunted Basement. However, upon completion of the Table Goals the Wizard Goals are unlocked which provide a greater challenge than the normal Table Goals. So to use Theatre of Magic again one of its Wizard Goals is completing the Grand Finale, a difficult to reach mode that requires the completion of four difficult-to-achieve objectives. The perk behind completing these, other than bragging rights and Achievements, is the ability to turn off the Tilt Sensor for the table - though you sacrifice being able to have your name put on the highscore table. But I suppose that's a fair trade off.
In between bouts of whacking the ball around you can check out some bonus content for each table as well. When playing a table for the first time, a short blurb will appear and give you a good handful of information about the table including when it was made and by who, the unique mechanics of the table, the designer, and even how many units of that table were made. If you ever want to re-read the blurb for that table it's available in that table's options menu.
There's more extra material as well, such as the original fliers for the tables, and of course if you bought the Pro Season Packs you get even more stuff, such as tips and tricks by real life pro pinball players and even access to some extra options for the tables. It's nice little bonus trivia for the pinballers who like to know more than just simply how to win at the table they've picked. There's some bonus content you can pay for as well, mainly in the form of extra skins for your pinball. You do start out with a small collection of ball skins as well, such as a black/white swirl stripe pattern, a gold, red, and blue ball, and even a happy face.
So I would definitely recommend this game all the way. I was a pinball newcomer when I started, and now I would venture to call myself a causal player, but a causal player that's fascinated with the different tables and their mechanisms. TPA is lots of fun to play and it's really nice to see all the different pinball tables and all the various gimmicks and mechanics each one tried to pull off (usually very successfully). It's honestly the closest one can get to playing actual pinball without coming up with the money for an actual table - which in of itself is expensive, to say nothing about finding out where to keep the table as well as electricity costs - or driving out to find a local arcade that has (working) arcade tables. That last one can be a little frustrating at times, as there's plenty of arcades with tables that are in need of being repaired. Though if you want to get a little closer to playing actual pinball you could always invest in a controller like the X-Arcade Joystick; there's even specially-made joysticks with digital pinball playing in mind. In addition, some new graphical features recently debuted for TPA, namely in the "DirectX11" graphics mode. This powerful graphics mode will take a lot of firepower, but boy is it worth it as it brings your tables to life with even better textures, effects, and full on lighting effects as well that include being able to adjust how bright the table's bulbs are or how bright the room you're playing in is.
So go on and give it a try. After all, you do get Tails of the Arabian Nights for free, free table demos, and even a free table of the month. You just might find yourself sucked into the world of Digital Pinball...and perhaps even real life pinball! See you all around next time, and remember: treat the table with respect. Or else it just might cost you your high score.