Conservative and pinball simply don’t mix today. As pinball tables are slowly being phased from the pubs, arcades, bars and other public establishments, the purveyors of pinball try hard to turn the classic concept into something flashier and more interactive. That direction has resulted in a double-edged sword for pinball titles; with some pinball playing like they have little to do with flippers and balls and more to do with mini-games and shoot-em-ups.
Remarkably, 4Pocket’s 4Pinball title remains rather conservative in its approach to pinball. There are no LCD mini-games, no bouts of Space Invaders or Texas-style shootouts. There aren’t twelve flippers in the game, only two at the bottom and one at the top. There aren’t even crazy bonuses, like five or six balls in play at once or gratuitous special effects. 4Pinball’s bonuses, like extra ball, are just that: one extra ball. The lack of excess is actually rather refreshing and turns the game more into something about pinball rather than an arcade light show.
One of the most difficult things about putting pinball on an electronic screen is how much of the table you want the player to see. Too much and you’ll be unable to see the whole table to plot strategies and direct your pinball to the most profitable areas. Too little and you’ll have a hard time seeing the details and nuances of a board. 4Pinball takes the pinball player up close and most tables will span a few screen lengths vertically. The scrolling, luckily, is very smooth, as characteristic with most 4Pocket titles. And the ball’s animation and physics reflect that trait. While 4Pinball handles two or three screens fairly well, I found myself wishing for zoom options. The ability to zoom in and out might have reduced some of the scrolling.
4Pinball’s sound effects are spot on. Insofar as pinball titles go, the two tables coming with the game are exactly what they should sound like. The space table, for example, has the classic hammy sci-fi sounds we expect from the pinball era. Sprinkled throughout the pinball effects are digitized voice samples to notify you of bonuses and multipliers in effect.
While the effects are good and not too gratuitous, the effects for the pinball itself err on the weak side. When launched with the plunger, there isn’t enough bass or oomph to really convince me that a ball of steel was funneling down the barrel. That, however, is a minor complaint. The effects here are outstanding. I only wish there was an equally moody soundtrack accompanying the game.
Pinball physics are tough to emulate and serious pinball titles, like the classic Balls of Steel (insert joke here), are rarely matched, much less surpassed by the new breed of pinball games. 4Pinball isn’t exactly the measuring stick for realistic pinball. Neither can I really judge whether a title truly reflects pinball. My time at the arcades meant Street Fighter 2 and certainly didn’t include a diet of pinball games. I’m glad to say that this title does not have any of the common faults of amateur pinball titles. Pinballs didn’t stick to corners or walls. Pinballs weren’t floating around on the table. And pinballs weren’t making jerky or unsuspected bounces. The only thing suspect is the flipper, which is a little sticky.
While 4Pockets is dedicated to releasing expansion packs for their titles, only one table (Halloween) has so far been released for 4Pinball. By default, you only get two tables. Considering the price, this falls on the short side for a $14.95 US title.
There are so many titles released these days it’s hard to commit yourself to one or another on a regular basis. Checking news sites, the publisher/developer’s site and frequenting the forums can get old when next Tuesday brings a shiny new game along. At some point, you’ll wonder why you’re waiting for the next patch or add-on to make your purchase worthwhile. However, as long as you remain diligent and follow up on 4Pinball, I’m sure 4Pockets will reward you with more tables. As a pinball title, this isn’t a bad one at all.
[08/10] Program Size
[14/15] Learning Curve