It is rare that a company creates a pinball game on its own, out of love for the actual game itself. Recently, Midway proclaimed that even they were finding the arcade coin-op market too tough to consider it a viable platform. As such, I don't know whether pinball is doing so well in this day and age, with the advent of everything from Dance Dance Revolution to first person shooters, complete with mouse, like Outtrigger. I have to confess, I was probably too young to be a part of the generation that liked to call pinball their own. The last pinball game that I found to be pure fun was Balls of Steel (I guess even the title is a bit tongue in cheek).
Ratbag, the developers of Dirt Track Racing (DTR) Pinball, originally composed other racing simulations like Leadfoot. It is, without a doubt, a marketing and development initiative now to expand one's bread and butter into other genres. Might and Magic, X-COM, Star Wars, Final Fantasy and countless other franchises seem to exude this type of
creativity, trying to captivate audiences of different genres with the primacy they have in their own niche. The recently released Legends of Might and Magic is testament to this fact. It is essentially a clone of Counterstrike, the popular Half-Life mod based on loose realism of counter-terrorism. What does a game like Might and Magic with its swords and sorcery have to do with counter-terrorism? My thinking is, not much at all.
So what does DTR Pinball have to do with racing in general? Well, it doesn't seem like there is much of a connection. DTR Pinball has you playing the game of pinball but instead of the old dot-matrix style games, the overall theme here is racing. Accomplishing certain tasks let you do things like advance in number of laps, choose different drivers and of course, upgrade your vehicle. DTR's presentation is faithful to its developer's other games in style and motif. However, I often wished there were some more flare applied on to the boards. Of course, with two boards to play on, the result seems to be an incredible oversight, especially if they are both based on similar concepts. I liked the fact that DTR Pinball has an informative screen that lists explicitly what you have to hit during your pinball game to achieve certain objectives.
Beyond that though, both boards are presented in slick graphics, especially at higher resolutions. There is a tremendous amount of panning by default because your viewing area at the lowest video resolution is just about the same as the video at the highest resolution. Luckily, the action is portrayed quickly and I did not encounter any slowdowns. One thing I kept wanting was to push the dot-matrix board to the top of the screen. Surely that would have been an easy thing to do if an option were included. As I'm not a pinball guru, I cannot accurately critique the actual physics of the pinball game. Suffice to say, I didn't have any problems with balls sticking or doing anything that defies my sense of Newtonian physics. I found the racing portion of DTR Pinball a little too much for the actual game of pinball. You have to manage an overarching race, per say, rather than deal with pinball's usual mini-games; self-contained nuggets of fun in
themselves. It is true that usually the mini-games have nothing to do with the pinball board itself, yet I found myself wanting a more arcade-like experience. Novice players can opt to choose between several levels of difficulty although play and style are basically the same. Ball-saver times are noticeably extended on easier settings.
I remember the old pinball games from Epic had wonderful MOD-style music attached to them. The music here is a bit lacklustre and the voiceovers, although authentic to the 'dirt track racing' roots, did not excite me all that much. DTR Pinball is structured so that you enter the game through a shell program. After you select a track, the actual game engine starts thereafter. There were instances where I tried to exit the pinball engine only to find that the shell program still assumes my game is in progress. The only way to get around that is to hunt down and terminate the actual DTR Pinball processes on your computer or restart the computer completely.
It is hard in this day and age to find any developers that will take the pinball arena seriously in its own right. It has almost become the niche market of a niche market. Often times, pinball games are developed like first person shooters, where licenses spill over to it. I'm told repeatedly that value titles are bound to gross more, so perhaps it is all a ploy to soften up multi-million dollar duds in the PC market. This title seems neither too serious nor too fun (unless you are a serious 'dirt track' racing fan). Both Star Trek and Fox's lucrative movie licenses (Aliens, Predator) did not do well in the pinball arena based on their licenses alone. Compared to three or four year old titles like Balls of Steels or Pro-Pinball: Timeshock, DTR Pinball seems to be lacking in variety and even technologically, as those games featured alluring dynamic lighting and surround sound, among other features. It is this facet that makes it hard to recommend DTR Pinball today.