To the dismay of pinball fans everywhere, Williams recently
announced that they were shutting down their pinball division. It
is my sad duty to report the death of PC pinball as well: the latest
Pro Pinball offering is a step backwards for the series. It not only
fails to excite, but shows that perhaps there is just no more room
for improvement in this genre. Obviously influenced by the works
of Jules Verne, Fantastic Journey pits you against the evil General
Yugov, who wants to blow up the moon. You are aided on the way
by various steam-powered devices. None of this really matters, as
the game does nothing to progress the story.
Here's a snippet of hype: "A revolutionary changing play field,
where amazing steam-powered contraptions such as the Drill,
Boat, Submarine and Balloon appear to change the gameplay."
The key word here is APPEAR. The thing pops up, and then... you
continue to shoot the same targets for points and combos. This is
a really bland table. Two sets of drop targets, two ramps, some
out-of-the-way bumpers, one spinner, and one set of flippers.
Didn't we learn 10 years ago that at least two sets of flippers are
necessary to maintain enough interaction to keep players
Another aspect of PPFJ being hyped is the color dot-matrix
display. Gee, that's great, but where are the display mini-games?
Very few are here, and they're not that exciting. Indeed, "not that
exciting" sums up the game as a whole. There's no sense of
progression, and even multiball falls flat in terms of generating
any kind of frenzy. Just look at the wide-open space in the center
of the board. One well-placed bumper there would have done
wonders to speed up the pace of the game. Instead, it's a total
yawnfest. I had to force myself to keep playing.
Controls are the same as ever: left flipper, right flipper, launch,
and 3 directions of nudge. There is one new control: Magnosave,
which will occasionally save your ball from a quick death down
the left-hand lane. Nice to have, but hardly revolutionary. The
operator's menu gives the usual assortment of fine tuning options.
Unfortunately, none of them allows you to turn up the "fun".
The few sound effects are irritating, but worse is the voice acting.
After a few minutes of play, you'll be begging General Yugov and
Professor Steam to shut the hell up. If I have to hear the Prof say
"it appears that LUCK is lit" one more time, I will introduce him to
a few steam-powered devices of my own design. The music as
well is annoying pseudo-funk, a big letdown after the great music
that propelled Big Race USA.
Despite Empire's new lighting engine, there are no noticeable
enhancements in the graphics. The table is shiny and detailed,
but prone to annoying patches of slowdown, particularly during
multiball (6 ball maximum, as opposed to last year's 10 balls). The
color dot matrix is not used well enough to be satisfying, and the
"contraptions" slowly rotate to the surface of the board, and... well,
do nothing except turn around once in a while. The ball physics
are spot on, but this hardly saves the game. In fact, it's the only
area where Fantastic Journey shows any improvement in the
Multiplayer is hot seat only. The head to head LAN/Internet mode
is gone. Why? So they could spend more time working that really
neat color dot matrix? Big points deducted for this.
Fantastic Journey is simply a disappointment in light of last year's
Big Race USA, an amazing game that is still delightfully fun to
play, the pinnacle of the genre. Empire Interactive really
"dropped the ball" on this one. I recommend it only for those who
must have every PC pinball game. The rest of us can skip it, and
mourn the death of pinball.