We, who are about to die, salute you!
Last Gladiators is the first digital pinball game that we have seen for the Saturn. Its very difficult to give this game a grade that will apply to all readers, because some people like pinball and some don't. So, if you're a fan of pinball, read on! You will probably like this game a lot.
One of the things I liked right at the start was the fact that there are four machines to play on. Unlike most video pinball games where there is only one table to play on, Last Gladiators allows you to choose between Gladiators, Knight of the Roses, Dragon Showdown, and Warlock. All four tables come complete with ramps, bumpers, ball locks, and Dragon Showdown has a third flipper. There is also a secret Victors table. Check out our Secret Codes
All four of the machines seem to be modeled after real, physical machines. It would not be surprising if they actually existed somewhere. All four machines work on the same basic game premise. They have special rounds during which you must try and do a certain thing; i.e. get the ball up a certain ramp, hit a certain number of bumpers, etc... If you manage to complete all the rounds (very difficult), there is a special, final round.
Even if these are not real machines, the programmers went to great lengths to try and make them feel that way. The physics are admirably done. The ball falls, bounces and rolls perfectly. You can even jiggle the machine if the ball gets stuck; careful though, you can TILT the machine also.
All the graphics for special rounds and bonus scores are done in lo-res monochrome, just like they would be on a real machine. A good attention to detail that enhances the game. These lo-res images show up directly on the playfield, however. The game usually only does it while your ball is safely tucked away, but sometimes it hinders your vision.
There are two good reasons to get a video pinball game. The first is that it is easy to play. Everyone know how to play pinball, so there is no lengthy instruction process. Also first time players don't suffer as much as they do when they try and join in a game at which you have become an expert. Fighting games are a perfect example of this problem. ( "No! To do the special move you go down, back, down, left and hit the A and Y buttons. Not down, back, left down!" )
The second reason is that it doesn't go stale so easily. Video pinball has a long shelf-life. Once you solve certain games, you are unlikely to ever pick them up again. Not so with pinball, which you really can't solve or 'win'. Bored with your other games? Play some pinball.
For realistic, real-world pinball, this is about as good as it can get. But it seems a shame that video pinball designers are so literal-minded. You have so many more options once you're not constrained by the physical universe. I would like to see a new kind of digital pinball. Special rounds could screw with the laws of physics, change the mass of the ball, reverse gravity, whatever. New ramps or bumpers could grow up out of the floor, while old ones sink away. The options are endless.