Save up your quarters.
The proud and noble animal known as the pinball game (Tommius Extraballus), which once dominated the watering holes of the North American continent, is now sadly close to extinction. Pushed aside by more advanced species, its natural habitat in decline, the pinball game is a dying breed. Rarely will the intrepid game-watcher spot one of these once-magificent creatures in the wild anymore, and what few remain are so worn down and scratched from years of abuse, so caked in grimy layers of pizza grease, cigarette smoke, and spilt beer, that they bear little resemblance to the noble beasts they once were. Fortunately, diligent game-ologists have spent countless hours working to recreate a simulation of those bygone days when pinball games ruled the Earth, a project known aptly and simply by the name Pinball: Hall of Fame.
Clearly, creating this game was a labor of love. Unlike some people who can’t stop “upgrading” obvious classics, Crave has taken a more reverent, almost obsessive approach in recreating decades-old pinball classics like “Space Shuttle” and “Firepower” in all their cheesy, outdated glory. Every nuance of the original machines – from the pseudo-Yellow Submarine illustrations of “Jive Time” to the disturbingly unhinged jaw of the trash-talking Buddy the Clown in “Funhouse” – has been painstakingly reproduced. The overall effect can be startlingly realistic. I was halfway through my second ball in the obviously TRON-inspired game “Pinbot” when I suddenly remembered that this very machine had sat in the rec-room in my freshman-year dorm. Instantly, I recalled the hours I wasted in fits of bored, adolescent loner-dom, a time when I ogled the table’s sexy robot-lady and tried desperately to get the game’s namesake to admit in its synthesized monotone: “I AM IN YOUR CONTROL.”
If the description of the game’s visuals is already triggering unwanted memories of your most awkward days, then you may want to consult your therapist before turning up the volume. If you’ve ever been within twenty-five feet of a pinball game, then you know that they are attention-hungry creatures, always beeping, whistling, begging, and all but screaming for you to come over and give them some love. Pinball: Hall of Fame perfectly replicates that classic arcade din, from the plink of your quarter into your chosen machine’s waiting slot to the ominous laughter of the Black Knight. So what if the crappy muffled audio quality makes it sound like he forgot to cut a mouth hole in his helmet. That’s what it’s supposed to sound like!
But even if it looks and sounds just like the real thing, the key to a successful pinball game is the physics. Does it feel like a real pinball game? For Pinball: Hall of Fame, the answer is decidedly yes. Your avatar, in the form of that silver ball, behaves exactly as you expect it would - picking up speed as it travels dangerously downward toward your expectant flippers, arcing lazily when you hit a crappy shot and jittering to a sudden halt when it rolls over an under-the-table magnet.
It’s almost eerie how faithful it is to the original machines. Even on the “Whirlwind” table, where spinning plates torque your ball in unexpected ways, it all looks and feels just like the real thing. And your controls, while admittedly basic, are perfectly intuitive: The triggers on the nunchuk and the Wii-mote are your flippers, and you can shake either control a shake to tilt the table. It’s simple and it works. The only drawback is that a quick, unconscious nose scratch while holding the nunchuk can accidentally tilt the machine, but it’s a small price to pay for controls you never have to think about.
For better or worse, it’s clear that all of the development time and budget went directly into recreating the tables. To call the menus “basic” is perhaps giving them too much credit, and there’s no attempt to create any kind of story line to explain why you’re spending all your time playing pinball. As if you needed an explanation!
Just like in a real pinball arcade, there’s not much to do in Pinball: Hall of Fame besides walking up and down the halls and picking your table of choice. Only this time, you don’t have to put your quarter on the rim of the machine to stake your claim. For a change of pace, you can enter a Pinball tournament or take on the Williams challenge, tackling table after blinker-bedazzled table as you strive to beat the ever more difficult goal scores. Essentially, though, it’s just more pinball playing. As an extra, you can view the flyers sent to tantalize arcade owners with the money they would make from all the greasy little teenagers plunking their quarters into the bright and shiny boxes of the likes of “Taxi” and “Sorcerer”.
A few modern perks, however, bring a nice 21st-century flavor to this collection of nearly mythological machines. For one, the scripted tutorials for each table are nothing short of revolutionary. Who knew you could actually figure out what all those blinking numbers meant? Knowing what to aim for makes a huge difference in scoring big points, which is key, because while simply playing each table over and over again is certainly encouraged, there are also a handful goals to achieve – like unlocking multi-ball play or shooting your ball into Gorgar’s Pit. Completing goals allows you to unlock perks, like bending the rules of pinball in ways my freshman year dorm rec-room never imagined (and believe me, that rec room saw a lot!). How’d you like to play your favorite pinball game in reverse? Or with a solid gold ball? It’s craziness, I tell you. What would the master say?
Unless you’re rich enough to buy up a bunch of old machines, completely refurbish them, and open up your own private rec-center, Pinball: Hall of Fame is probably the closest you’re going to get to a true pinball arcade experience. But let’s be honest with ourselves. Pinball games, while great in their day, have been rightfully supplanted by better forms of entertainment. If you never played one back in the day, then this game isn’t likely to interest you. But if you long to relive the wasted hours of your youth, Pinball: Hall of Fame is a lot of fun and well worth the money.