Sure plays a mean pinball.
As a symbol for the era of the arcade, there is no better icon than the pinball machine. Any legitimate arcade, then and now, has at least one of these metal and glass boxes-‘o’-fun, and if they are really serious, a ginormous room of them. Even if a pinball machine is covered in dust, rusting away in some dank storage garage, the instant you gaze upon it and recognize its familiar shape, you remember the shiny metal sphere, the twitching flippers, the board of rounded triangles and blinking lights, the cacophony of pings, chings, clicks, clangs, bleeps, bloops, blams, and bangs. It’s Chicken Soup for the Gamer’s Soul.
[image1]By simulating 13 classic pinball machines down to the very last drop target, Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection aims to place this fading genre back in the spotlight, at least for a little while. And what a homage it is. Apart from the headboards which are partially cut from view for space, though it still should have been more fully animated, every detail is preserved – the physics of the ball, the flick of the flippers, the snap of the plunger, the sound of each collision, the voice of the narrator, the gloss of the artwork. In fact, they might as well be the actual machines.
From the classic Gorgar (1979), Firepower (1980), and Black Knight (1984), to the more modern Tales of the Arabian Nights (1996) and “They stole our marshmallows!” Medieval Madness (1997), the tables showcase the evolution of the pinball machine. Once you enter its recreation of an ‘80s-styled arcade hall, complete with deep purple carpeting and a cursive ‘RESTROOM’ neon sign that has its second ‘O’ flickering out, you can select any of the tables (aside from Jive Time, more on that later). Some of them require one credit to play while others are on free play by default, but you can unlock free play on a table either by spending a whopping 100 credits or completing any set of specified goals on any table.
[image2]In addition to achieving the ubiquitous high-score, each table presents five Basic Goals which when fulfilled, unlock five complex, sometimes godly Wizard Goals. It would have been better, though, if all ten goals were unlocked at the start so that any Wizard Goals you happen to fulfill during your pursuit for Basic Goals count. Completing any goal earns you bonus credits and completing any set of five goals, as stated before, unlocks a table for free play (and some Achievements/Trophies). Most goals are all about reaching a score threshold or activating some of the table’s special features, which are thankfully all laid out in a narrated information manual so you don’t have to play pinball like most of us usually do: hit the ball thing and hope for the best.
The Williams Challenge, which unlocks Jive Time when beaten, requires you to achieve a certain score on a table before moving on to the next one until you finish all twelve. Getting through the challenge, however, is far more difficult than necessary, and this is coming from the guy who at this time of this writing holds the #1 high score on four tables in Xbox Live (sure to be #115 in two weeks). You only have three retries, and given that money-sucking pinball is heavily based on luck, the entire experience is maddening. (Space Shuttle can go die in a fire for all I care.)
[image3]Worse, the ranking it gives you is based only on the tables you’ve completed (apparently, I’m a ‘Beginner’), and most of the time, you won’t even reach the last six tables before you’re out of retries. Instead, the designers should have made a different system; for example, players should have been shooting for a target score instead of a score minimum, and earn ranking points that are proportionally based on how far their score exceeds (or falls below) the target score, which the scoring system in this mode already does. If players collect enough ranking points by the last table, while freely using three retries on unlucky attempts, they could beat the mode. This way, players can experience the entire mode and not feel roadblocked by chance.
It’s unfortunate that the effort put into the simulation sometimes isn’t seen in the design. Expert tips are great ideas but not during loading screens that zip past in two seconds. Some of the bleeps and bloops also loop incessantly and can’t be muted unless you turn the sound all the way off. There is no online functionality apart from Leaderboards, which isn’t too disappointing since pinball is mainly a single-player experience anyway. Finally, the Williams collection just doesn’t feel complete without Joust, one of the more memorable tables in its catalog.
Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection offers a worthy sampler of pinball simulations that are respectful, near-perfect renditions of their real-life counterparts. Most of its success relies on the existing design of the pinball machines instead of any design elements it adds, but it doesn’t really need to do more than let the machines speak for themselves. Of course, if you listen closely, beneath the nonchalant bleeps and bloops, you can hear the sound of an “Extra Ball!”