The problem with pinball

The problem with pinballI’ve spent countless hours playing pinball games over the years. I fondly recall Pinbot (NES), Revenge of the ‘Gator Pinball (on the original monochrome Gameboy), Pinball Dreams (Amiga) and Metroid Prime Pinball (Nintendo DS) among others.

Touchscreen controls and pinball are a marriage made in heaven, so I recently set out to find the sexiest pinball experience on the iPad, and I’m pretty sure I’ve finally found it. The only problem is: I freakin’ hate pinball. It’s rubbish.

Going back a few weeks, I started with Pinball HD Collection, which is a) free, and b) optimised for the new iPad’s Retina display. That’s not a bad start.

Alas, despite looking absolutely fantastic, there’s just one table – Wild West – available sans charge, and it’s pretty uninspiring stuff. I certainly wasn’t tempted to fork out for any of the other tables (seven at 69p, alongside Slayer and AC/DC-themed efforts at £1.99 each). You can try out the other tables for 60 seconds at a time, but… meh.

Thoroughly unimpressed with Pinball HD Collection, I moved on to Zen Pinball, which featured in another website’s Top Free iPad Games feature. Not as impressive as the line-up I assembled in our own Best free iPad games feature, of course.

Anyways, Zen Pinball was a little more exciting, throwing multiballs, multiple sets of flippers and secret areas at me within minutes of playing. But again, there’s just one table – Sorcerer’s Lair in this case – available for free, and I was reluctant to move on to the other tables blindly.

Having said that, the Marvel ones (Wolverine, Captain America and Thor) at £1.49 a pop are becoming increasingly tempting…

Finally, a mate recommended Pinball Arcade – without a doubt the best of the three. The first table – Arabian Nights – is 69p, and the others range from £1.49 to £2.99. I haven’t actually had time to contemplate getting my virtual wallet out yet, as I’ve been playing Arabian Nights for hours. Hours and hours and hours.

I’ll get back to Pinball Arcade in tomorrow’s review. Heck, maybe I’ve given the game away slightly by indirectly declaring it The Best Pinball Game on the iPad, but I’ll go into a bit more detail as to why that’s case.

Now, back to the crux of this feature, and that is this: the fact that all pinball games are rubbish. Playing any of the above three, I’ve never been so close to smashing my iPad off the corner of a table.

As anyone who has spent more than two minutes playing pinball knows: it is entirely mother freakin’ random. Ok, maybe not entirely, in the sense that you can master a table and learn how to rack up high scores more quickly. But really, at the end of the day (gods, I hate that phrase), there’s no escaping the randomness.

Even the most skilled player can launch a ball (er, not a euphemism) and watch aghast as it instantly falls down the gap between the flippers. Pinball – in all its forms – is that ridiculous.

Of course most – if not all – pinball games have a ‘Ball Saved’ feature where, essentially, it doesn’t count if you lose your ball (again, not a euphemism) within the first, say, 10 seconds. But if that first ball falls to its doom on the 11th second (and it quite often will, because pinball hates you), you’ll want to kill everyone in the room.

And let’s not forget the gutters on the left and right, which seemingly contain hugely potent magnets. It’s arguably even more depressing watching your pinball roll slowly down the side compared to the relatively quick, painless death that awaits between the flippers.

Another thing that has really rammed home the randomness is the high score battle I’m involved in with my aforementioned mate. He somehow doubled – yes doubled – my high score, and in the subsequent hours of play I’ve scored anywhere from a few million to a few dozen million. There’s no rhyme nor reason. None at all.

At times I feel like a mindless automaton, programmed to simply tap the flippers whenever the ball gets close. I was vaguely tempted to train a monkey – or a very young relative – to take over, but that seems like too much effort.

So, anyway, yeah, I hate pinball. It’s great.

Read more about: Apple iPad 3iOS

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4 comments

Pondlife  Apr. 25, 2012 at 14:16

Pinball dreams, fantasies and illusions were the pinnacle.
Someone should get them released.
Not sure at all that I agree that touchscreen is how it's best played though.

lcurdie / MOD  Apr. 25, 2012 at 18:05

Not sure at all that I agree that touchscreen is how it's best played though.

Admittedly touchscreens need pinball more than pinball needs touchscreens. Touchscreen is probably always worried that pinball is cheating on it with a proper controller.

bex85  Apr. 26, 2012 at 10:26

I have to admit, I'm quite enjoyin Pinball Collection HD and bought the deep blue table as it's the only one I like. I'll give Pinball Arcade a whirl though as I do like my pinball games but, yes it can be irritating when it flops straight down the middle and there's nothing you can do. Especially with HD Collection actually as there's no second chance ball with that :(.

lcurdie / MOD  Apr. 26, 2012 at 14:13

I may have been a little hasty in my judgement of the first two. I'd like to go back to them and check out some of the other tables :)

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