Retro Review - Pinball (NES)
Recent Platforms: Wii Virtual Console
Platform Reviewed: Wii Virtual Console (Nintendo Entertainment System)
Developer: Nintendo Research & Development 1
Release Date: October 18, 1985
Since the creation of video games, pinball machines have appeared across arcades around the entire world, and the concept has generally been well received despite their surprising decline as of lately. Pinball refers to an arcade game, usually in the form of a physical machine, which involves the player pushing physical buttons to control flippers. Said flippers knock a metal ball around a themed table using real life physics and fun mechanical design, the player goal being to earn as many points as possible before having all their available balls (similar idea to lives) fall to the bottom of the screen. Some tables also had multiple pairs of flippers.
To capitalize on some of the success of the pinball fandom, some software equivalents were created for older video game systems ranging from the early Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Whether it was the horizontal tilt-emphasized Video Pinball on the Atari 2600, the more traditional Midnight Magic on the same system, or even Pinball FX on the modern Xbox 360, pinball had moved to a mostly digital age. The particular pinball title for this retro review is simply titled Pinball, one of the earlier video games released by Nintendo.
Pinball was one of the launch titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, and its graphics show this. While not necessarily being bad, the stage backgrounds are pretty basic. A small variety of colors are utilized, and the more detailed sprites are limited to a few animal objects on the table. It is easy to visually keep track of the ball and obstacles though, and the table boundaries are outlined to help with this. Animation works well enough, as movement sprites occur when bumpers are hit, and the score updates on an immediate basis. Screen transitions between the top and bottom screens are also instantaneous, as should be expected with a cartridge-based game. The graphics on a whole are somewhat simple but adequate, with the exception of the accessible bonus stage that contains more detailed movement animation; that will be looked at later.
The only music in this game involves a ten-second opening, along with some few second jingles that play if successful board conditions are met like uncovering all the cards on the bottom screen. They sound cheerful... but that's about it as far as music effects. Sound effects have a pretty decent amount of variety though; different sound effects happen when the ball triggers certain events or hits certain bumpers. The effects tend to be unique for different events, and on the whole they help the player distinguish board objects and their effects on the pinball. Again though, they're relatively basic and are just there to supplement the visuals.
If you have ever played a virtual pinball game before, then you should be familiar with the general gameplay mechanics. This version of pinball is a little different though than some of the single-screen Atari 2600 games. During the main game, there are three different screens for the gameplay, two of them having pairs of flippers and the third being a fun bonus game. Points are of course the main goal here, and strategic timing of flipper hits will help in racking up scores. A multiplayer mode exists as well, although it's done in alternating turns.
The top screen involves a few features which are quite fun to play around with. Point slots appear on the top which can be accessed with initial (and adjustable) ball launches or by aiming for the left ramp. A counter slab on the upper left increases the number of points rewarded as it's continuously hit. Successfully hitting the pinball up the semi-circular ramp results in a point bonus in addition to virtual seals (makes sense to me) hitting the center bumper a certain number of times. The most interesting part of the upper half is the slot roulette which can be triggered; depending on what three images you match, you could receive only a minor point reward, a massive score bonus, or even a helpful bumper that appears in the center of the two flippers!
As for the bottom screen, this area's more stressful since a ball can be permanently lost down there. A set of numbers on the left can be hit; clearing all of them opens a path to the ball launcher, although this is a little unfairly difficult to access; falling in the flipper ramps resets the recovery path. However, there is also an egg mechanic, where if three eggs are hit only once each, safety springs with one use each appear on the side ramps to serve as backups. The game does have a somewhat nasty habit of knocking the ball straight back into them after being bumped back up, but it's rare that this happens. My favorite element of the bottom screen is the card mechanic, where revealing all five of the cards changes the background color and creates a safety block in between the two flippers, an advantageous reward for completing a rather difficult task.
The main way to return the ball back to the top screen is by accessing the bonus stage, which can be carefully done by knocking the ball into the lower screen's red portal. This fun segment has you quickly control Mario as he tries to save his girlfriend Pauline, the love interest of the classic arcade title Donkey Kong. It's difficult and requires fast movement, but successful color matches can let you save the madam and acquire a hefty amount of points. It's a very fun change of pace that adds variety to what is admittedly a simple but very fun game.
Awards for higher scores provide a few twists on the gameplay, which encourages more player attempts at reaching a higher score. Reaching 50,000 points grants an extra ball, while acquiring 100,000 total points temporarily turns the flippers completely invisible for the next 50,000 points to add some additional challenge. Besides that, there is technically a high score feature in the game, but it's unfortunately cleared if the game is simply reset. Multiplayer does exist for two players, although the play is not simultaneous.
The graphics and sound effects are simple but illustrate the main gameplay decently enough. What makes up for a rather simple arcade presentation is some fun gameplay with a little variety in control. There are worse pinball games out there, and this is definitely one of the better ones in my opinion. For the low price of five dollars that Pinball costs on newer Nintendo systems, it's worth checking out if you're interested in the genre.
Although if you happen to own the original Animal Crossing on the Nintendo GameCube, you would be better off unlocking the game for free using universal codes or finding it at a virtual store in the game instead.