Developing realistic virtual pinball is tough, and it’s even tougher when realistic pinball tables are not used. That’s where The Pinball Arcade, from FarSight Studios, differs. The goal here isn’t to design tables that shoot flames after a successful hit, but rather take real pinball machines and digitalize them. Did FarSight hit the jackpot ramp with this one?
FarSight prides itself on its physics engine for TPA, and it’s easy to see why. Because the tables are designed to be as close to the original thing as possible, there’s even the risk of a ball getting stuck somewhere. For situations like those, the “Call Attendant” option in the menu can be used, which will place the ball back on the plunger after 15 seconds (so far, I’ve had to do this twice, and both times, it was with Bride of Pin*Bot).
One of the biggest differences between virtual and real pinball is the tilt mechanism. On a real machine, you have to physically jolt it in the direction you need to – that takes energy. With a video game, all you have to do is tap a button (or moderate the strength through analog controls). As such, it has to be said that when playing the tables in TPA versus in real-life, they’re going to be made easier (that goes beyond tilt, but that’s the biggest difference as far as I’m concerned).
As I explored all of the different tables in TPA, I had fun dissecting the differences in rules between tables of a given era, and not to mention table design in general. It wasn’t until TPA that I had been able to play a table with an inverse lower table, where you’re suddenly playing pinball within itself. Black Hole was the first to implement this design, but I find Haunted House (seen above) to be a little more enjoyable. And speaking of Haunted House, that’s a table special for being the first with three playing fields (note the raised one to the top-right).
When we’re dealing with a product where 10,000 units sold was considered a great success, TPA might be the only place for a lot of people to discover and likewise play a given pinball table. Firepower, for example, has the designation of being the first table to offer multi-ball. At 17,000 units, though, it can be assumed that one could be found to play in person with some effort (and probably a little travel.)
Then we have the opposite situation with Goin’ Nuts, a table that was never released, and was limited to a build of 10 prototype units. This table is boring (to me), and has a soundtrack as good as fingernails on a chalkboard, but I still appreciate it for what is – a part of pinball history. Not to mention, its design is rather interesting: Each round begins with a multiball, and ends after a timer runs out.
While playing the older tables, there was an aspect that made me appreciate the more modern ones: Ball-saver. Older tables were relentless; if a ball was popped into play and made a b-line to the drain, tough luck! Again, these are the kinds of things you can come to appreciate from being able to play such an array of tables within a single collection. Old or new-ish, FarSight will consider it for inclusion as long as it’s interesting.
It must be said, though, that as of late, FarSight has been focusing a lot on older tables (the last 10 spanned the 1980~1992 era). I’d imagine that this wasn’t done on purpose; rather, newer tables introduce a number of legal complexities, while older tables would be easier to deal with. Still, I do hope to see more variety in season pack 3, and would love to see a couple of tables from the post-2000 era (as only 2 exist among the entire current collection).
“Season“? Yes – that’s how FarSight has decided to divvy up what’s in effect, DLC. The first season is composed of 21 tables, while the second has 20; each of which can be purchased all at once. Up front costs for the entire collection is a bit high ($30 for season 1, $40 for 2), but to have access to so many beautifully recreated tables should be well worth it to a pinball enthusiast. For the Pro perks, add $10 to either season.
Those who are choosier (aka: will not touch a lot of the tables in either pack) can purchase individual packs, which outside of special instances will include 2 tables. To get a better grasp on how this all comes together, I’d recommend heading over to Wikipedia where a helpful table exists. The “Core” pack, which costs about $10, includes four tables (Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, Tales of the Arabian Nights, and Theatre of Magic), whereas the other packs cost $5 per. Due to the higher licensing costs of select tables, three current packs include just a single table (Twilight Zone, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Whew – I think we deserve an achievement just for figuring all that out.
Where things become even more complicated (or problematic) is that there doesn’t seem to be “upgrades” – as in, purchasing one or two packs and then upgrading to the full season pack for a reduced price.
It’s for all these reasons that it’d be wise to decide up-front whether or not you’d be interested in the complete pack. Purchasing each minor pack would cost $55 for season one, and $50 for season two, so the discounts are notable (why season two costs more ($40 vs. $30), I’m not sure). This is a complex beast, that’s for sure.
I mentioned at the outset that I tend to prefer real-world pinball designs over fantasy ones (eg: those in digital form that could never exist as a real table), and given that, I’m pleased to see what FarSight has delivered here.
The Pinball Arcade on the PC isn’t perfect; I’d be ignorant to state otherwise. Analog nudging is broken at the moment, and then there’s the issue with select tables in portrait mode. The fortunate thing is that FarSight recognizes these issues, and have them in the queue for fixing. Further, we can expect improved lighting in the future once the DX11 patch is released, after which I hope FarSight considers making a move to release higher-res textures for the PC. Lastly, while a tournaments feature is found in the menu, it’s not an active option. I assume we’ll learn more about that once the current hubbub surrounding the PS4 launch settles.
As a fan of pinball who appreciates not only playing real pinball, but learning more about its history and designers, I’d have to say that FarSight delivers just what I’d hope for here. Each table has an introduction that explains what made it interesting, and to help you master one table or many, in-depth instructions are just a menu option away.
One of the best features of The Pinball Arcade is that one table is 100% free (the Pro version, to boot), and it’s a great one: Tales of the Arabian Nights. With that table, you’ll be able to take in the obvious amount of work that goes into recreating these tables, and all of the perks that come with it: The physics, the audio, and the extras.
Despite its needed improvements, The Pinball Arcade is an absolute winner, and a must-play by any pinball fan.
For a look at 13 other tables featured in TPA, hit up the next page.
The Pinball Arcade