Overlooked in the arcade’s death is the equally sad passing of the co-op’s allowance-hungry cousin: the pinball machine. The pinball scene began to dwindle with arcade machine’s increased horsepower (as well as more varied genres and gameplay types), and, of course, the rise of the home video game console. As such, many classic tables are essentially lost to time and out of the scope of an entire generation of new gamers (unless they’re fortunate enough to visit the rare institution that houses the machines, such as the American Classic Arcade Museum or the Pinball Hall of Fame museum).
Developer Farsight Studios’s $9.99 The Pinball Arcade may not have the smoky environments and greaser element, but it’s the best replication of the pinball experience to date. The Pinball Arcade is not only an incredibly addictive title, but an excellent digital archive that captures the tables’ essences and the magic of a bygone American staple.
Farsight Studios accomplished this by deep diving into the pinball world. The team dissected tables, snapped high-resolution photos, procured licenses, and emulated chipsets. The crew’s pinball love is strong, and the result is a lavish downloadable title.
The biggest complement that one can give The Pinball Arcade’s four tables–Arabian Nights, Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, and Theatre Magic–is that you can jump right into the flipper action just by grasping the PS Vita. The Pinball Arcade supports both physical and touch controls, but I prefer tapping the L and R flipper buttons as pinball, by its very essence, is a very tactile gaming experience. The game’s so true-to-life that you can also nudge the table (sometimes resulting in TILT) by tapping the left stick or swiping the rear touch panel. Due to my lobster-like Vita grip, I didn’t trigger a nudge by accidentally swiping the rear touch panel, but there’s an option to make the stick the lone nudge input method.
Physics makes or breaks video game pinball. If the ball rolls too slowly, or ricochets at odd angles and moments, the game is insta-fail. Farsight Studios has a long track record of crafting remarkably solid pinball, but The Pinball Arcade plays the most like a true table than any other offering I’ve encountered. Ball momentum is stellar; it’s a joy to watch the ball ping-pong between bumpers, rocket through loops, and bounce off flippers. This is the rare pinball game that will make you forget that you’re not playing the real thing.
The Pinball Arcade’s audio plays a significant role in the authentic feel, too. The Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! table is particularly chatty, as it features tons of voice samples that announce when you arrive on new continents, activate multiball, collect gems and letters, or score a big bonus. Each table features a massive instruction manual filled with tips, leaderboard, flyer, standard goals, and a brief write-up about its history. Tournaments and score Challenges will appear as Farsight Studios releases more tables. In fact, the first DLC pack (featuring Ye Olde Medieval Madness and Bride of Pinbot) is available now for $4.99.
The one drawback is a “Looking For Pinballs” bug that appears mainly on the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! table. It causes the table to, well, have no pinballs to put into motion. Initially, it was amusing to witness a “mechanical failure” as it harkened back to the days of broken tables, but even calling an attendant (yes, that’s a feature!) didn’t break the error loop. I had to quit the session to get out of it, but fortunately that happened after I saved my high score.
The Pinball Arcade is pinball done right. The excellent physics, sound effects, and the fun gameplay keeps you coming back for one more high score attempt. The next time someone laments the lack of PS Vita releases, ask if The Pinball Arcade is in his or her collection. It’s not only one of the best PS Vita games, it’s one of the best video games, period.