There's something to love about pinball tables. Maybe it's the skill of hitting that one tiny target, sending a metal ball ricocheting into bumpers, or breaking a high score. For me it is keeping the ball alive long enough to get another credit and trigger a multiball. Maybe you're not into pinball at all. Maybe you hate pinball. And, well, this game isn't going to change your mind. It's a budget game featuring seven pinball tables (and one unlockable) by Gottlieb from as early as 1932 to as late as 1993. Some you have played, some you have never heard of, but if you have even an inkling of love for pinball, or if you're a fan of simulated pinball, then you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.
2 Paddles, a ball, and a lot of quarters
The Pinball Hall of Fame is not terribly complex or deep. There are a few unlockables including customize ball mode, the Play-Boy Table (nothing to do with Hefner), Xolten the mystic machine, and a love tester, among others, but your time will be spent at the seven main tables. Among those tables are Ace High (1957), Central Park (1966), Big Shot (1974), Genie (1979), Black Hole (1981), Victory (1987), and Tee'd Off (1993); you'll quickly discover the greatest of them all is Genie, Black Hole, and Tee'd Off. The others are more emulation of each other with minor variation on theme.
Kudos goes to Farsight Studios for creating a true to life simulation of pinball physics. It's easy to get the look, but the feel is something else entirely. They pulled it off with flying colors. The ball behaves realistically, rolls realistically, and tips into a gutter realistically (almost too realistically, sometimes), and reminds me of the infrequent times I would venture to the pinball machines only to have my credits eaten away and my heart broken. Just like with ex-girlfriends.
Speaking of wasting time, there's joy to be had grabbing a few friends and slaying a couple of hours with these pinball machines. Things can get competitive quickly. You might end up elbowing your friend or significant other in the hopes they'll TILT and lose a turn. It is wholesome fun that even the cat can play, supposing she has opposable thumbs.
There are a number of camera views you can choose from, and while some are important for specific tables it's difficult to change the views and play at the same time, which can result in the untimely demise of a ball. And the game doesn't give the option of changing views before launching the ball. While the cameras let you see the whole tables, or parts thereof depending on your chosen view, there's not a whole lot to look at. Each table looks like its real-world counterpart sans any flashy things that could have been added to spice it up. That's fine though, since you'll likely care less what you're looking at, so long as you hit your target. Purists will be pleased, indeed.
Nudge nudge, wink wink¶
There's a specific strategy to each table, and each works in a sort of discovered way. You could just jump into playing it, which is great, but take a minute in the introductionĚ of each table and a friendly voice will explain why you are or aren't racking up major points, and where the sweet spots for each table reside. Even though this helps a little, it's a matter of trial and error before your skills at each table begin to show. Learning each sweet spot, and just how to reach each one, is critical to mastering each table.
In order to stay alive long enough you'll have to learn to nudge the table. Nudging the table to get the ball to move a little side-to-side is so critical in the Pinball Hall of Fame that if you can't do it, you're doomed. Doomed I say! To nudge, move the left joystick a little left or right. Left nudges the ball right, and vise versa. This is important to keep the ball in play if it is careening down between the paddles. But if you nudge it too far, you'll TILT and the paddles will cease to function, as in real life. It really feels like in the arcade, and sadly, it can be just as frustrating.
The best part about these types of games (pinball simulations) is that there's little-to-no stress if you just pick it up for a few minutes, play a couple games, and put it down. It's the perfect game for those who want to kick back and relax. I enjoyed playing on the Big Shot table the most once I figured out how to nudge. Soon I was able to win enough tokens to keep on playing without starting over.
Fun, but flawed
While the tables are fun, and the gameplay solid overall, there are some terribly frustrating problems with the game that might deter a potential buyer. For one, the game had difficulty running on older (specifically first generation) PS2's, meaning it didn't run at all on either of the older systems we tried. But for the new systems there wasn't a problem.
I also experienced game lock-ups and frequent crashes. This happened once when a table TILTed, once when viewing a slideshow tour of the Gottlieb factory, and a few other times at random. You'll notice it when the music begins to loop over and over.
There was also a strange inconsistency in one of the tables: Black Hole. At times after making it to the lower table (the black hole area) and then getting my ball locked, ready for a multiball, nothing would happen. And when I tried to bumb the table, TILTing it, the table wouldn't reset and there'd be nothing I could do but restart the console. These kinds of programming errors keep the game from being a four-star game, considering the price for what you get. Though I'd like to recommend Pinball Hall of Fame to everyone, you'll have to possess an incredible amount of patience to deal with these problems. It's thankful this doesn't happen too frequently, but I've had it happen twice on the same table.
As for music, there really isn't any. The sounds are innocently faithful to the real world pinball tables, and, yet, annoy the hell out of me. The older tables not so much, but Tee'd Off and Victory especially will get on your nerves after a few minutes. It's disappointing that these sounds are necessary to the game, because I'd just as soon put on my own music and mute the TV. Overall, while the game's fidelity to reality is welcome, the reality of that fidelity is irritating.
And on top of that, there were a few times that I experienced clipping issues. I hit the ball with a paddle a little too hard and in the wrong spot (apparently) which caused the ball to fall through the table into the abyss of nothingness. The game then froze. I was, therefore, unable to continue playing and had to restart the console.
Not quite a high score, but not bad
Overall, there's a lot to like in this game and the price is just right ($20). If you're a fan, or if you're just itching for some non-alien-killing gameplay, then maybe this is the game for you. It'll keep you occupied for a while, and there's plenty of replay value in just seven tables. I did wish for a few more tables, though, as I quickly zeroed in on the best ones and neglected the others.
The bottom line: Pinball Hall of Fame will consume a hours, but not your life.
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