The Pinball Arcade Review
Posted by Alex Stinton
Balls of steel
Following in the steel ball slipstream of Zen Pinball 2, The Pinball Arcade is the second pinball title to fire its way onto the PlayStation 4. With this next-gen offering, developer Farsight Studios aims to ensure that everyone understands what made many of the classic pinball tables great, and it’s hoping to achieve that by offering you the chance to take its fully licensed recreations out for a spin – or, er, flip.
Much like Zen Studios’ similar suite, downloading the title is free and unlocks access to the Arabian Nights table as a taster, while also allowing you to briefly test out its other tables courtesy of a trial mode. The remainder of the 22 tables can be purchased as part of a Season One bundle for £23.99/$29.99, or in packs which contain a couple of legendary layouts for £3.99/$4.99 apiece. Disappointingly, if you’re interested in playing some of the more renowned inclusions such as The Twilight Zone or Star Trek: The Next Generation, then you’ll have to pay the same price as a pack of two tables. Also, if you’ve snagged any of the tables in either the PS3 or Vita versions, you’ll still have to pay – albeit at a discounted price – to play the next-gen overhauls.
If you’re feeling especially wealthy, then for a little extra there are Pro versions of some of the tables available, granting you access to the Operator Menu and allowing you to tweak various attributes, such as the number of balls per credit. However, these will really only appeal to the most die-hard of fans, and we found the changes to be relatively uninteresting as the standard settings provided more than enough of a challenge.
Unlike its fantasy-themed counterpart, every table in The Pinball Arcade is based upon a real-life alter ego, with some transported from as far back as the seventies for your enjoyment. It’s clear from these recreations that the developer has a deep love of pinball, and bringing these tables to wider appreciation is a labour of love. Every aspect of the entire roster has been recreated to mimic its real-life twin, from the way that they look to the sometimes cheesy audio samples that trigger when you hit a target or a ramp. Furthermore, just to ensure that there’s no doubt in your mind as to the authenticity of the tables, each comes with a brief history explaining why each layout is considered a classic among the pinball community, in addition to a viewable image of the sales leaflet from its original release.
The selection is a real joy, too, with each offering something different to experience. From the challenging simplicity of Big Shot to the second playfield of Black Hole, it’s easy to see why these tables are some of the best to ever grace an arcade. In fact, we enjoyed some of these layouts so much that it had us searching the Internet to see if we could afford to own one physically. Sadly, we couldn’t.
All of this painstaking detail would be worthless, however, if the actual simulation at the core of the title was poor. Luckily, the action is as close to real-life as we reckon is possible in digital form. We never felt like we lost a ball due to anything other than our own slow reflexes, and the speed of play was just as authentic as the tables that we were playing on. In addition, the layouts are so ridiculously addictive that we found ourselves coming back time and time again as we attempted to best our top score. A guide that explains the nuances of each arena makes it easy to learn, while Standard and Wizard challenges will test your flipper skills to the max.
And even if you’ve completed everything, the title comes with the customary online leaderboards, tracking not only your overall position among strangers but also your friends. Unfortunately, the presentation in this area is very basic, particularly when compared to Zen Pinball 2 which offers much more feedback on your performance. This coupled with the bog-standard hot seat multiplayer mode makes these aspects feel a little undercooked when contrasted with the care and attention that’s so evident in the other aspects of the release.
Sparse leaderboard and multiplayer options dull the shine a little, but The Pinball Arcade still offers an exceptional simulation of a classic arcade pastime. By combining realistic physics with obsessive recreations of some of the best tables on the planet, developer Farsight Studios has ensured that this package is a prime destination for pinball wizards all over the world. It really is flippin’ fantastic.