If there’s one area that the PlayStation Vita is not underrepresented, it’s the simulation pinball genre. While the fledgling handheld may have struggled to trigger the multiball on big blockbuster releases, the console already plays host to two flippin’ good bumper-based affairs in both Zen Pinball 2 and the Pinball Arcade. Sony San Diego’s conversion of PlayStation Portable first-party celebration Pinball Heroes: Complete feels a little surplus to requirements, then – but does it top the leaderboards anyway?
Originally launched in 2009, the compilation can’t help but feel a little out of date. While the original release packaged together some of the bigger brands of the time, the roster feels a little ancient by modern standards. You get eight tables as part of the reasonably priced digital download: PAIN, Hot Shots Golf, ModNation Racers, WipEout HD, Fat Princess, High Velocity Bowling, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and MotorStorm. It’s a neat little collection, but not exactly brimming with pillars of the PlayStation ecosystem.
Assuming that you remember Idol Minds’ headache-inducing human hurler, you’ll find a lot to appreciate about the tables themselves. Each arena has been carefully crafted around its parent property, boasting sound samples, theme tunes, and mission objectives cheekily extracted from their source material. Fat Princess, for example, finds you gathering wood and rocks in order to construct strongholds against warring wizards, while Hot Shots Golf has a mini putting green and a water pool beneath the flippers.
The conversion is excellent, too. Having spent some time spearheading Sony’s tablet endeavours, each table looks vibrant on the Vita’s vivacious five-inch display. You can control the flippers by tapping either side of the touch screen, or use the shoulder buttons if you demand something a little more tactile. Similarly, tilt can be initiated with a swipe of the rear touch surface, or a tap of the d-pad. You can also hold the console vertically to get a full view of each arena if you prefer.
The problem is that the tables don’t match the quality of the visuals. Compared to classics such as the Twilight Zone and Star Trek: The Next Generation in the Pinball Arcade, the offering here is somewhat simplistic. The camera adopts a top-down perspective, reminiscent of old-school classics such as Pinball Dreams. As such, the tables are quite flat, and lack the flamboyance of Zen Pinball 2’s fantastical alternatives. To be fair, the developer makes up for the simplicity with some dense objectives, but nothing ever feels quite as satisfying as racking up bonus points in antigravity mode on Gottlieb’s classic Black Hole.
There are definitely some decent ideas, though, complemented by plenty of leaderboard options. Detonating several cheeky red barrels on the Uncharted layout, or scooping a strike in High Velocity Bowling will enhance your points tally, which you can then submit to the PlayStation Network scoreboards. You can also participate in public and private tournaments, which you can construct yourself from a variety of parameters. In addition, all of this data can be shared on Facebook and Twitter should you decide to bore your buddies with your triumphs on the MotorStorm table.
Alternatively, you can compete against the globe’s best high-scores in a kind of ghost-like environment, or participate one-on-one in head-to-head matches. Sadly, settling the score is less accommodating than we’d expected, as you need to be on speaking terms with your sparring partners in order to play online. A matchmaking option would have been appreciated – especially for those whose friends list isn’t packed with fans of steel balls.
Still, if you can’t find a companion to bounce around with, there’s plenty of longevity in single player. Each table is riddled with fiendishly difficult awards to collect, with Trophies linked to your progression. Many of these achievements are attached to some of the most challenging feats on each table, so it’ll be interesting to see if anyone has the fortitude to unlock them all.
Pinball Heroes: Complete is a good conversion of a satisfactory game. There’s plenty of polish been applied to its tabletop translations of PlayStation properties, but far removed from its initial outing, the brands selected seem a little out of date. There are certainly some imaginative ideas on display, and the newly implemented scoreboard features are solid – but you’re probably better off saving your quarters for the superior ball bouncers already available on Sony’s portable pinball machine.