Everything but the Quarters
Due to the constantly advancing and evolving nature of video games as a medium, it is easy to find oneself feeling nostalgic about the days when games were more simplistic in both design and visuals. Then again, sometimes this leads to thinking back just a little farther and reminiscing about the granddaddy of the now mostly defunct arcade scene. I’m of course referring to the wonderful pastime that is pinball.
More akin to the earlier generation of video games, pinball is a test of reflexes, patience, and skill. Instead of adventuring about fully-realized 3D worlds, completing quests, and searching for items, the goals were simple: find out how to score a ton of points and then get better at doing so. It’s a relatively simplistic formula for sure, but it’s one that can be very rewarding and is captured to near perfection in Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection (TWC).
Similarly to the Wii, PS2, and PSP versions of this title, TWC contains a host of virtualized classic Williams pinball tables spanning the past few decades. However, this new version of TWC contains three tables that weren’t available in its earlier releases. The three new tables are Tales of the Arabian Nights, Medieval Madness, and No Good Gofers which appear alongside the game’s previous lineup of Jive Time, Taxi, Space Shuttle, Sorcerer, Gorgar, Black Knight, Funhouse, Pin*Bot, Whirlwind, and Firepower. Whether you’re familiar with any of these classic tables or not isn’t really an issue, as either way they’ll provide you with a good variety of pinball experiences.
With a real pinball table, figuring out how the table reacts, how reliable the flippers are, and how the ball moves is incredibly important to your overall success. Not much is different in TWC except that you’ll never have to worry about playing on a machine with sticky flippers. Ball physics are always vital to the overall virtual pinball experience and can easily make or break a game such as TWC. Luckily, this aspect of the game feels amazingly authentic, coming very close to perfectly mimicking the weight, speed, and reactions you’d expect from real pinball tables. At no point during my time with TWC did I ever have a point when I questioned why a shot turned out the way it did or found a guaranteed routine for placing shots, both of which having ruined many a virtual pinball title for me in the past. Instead, just like with real pinball, skill, timing, and practice will ultimately dictate your level of success.
The controls are simple and responsive, making for one less impediment when trying to rack up a high score. The flippers are controlled using the right and left shoulder buttons, balls are launched with the right analog stick, and tilting the table is handled with the left analog stick. Whichever direction you tap the left analog stick will result in gently nudging the table in the appropriate direction, which is a staple skill required for playing pinball. While this ability comes in handy quite often, and TWC often seems to allow you to use it generously, tilting too frequently will eventually lock your flippers and cause you to lose your current ball. However, this isn’t really a large issue, as it is pretty easy to find an appropriate balance with the use of this ability.
Even with great controls, play mechanics, and ball physics, a game like TWC can be easily ruined due to a poorly implemented camera system. TWC’s camera system consciously avoids another misstep that has plagued many previous entries in this genre. The default camera is actually quite good at following the ball while still giving you a decent view of the table, although it works better with some tables than others. Thankfully, at any point during play you are able to switch between the game’s various camera angles in order to find the most appropriate one for the situation or just the table in general. Cycling between camera angles is quick and unobtrusive, allowing you to continue on with the action without having to worry about where the camera is positioned.
My only real complaint about TWC’s presentation comes in how you choose which table you’re going to play. The game’s many tables are located in a virtual arcade which can require way too much time to navigate through. This is especially problematic considering the arcade isn’t just filled with the playable pinball tables but instead has a ton of dummy pinball tables and arcade machines stuck in between them. There are also multiple rooms to the arcade, adding even more time navigating from table to table which could be better spent just playing pinball. It is a minor gripe I know and does somewhat add to the arcade experience the game is going for, but I would have preferred just a straight up list of all the playable tables to select from once the novelty of the virtual arcade wore off (which was pretty quickly).
From the outset some tables are locked, some require credits to play, and others are available for free play. Each table comes with its own set of goals that can be completed in order to earn credits. These goals can range anywhere from getting higher than a certain score to making specific things occur on the table. Getting a high score is pretty straightforward and so is completing the seemingly more obscure objectives. Thanks to a very handy tutorial provided for each table, figuring out how to activate a multi-ball on a certain table is as easy as just watching what needs to be done in order to trigger it before playing on the table.
Once all of a table’s standard goals have been met, you’ll be able to unlock a table of your choosing for free play. This will also unlock a set of more difficult wizard goals for the original table. These extra goals are a nice way to keep you focused on more than just trying to get a high score, but it does have a small flaw. If you happen to have a terrific run on a table on your first try and met the requirements for some of the wizard goals, they won’t register. This is because you have to finish the standard goals for the table and finish playing before the wizard goals will unlock. This can be pretty aggravating, especially if you continually to fail to recapture the same success you already had in a previous outing.
Aside from just this choose and play mode, you’ll also find a Williams Challenge mode as well as tournaments. Tournaments can take place on one to seven tables of your choosing and support you and up to three friends taking turns playing. However, the Williams Challenge mode is a one player trek through all of the game’s tables. You’re given three chances on each table to best a predetermined score and should you fail to do so, you’ll have to start over again from the first table. This mode is definitely challenging, but if you spend a decent amount of time learning the tables prior to embarking on the challenge, it shouldn’t take more than a few attempts to make it through.
This really is the best version of virtual pinball currently available on the market. With its spot-on controls and gameplay, authentic-looking and sounding tables, HD visuals, online leaderboards, and sheer variety of tables to choose from, TWC is the quintessential game for any pinball fan. Even if you’ve never played on an actual pinball table before, TWC is a great way to experience the pastime without having to seek out the real things or the pockets full of quarters necessary to play them. If you have even a passing interest in pinball, you really owe it to yourself to check out this title.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
All of the included pinball tables look great in HD. 4.6 Control
The accurate and responsive controls mingle well with the game’s spot-on ball physics. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
All of the pinball tables sound just like the real things. Unfortunately, the soundtrack for the game is mostly made up of pretty terrible rock music. 4.5 Play Value
With thirteen classic tables, two sets of goals for each, online leaderboards, tournaments, and the Williams Challenge mode, there’s plenty of pinball goodness to be had. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.