I have been playing some fairly obscure Atari 2600 games lately. It is fun, but some weeks you feel like you just need to go back to a favorite. I will often throw a quick game of Pitfall or Pitfall II in to cleanse my gaming palate. This weekend I was playing some pretty abysmal titles and decided to fire up a game I had not played since the late 1980s, Video Pinball. Once I started playing it, I instantly remembered why I spend many childhood weekends on this game and decided to review it instead of the title I had planned.
So you fire up this game and the first thing you will notice is the game isn’t much to look at. It is blocky and sparse, but it does look like what it is, a pinball playing field. You have bumpers, chutes, a plunger and flippers. To tell you the truth, while this sparseness might seem like a turn-off it at first, it is the fact that the board is simple that makes the game so engaging and I will get to why that is in just a moment.
To start the game you pull down on the plunger and hit the button to release, this sends the ball out into the playfield. Everything is all right angles, so you will need to get used to the physics in the game, but you actually can get used to them (which should be the requisite feature of all video game pinball games). Still occasionally you might read the ball wrong and you could be in danger of losing a life, so what do you do? Well much like real pinball, you can nudge the machine by hitting the button and pushing the joystick. Just make sure you don’t push too long or you will tilt the machine. By employing the nudge, you can actually gain greater control of the game then you ever could with the flippers and they become almost secondary after a while.
Now I said that the game is better because it is sparse and that I would explain why. Well, because the screen doesn’t shift around and you really gain an intimate knowledge of this simple playfield, you can really use your nudge ability to hit certain features again and again to wrack up points. It is only through gaining an intimate knowledge of every contour of this boxy game, that you can master it. If the game had been larger with a scrolling screen or more then the 6 scoring elements, it would certainly be exponentially more difficult to learn the lay of the game. It would have turned it into the worst type of pinball game. One that is more chance then skill.
That is why I am so impressed with Video Pinball. While you might have a bad game, you are largely in control of the outcome of that game. Just stick with it and pay attention to the physics, focus on “stilling” the ball and imparting vertical momentum and the secret genius of video pinball will open up to you. I want to give this game 5 stars, but I still do not see that needed oomph that would make the game a platform defining title. Yet, it should be the defining title against all future pinball titles are measure (which they are not). So I give the game a solid 4 stars.