The Pinball Arcade (not just ANY pinball arcade, mind you: THE Pinball Arcade) has a mission statement. That’s right, the game tells you when you first start it up that it has a purpose and objective. TPA claims that it is the most accurate video pinball experience ever created, and admittedly, it’s a pretty solid work. Faithful recreations of four tables from four different pinball companies are found in TPA, complete with reproductions of all the on-screen video. The Pinball Arcade tries to revive the glory of the classic pinball era, and it does so pretty gracefully. But does the game grip you to the screen the same way you’d feel in an arcade, and does it hold up to the competition of the other popular video pinball game, Pinball FX2?
The game offers four tables meant to span a range of challenge and complexity, covering an expanse of pinball history ranging from the 1970s through the late 90s. “Tales of the Arabian Nights,” a machine that can be found in Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection, provides multiple objectives and all sorts of special loops and ramps, while the simplicity of the 1970s “Black Hole” provides a straight-to-the-point score challenge that shows just how far pinball machine design has come by comparison. Bally’s “Theatre of Magic” and Stern Pinball’s “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” round out the collection, providing a great variety of options for play. But even with a good selection of tables, the game’s success or failure boils down to the pinball engine itself, and The Pinball Arcade doesn’t disappoint.
The game’s control structure is identical to Pinball FX2, allowing you to use the right stick for ball launching and the left and right triggers for flipper control. Flicking the left stick will nudge the table, and over-nudging will tilt the table, causing you to lose the ball in play. Unlike FX2, TPA requires you to complete certain objectives on the table’s default settings before allowing you to take over and tweak things like table angle and other metrics pinball fanatics use. It turns out to be a rewarding system, giving you an objective to aspire towards while playing each machine. The tables themselves work very well; a great physics engine keeps the ball moving realistically, while the option to pause the game and “Call Attendant” exists just in case you get the ball stuck. Though I never actually had to call the attendant, the idea that I could still seems funny and cute.
I only experienced minor glitches in the game, a couple of situations where the ball would seem to warp through my flipper and down into the dead zone, but this only happened once or twice over the span of the many, many hours I put into the title. I’ll also admit that sometimes gameplay doesn’t feel as quickly paced as FX; neither of the two camera angles feel as dynamic or exciting as its competitor, but perhaps that harkens back to the realistic experience that TPA strives for. You won’t see any CGI character fights or huge explosions on these tables, but the gameplay of each table itself is more than enough to hold the attention.
As a side note, one really great feature of the game is its devotion to history. The Pinball Arcade makes you feel as if you’re walking into a history museum of sorts when you first start it up. An 0n-screen message appears, explaining that the game’s objective is to revive interest in pinball. Each table starts with a sort of byline about its history, including the company that made the table, the year it was made, the number of tables that were manufactured, and a bit about what makes the table special. As an information junkie, I loved reading about what made each table special to the pinball world, and I’ll admit I hopped onto a couple blogs and websites just to read more about pinball afterwards. If this game’s objective is to raise interest in real-life pinball, then its achieved its goal.
The Pinball Arcade is a well-composed title that stays grounded in realism and delivers a fun, energetic pinball experience. Without the fear of losing tons of quarters, it’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to help Ali Baba escape the 40 thieves or finishing off the last part of a pinball magic act. Though you may run into the very-occasional glitch and the game doesn’t offer the explosions and visual excitement of Pinball FX2, The Pinball Arcade is a great way for new and old fans to enjoy the glamor and charm of classic, simulation-style pinball.