I was hoping this one would come to the Switch ever since I played Stern Pinball Arcade months ago. FarSight Studios have already been great at converting arcade pinball cabinets to video game form with their previous installments so what else could I really expect from a release of The Pinball Arcade at this point in time? Well, a lot of fun for starters! I know I’m jumping the gun a little early by saying that but if you’ve played any of their Pinball Hall of Fame or Pinball Arcade games before, you know what you’re getting into. That’s not to say there’s anything to ignore, though.
As much as I hate to say it, the lack of Bally and Williams tables is a disappointment. I’m sure Farsight feels the same way; this isn’t a matter of the Switch not being able to handle those tables, of course. It’s more about the licensing contract to have the tables ported to begin with. It’s on the verge of expiring with no renewal in sight and players who have the previously released editions of Pinball Arcade have until June 30th before they get removed from digital stores. It truly sucks that the license expiring. It’s an oxymoron for Farsight’s goal to preserve pinball history in video game form and there are some tables from those companies I was looking forward to playing on Switch.
On the flipside, I found it kind of strange to find the Stern tables are here. I mean, I get that they technically originated here, but on the Switch they’re already available through Stern Pinball Arcade. I suppose they’re here to prevent this game from being called “Gottlieb Pinball Arcade”. The only differences between buying the tables here and in Stern is that Flight 2000 is available here and you’ll get to play a different Challenge mode involving a few Gottlieb and Stern tables (meaning you still have to purchase some Gottlieb ones). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is even used again as the free table you start out with. I think the issue here could be rectified if the game were to detect that the players also have the tables in Stern Pinball Arcade, therefore declaring the Stern tables in The Pinball Arcade to be purchased already. That way, Flight 2000 and the Stern + Gottlieb Challenge mode serve as bonus goodies for those buyers.
I know it sounds like I’m beating on the game early into the review, but frankly I wasn’t sure where else I could pick at these things.
You know, the thing with The Pinball Arcade is that you can’t really talk about the visuals without also bringing up the sound design. After all, the two go hand in hand in creating the feel of the cabinets each table in the game is based on. And man, these tables never cease to amaze me! Recreated in playable form for the public to get their hands on affordably, The Pinball Arcade’s tables look and sound exactly like the real deal. Even though Bally and Williams will be missed, the sheer number of varied styles and playfield designs can nevertheless be positively overwhelming. From the action-packed scenery in Rescue 911 to the colorful billiards-inspired display in Cue Ball Wizard, The Pinball Arcade has these elements down-pat.
Of course, how can one forget the old-timey dings and pings of the machines that aren’t as technologically advanced as late ‘70s/’80s cabinets? Big Shot, Jacks Open, and Genie are examples of this era represented here as faithfully as their modern cousins. They aren’t as visually stunning as they are audibly punchy, but they are still interesting to look at if to see just how far pinball games have come since then. In fact, not only does 1987 table Victory feature a sleek racing-style design, but it also has background music so catchy that I willingly listen to it outside of gameplay sometimes. I also can never get enough of the voice samples from a lot of other tables.
The Pinball Arcade ranges from classic pinball of its purest form to modern pinball and all the bells and whistles that come with it. Although pinball can be seen as same-y from a bystander’s perspective, each table really delivers elements that separate each other from one another in fun fashions. These can be subtle changes (such as the way points are gathered and where bigger rewards are hidden) to ones more blatant (EX: Haunted House has two other areas containing flippers for the ball to access). And they are all executed as faithfully to the real things as humanly possible. Hitting the ball around feels perfectly accurate, and the layouts provide a lot of refreshing routes and challenges to take on.
Challenge modes have been a staple in the series for at least over a decade. This, however, is the first time there are multiple ones to take on. There are four in total, and they each have their own table sets for you to play through. The rules here are the same as always; you have to reach an established high score of one table to be able to move on to the next (although you can feel free to rack up as many points as you can for additional Challenge Points). I’ve always loved to play through these as levels in a video game, and the Challenges here proved to be no exception to that rule. For the most part, anyway. I did find one of them to be a bit too simple, though; with only three tables set at very low scores, I guess it was meant to be an entry-level Challenge. The others are up to par with my expectations. Weirdly there’s a slight chance the game would lock up from a software error when transitioning from one table to the next, but the game at least saves where you left off. They should probably fix that.
Even without the Challenges, there is still a ton to do with whatever tables you decide to purchase from the eShop. Each table has a series of Table Goals, essentially acting as achievements/missions you can strive for if you want to spice up your pinball game with something to do beyond grabbing scores. Of course, that isn’t to say the tables themselves aren’t fun to play on their own. I mean, you’re playing a complete replica of a machine you’d otherwise only potentially see in arcades or bars. There’s a reason why this series has gone on for as long as it has. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, I don’t know what you’re doing here. And there’s a whopping 36 available in total for The Pinball Arcade!
If you’ve always been on the fence of getting into pinball gaming, you can always download The Pinball Arcade to play Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for free before digging into its content any further. After all, beyond that is a vast museum of games for you to play – provided you buy the downloadable packs they come in. Plentiful and exciting, The Pinball Arcade is as much of a must-have for pinball fanatics as Stern Pinball Arcade before it.
Review copy provided by Farsight Studios