Reviewed: December 16, 2004
Released: November 1, 2004
Younger gamers probably won’t have the nostalgic appreciation required to enjoy a retro game like Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection. To be honest, even with my advanced years I came in on the tail end of the pinball craze. The first time I went to an arcade (around 1980) the ratio of pinball machines versus arcade machines was about 50-50 and within 3-4 years pinball machines had all but vanished from the arcades. Now you might find one in a bar or bowling alley but they are nothing like the antiques you will experience in Crave’s latest trip down memory lane.
Spanning more than 50 years of pinball history, Pinball Hall of Fame features seven of Gottlieb’s greatest pinball tables from the 50’s all the way to their ultimate demise in the 90’s. Save those quarters for the laundry room, as older gamers can now relive a very special moment from gaming history and younger gamers can get a taste of what gaming was like back when their dad was a kid.
Pinball Hall of Fame is packaged much like the recent Midway and Atari retro collections. You get a virtual arcade stuffed with machines that you can scroll through and either play or view legacy material, original art, and promotional materials. In some ways this game is more geared to pinball historians than pinball players. And if you don’t feel like reading the manual you can actually zoom in on the tables and read the original instructions printed on the table labels.
The seven tables represent some of pinball’s greatest moments over a 50-year time frame, and as you go back in time the gameplay definitely shows its primitive roots. The 1957 Ace High table is very basic, especially compared to anything you might find in active service today. Even the 1993 Tee’d Off is a bit of a cultural shock.
Surprising enough, the best table of the bunch (in my opinion) is the 1987 Black Hole, not only because it has one of the best designs, but because I actually played the real table back in the day and it all came back to me. For those who never played Black Hole, there is actually a mini-pinball table under the main board that slopes the opposite way. If you drop the ball into this lower table you then have to keep it “alive” with flippers at the other end as you hit the ball back toward you.
The 1979 Genie is another great table featuring no less than five flippers and some challenging gameplay that requires a lot of precision shot making. All of the tables have their own unique challenges and level of difficulty. You’ll quickly learn to appreciate some of the wonderful designs when you graduate from a table consisting primarily of bumpers and targets to the more sophisticated tables with spiraling rails and multiple arrays of flippers.
FarSight Studios have already proven they can handle “ball physics” with last year’s release of Mojo! and if nothing else, Pinball Hall of Fame features some of the most realistic ball movement and reactions in any pinball game to date on the PC or a console. The flippers react very well with the tap of the R1 and L1 buttons and the left analog stick gives you variable control over the launch plunger for those skill shots.
FarSight has really done their homework in researching the original materials for these tables. All of the bonus material is totally authentic but nothing compares to the stunning artwork of the tables themselves. The colors are rich and vibrant and there is a polished sheen to the glass top that reflects the unseen vertical score section of the machine. Even the cool silver metallic ball reflects its surroundings.
Now comes the only negative thing I have to say about Pinball Hall of Fame and this is tough because this is an issue that has plagued pinball games since they were first replicated on a computer. How do you get a traditionally “vertical” game to play on a traditionally “horizontal” system? Some games shrink down the table to fit the entire surface on half the screen leaving the rest for scoring and perhaps the artwork from the vertical section of the machine. Those are the ones that work with any type of success.
In this particular game FarSight gives you two camera views to choose from, a fixed view and a dynamic view. At first the fixed view seems to be the lesser of the two evils. Imagine planting your chin on the glass about six inches behind the flippers. It’s a very shallow view that keeps you from seeing anything on the top half of the table.
Your other option is the dynamic view that zooms in on the ball and follows a small area that surrounds it. This is a great way to see all of the wonderful details in artwork and table mechanics like lights, plungers, bumpers, and targets right up to the point where you blow chunks all over your TV from motion sickness. Plus, with this limited view it makes it hard to line up shots or anticipate which flipper to use.
I have to admit the sound isn’t going to win any awards for technical achievement but it is 100% authentic to the original tables, which is all you really can ask for in a retro collection like this. Keep in mind that back in the 50’s and 60’s pinball games didn’t have much more than bells and buzzers, and even when you get into the 80’s and 90’s tables the synthesized music, voices and other effects are still quite primitive by today’s standards.
Seven tables, each with a rich historic legacy, four player support, unlockable bonuses, and challenging gameplay will keep both young and old entertained for countless hours. And at only $19 this is the perfect impulse buy.
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection was a wonderful trip down memory lane; at least for the tables I actually remembered playing. Some of the older ones actually predated my arcade days and gave me a unique insight into the evolution of the pinball franchise.
If you are remotely interested in pinball, especially from an historical standpoint, or you are just looking for some good wholesome family entertainment without visiting a smoky bar or bowling alley and dropping a few dozen quarters into a slot then this is the game for you.