Review: Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection

by Brandon on

I was lucky growing up with a dad who liked to play pinball. I experienced firsthand that magical time when there was an arcade on every other corner, and if you couldn’t find an arcade, there were videogames in banks, grocery stores, laundromats, everywhere. I was lucky because I think while some parents would dread taking their child to a technological den of demons, my dad didn’t mind, because there would be pinball. Back then I would play pinball from time to time, but in general the time spent playing was 97% videogames, and 3% pinball (if that)–pinball usually outnumbered videogames in the arcades, but obviously the HIGH TECH videogames were more interesting and addictive. One of my early memories, however, is reading an article about Black Knight in some magazine. The article made it sound like the second coming of pinball, and I was converted. I had to find this pinball machine, as did my dad, and we were off.

Much like I’ll never forget the first time I saw Star Wars in the theater, I’ll never forget the first time I saw Black Knight. With its upper level and ramps (a first) and the extra buttons for its magna-save (another first), the machine was as ominous and intimidating as the Black Knight on the display, and the voice daring me to play. As much as I liked playing Black Knight, I never conquered it, but I’ll just blame that on me being a kid that liked flipping the buttons and seeing the shiny ball bounce around.

So fast forward to college, when I wasn’t a kid, and had the motor skills to actually play pinball with a modicum of skill. I’m of the mindset that you haven’t gone to college unless you’ve played hours of pinball with friends in some dive bar. If you’re in college now, and haven’t done this, you’re missing out on your education. My dive bar was a hot dog joint named Bojo’s, and again I was lucky, because the manager played guitar in my band, and the assistant manager was my roommate…you would be correct in thinking I spent quite a bit of time in there. Bojo’s always had two pinball machines against the wall, back-to-back, and thankfully the machines had a nice rotation so we wouldn’t get bored playing the same machine for six months.

Off the top of my head, I played plenty of Taxi, Bad Cats, Whirlwind, Funhouse, Earthshaker, and more at Bojo’s, so you can imagine my nostalgic glee when I saw that Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection not only includes most of the tables I played and played and played in its collection, but captures the act of playing pinball perfectly. As much as I enjoy and appreciate pinball, I have never bought into pinball as a videogame. It seems developers always try to take pinball to THE NEXT LEVEL when they spit out pinball games–either they give the ball waaaaaaaaacky characteristics, give the boards craaaaaaazy physics, add way too many kooooooky features, or try to make the boards more funky than that Sesame Street cartoon that taught me how to count to 12. What’s wrong with just playing a good game of pinball?

Nothing, and that’s why this game shines. You begin standing outside an arcade with 20 credits in hand. You can enter the arcade and “free play” (in quotes because not all machines are “free” at the start), take the Williams Challenge (move from machine to machine, earning points as you beat a predetermined score for each game), or start a tournament (multiplayer on a set number of random tables for the best score). You earn more credits by scoring big, and completing challenges for each table (think XBOX 360/Steam achievements). There are two levels of challenges–if you complete the first set you’re given the choice to “unlock” a machine for free play. You can play all the machines from the start, but some of them cost credits to play unless you unlock them to play for free (you can spend 100 credits to unlock a machine, but the first set of table goals are an easier/cheaper method of doing so). The 2nd “wizard” level of goals are decidedly tougher, but completing them let’s you get stuff like a customized ball skin, the ability to turn off tilt, or activate a table’s mirror mode. Pinball has a pretty good replay value in the first place, especially with friends around, but the challenges for each table will definitely have you coming back for more.

Starting a game in the arcade is easy enough–just rotate the camera to the machine you want to play, and hit the A button. One to four players can play a game–sharing a wii-mote/nunchuck or using their own. Controls are as simple as you would think: the Z button on the nunchuck is the left flipper, the B button on the wiimote is the right flipper. The analog stick is your plunger, and, of course, shaking the nunchuck or wii-mote nudges the table left or right. The only other control you need to worry about is activating the magna-save on the above-mentioned Black Knight, and that’s just as simple. The controls are dead-on responsive, right down to the analog plunger where sensitivity is vital to pulling off skill shots on certain tables. I didn’t think it would matter, but not having my hands confined in the middle to a single controller really adds to the pinball effect–add the rumble to certain effects, and the controls for Pinball Hall of Fame make playing pinball on a console feel as realistic as they possibly can.

Pinbot is a dick in this game too.

Controls aren’t the only realistic aspect of the game. The first time I fired up Taxi I thought something seemed “off”…then I realized that on the Taxi table I always played, the yellow “C-A-B” sticker across the upper ramp was peeling off. In Hall of Fame, that sticker is intact, and made me realize how much the machines are realistically and faithfully recreated, right down to the glare on the glass top. There’s multiple camera angles you can choose from, but not once have I had a problem following the ball on the default setting. I did get a message once that “the ball fell through the table” which was actually kind of funny, but I guess that happens if there’s a collision detection error. It’s only happened once, and I’ve played a LOT, so I’m thinking it’s a rare occurrence, and even when it happened, it wasn’t annoying or frustrating since the ball was just reset at the plunger.

It’s not just the graphics that take you back to when you actually played the games–the physics feel far from virtual. The pinball isn’t just a metallic, graphical sphere rolling around; you can almost feel the weight of it. I’ve yet to see a ball get stuck on a table, but if it ever does there’s a “Call Attendent” option where you can have the ball reset. Even though tables may have the same elements (bumpers, ramps, flipper, etc) each table has a unique feel, and the developers nailed that. For example, the jet bumpers of Whirlwind feel like the jet bumpers or the actual Whirlwind machine, and not, say, those of Gorgar. The developers didn’t just create a blanket “jet bumper effect” and slap it across all the tables, and that attention to detail is appreciated the more you play each table. Everything behaves as if you were playing pinball–not as if you were playing a video game of pinball.

With such attention to detail on the graphics and physics of each pinball machine, you can be sure the same attention was spent on the sound of each machine. Again, it helps if you’ve actually played the games before, but believe me when I say they nailed the sound effects as well. The first time I heard Whirlwind say “Well looky here!” I could almost taste the hot dogs and cheap beer. The only sound effect I haven’t heard is when things get really wild sometimes the ball will jump up and smack on the underside of the glass, but that borders on nitpicking. The dings, the beeps, the bumps, the voices…all the sound effects are spot-on and glorious. Since the game takes place in an arcade, you hear some nice ambient arcade noises in the background, and while the metal guitar riff soundtrack seems a little cheesy, they do help with the retro feel…kind of.

As much as I’ve gushed about Pinball Hall of Fame you’d think Mr. Face would think it’s awesome, but he doesn’t for one great big glaring omission–there’s no internet leader board. The whole goal of pinball is not only to get the highest score, but brag about your highest score. Granted, the game was only 20 bucks, but even a “cheap” game like Geometry Wars: Galaxies has online leader boards. I realize it may be too much to ask for online tournaments a la Mario Kart, but the lack of an online leader board is a grave oversight. Perhaps if there’s a sequel (with Bad Cats, please?) they will see the light.

For some reason, all the screenshots are of the PS2 version (you can tell if the background is a boring brick wall). The Wii's graphics look better, but this image of Jive Time doesn't really do it justice since it's the oldest game in the collection, and doesn't have much going on. Oh well!

One could complain that there aren’t enough tables to choose from, but for 20 bucks, one would be an idiot to do so. And finally, if the introductory four paragraphs of my history with pinball didn’t spell it out, people that have never played these games and/or aren’t that into pinball obviously might not find much to appreciate here, because that’s all the game is: pinball, pinball, and more pinball (I should mention for those that aren’t familiar with the tables, each one has a fantastic tutorial/instructions on how to play each table, how to score big, which targets to hit when, etc). For the price and what it offers, Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection is easily one of my favorite Wii games. Ever since we bought a house, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a pinball machine for the basement. I honestly don’t feel the need to do that anymore.

Mr. Face say this game **good**.<br/> Mr. Face never wrong! face
Mr. Face say this game **good**.
Mr. Face never wrong!