reviews\ Feb 9, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Austin Powers Pinball - PC - Review

I am a big fan of pinball. In fact, I would boast that I border on pinball "Wizard" status. For those of us old enough to pre-date video games, arcades consisted of nothing much more than the clang and stutter of these glass and wood mechanical wonders. As technology evolved, they became digital and sounded like something from outer space. I still recall the sweaty hands and excitement the first time I saw Spiderman Pinball with it's LED displays and super-cool sounds. Then, they were brought home to play on consoles and personal computers-- with varying levels of success. There have been some fun and unique offerings for the PC, but sadly, this is not one of them. 

Austin Powers Pinball warns of "comic mischief", "suggestive themes" and "mild violence". I must have played this wrong, as I saw nothing as titillating as this. Instead, it is something so sub-par that you'd expect to get a free bowl of soup or bumper sticker to compensate for it's shortcomings. Yes, that is harsh, but we're talking about a major name and/or franchise. This isn't "Billy Bob's Pinball Adventure" or some other obscure title. I wonder if Mike Myers even knows this thing was made? 

Maybe I have been spoiled by some pinball games from the past. Sierra's "Creep Night" and NASCAR Pinball are a couple of my favorites. Bringing pinball to a more high tech medium like a PC is a challenge, but many offerings from recent years have pulled it off well. Austin Powers Pinball aims low and still misses the mark. I can't blame it on rushing it to release with a movie (like Disney usually does), as it does not include the most recent sequel ("Goldmember"), but instead consists of the first two movies: "Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery" and "The Spy Who Shagged Me". Those are your table choices, and there is not much difference. 

You can play in various graphics modes, depending on your video card's abilities. I could not, for example, play in 1280x1024 mode. There are five modes in all, starting with 640x480 and leading up to the previously mentioned highest mode. After selecting your graphical mode, you can adjust some (useless) audio settings and move on to selecting your table and level of play. The table choices have been mentioned, and the levels consist of Novice, Regular, Arcade and Tournament. The differences between them all is minor. Such as Tournament offering no free balls nor free games to win. Regular gives you five balls, which I tried to play more than the others. 

Like a real pinball machine, you can nudge the table (press the spacebar) to finesse the ball as need. Do this too much and you tilt. Your flippers are controlled with the "Shift" keys, and "Enter" launches the ball. Pretty simple to understand. Problem is, the "tables" do not act like the real thing. I never got the feel that it was more than a simulation-- and a poor one. There are ramps, bumpers and plenty of challenges to undertake, but none of them were rewarding and many were just TOO difficult to accomplish. Unlike most video pinball games I have played, I never got the feel for rolling the ball down the flipper to the spot needed to launch it with intention. It had no A.I. at all. 

In your visual modes, you can choose to have the table all on your screen-- and small-- or scrolling as the ball moves. None of these options were satisfying. The whole table view is too small. The table is justified to the left, and to the right is a generic Austin Powers graphic. At the bottom, they have tried to simulate some of the arcade machines' LED displays. which show Austin various comical (yawn) animations. 

In scrolling. larger modes, the whole table moves up and down with the ball's movement, which will just plain drive you insane. The ball comes down too fast at times, and unless you have memorized every square inch of the table, this results in lost balls as it zips down and through the flippers before you can react. Sierra, for example, addresses these challenges by getting away from trying to make it like a real table. They make their simulated tables more wide instead of long. This enables full graphical views and better control. So, it CAN be done. 

The graphics were average. In some modes, below average. The ball's animation was crisp, but the tables were below ability. We're not talking about Quake 3 here. Depending on which graphical mode you choose, you may experience some expected pixelation. 

The sound was (generally) terrible. The table sounds were ok, but the background talking and sound byte from the movies were quiet, not clear. I grew weary of hearing "Groovy" and other (formerly) endearing movies sounds. They were so bad that they were annoying rather than an enhancement. 

I played this longer than I wanted to, as I hoped I would get the hang of the flippers and maybe grow to like the sights and sounds. Instead, I grew to dread launching the program and decided to stop before I all-out hated the game. Only die-hard AP fans will get something out of this one. Pinball fans will cringe and run away. I seriously had to install Creep Night just to cleanse myself from this adventure. Nothing Groovy about this game, I am sad to say. Maybe next time?

Gameplay: 4
Learning to play it is easy, but maintaining your level of interest may require patience of steel. Not much more to say about the play, as it is fairly cut and dry. Keep the ball alive and try for various bonus opportunities. There just isn't anything to keep you wanting to experience it over and over-- the mark of a solid playing adventure.   

Graphics: 5 
Except for some flash with the ball and bumpers, there isn't much to admire here. No good table animations or anything special to make you awe in the design. Just average.  

Sound: 4
Very poor background sounds, though the table sounds did sound authentic. That was nice, but not enough to lift the game's audio above a poor effort.  

Difficulty: Medium
Easy to learn, but hard to control the ball via the flippers. They never felt like they could be controlled, and the ball movement was inconsistent. Very hard to "aim" the ball to get up ramps and etc as needed for bonuses and free balls. 

Concept: 4 
There is nothing new here. In fact, some of the old DOS pinball games were more fun. Sierra and other makers have taken this arcade standard and made it unique to home platforms, but it seems as if this title didn't even try to get that notoriety. 

Multiplayer: N/A 
Though you can play multiple players, I did not attempt this. It would be the same game, anyway.  

Overall: 4
I was disappointed, and that is being kind. I am a pinball fan, and an Austin Powers fan. With this title, I couldn't lose, right? Well, I did. It was a chore to play, and that was a shame. There is so much that could be done with this franchise, but nothing clever was attempted. Their intention was to leave it as a traditional and authentic pinball experience, but it did not hit that mark. I am a big believer in keeping it simple, but when you do that, the pressure is on even more. When you take a basic game and keep it that way, you must make sure it works as it should. This game did not. I could learn to tolerate the annoying scrolling, but the flipper controls and poor sound just made it an empty experience. I think they should have changed the name on this one. It is less like something "Austin Powers", and more like something from Dr. Evil....  emphasis on the Evil.

Below Average

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