The Pinball Arcade Review (iOS/iPad)

There’s no shortage of great pinball games on the iPad and iPhone, between Zen Studios’ stellar Zen Pinball compilation and ooo Gameprom’s Pinball HD Collection.  These guys are devoted to making games feel like real pinball again, rather than flawed digital creations that lack the proper tilting to feel authentic.  And they’re not alone.  Farsight Studios, the developer behind the Pinball Hall of Fame games for Crave, have joined the party with their superb The Pinball Arcade.

The title says it all.  The package comes with one table included in the $.99 price tag, Williams’ Tales of the Arabian Knight.  And for $9 more, you can add three other great tables from arcade yesteryear – Gottlieb’s Black Hole, Stern Pinball’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and Bally’s Theater of Magic.  You could just get away with getting the one table and then trying out the other three, but something tells us that after you play them once, you’re going to want them to return.

These aren’t just second-rate recreations of these classic tables – they ARE the tables, from the placement of flippers to the way the bumpers react to the LED screens that keep track of your progress and offer cinematic displays when stuff occurs.  Farsight actually keeps quite a few pinball tables in its development studios, and knows them inside and out.  And it shows with every minute you play with these games, building up high scores and studying up on their history.

Along with the tables (which are unlocked through free play upon purchase), you also get slight historic facts, including notes that detail each one and flyers, which you can zoom in and take a closer look at.  A making-of for the game would’ve been ideal, but perhaps Farsight is saving that for a DLC pack down the road.  And yes, downloadable content is coming, including great tables like Attack From Mars, Medieval Madness and several others.  A small price to pay for building your own virtual rec room.

The visual presentation of The Pinball Arcade is basic enough, consisting of the menus and the tables themselves.  But you can actually pick from several view angles, to whatever suits your fancy.  What’s more, the game runs at pitch perfect speed, with barely any slowdown to throw off your momentum as you shoot for ramps and bonus rounds.  More detail would’ve been welcome in parts, like the spinning palette on the Black Hole table.  But that’s just being nitpicky.

Likewise, I think the sound couldn’t be any better.  The sounds of the silver ball coming off bumpers and skill shots is impressive, just like you’d find on the actual machines.  The voicework is good too, from the talking tiki head in Ripley’s (“That’s so weird, mon!”) to the taunting Genie in Tales (“Care to do that again?!”)

It also plays quite realistically, a huge factor in Farsight’s development favor.  If there’s any slight flaw to this package, it’s that the leaderboards aren’t quite 100 percent yet, as sometimes certain scores don’t upload.  But Farsight is working on that, and the game will soon have Game Center support, for those who like tracking what goals they accomplished.

If you’re a true pinball enthusiast – like me – or are just curious what used to entertain us before home consoles took off like they did, The Pinball Arcade is an essential purchase.  Ten bucks may be a high price for a quartet of pinball emulations, but you’ll truly get your money’s worth.  Can’t wait for the next round of tables.