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The Pinball Arcade review for XBLA, PSN

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Also On: PSN
Publisher: Crave Entertainment
Developer: FarSight Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Yes
ESRB: E

The Pinball Arcade is a new digital platform released this week for XBLA that’s meant to represent actual, real life pinball tables in digital form, developed by FarSight Studios. FarSight has been putting out video game pinball titles for a while now, and were behind the Williams, Bally’s, and Gottlieb collections that were featured on a number of platforms over the past few years. The Pinball Arcade comes off as a culmination of their efforts up to this point, and promises to be a serious contender for the best version of video game pinball you’re likely to ever see.

The initial offering of four tables represents a pretty eclectic mix of fan favorites and curiosities. Tables like Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, Tales of the Arabian Nights, and Theater of Magic are probably going to be more familiar to fans than the fourth table, Black Hole. But all four are represented here in painstakingly accurate detail, right down to their dot matrix displays, sound FX, music, voices, and physics. This release marks the best representation I’ve ever seen of actual pinball tables in video game form, and ensures that The Pinball Arcade has my full support going forward.

Of the four, I’d say that TOTAN and Theater of Magic remain my favorites, helped by the fact that I’ve actually played both tables in real life before. They both feel more akin to modern pinball tables, and because of that I think are better geared to an intermediate player skill, like myself. But Black Hole has certainly managed to capture my attention in this release. It’s the oldest of the bunch, released in 1981, and doesn’t have much in the way of crazy table goals or other objectives found in the busier selections of this release. But it’s incredibly difficult to do well at, and the concept of a lower level section that acts as an upside down pinball table is pretty awesome, and something I’d love to check out for real at some point in my life.

And really, that’s the big draw for this release, and future DLC. Being able to experience tables I’ve never played, and will most likely never have the chance to, is certainly a huge deal. And the fact that FarSight has really nailed down every aspect of these individual tables without seemingly skipping a feature or mechanic, makes this a noteworthy addition to anyone’s digital library of games.

My only small nitpick is that the online leaderboard functionality could be a little more in your face than it currently is. This is one area where Zen Studios excels with their pinball titles, in that you’re constantly chasing the scores of your friends and the top of the leaderboards for every table, because those scores are almost constantly being compared to yours every time you sit down to play. The Pinball Arcade has online leaderboards, of course, but I think burying them in the menu instead of putting them front and center is the wrong way to go.

Besides the loving re-creation of the tables, there are a few other bells and whistles that’ll appeal to the bigger pinball fans out there. Each table includes a scanned image of the flyer that helped sell the tables to arcades around the world, which is fun to see. There’s also a great breakdown explanation of each goal for every table, which maps out what targets need to be triggered and how the goal is performed, including what bonuses are applied by achieving those goals. There’s also a little bit of background information on each table given, which is nice to have for some historical context.

If you have any love for pinball, you should definitely pick up The Pinball Arcade. Its presentation and re-creation of actual pinball tables is second to none, and deserves to be seen and experienced by as many people as possible. I can’t wait to tear into future tables that will be offered as DLC, but as it stands, this release of four will keep me busy for weeks to come. I highly recommend checking it out, and hope fans will support this ambitious venture going forward.

Grade: A