Written by: Rik

Date posted: May 26, 2014

Party Land: lining up another soon-to-be-miscued shot.

Party Land: lining up another soon-to-be-miscued shot.

A quick browse through the archives suggests that the urge to play a pinball game strikes me roughly once every six years. Which means that it’s surely time for me to look at another and swell our coverage to three reviews. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t care much for real pinball, and it may as well not have been invented as far as I’m concerned; for me, pinball means VGA graphics and Sound Blaster music. (Of course, as an occasional player, it does maybe mean I’m not best qualified to cover the genre, and as such there is a limit to what I can say – or perhaps there’s just not much to say about pinball games, who knows).

Anyway, Pinball Fantasies ticks both boxes in terms of early-mid 90s graphics and sound. It also happens to be the precursor to Pinball Illusions, the first pinball game covered on FFG, and one of the oldest reviews on the site. As part of an ongoing process of highlighting the folly of reviewing games in the wrong order, as well as the rather shambolic and piecemeal nature of my own early contributions, it seems worth admitting now that Illusions remains my favourite pinball title, a fact which I failed to highlight sufficiently – along with several other important details – in my rather brief review. (Now seems as good a time as any to take another look, though, which we’ve done).

Speed Devils: some lights are better than none, I guess.

Speed Devils: some lights are better than none, I guess.

Back to the matter at hand, and in the absence of having unearthed a better and more original way of covering this kind of thing, we’ll run through each of the four tables, starting with the one that you press F1 to play, which is called Party Land. A traditional fairground is the setting, complete with jolly oompah-pah circus music – although based on my real-life experience of ‘all the fun of the fair’, some mad thumping techno would have been more appropriate (and well within the grasp of the developers, if Illusions is anything to go by). Still, there is some concession to the real thing: one of the sequences of letters you need to light is P-U-K-E. Overall, despite initial impressions that this might be one of the easier tables, with some cheap points on offer, the really big scores involve some considerable setting up – a feat which proved largely beyond me.

F2 gives you Speed Devils, which is kind of the opposite experience: no easy accidental points, and you have to actually know what you’re doing to score, but once you do, you can play the table as intended fairly easily. There’s a motor racing theme, which is the cue for some fairly terrible fake-engine-based music, and it also means that you need to build up speed by hitting targets to change gear, and then hit the ramps to perform an overtaking manoeuvre and improve your race position. If and when you get on a roll, there are some points, and fun, to be had here.

Billion Dollar Gameshow: this may look impressive, but all you need to do is hit that blue thing with LOCK written on it.

Billion Dollar Gameshow: this may look impressive, but all you need to do is hit that blue thing with LOCK written on it.

The F3rd table [oh dear God – a reader] is Billion Dollar Gameshow. Which is…well, you can probably guess the theme for this one. This is probably my second favourite table, in terms of slapping your fingers on the keyboard for another go expecting the next one to bring the high score your efforts deserve. In my case, though, much like on the Party Land table, said big score never arrived, with the biggest earners again requiring some significant setup, although nifty use of the skill shot unlocks a mode called ‘Money Mania’ which can bring small millions your way. I never managed to win the car or the TV though.

The F4ourth (yes, went for it again) and final table – and in my opinion, the best – is Stones and Bones, a spooky Halloween-style affair which offers superior pinball-based witches and bats action to that served up by Psycho Pinball‘s Trick or Treat. (And, if there was a way to go to an alternate time and space where a) my opinion mattered, and b) the two games had been released in the same year, they could have stuck that quote on the box). It’s my favourite, largely because it’s the highest scoring, and the one where it’s easiest to work out what to do, and as a result it comes first in my own personal ‘just one more go’ evaluation. However, all things are relative, and as such I should note here that my best efforts were still pretty pathetic compared to what is possible on this table. Oh, and the spooky music is quite good, too.

Stones and Bones: there's no third flipper on this table, so the skill shot is achieved by releasing the ball straight through the flashing letter.

Stones and Bones: there’s no third flipper on this table, so the skill shot is achieved by releasing the ball straight through the flashing letter.

Pinball Fantasies is definitely good fun for a while, but for whatever reason – and I’m perfectly willing to accept that my own incompetence and inability to stop thwacking the ball into a point-free no-man’s-land in the centre of the table could be the main one – it just lacks that essential addictive quality that keeps you compulsively playing your favourite tables over and over again. And, as hinted at up at the top of the review, my main problem here is that I can’t help but come back to Pinball Illusions as a point of comparison. Apart from the ability to actually make constructive use of the nudge button (including, on a couple of triumphant occasions, to bounce the ball back from a position of certain doom underneath the flippers) I can’t think of any reason to favour the older game: Illusions is faster, slicker, more forgiving, and has better tables, graphics and sound.

And that’s it for our pinball coverage until 2020, when I will likely return with the stunning revelation that Pinball Dreams isn’t quite as good as this one.