Bidula’s Last Word: The Pinball Arcade (or, How I Avoided the Obvious Reference to The Who in My Title)

Emulators are God’s gift to retrogaming.

Most of you already know this, though there are those among you who have since ranked-out of the gaming world. You may not realize that, through the right channels, you can download emulators which will allow you to play just about any game across any system ever invented without the necessity of a trip to the used section of GameStop or a weekend expedition to the Flea Market. The only downshot to this method of play is that, to get the good stuff, you have to go to the internet equivalent of the classic shady dirt mall and what you download may not be what exactly you wanted. Caviat Emptor. Or, in this case, Caviat Ereptor.

Emulation is usually associated with console or arcade gaming. In my normal course of farting around research, I realized that there was a different type of emulation which completely blew my mind: Pinball Machine Emulators.

Pinball is a lost art. Many enjoy playing, but few are made and even fewer are made available. Usually you can’t get a good game of pinball without specifically seeking it out. Even at that, some places may not have the specific machine for which you are searching. If they do, there’s a good chance it’s in some random state of disrepair.

Thanks to the magic of modern physics engines and next-gen graphics, you can play an emulated table from the comfort of your own home.

While there is a decent underground community dedicated to building every pinball machine ever made within an emulation program, this is still a black market thing. After some additional searching (due to the fact that I didn’t want to deal with any bullshit with the internet dirt mall) I found that there are a few white-market fully endorsed pinball emulators, though they cost some scratch to get.

Specifically, Farsight Studios’ The Pinball Arcade. This game, available for download through most consoles, iPad/Phone, and Android currently has a total of 14 machines available for play (Android only, consoles and iProducts are waiting for the expansions). Most of them are available as a “free version” that cuts your game off when it reaches a certain score. Once you realize the reality of this, however, you won’t see much of a problem with shelling out the necessary dough to get some of your favorite pinball machines of all time in a perfect working state and on-demand.

Machines include the “greatest hits” of Bally, Williams, and Stern including Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Theatre of Magic, Bride of Pinbot, Cirqus Voltaire, Funhouse, Monster Bash, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. 8 more titles are lined up for future release including such favorites as Attack from Mars and Star Trek: TNG.

While these titles are all well and good (and also very fun to play), the main attraction for me was what may be the greatest pinball machine of the modern era: Medieval Madness.

The attraction here is that it’s rare enough that you find a Medieval Madness machine to play on and even more rare when you find one in full working condition. Medieval Madness was extremely fun in the flesh but was also very prone to breakage. Some triggers wouldn’t fire when passed over, some had trolls that were imbedded into the board and unable to lift, and let’s not even get into the mechanics of the castle…

I once told myself I would never pay for any app on Android, however, I had to violate my own rule for the thought of getting this table unlocked (free cuts you off at 7,000,000). To have a carbon copy of that machine miniaturized and on my phone, available for play at any dull moment was too big a temptation to resist. Let me tell you, I can smell the coffee and cigarettes of the Oakland Beehive every time I play.

Tables cost $2.99 a piece and are usually sold bundled with one other table for $4.99. I went the bundle option and got both Medieval Madness and Bride of Pinbot in their full glory. I am tempted to pick up some more tables, but I’m content with the two I have for now.

For those of you who need to game on the ultra-cheap and want to take this puppy for a test run, fear not. Android users have the advantage of one table being named “table of the month” allowing full version play of that table. No scoring cap and only a short billboard ad between games.

Controls are interesting. The console versions make use of the trigger buttons for flippers and the shoulder buttons for nudging the table. Android and iUsers simply touch the lower left and right of the table for flippers, the upper parts for nudging. There is also a setting (at least on the Android version) to allow a shaking the phone to nudge the table. You can tilt, so be careful and don’t get too violent.

Multiplayer (though not online yet) is available allowing the max number of players that would normally be on every table. Understand that I am very serious when I say that these are exact replicas of their respective tables in every way. Popping up trolls can toss the ball into the glass on Medieval Madness. They seriously thought of every aspect including the score screen (which hovers in the upper left hand corner of the screen, small enough to be out of the way but big enough to watch).

The game also offers a pause feature – one of the many things I would have loved as I stood in the old ‘Hive pinball room with an ashtray on the glass and a smoke dangling from my lip.

My only problem with this masterpiece? Lag. I play on a Samsung Galaxy S II, which is a fantastic phone for this sort of thing given its dual-core processor. However, I must always remember to clear the RAM before running this game. At best, it’s smooth and lifelike. At worst, it’s only slightly choppy but the flippers may not respond with the proper timing for which you had hoped.

All in all, for nostalgia’s sake, I strongly recommend this game. It’s fully licensed and has very few problems. Also, based on the update schedule on my phone, I can see that the developers are very attentive to any issues.

Though I miss the days when I could play the tactile version (and trust me, there’s a curve of adjustment), this does very well in recreating both the elation and frustration of real-world pinball.

Bidula’s Last Word: 8.5/10. Repect to the Oakland Hive. May she ever rest in peace.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

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