The iPad launched with a few solid pinball apps, including Gameprom’s Pinball HD. But none was based on pinball games that existed. Instead, they featured imaginary pinball boards designed to show off the iPad.
Pinball veteran Farsight Studios is taking the opposite approach with Pinball Arcade, deciding to translate the best real-life pinball machines from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s.
We spent some time with the ambitious game and walked away fairly impressed.
Pinball Arcade takes on four classic pinballs: Gottlieb’s Black Hole (1981), Bally’s Theater of Magic (1995), William’s Tales of the Arabian Nights (1996), and Stern’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not (2004).
Each of them is radically different from the others in theme and pacing, but all adhere to the basic rules of pinball. Up to four players can compete, and you get three balls per game. Leaderboards track your score (which you can share on Facebook).
You pop the left and right flippers by tapping on the corresponding side of the screen, and you can also turn on the Tilt mechanism to nudge the ball into a better position, at the risk of tilting the machine too much and forfeiting the round. You can earn bonus balls with high scores or lucky matches at the end of a game.
Devil in the details
The graphics are first-rate. You can keep a wide view of the stage, zoom in midway, or get in close to see the details, with everything moving zippily on both iPhone and iPad.
I actually played all of these pinballs one time or another umpteen years ago, and Pinball Arcade feels both accurate and precise.
Theatre of Magic has the big treasure chest, funky voiceovers, and seemingly all the hidden passages, while Tales of the Arabian Nights still has its wacky chutes, Middle Eastern music, and, of course, the big blue genie.
The pixel-based HUD, which is traditionally on the back of the pinball machine, is now in the upper-left hand corner (iPad) or the very top of the screen (iPhone) so it can be seen at all times. The graphics here seem spot-on, too.
We didn’t encounter any slowdown or control issues, even when the game got heated (which was often). Multiball happens pretty regularly, so your screen is packed with flashing lights, spinning turnstiles, and complicated animations. Pinball Arcade handled everything well.
The one gripe we have is with the table download system. When you play a table for the first time, Pinball Arcade has to download it to your app.
The download only takes about ten seconds on a wi-fi connection, and you only have to do it once - presumably to keep the App size down - but it could be a serious inconvenience if you download the app and then decide to play it later in a wi-fi free zone.
Otherwise, we're pining for the days of classic pinball. Pinball Arcade is looking promising. It'll be out as a Universal app later this month.