Friday, November 5, 2021

Games 294-295: Nintendo's Pinball

I'm not crazy about pinball, I haven't been crazy about the early Famicom games, so I'm not thrilled about this post's whale, Nintendo's first pinball game for the Famicom.

Wikipedia states that this was based on a Game & Watch handheld, which are now emulated in MAME, so I played that first.

Game 294: Game & Watch: Pinball


I'm honestly not sure how much I can say that isn't conveyed by the picture. Given that Game & Watch units are more like finite state machines than computers, the best pinball possible is one where all of the ball's possible positions and trajectories have been defined ahead of time and it just traverses this set of possibilities, making it more of an impression of pinball than a simulation of one. You've got two gameplay modes, the main difference being that in Game B, you get only one ball instead of three.

This pinball handheld isn't an altogether terrible time-waster, and as far as impressions of pinball go, it's alright. One issue I've had is that it seems impossible to truly launch the ball when it rolls down the lower ramps - every single time, the flipper either flips too early and clumsily lobs the ball, or flips too late and shoots it at a useless low-angle trajectory (if at all).

GAB rating: Average.


Game 295: Pinball

The three screens of Nintendo's Pinball

Apart from the dual-level, dual-screen format, Pinball on NES doesn't resemble the Game & Watch layout all that closely. It's got the same basic elements, but on different parts of the table, and overall has a lot more going on in it, which to me is a good thing. A third "bonus stage" accessible by hitting drop targets and shooting into a hole offers a frustrating Breakout-like challenge where clearing targets gives you the chance to rescue a "lady."

Controls are a bit unusual, with the left flipper engaged by pressing any direction on the d-pad, and the right by pressing A or B. I'd have preferred A+B for both flippers, but Nintendo's setup works well enough for a gamepad. It might be confusing on a keyboard. Pinball physics aren't convincing at all, but they work well enough for a casual experience. Just don't expect finesse to do much more than keep the ball in play - you can't even nudge the table.

I played until I was able to rescue the lady in "B" mode, which runs faster. During the same game, I attained 100,000 points, at which point the flippers turned invisible. I didn't last long after that.


Some gameplay notes -

  • On the bottom screen, uncovering all five cards reveals a royal flush, scoring 5,000 points and raising the drain blocker.
  • Touching an egg hatches it. Touching the chick removes it, and passing by the empty space brings the egg back. Hatching all three chicks at once raises stoppers in the side lanes.
  • Hitting all of the numbered targets on the left scores a 1,000 point bonus and opens a gate back into the shooter lane.
  • On the top screen, shooting the ball through the 500 point lane causes slots - initially represented by the penguins - to start spinning.
  • Hitting the target above the slots stops them, and may grant a bonus for certain combinations.
    • 3 3 3 - 3,330 point bonus and the drain blocker is raised for six seconds.
    • 7 7 7 - 7,770 point bonus and the drain blocker is raised for fourteen seconds.
    • 🐧 🐧 🐧 - drain blocker is raised, and doubles your points scored while it is raised.
  • Hitting all of the targets to the left of the slots scores 1,000 points.
  • Hitting all of the lights on the upper-left lane scores 2,000 points.
  • The target on the upper-left increases in value by 100 points each time it is hit, up to a maximum of 1,000. Shooting the ball through the upper-left lane resets the value to 100.
  • Hitting the hole on the bottom screen enters the bonus stage, where passing the ball over a numbered lamp changes the color. Setting one entire column to the same color drops the lady and scores 10,000 points if you catch her and bring her to the exit, but costs you a ball if you fail.


GAB rating: Above Average. Pinball does what it's trying to do and does it competently enough, but its kind of generic-feeling table and loose physics isn't enough to overcome my dislike of pinball. It's still my second-favorite pinball game covered so far, surpassed by Night Mission Pinball, which offers more satisfying and more convincing physics and a well-realized theme. It will likely be a long time before I cover a pinball game again.

Next on the whaling log is Nintendo's Wild Gunman, a remake of one of their earliest (and lost) arcade games, but we're going to put that one off in favor of Ballblazer, the first video game by LucasFilm. Reason being, this is a light gun game, and I ordered some LCD-compatible light guns, but I'm still waiting for them to arrive. Depending on how long, we may just do all of the Nintendo's 1984 light gun games in one post.

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