There are certain games I really enjoy playing on a computer but would never consider in real life. Take golf: I’ve loved various golf games over the years ever since the original Leaderboard, but I’ve never picked up a real golf club in my life. Pinball is another example: I’ve never played on a real table; but the Amiga version of Pinball Dreams and its sequels (released by 21st Century Entertainment and programmed by DICE) turned me into a fan of computerised versions.
And that is why I approached this HD update of Pinball Fantasies (Pinball Dreams’ sequel) with some trepidation, fearing I would see another fond gaming memory trampled to death by a poor remake.
Happily, I needn’t have worried. Developers Cowboy Rodeo have done an excellent job of updating the original game in a sympathetic way, retaining the elements that worked, whilst making changes where needed to bring the game up-to-modern hardware.
The most noticeable difference is in the presentation. Each of the four tables in the game is instantly recognisable to fans of the original; they just been given a lick of HD paint, making the colours much more vibrant and the tables really eye-catching. It’s most obvious on Partyland (my favourite table in this collection). It was always one of the most colourful tables and the new HD graphics really make it look better than ever.
The same is true of the audio. All the tunes and sounds that you remember are still there; they have just been beefed up to take advantage of the improved audio quality of new devices. Play the game with headphones plugged in and it becomes a really immersive experience.
Gameplay-wise, I’m happy to report that very little has obviously changed. The original Pinball Fantasies had very well designed gameplay, with tables offering lots of opportunities to score highly and some cleverly balanced risk-and-reward elements. Whilst tweaks have been made, these are mostly minor. Indeed, the changes are often so subtle, that you will probably not notice the majority of them. The game is as slick, fast and addictive as ever and it’s a lot of fun to firstly work out the scoring system on each table and then master it so you can really go for the those mega scores.
Perhaps the biggest single change is the introduction of a more dynamic camera which follows the ball around the table, rather than the view remaining static. I confess I was a little concerned that this might impact on the gameplay or create visibility issues when it came to hitting specific targets. In fact, like so many other aspects of the game, it has been implemented very well. It adds a natural flow to the game, making it easier to get a feel for the whole table, and causes not issues at all.
Of course, there are a few issues that prevent this from being the perfect pinball fix. In particular, the new physics engine doesn’t feel quite as good as the original. The ball feels “heavier” and a little less responsive, meaning that some shots that I can remember pulling off with ease on the Amiga are a lot harder. 20 years ago, I had a number of favourite shots on each table – shots that I could almost pull off with my eyes closed, but which scored heavily. At first I thought that perhaps I was just mis-remembering how easy these shots were (or that my reactions and skill levels have reduced over the past 20-odd years). Reading some of the reviews, though, it’s clear a lot of other people feel the same (or maybe we’ve just all grown old together!)
The other major issue perhaps relates to the hardware more than the game itself. Whilst the game is perfectly playable on the iPhone, the screen can be a little small and the game cramped as a result. For a game that relies at least partly on reactions, the reduced space can sometimes be a problem.
Playing on an iPad brings its own challenges. I find the game works best in portrait mode. However, in order to make the controls work, you have to hold the iPad by the bottom corners. Whilst this is OK for a couple of games, the unevenly distributed weight soon makes it quite uncomfortable, so unless you’ve got an iPad stand available to take the weight, you’re unlikely to manage more than a couple of games.
It’s also a shame that there’s no integration with Game Center. Whilst the top few scores for each table are recorded in the game itself (a feature of the original), you’ve got no way of checking how that compares with the high scores of other players (although in my case, I probably don’t want to know!)
Given my negative experiences with other iOS remakes of classic games, I resisted downloading any of the Pinball games for a long time. However, consistently positive reviews eventually convinced me to part with £2.99 for Pinball Fantasises HD, and I finally gave in! Pinball Fantasies shows what can be achieved when a sympathetic developer takes on an old IP and takes the time to understand why the original was successful, rather than just churning out any old game with an established name attached to it
Now, go away. I’ve got a high score to beat on Partyland!
(Note: there are actually 2 versions of Pinball Fantasies available on the App Store – a standard and HD version. Whilst the HD version costs a little, I’d say that the improved graphics and dynamic ball make it well worth the small amount of extra cash).