Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: Stern Pinball Arcade [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


The virtual pinball world is split between two very different paths currently. On one side you have Pinball FX3 and its tables that push the imagination and do things that aren’t physically possible with a variety of animation and effects. One the other there’s Pinball Arcade, attempting to faithfully preserve pinball tables both historic and current so that future generations may be able to enjoy them even if they become increasingly hard to find in proper working order. The initial offering from Pinball Arcade is this collection of Stern (though including some older tables by Data East and Sega as well) pinball machines that span quite a few decades and demonstrate a pretty wide variety of styles.


Though the tables can be purchased individually or in bigger packs for the purposes of the review I’m going to cover the retail package which includes them all. These tables span decades and by manufacturer and era have some very different looks, play mechanics, and features. Going back to older tables like Phantom of the Opera the table has a more open feel with less ramps overall and quite a number of targets all around the space. There are still mutliball opportunities but nothing on the order of the massive multiball you can trigger in a table that came a few years later in the form of Frankenstein. Starship Troopers and Last Action Hero are in that older vein but attempted some gimmickry to spice things up, the third flipper in Starship is novel but really weird.


The modern tables like Harley Davidson and Mustang don’t always have to have more complex or cluttered layouts, but they do at least have more multiball modes to trigger for added fun. At the high end of complexity you have tables like Star Trek and Ghostbusters that feature far more ramps, a wide variety of modes, and much deeper overall play. As a representative collection, though I prefer classic tables from Williams, it hits a lot of diverse notes and should likely offer multiple options that any pinball fan should appreciate and enjoy. All have strong ties to the licenses they’re associated with and feature music and sound effects that strengthen that connection.


As a whole the base engine performs well on the Switch, only on rare occasions showing any signs of a stutter, I only hit one during an intense multiball mode. The looks, lights, sounds, and general feel all come through at a general level but there are some places where it falls short. The quality of the audio on some of the tables frankly sounds like it was sampled from a closet, Phantom of the Opera in particular. Even if that’s a problem at the source some time to help tweak it would have been nice. Even when the availability of quality samples shouldn’t be an issue, in particular in the case of the soundtrack to the AC/DC table, it is surprisingly weak. I’d expect the experience with a table for that group to be far more immersive, it simply sounds like the sample rate on the audio is just a bit low so it lacks intensity. The biggest glaring omission though, pointed out further by it being in the Pinball FX3 port, is the lack of an ability to switch the view to vertical when playing in handheld mode. Since I know the Pinball Arcade engine does this in general I am hoping this can be patched in, it is just a major missed opportunity.


In the virtual pinball wars on Switch where it concerns the engine as a whole I’d say Pinball Arcade, at this time, comes up a but short. Thankfully, for true pinball fans everything is more likely to come down to individual tables they enjoy and in that respect the Stern Pinball Arcade collection is well-chosen and represents a number of distinct styles from over the decades. If you’re looking to satisfy your itch to play on tables from over the years it represents them well, though you may want to explore buying them individually or in their bundled packs rather than retail depending on what you’re most interested in.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • A very representative collection of both table styles and features spanning multiple decades
  • New feature-rich tables like Ghostbusters and Star Trek have a lot of modes depth
  • Options to buy all tables at retail or to purchase digitally in packs or individually

Cons:
  • With so many diverse tables not all of them are as interesting or engaging, in particular I’m not a fan of the Harley Davidson table
  • Either lacking in intensity or overall quality the audio tied with some tables is disappointing
  • The lack of a vertical option while in handheld mode is a clear miss, hopefully that can be patched in