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Friday, January 6, 2012

Spidey's Got Such a Supple Wrist!

It's no secret that I like arcades.  Historically I have spent most of my arcade time on video games and just a passing amount of attention to their older brother the pinball machine. But in recent years I have refocused a good deal of my attention to these wonderful machines. I think a big part of the reason for this is that I have visited more and more retro arcades and started getting my fill of a lot of the more commonly recurring classics like Asteroids, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, etc. Don't get me wrong I still love those games but at this point I've seen them enough that I'd rather trade some of my time on them for some time with the silver ball. Also, one of my friends greatly prefers pinball over video games and is very knowledgeable about them and after quite a few pinball matches I'm guessing some of that interest probably rubbed off on me as well.

Thanks to the unfortunate demise of my beloved 60GB backwards-compatible PS3 and my subsequent purchase of a 320GB Uncharted 3 Bundle PS3 (that was on sale) I am currently a member of Sony's PlayStation Plus. One of the benefits of membership is that you get to download a free PS3 game each month and the game of the month in December was Marvel Pinball. I haven't paid much attention to console video pinball games in a long time so I didn't even have it on my radar before I got it as a freebie but I must say I am quite enjoying it and would heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys pinball, arcade style video games, or Marvel comics - and especially to those individuals like myself who are a fan of all three!



Playing it reminds of my first experience with a video-oriented pinball game which was Video Pinball on my trusty Atari 2600 (cue wavy curtain flashback effect).  Much like driving games, video pinball technology has come quite a ways in 30 years but the general gameplay mechanic remains more or less the same.



Hey, she may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts kid!  I guess I liked it so much that I asked my parents for it twice because I have 2 copies of the cartridge at home.

And speaking of pinball from my childhood, I was recently over at my mom's house and I brought back a box of old goodies (I always leave my mom's house with a box of old stuff) which included a Viewmaster, an 8-track tape player and carousel, a Star Wars jigsaw puzzle, and Wildfire Pinball - a handheld pinball game released by Parker Brothers in 1979.  Did anyone else have this thing?


I think it was actually my brother's so I didn't play it nearly as much as I did Video Pinball, but I figured it would fit nicely in the game room on the shelf next to the Merlin and the Game Boy.

Fast forward to maybe 8-9 years ago or so when I discovered Visual Pinball, a freeware pinball simulation program. When coupled with PinMAME (which emulates the pinball ROMs) it allows you play pretty much any real pinball machine you can think of right on your computer - basically the pinball version of MAME.  If you are interested in pinball and have never tried Visual Pinball you ought to check it because it is cool! (and free!). The tables that this community of pinball enthusiasts have developed are very impressive. Be forewarned though that it is even less user-friendly and documented for the novice to set up than MAME. Here is a video with some very brief glimpses of a bunch of Visual Pinball tables in action:



And finally this brings me back full circle to Marvel Pinball - released late 2010 by Zen Studios and finally checked out by me just last month. It is like Visual Pinball on steroids.  Here is the trailer:



It has the same authentic-feeling pinball play and great realistic physics of Visual Pinball combined with some really cool animated 3D action by the super villain set pieces that of course wouldn't be possible on a real pinball machine.  The art/graphics are gorgeous and the sound is very good. The game comes with 4 tables installed - Spider-Man, Iron Man, Blade and Wolverine.  They're all good but my favorite so far is definitely Spider-Man. Least favorite is probably Iron Man. That mirrors reality because I love the real Stern Spider-Man pinball but have never really cared a whole lot for the Iron Man.

The gameplay, if you enjoy pinball at all, is very addictive. Like real pinball it is simple to play but challenging to master. You basically only use 3 buttons - the left and right shoulder buttons for the flippers and the X button for the launch which you can vary to try and get skill shot points. As a pinball fan I can definitely say this game feels like the real thing with the added bonus of the realistic interaction with the various villains on each table who are bent on bringing you down. For instance on the Spider-Man table that includes Mysterio hitting you with hallucinogenic gas which reverses your flipper controls, the Green Goblin flying around and throwing exploding pumpkin bombs/pinballs on the table and Doctor Octopus grabbing your pinballs with his mechanical arms. Each villain attack feels like something you might see on a real pinball table even though the action is too complex for it to actually be mechanically possible outside the video world. Other features include online multiplayer play and several different camera angles you can choose. You can also nudge the table with the motion detection of the controller, although I found that particular control to be somewhat difficult to use and mostly just distracting so I pretty much ignore it.

I already liked this game quite a bit when I first started playing it last month despite a slight lag on the flippers which annoyed me, but then I remembered my TV has a "game" setting so I turned it on and that fixed the lag - so now the game went from really good to great!  If you aren't in PlayStation Plus the main game with 4 tables only costs $10 and in my opinion well worth the money.

They also offer a Fantastic Four and Captain America table as downloadable content for $2.99 each with one for the Hulk in the wings. I just love these little video trailers so here are those.





Finally, in mid-December they released a DLC 4-pack of tables called Vengeance and Virtue that features Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, Thor and the X-Men which costs $10. I collected Ghost Rider, Moon Knight and X-Men comics back in the day so I'm particularly curious about those. Here is a look at the Vengeance and Virtue pack - I might just have to get it at some point.



So obviously I think this game is pretty darn good.  One of the things I like about PS+ is that it basically forces me to try out games that I most likely wouldn't have ever gotten around to trying out otherwise. This has introduced me to a few stinkers, but has also allowed me to find a few gems as well, of which this is one. If you think pinball is boring and repetitive then you should definitely stay away from it as it wouldn't be for you, but if you like pinball like I do then this game is definitely worth buying.

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5 comments:

Fallguy40 said...

I would also recommend Pinball Hall of Fame The Gottlieb Collection for the PSP. It contains 11 nicely recreated Gottlieb tables plus a couple of novelty arcade staples: the love meter and the fortune teller.

In addition to playing the tables, you get a little history on each machine and can view the arcade flyer. MP, I know you love to view a good arcade flyer.

I believe they also have a Williams Collection out there as well.

MadPlanet said...

You had me at Gottlieb. They created Mad Planets after all.

Thanks for the recommendations Fallguy. I've heard great things about the Williams collection but have never tried it. I think both of those titles were originally PS2 games so if I come across them in the bargain bin I'll probably pick them up.

And yes, you are of course quite correct - I do indeed love a good arcade flyer!

The Dark Rift said...

That is nice! the handheld pinball game retro is neat too! i always wanted one of those big machines but sorry i dont have the luxury of space and wealth to do so =)
ha ha

MadPlanet said...

Thanks Dark Rift. You ought to download Visual Pinball and check it out - it's pretty remarkable how well they are able to translate the pinball machines into the video game universe.

The Wildfire handheld pinball is pretty unique. Not sure that the gameplay has aged all that well really but it's a neat little old toy nonetheless.

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