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Pinball H.O.F. PSP impressions


rustyjaw

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As some of you know I'm a fan of pinball video games (and even real pinball games on occasion!). I often risk buying these games even when they get mediocre reviews, as long as the reviews don't consistently pick on the physics...which is by far the most important aspect of simulated pinball.

 

I was somewhat encouraged by the 7.1 that Gamespot gave Gottlieb Pinball Hall of Fame game because, grading on the curve of scores that most pinball games get, that's more like an 8.5 or even a 9 ;)

 

This game features 11 classic Gottlieb tables from 1957's "Ace High" to 1995's "Tee'd Off" - I admit that the only one of these that I recall playing in an arcade is "Black Hole" from 1981 (I'm surprised I remember it at all since Tempest came out that same year ;) ).

 

You choose a table by browsing through them in a 3D arcade. Each table has a small story about it's history, instructions that take you on a tour of the table to show how to play, options, like how many balls per play, glass reflection or not (I turn this off), plus the standard music volume and effects volume.

 

Possibly the most intriguing option is 'vertical' orientation. I read about this in a review, but was somewhat skeptical about how well it would work. I played several games at first in the default horizontal mode, and it plays fine. There are 6 different camera angles which you can cycle through with the circle button. One of them is a full view of the table, the rest scroll at various distances and elevations above the table. The variety of views is good, something to suit everyone's taste. When you play in vertical mode, the X and triangle buttons control the flippers (in horizontal mode L and R control the flippers). You still get 6 camera angles in vertical mode, but the view is much more satisfying since the PSP screen fits the shape of the table much better.

 

Graphically the game is quite beautiful, the tables are rendered in nice detail. The ball has a texture on it that shows it's rotation...although it does not have any reflections. The only graphical problem I've seen stems from the slow LCD on the PSP, which when the table is scrolling, drops the detail a bit as a result of the ghosting. The effect is subtle, but it's there.

 

I can't comment on the sound much as I've had it turned down most of the time, but what I've heard sounds like samples from a pinball game (including custom sounds from the actual tables, I believe), nothing amazing, but not a drawback either.

 

Of the 11 tables, 4 are unlocked initially. To unlock additional tables you use credits that you earn on the unlocked tables. I'm not clear on all the ways to earn credits, but the easiest way is by 'matching' numbers at the end of each game you play (the standard pinball extra credit system). You have a 1 in 10 chance of matching, so you will earn credits even if you suck at the game. I've already unlocked 2 other tables in less than 24 hours. (I've since discovered that you don't actually unlock tables at all, you must spend credits every time you play a machine that requires them! This isn't cool.)

 

Another way to earn credits is to complete a certain portion of the goals in a given table's scoring system. I haven't been able to do this yet.

 

So what about the all-important physics? So far I've been very pleased with them. You can predictably cradle the ball, aim shots, and pass from flipper to flipper. Although since each table is different, some of these tasks are easy on certain tables and almost impossible on others. What I don't see here is some of the more subtle and advanced behaviors, like backspin or sliding as the ball moves across the slippery table (you do see the effect of spin as the ball hits the flippers, although it might be a tad too simplistic in its effect).

 

Because these tables are mostly older, many of them are not particularly fast (as many modern Williams tables are, for example). Of the ones I have unlocked, "Black Hole" is the fastest, and it approaches the speed of a modern table. Also the scoring systems are quite simple for the most part, especially on the older tables. But there is something satisfying about some of these older tables (like "big shot" which is billiards-themed). Others, like "El Dorado" are brutally difficult, where the ball easy drains and games are short. My favorite table so far is the racing themed table "Victory" from 1987. None of the tables I've played has a 'grace period' for returning a ball that was drained early.

 

The main problem with this game is nudging, which so far seems fairly ineffective and quite tilt-happy (you can get away with one or two nudges in a row without a problem, but any more and you will likely tilt). Playing the game in vertical orientation makes nudging impractical since it's done with the analog pad which is too far away to nudge reflexively.

 

Despite that problem, this is the finest portable pinball simulator I've played by a good margin. And it's better than some of the home console one's like the one that came out last year for the XBox (I can't remember the name), which was OK except for the bland table layouts, and small selection (only 3 I think). If the game only worked in horizontal mode, it would still be great, but the vertical option is welcome and makes it even more pleasing to the eye and fun to play.

 

I would say if you like pinball and own a PSP, you should have this game. If you are more of a perfectionist and need the more subtle nuances of physics and nudging, then this may annoy you more than it entertains.

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Ah! I just discovered something bothersome about this game. I thought that credits 'unlocked' tables, but they don't. You have to spend credits each time you play one of the tables that requires them! This changes the dynamic, as you need to continually earn credits to play those tables.

 

I hope there's an unlock code out there to defeat this.

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You're welcome Dogbert!

 

Oh' date=' I forgot that this game lets you share certain tables in Ad-Hoc wireless mode with just one copy of the game. I haven't tested this yet, but now that I know someone else with a PSP, I expect I will :)[/quote']

 

Sounds like that someone needs to arrange a gettogether for beer & PSP. I'm sure you know a suitable bar.

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Sounds like that someone needs to arrange a gettogether for beer & PSP. I'm sure you know a suitable bar.

 

I think this could be arranged ;)

 

Just to update the unlocking saga. I found out that in fact you can unlock tables so that you need not spend credits to play them. To do this, you need to achieve the 'goal' on another table. Goals are specific to each table, and specified in the table's options menu. So far I've gotten the goal on 2 tables, unlocking 2 other tables for free play.

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Got to play a little of this the other night & was quite impressed. Using the PSP screen "longways" was an inspired design choice, making full use of the size of the screen to see the 'length' of the table.

 

It plays a little slower than the Pro Pinball games, mainly down to the vintage of the tables as balls can move fast when the game wants them to.

 

On my "to buy" list when it drops in price.

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