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Hardcore Pinball
  opened by paleface at 03:44:48 08/23/03  
  last modified by paleface at 12:27:18 03/05/24  
  paleface [sys=GBA; cat=Pinball; reg=NA]
The first thing you will notice is the strong European feel of this game due to the pulsing techno soundtrack for each of the four tables, not to mention the menu music. Amazing stuff, sounds superb on my subwoofer when played on the GB Player. The developer, Paragon 5, is supposedly based in Chicago, but maybe some of the names in the credits for this game look rather European-ish. Anyway, it's damn good music.
Now how about this "Hardcore" part? Well the music is kind of hardcore. Okay enough about the music. The gameplay could be thought of as h@rdK0r3 in that these tables have very few frills, bells and whistles. There's no chance at an extra ball after game over, no simulated animated digital screen with little minigames, no real "missions" as you see in so many other video pinball games, no multiball so far as I can tell, and so forth. You've got your ball, two or three flippers, and some ramps and bumpers, and you just go to it. The game saves the top three scores per table and you see them each time you start up the table, just waiting for you to beat them. I like that. So this simple approach could reap big rewards if the gameplay is spot on.
Well, it isn't, quite. Ball physics aren't the greatest, the ball is a bit floaty, rebounders are a little too juggly, the ball bounces too much off the flippers and there's usually a hitch as the ball crosses the middle of the table on a long shot, almost as if the game has to take a frame to access memory. Now all those things are minor, so here's the major: the ball skips as it comes off the flippers. There's this weird little break of continuity just as the ball should be shooting off. At first I thought this might indicate that the ball isn't free-moving at all, that it just goes off certain predetermined paths based on speed and flipper timing, but fortunately that's not the case--although it must be said that in some areas of the tables it seems like the physics are scripted, or at least strongly influenced by invisible pre-determined vectors, so that they become rather predictable. That's just in spots though, in most areas the physics do okay. So I'm not sure what happened with the flipper skip thing, it's annoying.
There's also a less frequent but not quite rare bug where if you just barely graze the entrance to a trap in a certain way the game sometimes thinks that the ball went in, even though it didn't--so you get the score for the trap, and then the ball, wherever it may now be on the table, is accelerated suddenly as if it were being shot out of the trap. Very weird when it happens. Oh and let's not forget that the Tilt function doesn't shake the screen, so it's hard to tell that it's working, and also that instead of acting like "I shoved the table from this side" it acts like "I want the ball to go this way," ie, opposite how it works in just about every other video pinball game. And the ball doesn't make a sound if it hits something that isn't a bumper--maybe they did that so the music wouldn't be interrupted but it still makes you feel a little disconnected from the table.
Fortunately, two of the four tables are so well designed that you'll want to play anyhow. "Station" has a cool Blade Runner futuristic art deco look to go along with the deepest and funkiest techno track in the game. I'm letting it play in the background as I write this because it rules. I love the spiralling ramps on this board, once you get the hang of the upper flipper you can send the ball in a breathtaking series of loops that just seems to go on and on... well except for the inevitable mid-table hitch. It takes a while to develop a good score but it's a logical progression and you really feel like you've accomplished something. Also I think it was on this board that at one point my flippers got reversed! Yipe! That was cool and I've only seen it once so I can't be sure that it was the table or my Wavebird freaking out, but I'm pretty sure it was the table.
"Retro" has this 50's car motif mixed with a techno-rap sound track--weird, but somehow it works. The center of the table is wide open right up to the bumpers at the top, I like that. The two long side ramps aren't easy but aren't too tough and work well together, but you need to hit an interior ramp and the side ramp (top flipper) to start getting the score up there. Man, actually I really really like this layout, still "Station" wins out for sheer artistry. Retro has a trick where hitting one socket at a certain point flashes "TV Broken" on the screen and everything goes black and white for about ten seconds. ;)
"Soccer" looks strong but is way too simple, you pile up a huge score on just two easy ramps, the left-side gutter is blocked by the "corner kick" chute so you can only lose the ball on the right or center, and due to the layout of the rebounding walls the ball rarely bounces back anywhere except into the generous rebounders. Gets amazingly boring, I looped the x10 score multiplier on only my third play. Still the buildup to it was kind of gripping in a repetitive way, and again the music is exceptional, though not as fantastic as Station or Retro.
Finally, "Robomech" is just plain broken. Horrible, horrible. The music is good, but that's just to sucker you in. Wait until you let the ball run down slowly to the end of a flipper... flip it up and ZIP the ball goes not up with your flipper but straight DOWN. Ball lost. You could do this pretty much every time if you wanted to, it's just a certain slow ball speed and an area on your flipper that triggers it. Absolutely inexcusable. I also once had the ball go into the left gutter save thingy that is supposed to launch it back up the gutter into play but instead it just went partway up the gutter, then fell back down and was lost. Evil, evil, horrible, bad.
Even if you take those things as extra "challenge" and play with your flippers funny to avoid the ball-straight-down bug, there's no avoiding the fact that there's very little to do on this table. The center is wide open but there's really only two traps, which usually do nothing, and one ramp to hit. There's another big ramp on the left side but they got a little too clever and put the triple slot thingy in its mouth, so while the chute is wide it's blocked by two little dividers, making it nearly impossible to access--and what's the point of allowing the user to change the highlights on the three slots if there's no time beforehand to see which one the ball's heading toward? So the one accessible ramp just loops over to another trap, yay--it's got a second branch that goes into the enclosed bumper section but I can see no way to get the ball to go into that channel, it just isn't guided in there at all by the narrowing ramp. No sense.
As a final insult the graphics, so solid and clear on the other three tables, use such bright and garish, not to mention blurry, colors here that it's hard to see the bonus indicators in the background, and you even get distracted while tracking your ball over the middle of the table. And they're ugly.
So, this is a very good traditional pinball game with unbeatable music, just avoid the Robomech table.
  paleface 16:14:31 07/24/04
Coming back to this after a while, the "physics" really are distracting, and the tables pretty minimalist. Great music though.
· Karnaaj Rally (GBA)

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