"The King is dead! Long live the King!"
Pinball has pretty much been dead since before the arcades started getting killed off. The maintenance cost was always an issue, the large space they took up (enough for 2 or 3 Super Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II cabinets!), and the relative disinterest for many a gamer certainly helped the demise of this once great game platform. Thankfully, the video game side has not forgotten about pinball, with Pinball Dreams on the SNES, Pinball FX on the 360, Top Speed and Pin*Bot on the NES, and various attempts at emulation of real tables and original tables with Visual Pinball on the PC. With that, we've been graced with Pinball Hall of Fame Games on the XBox and PlayStation 2 with the Gottlieb Collection, and on every console with the Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection.
Above: Gorgar, the first "talkie pinball," if only it would shut the hell up.
In the Williams Collection, you get 13 tables, which means if you like pinball, this title is a no-brainer. They look great, they sound perfect, and aside from the odd table here or there that are just not that fun, like JiveTime and SpaceShuttle, this disc is full of *WIN*. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, true gems like Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Addams Family, and The Twilight Zone are not present, but there is more than enough to go around, even for a Collection #2 and Collection #3. Will that happen? Maybe, maybe not, licensing is the way almost everything has gone these days for every last little scrap of a crumb. We'll have to wait and see if something happens, there are lots of tables, and Stern is still making them- the real tables, that is.
Before checking out the tables, let's check the controls. What can I say? They feel near-perfect. The flipper-ball physics are spot-on, and bring in that real-world frustration every now and then of "damn, I thought I had it!" You can adjust your camera to a smart camera that zooms in on the field, or the high camera, which allows you to watch the table without the screen scrolling. That scroll shit many times made me forget about where the ball was on the table relative to the flipper, and the ball would laugh as it spun past the flippers down the drain. Who knew balls could laugh? I've been told mine do sometimes, and that's just weird.
Ok, the tables! Here's the big list of what you get: Black Knight, Firepower, Funhouse, Gorgar, JiveTime, Medieval Madness, No Good Gophers, Pin*Bot, Sorcerer, Space Shuttle, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Taxi, and Whirlwind. That's 13 tables rendered perfectly, enough to fill almost an entire wall in an arcade. Not that they are all great tables (*ahem* Gorgar, JiveTime, Space Shuttle) but that's really the complaints from my end.
"What? Black Knight? Yes, Please!" you shout enthusiastically. Hang on a minute, putz. That's Black Knight, not Black Knight 2000. That's not to say that Black Knight isn't a great game, but the Knight sounds like a drunk Cylon from the 1970s Battlestar Galactica. The table is very similar and more playabale than Black Knight 2000, and there is more room on the top playfield to get lots of points, and it's much easier to get the 3-ball multiball. The only thing missing is the chorus singing the Black Knight song, and the Knight yelling at you "GIVE ME you money!", followed by a deep, insulting belly laugh. Oh, that and maybe some jet bumpers, what table doesn't have jet bumpers? You know, those mushroom looking things that plunge down when hit? Anyway, this table is a *WIN*.
Respect your elders, they always say. Firepower is one of those elders that asks for respect, and deserves it. Playing this game had me imagining the warm wood smell of a pinball cabinet, the weird smell of metal on the palms of my hands where they rest on the machine, and the flickery glow of lights that lose power when you hit the flipper or a bumper. The playfield is large, and not much to it, but there's enough to hold your interest and to wander back in to play every now and then. It actually brings me back to the days when I owned a Solar Fire machine, until the heat melted the entire mother board for a $550 repair bill that I never pursued after I read the cost to repair. Anyway, Firepower, excellent nostalgia, this table is a *WIN*.
Sure, Biff, you can have it back, and here it is: Funhouse! Ventriloquist dummies freak out pretty much everybody but the dead, and the dead are undecided on how they feel. Thankfully, this one is only mildly annoying, but you can smack him around for bonuses and jackpots, and put him to sleep by playing with the clock in the fun house. The table is busy, and has two plungers: the standard plunger on the right, the bonus "Steps" plunger on the left, which shoots for bonuses on the table. This table has constant music and sound, and is a visual and aural overload compared to many tables of the same generation. If you play this on four player mode, you'll also notice that each player has a different name: Chucky, Bucko, Spunky, and Slick(1). There are tons of voice samples, and lots of flashing lights, on a perfectly emulated table. It even has those silly annoying nuances of the actual table regarding ball physics and wall placement, leading to several "Mother f*cker damnit, how did that happen!?!?" All things aside, Funhouse is a great table, this is also a *WIN*.
Ah, yes, Gorgar. Sure you like to show off that you are the first speaking pinball machine, but you're supposed to be SATAN for chrissakes! You live in Hell, and eat souls, and set fire to puppies! Why do you sound like a fekkin' cave man? This table is amusing, but it's not one I would go back to play over and over. The artwork is 70s metal album awful, the sounds are tolerable, the amount of targets leaves a lot to be desired. It's actually one of the most bare tables I've seen. Just thinking "boring pinball tables other than Gorgar" I think KISS, SpyHunter, and Space Shuttle, and at least KISS tries to play a KISS song with doorbell sound effects. What song is it, Detroit Rock City or Rock'n Roll All Night? Oh right, Gorgar. Thankfully, the table plays all right, it makes up for the shortcomings. Gorgar is *Eh*.
This is one of those "huh" games. JiveTime is an oddity from 1970, just after the drugs from the 60s started to wear off, and they started to hit the hard stuff that led to the 70s debauchery. The art style is a Hippie album-cover style, and the bells and whistles consist of, well, only bells. Literally. Bells. No pre-recorded noises on this table in real life. Bells. Ringing. Fun! Sounds you would expect to hear at a Junior High talent show. The table looks good, sure, and you can hear the ball rolling on the playfield, and it certainly sounds authentic. The lighting of the table, especially the backglass, makes me think it's an actual photo of it, it's that good, and the lighting underneath is that good as well. To make up for the huge out-lanes and center drains, there are a couple of posts that pop up to help the ball stay out of the drains, in the center drain and the right out-lane. Believe me, they help, as this table has physics and rules that are unforgiving. Playing this table will let you see just you far pinball has come since 1970. This table is a *Meh* and is also an unlockable table, and that's that.
Above: So much to do, and so few balls.. Sounds like a eunuch picnic.
Before the pinball crash and the devilish Pinball 2000 reared its ugly ass, the machines started to get very busy, with animated objects on the playfield, tons of voices loaded with goofy humor and sexual innuendo, lots of objectives, and the big one: the dot matrix scoreboard. The scoreboard allowed for animations, video modes, big numbers, small numbers, actual letters, etc. Medieval Madness took all of these things and ran, far. And fast. There are different castles to attack in the game, and each one is represented by awful (see: funny!) stereotypes: the Italian king is a mobster, the French King is straight out of Monty Python, Merlin is a drunken doddering old fool, one of the Princesses is Jewish, while another is a Valley Girl.. you get the idea! This is also a very busy and crowded playfield: multiple ramps, drop targets, hidden ramps, moat ramps, etc. If you get rolling in a game, you can easily start to hit the tens of millions in points. The voice samples are humorous and there are also tons of them, each time I play I think I hear something new, for example, today I saw a riot where they were screaming "They took our shoes!" Huh? Medieval Madness is a hands-down *SUPER DOUBLE SECRET WIN*.
No Good Gophers
Confusion reigns in this table. The game box says it's called No Good Gophers, but the game says No Good Gofers, but both can work. The table is crowded, and lots of time your ball spends time hidden by targets, ramps, and an ill-fitting metal jump in the middle of the board that pops up and down, leading to an unmissable shot, as long as you hit the ball with the left flipper onto the ramp. It's a challenging table that could try your patience, as there are two gophers named Buzz and Bud that will mock, laugh, scream, and just be annoying during play, even after play. They "guide" you through your play, which is helpful, but sometimes what they are saying just leaves me with a puzzled look on my face. "Where the hell am I supposed to go?! What am I supposed to do!? Shut up, stupid rats!" And, I do believe I just did something on the table that made them both scream "ATTACK!" Wait, am I playing Attack From Mars? This table is *OK, with patience*.
An oldy but a goody. Pin*Bot first saw life at home with the NES version, a surprising task if you didn't know that the company RARE made the translation from arcade to home. Still, impressive. In Hall of Fame, it's perfect. The ambient thumping and synth music that plays underneath the table sounds, the robotic Pin*Bot voice, the annoying-even-when-you-rig-it skill shot.. Awesome.
Above: Always wondered about the connection of Pin*Bot and the News of the World guy.
The main goal is to hit the colored targets in the top-center and right-center areas, completing the 25 color board that opens Pin*Bots visor. Each ball has to be shot in to complete his eyes, which starts the multiball. Re-locking a ball in his eye allows you to shoot for the jackpot on the Solar ramp (to the left of Pin*Bot). There's not much to the game, other than travelling the galaxy for points, stopping at each planet to get more points, all while trying not to drain the ball. It sounds easy and simple, but it's not. Man, is it not easy. It's not overly frustrating, but it can really piss you off if your not careful or if you've been playing too long. Pin*Bot is pure, unadulterated *WIN*.
Age. It comes to us all. Sorcerer is old, and it shows. But it has aged well, in a pinball sense. The only complaint I would have is the Sorcerer's voice, it's got so much reverb and is so muffled, I have no idea what he's saying! Am I doing well? Is he telling me what to do? Is he calling me a doosh? I dunno, but this table is very enjoyable. The whirring noises are constant but not distracting, and the sound effects sound like you could be playing Defender. Weird.. The table's artwork is impressively overdone, like a Dungeons & Dragons poster. It looks awesome on an SDtv or an HDtv, so don't worry about that one. The table is split, the bottom half has two flippers, the top has a ramp and one flipper, that is really strong when flipping. Those secondary flippers in the arcade were always the first to go, and they failed spectacularly. But in a videogame, they don't break. Voice aside, the Sorcerer's tables is a *WIN*.
Every collection has something bad in it. Space Shuttle is that "bad in a collection" game. The sounds don't make me think of space, they make me think of broken elevators. The voice doesn't sound like mission control, it sounds bored and bad. There are a number of different locks and targets on this one, but the main focus I had with this game was just how bad it was. It was fun for a few minutes, but the sounds and he gameplay wreak of 1980s cash-in crap. In fact, every time I tried to type Space Shuttle for this review, I kept typing "Space Shittle". Well, that's my attempt at humor, and sorry to say, but Space Shi.. I mean, Space Shuttle, is purely a *LOSS*.
I think I have a picture of Space Shuttle around here somewhere, but why bother? Let's just look at this:
Tales of the Arabian Nights
This is a title that is actually better in a videogame than it is in real-life. I've never seen this table without an "OUT OF ORDER" sticker on it, or with a broken flipper, or the lamp being broken. Like Medieval Madness, this one is loaded with voice, targets, in-field distractions, and ramps. It's also a blast to play. Going through each tale, defeating the blue genie, saving the princess (again?), even joining a camel race or grabbing a magic carpet ride, this game offers lots to do. The voice work is impressive in this one, and while it does have some humor, it is more focused on the "seriousness" of completing your objectives and the tails. There is also a cool "ball save" of bars near the out-lanes, I think they are meant to be swords, but they pop up every now and then and are a welcome addition to the table. Tales of the Arabian Nights also has clear ramps, so it looks like you're riding the magic carpet through the air, which is also a cool effect. You'll have to watch it to see where your ball will drop. If your not paying attention, it could drain very fast. This table is another pure *WIN*.
Taxi is a generic table, and actually is kind of boring. It feels like two other tables, Cyclone and Comet, which, whenever I found it, always had an incredibly dirty playfield and dim lights. Maybe it was the style of a NYC taxi? Whatever it was, the machines were always unattractive, and it's somehow translated into the game. Your fares in Taxi were: Gorbachev, Pin*Bot, Dracula, Santa Claus, and a woman named Lola. Lola, in early versions of the game, was Marilyn (Monroe), but Williams was told to change it to a generic woman. But, thankfully, she still looks a little like Marilyn, but with red hair. Somebody must be raiding my fantasy cloest for tips on artwork in games. Their voices make me want to punch the screen, they're fairly annoying, not to mention Gorbachev and Dracula have horrible accents that sound the same but are totally different. What can you do? The skill shot is one of the more challenging, as you shoot the ball and hope that it stops the spinner at 100K points. Not often, but it does happen. The Taxi table falls in the *OK* category.
Last but not least, there's Whirlwind. This table falls into the same category as Funhouse, and is a great table to mess around with. The unique part about Whirlwind is the three spinning discs on the playfield, which can hinder or help the path of your ball. They don't constantly spin, just at the times when the weather guy is calling things out like "The storm is coming!", and the Storm says stuff like "Feel the power of the wind!" In the arcades, it even had a fan mounted on the top of the back glass, which blew when the disks were spinning, which was a cool addition but not really noticeable. There are a few ramps on the table, and one of them will drop the ball off on top of one of those spinning disks. Fun! There are two storm cellar doors that account for points, and the center one that is lit with a yellow light is the Super Cellar Door. The Super Cellar Door rotates between 7 bonuses, consisting of points, multiball modes, and extra balls. After collecting all 7 bonuses, it goes into a mode where all modes are on at the same time, which leads to some fairly high scores on this table. There are lots of voice samples in this one, and it adds to the experience for you and your balls. Whirlwind is another *WIN*.
Above: Achievements for tables
Each table has goals as well, Basic Goals and Wizard Goals, which will unlock certain things like different color balls, credits, and the like. They also unlock our good friends, the Achievement Points.
All in all, this collection is a great collection to own, with only Space Shuttle being the truly bad table. There are other modes of play along with the single player. There's Williams' Challenge, which has you shooting for the top score on each table in one play through. That's every table with a different score in a row. It's definitely a challenge, and can challenge your patience better than anything. Practice mode is you simply freeballing it, learning what to do on the tables and how to get bonuses and higher scores. Tournament mode can handle up to 4 players, and uses some math fun with division to figure out the winner. Don't ask, I'm not good at math. We highly recommend Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection for any pinball fan, and for anybody looking to try something different.
Below: In a true Utopian Society there is pinball... lots and lots of pinball
(1) From Internet Pinball Database (ipdb.org)