Pinball Fantasies HD
Can Rodeo Cowboy re-capture the magic of a 90s classic?
One of the more peculiar experiences any professional reviewer can have is to find themselves with the task of reviewing a game they played obsessively some 20 years ago, with no way of knowing that so many years hence they'd find themselves peering away at the nuts and bolts of what is now ostensibly a new release.
So it is with Pinball Fantasies HD, a title that's likely to engender the same curious nostalgia in many writers. The game was originally released on the Amiga back in 1992, was made available on the iPhone last year, and has now been brought to the iPad in sparkling high-resolution.
There are four tables in total, taking in a fun-land freak-show, a speedy raceway, a big-money TV game show, and a dark and dank graveyard setting. All have been faithfully recreated in this new edition, albeit with slightly crisper artwork that's still set off to the same thumping electronica of the original game.
Partyland remains the flagship table for the game with its fully fleshed-out selection of mini-games within mini-games, hidden tunnels and secret score chambers. It also has a horribly infectious soundtrack, an ear-worm that came rushing back to us within seconds of starting up the table for the first time this side of the new millennium.
Stones & Bones is a far more mischievous and unpredictable table of twisting channels, with hidden chambers unlocked through careful navigation of word-spelling routes. It's also got one of the most wonderfully melodramatic soundtracks you'll every experience in gaming, with swooping synth stabs fresh from the crypt.
Speed Devils is perhaps the most high-score friendly of all the tables, with its generous cluster of bumpers which can be relied upon to pop relentlessly as your ball nestles within them. Accessing the high-score chambers is also considerably easier than in the other tables, making Speed Devils a game that's all about sustaining hypnotized precision as you launch your way through multiple loops of the same circuit for extreme combos.
As for Billion Dollar Gameshow? Well, as we did all those years ago, we can kind of take it or leave it. We would damn it with faint praise and call it 'not incompetent' if we were feeling uncharitable, but it's a solid enough table and doesn't detract from the more outstanding quality found elsewhere in Pinball Fantasies.
Only two things take the shine off this current re-release, both of which can hopefully be rectified in a near-future update. First, there's a rather fussy use of the touchscreen when it comes to navigating between tables and creating multiplayer games. Secondly (and more critically), there's a show-stopping bug in Speed Devils.
When using the touchscreen it can be all too easy to create a multiplayer game, rather than the single player attempt you were intending. Navigating back to the menu screen with double-taps can also feel rather fussy. An option to head back into the main menu from the pause screen seems like a no-brainer to us, but is absent from this port. You'll adjust eventually but you really shouldn't have to.
As for that bug in Speed Devils, flicking the ball off the bottom right flipper and into the left-hand channel reliably crashes the game completely. This needs to be rectified with an update urgently if Pinball Fantasies is to sustain itself as anything more than a whimsical, short-lived nostalgia fix.
Fans of the original game can rest assured that this is the same game that they played and loved all those years ago. If you missed out on the game the first time around, know that Pinball Fantasies (even acknowledging its occasional, current hiccups), is still one of the finest pinball simulators that gaming has ever produced.
What's Hot: One of the finest pinball games of all time, ported (almost) perfectly to the touchscreen.
What's Not: Flipper controls work flawlessly, but it's tricky to navigate between tables. The bug in Speed Devils needs urgent attention.