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15Mar/080

Review: Pinball Hall Of Fame:Williams Collection for the Wii

A week or so back I wrote a pissed-off blog entry about how it was to find Pinball Hall Of Fame Williams Collection for the Wii out in the wild. That has not changed, and I still have not heard or found any real explanation for it. I ordered my copy from Amazon.com, and it arrived in 2 days, which seemed reasonable, and I've been playing the game ever since.

If I was bewildered about the lack of availability, promotion, etc. for Pinball Hall Of Fame Williams Collection before I played it, I'm simply astonished over it now that I own it. This game is by far, the best simulation of pinball ever created for a home console or computer. I have played nearly all "video pinball" games (save for  "videogame-ized " titles that include well-known Nintendo or Sega characters...sue me) over the past 30 or so years: Video Pinball on the VCS and in the arcade, Davids' Midnight Magic on the Apple IIe, Pinball Construction Set on the Atari 800, Macadam Bumper on the Atari ST, Tristan Pinball on the PC, the Epic Pinball series on the PC, Eight Ball Deluxe on the PC, the Pro Pinball series on the PC, the pre-cursor to this title, Pinball Hall Of Fame The Gottlieb Collection on the PS2, as well as countless others in-between. All of these titles have, in some small way, improved upon their earlier cousins creating digital simulations of the very analog game of pinball that were closer and closer to the real thing. However, all of these earlier games suffered from some or all of the same problems: the camera view (top-down for the 2D games, odd and weird angles for the 3D games) was never quite right, the physics were not simulated to allow for"real pinball" strategies, the controls did not have the "feel" of a real table, the layouts were decent, but did not always model real-world and well-known designs, and even if they did try to model real-world tables, the graphics were not powerful enough to pull genuine nostalgia through the player's digital cognitive dissonance.

I'm happy to say that Pinball Hall Of Fame Williams Collection for the Wii solves nearly all of the aforementioned problems. The intelligent camera follows the ball (and when unnecessary, doesn't) in nearly the same way a trained "pinball-eye" watches the ball while playing. an actual game. Multiple camera angles are available for people who don't like this intelligent system, but to me, the default is the best I've ever seen. The physics seem spot-on. Different tables have the same feel as their real-world counter-parts, and this feel is significant enough to make each table a unique game unto themselves (just like in real-life). Furthermore, the physics allow for most of the same strategies that you would use while playing the actual tables. The controls of the Wii version (nunchuck in the left hand using Z-button for the left flipper, the stick to launch the ball, Wiimote in the right-hand using B-button for the right flipper, shake either one to nudge) are the closest to real pinball that I have ever experienced. There is something unique about having each hand free from the other (pinball control schemes for other systems and computers either have both hands on one control pad, or both on the same keyboard) that allows for the same kind of independent flipper strategies used in the real world. Furthermore the kinetic rumble feedback from Wiimote does a great job of simulating the feel of a well-aimed shot hitting it's target. Since Williams created some of the most well-known tables of the 70's, 80's and 90's you will find games that you either played in the arcade, passed-by with a token hot-in-your hand for a Tempest machine, or at very least , heard their distinctive sound-work emanating around you. Finally,the graphics are certainly the best ever for a pinball simulation, and arguably, some of the best to ever grace the Nintendo Wii. With the camera pulled-back the tables sometimes look cramped and jaggy, but up-close the table modeling is nothing short of breath-taking.

There are 10 memorable Williams tables modeled in the game. Unlike the Gottlieb collection from a few years back, these are the games I actually played in the arcades. While I can appreciate the unique features and craftsmanship of Gottlieb's games, the over-all theme and table design of Williams's games in their 80's (roughly) hey-day have never been, nor do I believe will ever be, matched. The tables in this collection are no exception, Jive Time, Gorgar, Firepower, Black Knight, Space Shuttle, Sorcerer,Pinbot, Taxi, Whirlwind, and Funhouse were created by legends of pinball design like John Trudeau , Barry Oursler, Python Anghelo, Mark Ritchie, Norm Clark, Pat Lawlor, and Steve Ritchie (Who  actually got his start at Atari's ill fated pinball division) as well as countless other artists, designers and programmers. If the only thing this title was successful at was highlighting the artistry and craftsmanship of William's best games, then it would have been a success in it's own right. The fact that the creators at Farsignt Studios did the games true justice by making the best pinball simulation ever, makes this game a an unqualified triumph. A salute needs to go out to Farsight lead engineer Ryan Broner who did an amazing job with the technical simulation of these pinball tables. .

Now, there are a couple small little problems with the game that don't detract much, and might even be figments of my graying memory more than faults with the simulations. Most of the games (besides Jive Time) only allow for 3 balls to be played. I seem to recall at least a few of these games (i.e. Gorgar, Firepower and Black Knight) having a full 5-balls per play in the arcade. As well, it seems like the "grace period" in some of the modern games that allowed a ball to stay in-play if it drained too early is missing. Again, these things might be my own projections and not missing features. As well, there are a few missing Williams games I would have loved to see in the collection. Comet, Cyclone. High Speed, F-14, Hurricane, Police Force, Black Knight 2000 and the phenomenal Machine Bride Of Pinbot could easily for the basis of a sequel..and God-willing, hopefully will.

Pinball Hall Of Fame:Williams Collection for the Wii is the finest pinball simulation ever created. I still have no idea why it has been (mostly) ignored by the press and at retail. With the Wii audience supposedly made-up of many new and older games, I'd think that a simulation of fast-action yet mostly defunct and nostalgic type of electronic gaming would fit nicely along-side Carnival Games and Wii Sports on a Mid-Core/Casual gamer's Wii shelf...but what do I know? A decent 8.0 review did appear at IGN yesterday, which an amazing score for IGN, but it still seems a bit low for me. 8.8 or 9.0 would be much more accurate even for them. For our Mid-core Gamer purposes, I will score this one a 95 out of 100. If own a Wii (or PS2 for that matter) and ever loved to play actual real-life pinball, you should get this game right now.

(No disclosure: I am not related to nor do I personally know any of the companies, designers, programmers, etc. mentioned in this review. I simply as "giddy as a school girl" over this game and wanted to make sure the names of some of the otherwise anonymous yet talented people involved received a mention)

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