Crave Entertainment and developers FarEye Studios have brought 6 classic flipper tables to the PS2 with the release of their excellent Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection compilation. The tables range from classics from the late 1950's to more recent machines. Each machine offers a unique challenge for the player with different configurations and goals. The developers have captured the feel of real pinball, with realistic ball physics and flipper controls that make the tables feel just as they should. From a visual standpoint, the game excels with richly detailed, authentic tables that look fantastic. The gameplay of these classic tables holds up well, and the varied selection of pinball machines makes this is an excellent purchase for classic pinball fans.
Even though the rise of video games in the late 70's and early 80's consigned pinball machines to the fringes of most arcades, they've never really gone away or lost their appeal. Now, ironically enough, the Playstation2 is home to one of the best home pinball conversions we've played. Featuring half a dozen classic Gottlieb machines, plus several additional novelty attractions, the title offers players a great deal of variety in both machine style and play. While you'd think the developers would concentrate mostly on the newer, flashier machines to appeal to the video game demographic, we're happy to report that the didn't take the easy route. Instead of taking the easy route, the selection here includes a broad selection chosen for their historical significance, enduring gameplay value and addictiveness. The result is a title that acts as a virtual museum, tracing the game's evolution over the past half-century. While you can appreciate them for their charm, you can also still enjoy the older pins from a gameplay standpoint. The earlier machines seem straightforward, and this simpler approach tricks modern players into thinking that'd be able to master them fairly easily, but this isn't the case. Take for example, 1957's Ace High, with its off-beat Casino theme and difficult drop target and bumper placement. It's a charming title with only 2 flippers and larger drop areas at the bottom. This game requires an incredible amount of skill to succeed at this game. However, the challenge made the game all the more addictive. As with many titles on this disc, Ace High represents the simplicity and simple entertainment value of these classic arcade games.
Pinball Hall of Fame's other tables are a bit less stringent, but no less exciting. 1966's Central Park is an excellent example of this type of design, where hitting the drop targets in the right order is much more difficult than it seems, thanks to the challenging board layout with bumpers and a few targets on the sides making it quite a challenge to beat. Working forward a bit, one of the most addictive tables on the compilation is Big Shot, a clever pool variant where each drop target represents a cue ball. This is another table where skill really comes into play. There's very little room for error, since the drop-targets reset after each ball, giving you very little room for error. This 1974 release is one of the purest and most traditional tables on the compilation, and definitely shows how addictive and challenging pinball can be. 1979's Genie was one of the 'wide' tables with multiple flippers, many special targets and multipliers. This made the game one of the more sophisticated and complicated pins of its time, and the gameplay holds up well. The board layout offers most of the standard elements despite its large size, making for a challenging and exciting pinball game.
The first 'modern' title in Pinball Hall of Fame has an outer space theme. 1981's Black Hole featured a recessed second level that was a mirrored second level for an added challenge. Another innovation was the third flipper leading to an extra playfield above the main game board, plus more advanced digital score read-outs and computerized sound effects. This makes for a faster and more exciting game than some of the earlier tables. Despite the flashy effects in Black Hole, this one still had the classic Gottlieb feel with a somewhat traditional board layout with traditional drop-targets and bumpers. The package also includes two later period titles, 1988's Victory is one of the more modern titles, featuring mult-tiered playfields, multiballs, dozens of hidden traps and bonuses, plus dazzling light effects its definitely one of the more exciting titles on the disc. Gottlieb also had a sense of humor, as evidenced with the wacky golf-themed Gopher. Like Victory, this modern table from 1994 features a challenging board layout, many hidden areas, multiballs and bonus areas. The digitized voices, fully computerized animations and overhead ramps and tunnels give it a complexity that adds to the game's challenge and intensity. There's also another hidden table, but we don't want to ruin the surprise for players who haven't unlocked it. Additionally, the developers have included an extensive history for each game, outlining it's historic significance. There's also a comprehensive 3D strategy guide for each machine that allows players to zoom in and learn the ins and outs of each table, and what each specific target on the table does. This feature is very much appreciated and allows players with rusty skills to get back up to speed as well.
Pinball Hall of Fame also includes other unlockable features that can be opened by reaching a goal that's been set for each table. These goals include downing all the drop-targets with a single ball, completing a group of targets, achieving a certain score or earning credits on the machines. When these are complete, you can unlock a variety of items, such as bonus novelty games, like the love tester. Other unlockable options include the ability to change the pinball machine's appearance, set other options and more. There's also a cool poker style game, where you earn credits by playing a card game variant with pinball mechanics. These features definitely add to the player's motivation and increase the game's replay value significantly. From a technical standpoint, the game does an excellent job recreating the classic machines. Each one looks and feels like their real-world counterparts. Each table has been faithfully reproduced with artwork and board layouts that are quite authentic. The sound effects have also been sampled from the original machines, with some realistic arcade ambiance thrown in. From a control standpoint, the flippers perform and feel exactly as you'd expect them to, so it's easy to 'trap' the ball and aim for targets higher on the screen. The balls move realistically and react to the bumpers and knocks as you'd expect them to, thanks to the game's sophisticated AI engine. The biggest problem we came across was the Tilt feature, which was incredibly sensitive. The slightest move on the left dual shock caused the machine to tilt, meaning the best strategy was to avoid using the "English" altogether. This glitch is slightly disappointing, especially considering the quality of the translation in most other areas.
However, the good news is that the tables are highly playable for the most part and the gameplay is incredibly smooth. Many titles have attempted to bring the excitement of pinball to consoles, but most have fallen flat. Pinball Hall of Fame breaks this trend with an exceptional level of detail. It succeeds visually with highly detailed tables and authentic sound effects. Pinball Hall of Fame's gameplay is excellent with each machine's unique feel adding to the replay value. You can spend hours trying to master just one of these challenging machines. The ball physics and flipper controls are exceptional, though the Tilt button is a bit too sensitive. The developers aimed high in this attempt to keep things faithful to the original machines, and have largely succeeded. It may seem old fashioned these days, but pinball remains an addictive and enjoyable game. Pinball Hall of Fame proves it with this nostalgic compilation that's both highly addictive and loads of fun.