IGN Review of Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection
Decades before videogames grabbed hold of the market, there was pinball. Even through the evolution of game technologies and the move towards the virtual, pinball managed to hold on with advancements of its own. It's tough to bring these experiences home due to their use of, well, real objects and gravity, but developers have certainly tried over the years turning the experience into a videogame one. Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection is the latest effort, and honestly it's easy some of the best virtual pinball experiences I've ever played and it comes extremely close to the same fun you'd get on the actual machines.
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection gets it: if you're going to create a compilation of pinball for the home consoles, you go to the classics by the people who made those classics. Back in the day Williams was responsible for many of the pinball machines that wound up in pizza parlors, 7-Elevens, bowling alleys, bars, and any of the umpteen other places these quarter-suckers ended up. The collection first shipped for the Wii, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable last year for a bargain price of 19.99. A year later, Crave had Farsight Studios create an HD edition for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for a slightly more pricey – but still budget for the consoles' standards -- $39.99. But with the added cost you're getting higher resolution visuals, online leaderboards, and additional tables that were not in last year's collection.
Just like last year's standard definition editions, this pinball package is surprisingly top-notch. The disc contains several licensed machines out of Williams' line-up from the past three decades, each accurately recreated for play on the home console. At least half of the names should be familiar to anyone who's flipped a few silver balls in their day. Pinbot. Whirlwind. Black Knight. Funhouse. Space Shuttle. Even the lesser known ones should ring familiar: Gorgar, Taxi, Firepower, and Sorceror might not have been huge successes in arcades, but chances are you've dropped a token or two in them even if you can't immediately remember them. And for those who need a truly old-school pinball machine in their collection, Jive Time has that quaint mechanical design of the pre-microchip era. This HD update also includes three additional, later generation machines: Tales of the Arabian Nights, Medieval Madness, and No Good Gophers, all excellent pinball games back in the day and welcome inclusions to the Williams mix.
Developer FarSight has had some experience in virtualizing pinball with previous pinball collections -- the team worked on Crave's previous compilation from more than three years ago: The Gottlieb Collection. That experience really shows in The Williams Collection. The collection here is a great selection of machines, and each of them has been rendered in 3D using high resolution scans from the actual pinball table. The visual engine used in The Williams Collection runs at a slick 60 frames a second even when a triple multiball is in play. And the developers even employ a fantastic amount of camera options for those who want to get the best view of the action. The sound effects are also spot-on to their real world counterpart, from the raspy voice of Pinbot to the "kaching" of the mechanical bells from Jive Time.
What's more, the pinball physics – what truly makes or breaks virtual pinball – are extremely well done. The balls weight and gravity is accurately represented as it rolls around the playfield. The excellent physics engine is confirmed for those with true pinball prowess: traditional skills such as catching and flipper passing (quickly flipping a "caught" ball from one flipper to the other) can be pulled off with the same finesse as it's done on the real machine.
The collection even presents the twelve tables extremely well. Each game is selectable in a virtual arcade, and can be jumped in and out with impressively short load times. It's a shame that the developers had to tease and pollute the arcade with several unplayable "dummy" machines instead of simply making a game room with the twelve games exclusively, but it's a minor nitpick. Some machines are Free Play unlocked, but others require spending tokens to play – luckily you get a pocketful right at the start and earn more by hitting the match number at the end of a game. For the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, Jive Time can only be unlocked if you meet certain criteria.
An added incentive to play each machine is the game's included achievement system: each table has about a half-dozen tasks to complete, from reaching a high score to triggering a specific event on the machine. Nailing every achievement on a table rewards players with the ability to unlock Free Play on the machines that don't have it, as well as open up other cheats like custom balls and options on the title screen. The achievement system is clearly an easy way for the developers to increase replay, but it actually works because it dangles that carrot in front of players' noses with specific pinball machine tasks. The fully-narrated tutorial does a wonderful job showing all the special shots and table locations, too, so if a task eludes you, just follow along with the designers to see how to get the job done.
Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions have achievement points and trophies respectively. The Xbox 360 achievements are tied directly to each of the table's built-in goals which make them a bit more challenging to obtain. The PlayStation 3 trophies are tied to earning a spot on the high score list, which makes them a breeze to earn. However, it has to be noted that the PS3 version seems to be missing a Platinum trophy, usually a requirement of retail games on the system. Also added to the mix are online leaderboards for each of the table's top scores, so you can track your ranking against anyone else playing Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection on your choice of platform.
Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions are virtually identical in content, visuals and audio. The PS3 version seems slightly sharper in graphics but the benefit is minimal at best. However, during review I did notice occasional instances where the PS3 controller would lose sync with the system for a millisecond which causes the flipper to quickly flip while holding the button down. This wasn't an isolated instance as it happened on at least two retail machines on retail copies of Pinball Hall of Fame, but it only happened on very remote occasions. Still, for pinball experts who spend a lot of time "trapping" the ball against a flipper, to have the controller drop and connect quickly will definitely affect some high score runs, so take caution. The other PS3 oddity: no Sixaxis support for table nudging. This seems like a huge missed opportunity, especially seeing as how last year's Wii version used controller shake for table nudge. Instead, you're using the right analog stick to shove the table in the different directions.
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