Total time played: 3 Hours
Short review: One of the earliest NES games takes takes a stab at recreating the excitement of playing a pinball machine in an arcade.
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I have played real pinball before on multiple occasions but I did not grow up in pinball’s prime. When I would go to an arcade as a kid there were pinball machines but my heart wanted to play the video games, pound the buttons, rotate the joysticks and put quarter after quarter into the machine to try to beat the game. Pinball just seemed old and outdated so I would only play pinball if the arcade game I wanted to play was occupied.
As an adult I still don’t play pinball much but I have a much great appreciation for the technology that makes it work. I can’t imagine the engineering that goes into making the hundreds of mechanical parts work in tandem to provide a fun experience that is skill and luck based. The art of the pinball cabinet is incredible, I just wish I had more experience playing the games.
Of course since pinball machines were so popular in the 70’s and early 80’s it makes sense that Nintendo would try to capitalize on that and provide a pinball experience on your TV. For the most part NES Pinball succeeds. There is enough here to make it interesting for fans of actual pinball cabinets but by today’s standards it definitely feels very bare bones. The developers tried to create the pinball experience 1 to 1 instead of adding in features that could not possibly exist on a mechanical pinball machine.
How to Play
Playing pinball is very straight forward even if the control scheme in unorthodox. There are 2 games modes, A and B. The only difference I could find is that the ball felt heavier and faster in mode B. I’ve read that this mode is more realistic and mode A is more arcade style. In my play through I focused on mode A.
The directional pad controls the left flipper and the A and B buttons control the right flipper. The A and B buttons also launch the ball back into play when you start the game or lose a life. The goal of the game is to score 150,000 points. This isn’t a goal the game gives you but the goal that the internet has determined is the score needed to “beat the game” as it allows you to see everything the game has to offer.
At 100,000 points your flippers disappear and at 150,000 points they return. When the flippers disappear they are really still there and work just as they always have, you just can’t see them making the game a bit more difficult. The invisible flippers are the only thing in this game that could not be accomplished on a real pinball table.
If you score 50,000 points you do get an extra ball, there is no fan fare, no sound queue, no visual queue. You just will look down and see the ball number is increased by 1.
This is the top half of the game board, if the ball falls down the black path to the left or in-between the flippers it will drop to the bottom half of the board. I spent a lot more time on the bottom half than the top half. The top half I had much more success scoring points even though I never stayed here long.
I won’t go through every single point scoring opportunity but just hit some highlights. Most of the time I found that luck played a bigger role in my success than skill which made the game rather frustrating.
My favorite way to score points was to bounce the ball off of the white/pink 100 circle in the middle and up between the blue/white vertical lines which scores 1,000 points on the way up through and another 1,000 on the way back down. I was never good at pulling this off but every once in a while I’d get lucky and it would bounce 10 or so times in a row giving me a quick 10,000 points.
If you can shoot the ball up through the left side and hit all the white balls the seals bounce a ball on their nose and you get 100 points with each bounce, this was another quick way to score points…if you could shoot the ball up that narrow path.
The best way to score points is pure luck. You can shoot the ball up and around the green pillar on the left and when it rolls over the white line the 3 penguins in the image above create a slot machine and if you get lucky and it lands on 3 penguins a stopper appears between the flippers making it impossible for the ball to fall between them. This bumper remains until you shoot the ball around the green pillar again. On my winning run I scored about 80,000 points on this screen with the bumper in place.
The bottom half of the board is much more stressful. The points are harder to get down here and the 3 100 circles shot the ball in a random direction when they are hit. The best way to score points here is to get in the center of the 3 circles and just watch the ball bounce between them for several seconds.
If you hit one of the 3 eggs above the flippers it turns into a bird, hit the bird and it disappears, hit the invisible spot and the egg comes back. If you get all 3 birds on screen at once it creates a bumper on both the right and left sides which keep the ball from falling and losing a life. If you hit a bumper the ball bounces back into the game but the bumper disappears. To get it back you must get the 3 birds again.
In my experience at least 50% of the time the ball would hit the bumper it would bounce back into play, hit something and immediately go right back to where the bumper was and fall to lose a life.
If you can get the ball to travel between the little walls under the cards at the top of the screen it flips the cards over. If you flip all 5 cards over a bumper appears between the flippers. If you get this bumper and the 3 bird bumpers you are nearly invincible and just need to focus on points without fear of losing a life.
If you hit all the numbers on the left side of the screen the horizontal pink lines on the right side of the screen disappear and allow you use the plunger to shoot the ball back to the top of the screen.
Finally, if you shoot the ball inside the red circle at the top right of the screen it takes you to a bonus stage.
In the bonus stage you move Mario left and right to bounce the ball around the screen. If you hit any of the numbers they change between 3 colors. If all of the same number are the same color the blue lines at the top under the princess get smaller. If you do this a few times it creates a hole and the princess falls down, you must catch her and direct her to an exit.
This was a nice touch but I don’t think I ever got enough points or got enough enjoyment to make the bonus stage worth it.
You know…this was kind of fun. It’s another one of those that is fun to pick up and play but not really fun to try to score the 150,000 points to beat it. The game felt like 90% luck and 10% skill. You just can’t control where the ball is going to bounce and if you get just a few bad bounces it is game over.
I did find some enjoyment in trying to hit everything and see what would happen. I think it is easy enough for anyone to pick up and play and enjoy for 10 minutes at a time. In 2022 it feels more like a free phone game experience than a full fledged game, but, for 1985 I bet it was pretty revolutionary.