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Retro Video Game Review: Pinball (NES)

The NES had 18 launch titles; some instant classics, some better forgotten, and a few that fell somewhere in-between on the quality spectrum. Pinball, arguably, was one of the middling titles.

In 1985 the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America, representing what ultimately proved to be a legendary commercial recovery for the home video game console industry. The NES had 18 launch titles; some instant classics, some better forgotten, and a few that fell somewhere in-between on the quality spectrum. Pinball, arguably, was one of the middling titles.


The controls are perfectly intuitive: Pressing any selection on the directional pad flips the left paddle, and pressing either A or B activates the right, while also working the plunger to begin each ball. Play follows in traditional pinball format, in which the player tries to keep a metal ball in play on a grid for as long as possible, aiming for a high score along the way.

Like Kung Fu and some other early NES titles, Pinball has a Game A and a Game B, along with options for either single-player or alternating two-player play. The pinball board has two primary screens, an upper and a lower, each with their fill of various targets and bonus opportunities, and an entrance to a third screen; on this tertiary board, the player controls Mario carrying an I-beam, and must bounce the ball across a grid of bingo lights. Lighting like colors in columns and rows releases a girl, possibly Pauline from his Donkey Kong days, from the ceiling. If the player can catch her with Mario’s beam, a 10,000 point bonus is awarded; if she falls to her death, the player loses the ball.

Otherwise, this is a basic pinball simulation, and its early-era development shows. The pinball cabinet has little personality, with simple colors and a blank black background for the player to embark upon. There is a loose theme at work, involving animals, with ball-bouncing seals, penguins, and a few chicks near the bottom of the level. Mainstream gamers may fail to see the appeal altogether, arcade-style high-score fans may simply resort to more challenge-based pursuits, and even pinball purists can point to other, superior title on the NES. Nonetheless, it is a functional, standard, serviceable pinball simulation for the Nintendo Entertainment System.


As previously implied, the visuals are simplistic and unimaginative. While the whimsical images of the playing cards, Mario, ball-bouncing seals, and the metallic ball at least show signs of an effort being put into this title, the overall effect remains definitively underwhelming.


During play, there is no background music, save for the occasional jingle for unlocking a helpful barrier. The effects are alright, if not a little misplaced and awry, such as the grinding bump of the ball-bounce of the seals, who have now already been mentioned far too many times in this reviews. Apparently, those darn seals are the highlight of this retro cartridge.


To its credit, Pinball was a launch title, and possibly one of the better ones, when considering the whole. Its developers sought to put a simulation of a pinball cabinet on the NES; and, in a basic sense, succeeded in their goal. Their endeavor may not have come with much glitz or glamor, but there it is, in all its 8-bit glory. The ball feels a little heavy, especially in mode A (the B game is superior; more slick, opportunistic), with the physics never feeling quite right, nor as tight as in Pin*Bot or even Rollerball. For setting an early standard in the bold trail it helped forge, but falling short of any truly glorious legacy, Pinball on the NES earns two stars out of five.

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