Pinball Arcade – Who DUNNIT? – Review

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Pinball Arcade: Who Dunnit? by Farsight Studios

Pinballs are the ultimate Arcade game! Some may disagree with me but I make no excuse for this statement since I spent most of my teen years playing Pinball with friends in cafés. I spent so much time on some days; I would come home with bleeding indexes. This sounds exaggerated and dramatic but I did. The thing is, it was costing me a lot of money but I happened to have been rather good at it and I was making plenty of extra balls and free games with high scores. I would even pick specific cafés to play specific tables. These cafés did not see much of my money in drinks (if any) but the pinballs’ bellies were receiving a nicer treatment with my coins. All in all, I loved pinballs and they have left nice memories to me. So, what did I do when I got my first iPad? You bet! I purchased several pinballs. I have played them quite extensively. Today, I have decided to start a little series on this game. The question being: how good can really be a virtual Pinball?

To start with, I will review a Pinball by Farsight Studios. These guys at Farsight have an obvious passion for pinballs. They are on a mission to virtualize all the previous hardware pinballs from the greatest pinball makers. Some people are saving endangered animals; some are saving and virtualizing unpublished books. Farsight Studios are saving pinballs. And as we will see, they are taking their mission very seriously.

But once again: Does it work? Let’s find out… To do so, I have played extensively several tables and then selected one for this review. I have played the selected one many many times and tried almost all the options for more than one game so that they start meaning something.

Humpty Dumpty - First Pinball machine

Humpty Dumpty – First Pinball machine

What is a Pinball?

For the few of you who might not know what a pinball is or who may never have seen a real one, a pinball is:

Pinball is a type of arcade game, usually coin-operated, in which points are scored by a player manipulating one or more steel balls on a play field inside a glass-covered cabinet called a pinball machine. The primary objective of the game is to score as many points as possible. Points are earned when the ball strikes different targets on the play field. A drain is situated at the bottom of the play field, partially protected by player-controlled plastic bats called flippers. A game ends after all the balls fall into the drain. Secondary objectives are to maximize the time spent playing (by earning “extra balls” and keeping the ball in play as long as possible) and to earn bonus games (known as “replays”). Thanks Wikipedia.

The game would have been invented around 1750s and the first coin operated one was in the 1930s. The big move (which was responsible for my bleeding indexes) was the invention of the flippers by Gottlieb in 1947. Clack-Clack, this ball will not get away, I promise!

What is a Virtual Pinball?

A virtual pinball will aim at recreating all the physical effects of the real stuff from bumpers to targets via spinners and ramps. But the ultimate simulation will be to simulate the odd kick the proper pinball player will give to the machine to fight the odds. The skillfull player knowing how to balance the kicks strength without reaching the shameful “Tilt” that turns the machine off.

Farsight Studios - Pinball Arcade Logo

Farsight Studios – Pinball Arcade Logo

Farsight Studios App

Farsight Studios are offering only 1 app in iTunes. It is named Pinball Arcade with (at this very day) a Phantom of the Opera written on it. Thanks to that curious setting, Farsight app is the last one I tried in the store. Before it, I tried other pinballs that I will hopefully review at a later time.

Farsight Studios are on a mission to save Pinball tables and virtualise them. They pick table from the old time and from the best manufacturers like Gottlied, Williams, Bally and Stern and they virtualise them rigorously identical. I suspect it is much more difficult than creating a new table from scratch with a mobile device in mind. Here, the objective is to give you the same experience than with the vintage machines. Quite a challenge, I think.

Inside this app, you will be able to purchase over 30 tables. For each table you will be able to try them a little and purchase the ones you like. That’s a nice setup.

Common features to all tables

If I list every single feature, this section will be awfully long. I’ll stick to an already long list of outstanding features.

Who Dunnit? flyer - back

Who Dunnit? flyer – back

Who Dunnit? flyer - front

Who Dunnit? flyer – front

The table history

Like everything, when you get passionate about something you will find very exciting things to look at. Pinball is no exception and every table comes with its own history. Who created them, how they did it and in which context. You will also find if the tables have something exceptional (like a new ramp style or bumper technology or other fascinating things). You will also get to know how many tables have been produced exactly and when. All in all, it puts the table in a very living context. This history is kept very short and cannot possibly bore you. You also have a scan of the original table’s flyer.

Pinball Arcade - Who Dunnit - Review

How To play the table with visual cue

The Table’s How To

In fact, a proper Pinball table comes with a quite complex gameplay. They all have some common features like extra ball, multi ball or extra game score. But within this global context, they also have some individual features. You could allow a new trap to be opened or a ramp to be diverted or a space to become a magnet. You may also start a video game or access an extra layer of game. In many cases, this can be quite complex. Farsight Studios have been kind enough to offer a very well done How To with multiple steps (sometimes over 20), arrows on screen and clear explanations. This is excellent stuff. Well done!

Cam control

You have a choice of cameras positions to follow your ball on the table. Basically the camera can be more or less high and distant from the ball. If you select the closest camera to the ball, at some points you won’t even see your flippers. We’ll talk a bit later about the camera and the ability to follow what is happening on the table.

Pinball Arcade - Who Dunnit - Review

Pinball Arcade – Who Dunnit – Review

 

Custom balls

You can pick within a selection of different ball. You can even, as it seems, purchase some new ones. As gadget as it looks, I was very glad to have this feature offered. We’ll see later why in more details, but it is basically offering an increase in you ability to follow the ball when playing.

Nudge control

This option allows you to control how you can make the table move: by touch, swipe or even shake. You can also turn it off. I’ve tried all the settings and so far I decided to turn it off. I think the shake option is the most realistic but also too much sensitive. I ended up doing Tilt when I was not even trying to move the table, but just because the game was getting exciting and your hands get to shake the device while playing the flippers. But I must say, the implementation of this feature is very well done and one might find a way to use it. I believe the most promising is the swipe one.

Pinball Arcade - Who Dunnit - Review

Pro features

The Pro Version of the Table

Oh, yes, that’s right. There is also a Pro version of each table! As if the normal version was not enough. For a small fee you can become the virtual owner of the table. It means you get even more features in which I’ll only mention:

  • The ability to totally control the ball and make it go wherever you want (I assume it is Farsight’s own feature for testing the table)
  • The ability to zoom in the table and “browse” its content.
  • Display the Tilt meter (so that you know how close you are to tilting).
  • “Open” the table’s belly and access it’s fine tuning (I did not get there enough to tell you more but it seems promising)
  • Get stats about the table. That is the kind of thing the makers would want to access in order to understand how the table would perform
  • And a few other things that I let you discover.

My opinion is: get the Pro feature! You’ll feel you purchase the real pinball table. You’ll get more from it than you ever wanted.

Who Dunnit?

Who Dunnit?

Who Dunnit?

Who Dunnit-Pinball machine

Who Dunnit-Pinball machine

Okay, now what about the table itself? Who Dunnit is a game during which you are looking for a murderer. As surprising as it may sound, you indeed play for getting clues and ultimately tell who the culprit can be. I strongly recommend to read the excellent documentation to understand how on earth you are going to do that.

The table structure is mostly made of a couple of ramps, a few targets and an “Elevator”. There are 3 bumpers at the top but after hours playing the table, I seldom had the pleasure to get the ball bumping. There are also three “holes” where you ball will disappear and come back later on your right flipper.

This table comes with an additional level of Video Game. At some points you will be asked to play with the (huge pixels, just as it was at the time) screen. You can play roulette or select clues or select a suspect to complete the mission. It is a great combination and gives depth to the game.

How Nice?

This table is really nicely done. You do have a feeling for the table and it looks very good on the screen. I must admit though that it is very hard to perceive the 3rd dimension. It took me a little while to understand that there was an elevator and that this elevator had targets closing its entrance coming from below from time to time. So, it takes some time for your brain to associate what is happening on the screen with the table construction and design. Farsight Studios have given all the tools one can think of to allow the player browse the table in details and grab what is where. But nevertheless, it is quite difficult to “see” the table for what it is. In my experience, your brain will actually manage to do it but it really is a Virtual Table.

I should also mention that Farsight has done really well by implementing the game for both iPad and iPhone but also for vertical and horizontal handling. If at first you handle the device vertically, I found myself more comfortable with a horizontal grip. This is especially true on the iPhone but I must say that I now mostly play horizontal on iPad as well. This flexibility is extremely welcome and convenient.

Pinball Arcade - Who Dunnit - Review

Table detail with Pro option

Sound and FX

Let’s be clear: Farsight has put all their energy in making this table as real as possible. The sound atmosphere is so well done that you really believe that you are in front of the original table. The physics is very well implemented.

I would note two important things though:

  • It is very hard at time to follow the ball on the screen. I have lost it countless times from sight, hence, the most important possibility to change the ball’s colour. I ended up using the bright yellow version, even if the ball is intrinsically ugly like this, just as the cautious cyclist is wearing a yellow vest on the road, the cautious virtual pinball player will use a very visible ball to play.
  • I could notice a very slight delay in response time on the flippers. It is extremely well done but still, when things get hot, a millisecond delay is the difference between scoring like mad and loosing miserably. It takes some time to get used to this delay that does not exist in the real world. Don’t get me wrong: this is definitely not a reason to not get this game. I have mostly used an ipad 4 to test this game. Maybe the iPad air would have been better. Surely the next generation of iPad will handle that even faster.
Pinball Arcade - Who Dunnit - Review

Table detail with Pro option

How Fun?

This is the important question, isn’t it? Well, I must say that I did enjoy all the hours spent testing this pinball game. Unlike what one could think, the enjoyment does not come with the first games. On the contrary, just as with the real stuff, we start enjoying the table when we start to understand it. At first you barely fight with the ball and in time, you have objectives in mind that you are trying to achieve. It did totally remind me of the experience with the real tables. You do loose awfully quickly with the first games and slowly but surely you get the grip of it and go into the high scores. This is not random, no more than it is with a material table.

The table becomes more and more fun, more and more competitive with time. And that is really excellent. When you get into it, you will loose yourself in the game. Unlike other Pinball games I have tried, a game of Who DUNNIT will not last 30mn and counting. No, it is the traditional 3 balls only game with the occasional extra ball earned on the way. Just like with the real stuff, the ball will get out on the side or right in the middle between the flippers. There is this little bit of luck that even the best players cannot do without.

My only complain that is killing my mood sometimes is when I loose sight of the ball due to the speed of it and when I get my flipper in action a fraction of a second too late. I often lost the ball in circumstance where I would not with a real table. But let’s face it: I can hardly carry a real table in my pocket and play at any time. So, the convenience of the virtual pinball will make me forget these little occasional frustrations.

So, is it fun? Yes! Absolutely! It is very much fun!

Conclusion

To keep it simple: Go for it!

I think that Farsight Studios have done a tremendous job with their vintage Pinball collection. You do get the flavor of the time.
They offer a list of amazing features making the game really worth its money. Out of all the tables available, Who Dunnit? is an excellent choice. I’ll try to review some other tables later on but if you have to pick one in the list, I can recommend this one. I also recommend taking your time to enjoy the table and not rush to use another one just for the sake of change. To enjoy it thoroughly, one needs to invest some time in the game.

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