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April 10, 2008
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection - Review (Wii)

by Jason Van Horn

When the arcades died, so too did the art of the pinball machine, the most pervasive of all the gaming machines. If you walked into an arcade you could usually expect a whole row of pinball machines lined up one after another, as the sound of flippers flapping and bumpers clanging rang through the air. For most people, the ability to own an actual pinball machine is one thrill they can never have, as the machines cost quite a penny, take up a ton of room, and the maintenance of one can be difficult. Thankfully games like Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection come along and allows us to own not one, not two, but ten authentic real-life machines brought to life on one disc. So is this virtual pinball heaven all that it's cracked up to be for the multiplayer gamer?

Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection (PHF from here on) uses both the Wii remote and nunchuk to control the entire game. You'll be using the B-button on the remote to control the right flippers, the nunchuk's Z-button to control the left flippers, and you'll use the thumbstick to start the game off by shooting the balls into play. Beyond those very basic controls, you'll also shake either the remote or nunchuk to shake the pinball machines, but be careful or else you'll set the alarm off and will activate the "tilt" mechanism. The controls are easy enough, but a little bulky, as it seems as if there should've been a way to avoid using the nunchuk attachment.

The game features five different camera angles, all of which work great and track the balls in several different ways. Some of the camera angles stick onto the balls until pulling away from the action the closer they get to your flippers, while others merely change the camera angle, either placing it in more of a slant or lower to the actual board. I tried all of the camera modes out and not one failed to ever let me down and always tracked the action perfectly so that if I lost a ball it was only ourselves to blame.

The game features ten real-life pinball machines from the Williams Collection, including Space Shuttle, Gorgar, Taxi, Whirlwind, Sorcerer, Pin Bot, Jive Time, Funhouse, Firepower, and Black Knight. Each machine is unique in terms of not only layout, but challenge, graphics, and sounds as well. Supposedly each machine features the actual sound effects used in the original machines, but not having been privy to play or own one of these machines before, I just have to take their word for it. I am inclined to believe the claims, however, because none of the pinball machines on the disc ever use the exact same sounds, so while the bumpers might have one sound on one machine, in another they have a completely different sound.

The pinball machines span the 70s, 80s, and 90s, showing off how the industry changed from decade to decade. You've got some machines like Jive Time that seem fairly simple, while other like Black Knight feature four different flippers. Funhouse has a ventriloquist like dummy head that actually moves, and Whirlwind features three plates that spin and will send your balls flying around the table. Out of the ten different tables I only really enjoyed half of them, but that may vary for other players depending on their individual and unique tastes when it comes to pinball machines.

When it comes to the multiplayer aspects of the game, PHF seems severely lacking in possible options that could've been used. You can have up to four players competing in the game's tournament mode, with all four players either being able to use their own controllers, or having the option of using only one controller and passing it around between them (a smart option to include). When you start a tournament you pick how many players will be playing and then how many boards you'll be competing on, ranging from one to four boards. The game will randomly choose the boards you'll play on so that the only player who has an advantage will be the one who knows how to play each and every stage. While the option to play a tournament over more than one board is fine, it seems that the game should've let players be able to compete on the full ten boards available. Also, when playing the tournament mode, the only option is for each player to take their turns in a line, with each player only getting to play one ball at a time instead of being able to take all their turns at once. On one hand it keeps the games closer in terms of immediacy, but when it's not your turn and you have to sit there and watch possibly three other players playing some really long rounds on one ball, it can feel like a lifetime just sitting there and doing nothing.

Graphically the game is very nice, featuring realistic looking pinball machines with plenty of flashing lights and spinners littering the landscape. Little touches such as being able to turn-off or on the realistic looking glare from the glass table being offers that little something extra. The game also sounds good in terms of audio, featuring rock music in the background of the arcade that isn't nearly as bad as you might think. There are unique sounds to each pinball machine, such as the voices of the demon in Gorgar or the master of the Funhouse. All of the sounds are very true to the original source material thanks to their old-fashioned sounding robotic voices.

If you're looking for a pinball game to bring back some old memories and let you and some friends compete locally on one system, then you'll find a decent purchase in terms of PHF. The game is technically sound, but the problems that ultimately lowers the score comes from the lack of multiplayer options available, as the game only features the bare minimum and basics when it comes to a multiplayer component, and that's just not enough in this day and age. PHF is a good game for pinball fans, but only a marginally decent one if you're looking for anything more than a single-player game.

2 out of 5


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