We didn’t have a lot of arcades in my hometown while I was growing up. Even worse, the few that did exist specialized in video games and air hockey, with nary a pinball machine in sight. Still, whenever I managed to get my hands on a one, it was always such a dazzling experience of light, sound and skill. Perhaps that’s why I can’t stop playing Pinball Arcade [$0.99 / Free], the inaugural iOS title from FarSight Studios. FarSight’s ability to create near-perfect replications of actual pinball machines leads to a game that is not only full of incredibly deep pinball machines, but also captures that feeling of fun and excitement in an iOS game.

As its name implies, Pinball Arcade features classic arcade machines from various eras with the simple goal of mastering each one to get the highest scores possible. Each table also includes 'Goals' (read: achievements) that can be solved which lead to more complicated objectives. The entry price includes one machine (‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’) with three more available for purchase within the game via IAP. Tables range from somewhat simple layouts with interesting twists (‘Black Hole’) to lengthy epics chock full of interactive items and objectives (‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’). Unlike most games with IAP, you can actually try each table before you buy, providing an opportunity for actual research before you even consider purchasing another table.

I’m impressed with how much effort Pinball Arcade seems to puts into recreating each machine. The visuals, sounds, and effects all feel authentic and add to the presentation, although there is some minor blurriness while playing on an iPad 2. The physics, while occasionally unforgiving, seem to offer a good balance between realism and challenge. What I admire the most, however, is how much Pinball Arcade offers in terms of knowledge for each table.

When you select a table, you’re given a brief history, the option to view an actual flyer (some are pretty low-res) and a comprehensive instruction manual detailing every single objective you can do in a table. The game really wants you to learn, live, and master each table –a concept that I can get behind. Of course, the game works well for the casual player that just wants to play a quick game, but I feel some of the charm is lost experiencing this game in that fashion.

Most importantly, Pinball Arcade simply hits the mark on gameplay and the feeling of actually playing a pinball machine. Whether you’re balancing a multi-ball run, trying to execute a combo or objective, or finally unlocking the ‘end game’ big score objects, all the experiences just feel real, something that doesn’t happen very often to me while playing an iOS game. Even better, since each table has its own personality and can take a long time to master, there’s tons of depth for replayability. I was also impressed with the variety of table selection, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of ‘Black Hole’ (too simple and gimmicky for my tastes).

While Pinball Arcade nails nearly every facet of a great pinball game, I did have some issues with its leaderboard integration. The game exclusively uses Facebook to track high scores, which seems rather cumbersome in my experience. This is further evidenced by the fact that even simple acts like checking the leaderboards seem clunky and slow to update (that and I haven’t yet seen one of my scores upload). I understand that lots of folks use Facebook (and it appears that route was pursued for cross-platform leaderboard support), but simple Game Center support feels like a prerequisite in this day and age. IAP is another aspect that just seems confusing; why the game asks me for both my Facebook login and .mac account when trying to download purchases on another device is beyond me. The whole structure feels mismanaged, which is surprising consider the quality of the rest of the game.

There’s also a potential minor problem in regards to approachability. The large amount of information and instructions for each table is certainly wondrous for enthusiasts, but it may be a bit intimidating for the casual pinball player.  While I thought the IAP price points were fair, I imagine some would balk at having to pay ten dollars to fully unlock all four tables. There’s also the fact that these tables are complicated and actually require some effort to learn and truly enjoy.  I’m sure casual players could simply pick up the base game and play free versions of the other tables, but as mentioned before I feel like a lot of the magic would be lost on them.

However, I feel that some of the concerns above are nitpicky at best. In addition, folks on our forums have stated that the developers plan on integrating Game Center soon, alleviating my most pressing worry. Regardless, Pinball Arcade is simply one of the best pinball games I’ve ever played, and should be put at the top of the class with other iOS pinball elites. Each table is digital masterpiece onto itself and should make pinball enthusiasts very happy. Furthermore, with the promise of many more tables in the queue (most likely as IAP), this game should keep you entertained for many balls to come.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://blakespot.com/ blakespot

    Easily the most "realistic" pinball game in the App Store. That's not to say that there's not great fun to be had in more fanciful pinball titles that provide a little more glitz than a wood and steel table could muster -- but as far as realism, this is it.

    • http://twitter.com/drelbs drelbs

       Agreed.

      That's why it's so bad the rest of the app is so disappointing - I hate having to log in as guest, (why does the app have to inform me of this every single time?) there needs to be a faster 'replay game' button and about 75% of the time the game crashes on me.  I'm also not a huge fan of the game pulling back from the cabinet for plunger release - who stands 2 feet away from the table to do that?!? After the overall experience you get with Zen, Gameprom or even Age of Pinball, this app feels downright clunky.

      Tables are spot on though - I've played lots on Black Hole 'back in the day' and Theatre of Magic (a lot more recently.)  IAP prices feel a little steep (especially compared to Zen) but are a relative bargain for the simulation value - and with the completely free app you can just buy the tables you want. You even get to play tables to try them out! Major bonus there.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

        The guest login thing is probably a bug and should be fixed soon with the GC support update.

        I'm not sure how replay speed is really that big of a deal but I would agree that it should just give me a replay option on the screen instead of kicking me back out to the "arcade" backdrop menu. Not enough of an issue to count it in the "disappointments" category but rather "would be nice to have".
        The plunger camera backs up far simply because it has to let you use your finger to determine pull strength. Naturally you're not doing this IRL and I really shouldn't have to explain the logistics of how they can't really emulate your real life position in front of a pinball machine. By your logic you should be complaining that you can zoom in on the camera even though no one plays like that in real life.

        You haven't offered any meaningful evidence outside of the botched leaderboard login issue (which they have acknowledged and are trying to fix ASAP) as to why this app is "clunky" (this term is extremely overused btw).

      • Anonymous

        @twitter-67044979:disqus 's first paragraph does a pretty good job of explaining how he feels the app is clunky.

        Also, that last paragraph of yours makes you come across like a complete ass.  Excuse me if I don't offer you any "evidence" as to why I feel this way.

        And finally, clunky clunky clunky.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

        Actually he doesn't do a very good job. The only thing that really speaks of "clunky" is the poor login system which I already addressed to eliminate that point.

        Everything you posted makes you come across like a complete ass.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

  • Anonymous

    I'd like to see Game Center and iCade support. The real test, though, will be Retina iPad support in a month or two, for all tables. This might be the game I'm most looking forward to booting up.

    • http://clickplow.com/ John

      This game would be amazing on the ipad 3. Very good call.

  • Anonymous

    Bah, there's no such thing as an unapproachable table. The newbie only needs to know two things: Keep the ball in play and shoot for flashing lights. Experience just helps you accomplish those two goals.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

      Totally. No one ever needs to memorize or even read the full instructions of a game to play it. Eventually you will to increase your score and have more goals.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

    Per their Facebook page, they are fixing the issues with the Leaderboard (your scores don't even post), as well as adding GC support. Should be an update in the store soon.

  • Anonymous

    .Mac account eh Eric? Looks like you've been Mac user for a few years ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jaison-Biagini/100001293878571 Jaison Biagini

      Im a .mac guy too. From the get go. I know @me works to but I like sticking to the @mac. It's cooler

  • Keith Jones

    How's it compare to Zen Pinball? Big fan of that.

    • Jeff Strong

      It's more realistic, which means the physics are more challenging, but that's a good thing, IMO. And these tables are replicas of real machines, so the table flow and design is the best the world has ever seen.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

        On a non-PC platform. Visual Pinball does all of this great on pretty much every table out there (you have to go between versions for certain tables, though). That being said I would still encourage purchasing this even if you only play on PC because VP is a pita to setup and I encourage this sort of development to restore the genre and encourage development of more pins (which you won't accomplish by using freeware like VP).

      • Jeff Strong

        I would say these physics are better than Visual Pinball. Actually, if we're talking PC, Pro Pinball is the best, although the tables aren't real, they certainly play like real tables, and the physics are the most realistic I've seen in a pinball video game.

        But if the choice is between Visual Pinball and The Pinball Arcade, I'll take this every day of the week. In addition to the physics, i say this because of other things such as multiple camera options, visual table instructions, leaderboards, online tournaments, etc.

      • Anonymous

        I agree (and liked your comment.) Personally, I wouldn't play PA on a PC, when Visual Pinball is available. I like that community too much. This is a mandatory iPad app. If the graphics improve for a retina iPad 3, this would be darn near perfect.

      • Anonymous

        Might I suggest Future Pinball to this list. Without wanting to go into the whole physics debate between VP and FP, there are some great FP tables out there. And all free!

      • Anonymous

        There are tutorials and assist programs (like a wizard) to help with installation of both Visual Pinball and Future Pinball on a PC. No pinball enthusiast should be without the variety of simulated pinballs available. I use Macs and pretty much bought a copy of Windows just to play pinball simulations. Mac gaming has pinball games, but nothing like VP or FP. Pinball Arcade will be a boon to Mac users who haven't got a Windows partition and/or virtualization.

    • http://twitter.com/drelbs drelbs

       Tables play a lot more realistic than Zen, but they're also a bit harder and less 'pick-up-and-play' - be prepared to spend more time juggling the ball and being a little more skillful with your shots than in Zen. Because of this, the pacing is a tad slower. Overall the app is not as polished/friendly as Zen - and if you're not on a 4s or iPad2 you lose some of the graphics (like the reflective ball) that you'd have in Zen. Also also tables are a little more expensive.

      • Anonymous

        Well put.  I purchased all the machines at start, and I'm loving it (except for the guest/FB scoring thing they need to address). I also love Zen pinball, and will no doubt support both games!

      • Anonymous

        I disagree on the polish part. Simulations are just different from something like Zen. I see it as an apples and oranges thing. I like both, for different reasons.

  • Jeff Strong

    If you love real pinball, you definitely need to get this app and all the tables.To be able to have these machines and play them for eternity for less than $10 is an absolute steal.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

      Black Hole is extremely boring imo.

      • Jeff Strong

        Even though it was before my time, I actually really dig Black Hole because it's more challenging to get a high score, multiball, etc. I also like that it's not as cluttered as the newer tables, which also makes the targets harder to hit. On the newer tables, you can just hit the ball randomly and almost always hit a target or ramp somewhere, but the older tables require more precision. It's hard to get a million points, and that's what keeps me coming back.

      • bones boy

        Black Hole was not before my time, and it had some crazy nuances that kept me interested while ditching classes in high school. The double flippers on the bottom right were just weird and unique to a particular class of early electronic pinball machines. Also the bottom level was a major draw. It is a ridiculously hard table to master - at least for me. Those outlanes are absurd!

      • http://twitter.com/drelbs drelbs

         Sad thing is even 'in the day' I considered Black Hole to be a tad on the ugly side (mostly it was the kid in me wishing it was a Disney Black Hole tie-in table) but the black lighting and sub-table gimmick were well done and fun to play. Switching gravity from front to back was trippy, man! XD

  • Anonymous

    People are kidding themselves if they think the physics are more realistic than Zen Pinball. The tables are perfect, the sound is perfect...but you feel like you're playing with a plastic ball, compared to the proper solid thunk of ZP.

    Also, they really need to make the ball silvery, it's practically invisible on fast loops on iPad 2.

    • Jeff Strong

      I know many pinball fans, and you're the first I've ever heard say that Zen's physics are more realistic. Zen's physics are "fun", but they're slower and easier on purpose. For instance, it's not as easy to catch the ball in real life. The ball moves faster and bounces more, especially if the machine is well-maintained.

      • Anonymous

        I don't doubt that, becausePinball Arcade recreates all these great tables, it's a fans dream. The fact is though that the physics are far too light...it's like playing with the gum all out of Twilight Zone! And I've played all but Black Hole in the flesh countless times, so I'm not speaking from no knowledge.

        It's a real shame, but understandably people want PA to be better than it actually is.

        Edit That should read 'gumball' above, stupid iPad.

      • bones boy

         It's so funny you mentioned this. One arcade I played at had a slanted floor and therefore all tables used to have a lean to the left. It definitely affected play and that would be fun to recreate.

      • Anonymous

        A "dirty playfield" check box. I like it.

      • Alison Scott

        The Pro Pinball games, which were the best pinball sims ever by a huge margin, allowed you to set the table as new, run in, dirty, or needs maintenance. My dream pinball would basically be Pinball Arcade with the Pro Pinball physics engine. I remember when they came out and people were saying 'but will people pay $30 for *one* pinball table'. And now they're saying 'will people pay $2.49 for one table'. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Lord-Gek-Jordan/1559737263 Tim Lord Gek Jordan

         I had long joked I wanted a "degradation simulation" in a series like Pinball Arcade.  The player would have just a couple of parameters to choose stating the pinball machine's level of maintenance, age, and usage and then the game would generate an appropriately fitting table condition.  Complete with a few broken lights, a flipper that sticks a bit, and bumpers just not "bumping" at full power.

  • Anonymous

    Did I read the article correctly? Facebook login to make an IAP? I'm not even sure if Apple should allow that. Global high scores are one thing. IAP is another.

    EDIT: Could it be that you are prompted ONLY if you've already set up your Facebook login for high scores?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

      Do not need FB for IAP, just leaderboards (which don't even work atm).

  • Gregz0r

    It's a good start. I hate being too negative, but:

    The menu UI is all over the place, a bit convoluted  and need to be more coherent.

    I'm no pinball expert, but after playing TOTAN in this app for a while
    and then looking at videos of the real table being played, it seems to me that the ball in PA 'feels'
    like it's made of plastic, and/or has little weight to it, with no sound of it running or hitting random things. Also, It looks like someone forgot to dim the lights in the arcade hall, as everything is super bright, negating the lights on the tables.
    Finally, the plastic chutes on the sides, have zero reflection. It's probably due to the hardware, but I'll wait for the PS3 version to confirm that.
    On saying all that, I still love the tables - Black Hole is more simplistic, but I kinda like it. That ball comes back right quick! :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

    Anyone else have any issues on a 4S with no other apps in the background (read: at least 256MB RAM available when launching the app) where occasionally the app will lag while the ball is in motion and there will be a small frameskip.

    • http://clickplow.com/ John

      Yeah i've had the same issue as well. They will probably have it fixed in their next release.

  • Ubersnuber

    Pitting ZEN and Pinball Arcade against eachother is like comparing Ridge Racer to Gran Turismo. I'll do just that!
    I find the more realistic approach more rewarding AND controllable. In Pinball arcade, you can approach an incoming ball with your flipper, and if you timed it right, the ball will stop on a dime, leaving you in control for whatever you wish to do next.
    Try that in ZEN pinball, and you'll most likely send the ball to space, forever doomed to accompany our many satellites.
    But it's FUN physics, I hear you say. Yes, as fun and shallow as a plastic blonde, but I think I'll settle with a brunette.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=548162016 Bobby King

      Thanks!  This post was much appreciated on several levels. :)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YWQ6MT3CANQCO6ER2STLPV7FQA MikeB

     Be sure to be careful and don't pay for this twice. The "free" version and the "regular" versions are actually two different games. You can buy all the tables in both but there is no sync to tell you've already bought it when installing it on a different machine. (iphone vs ipad) So, I and others have paid twice by mistake (nearly $20) and Pinball Arcade folks have been silent on the issue. It was way too easy to make this mistake.

    • Gregz0r

       This.
      I really hope that this is not a deliberate ploy by Farsight to skim more cash from unsuspecting players.

  • Anonymous

    I hope they do Scared Stiff, that game was awesome. High Speed and Star Trek: The Next Generation would be good too.

  • michael bluth

     The tables are "expensive" because they are licensed. I don't see why this would be a negative. There's really nothing they can do about that. It costs money to use other peoples work. Zen and AW are cheap because they make their own tables and don't have to worry about licensing anything at all.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OPXHBHEK2COUEMA2XMU4W4GTXM Brendan S

       Marvel lets Zen use their characters for free?

  • Anonymous

    We're certain to see Adams Family on this, which is cause for celebration...I'd also love to see Demolition Man, but that's probably a bit hopeful!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

      Actually Addams Family was brought up by Farsight as one of the most difficult to acquire

  • Jay Ducharme

    I was looking forward to this app for some time.  Overall I'm pleased with it.  Surprisingly, my favorite re-creation is Black Hole, and I never even played that in arcades.  I agree that the ball isn't visible enough; it sort of blends in with the tables.  That's probably because of the small size, even on the iPad. Connecting my iPad to my TV lessens the issue.  But this is the only pinball simulation in the App Store that seems to have that problem.

    And I also agree that having only Facebook rankings is odd.  I hope there's an update with Game Center or OpenFeint integration.

  • http://twitter.com/squidlr squidlr

    Game Centre support and the option to turn off the spyware known as Facebook!

  • http://twitter.com/milkmangames Milkman Games

    amazing.  i have the williams collection one on wii and 360...these are the tables from my childhood and without these games i'd only see them in a reasonable condition once a year at California Extreme!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PNRNTUQQUMLDS3HONR6GQ3K4UI Christopher Hawkins

    Overall, this is a great initial release for the iPAD 2. I think (hope) we will see improvements in future updates. I think it is awesome to launch the APP by representing 3 decades of pinball, and the industry leaders/innovators of their times: Gottlieb really exploited multilevel playfields on games like Black Hole, Williams/Bally took gameplay to a whole new level with the WPC platform in the 90's on games like Theater of Magic, and Stern was the only company left standing (and still around today) by the time Ripley's was released. I like the physics overall, but the flipper angle on Theater doesn't feel quite right, and I think the nudging should be more responsive, but these are just my opinions. I'm so glad to see more Pinball apps; without more physical machines being produced, I guess this is the next best thing.

  • http://twitter.com/MikePintler Mike Pintler

    This game has been updated with even more tables. Get it, it's one of the best games available for iOS.

Pinball Arcade Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 4