Monday, 10 December 2018

Family Pinball (NES)

Family Pinball, released in 1989, seems like it might have felt a little bit dated. Not only is the main table, a 2 screen high Pac-Man-themed affair, a bit simplistic when compared to real pinball tables of the late 1980s, but also compared to video pinball games on other systems. For example, Alien Crush had been released on PC Engine just a few months earlier, and while it might be a little unfair to compare games on systems with such different power levels, but while the Famicom had no chance of putting out anything that could rival Alien Crush graphically, it could definitely have played host to a pinball table that was just as complex and interesting.

I guess Namco saw the same problem in their own game, as while the Pac-Man table is the only traditional pinball table in the game, there are a bunch of other tables, that are more like pinball-inspired minigames, rather than actual tables. The first is 9-Ball. It's an odd combination of pinball and pachinko, where the aim is, like pachinko, to launch the ball at just the right speed so that it goes into one of the holes on the table. Before starting, you bet points, and winning the bet relies on getting balls in holes so that they form squares or lines. The pinball element enters proceddings in two ways: firstly, you can nudge the table to try and influence how the ball falls, and secondly, instead of a ball just falling off the bottom of the screen helplessly, there's a pair of flippers down there, so you can send it back up if you're quick enough.

The third of the minigames is battle pinball, and is also probably the most filled-out conceptually speaking, as well as the most fun to play. It's a versus pinball game, in which the aim is to get the ball past your opponent's flippers. First to three points wins. The way gravity works in this mode is a little odd, though I can't think of any better way they might have handled it: the ball will "fall" towards the nearest set of flippers, with "down" changing direction halfway up the table. (Or down it. You know what I mean.) There's three different tables in this mode, too, which would add a bit of variety if it was being played a lot (which I can actually imagine happening back in the game's heyday).

Finally, there's sports pinball, coming in soccer and ice hockey varieties (though there isn't much difference between the two as far as I can tell). This is mostly like battle pinball, with the same physics, and the same aim, but with no pinball bumpers or targets strewn about the tables, and with a much odder control scheme. Instead of activating two flippeers in front of your goal, you have a goalkeeper there, who you can move left and right, and who automatically deflects the ball, Pong-style. In the opponent's side of the table, you have one flipper, which you can also move left and right, and you can also press the buttons that activate the two flippers in other mdes to spin it clockwise or counter-clockwise. This mode feels a little half-baked, and is more fiddly than fun, especially compared to the much better battle pinball mode.

All in all, I found Family Pinball a bit of a disappointment, mainly thanks to how basic the main table is. If you have someone to regularly play against, you'll probably get decent milage out of battle mode, but otherwise, it's not a title worth bothering with.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Magical Speed (Arcade)

Magical Speed is an adaptation of the tradition card game (traditional as in it uses a deck of normal playing cards) Speed, with a really nice-looking fantasy RPG lick of paint, and there's a few interesting (or at least unusual) things about it. Speed, if you don't know (and I didn't before playing this) has two cards in the centre of the table, and the players have 4 cards at a time each, as well as a pile to draw from when one of them is gone. You get rid of your cards by putting them on top of one of the two cards in the middle, though it has to be one higher or lower than it (suits don't matter). The winner is the first player to be rid of all their cards, or whoever has the least remaining cards when time runs out.

The first interesting thing about this game is that it's intended to be played two-player, on a cocktail cabinet, with the players facing each other. So each player sees their cards at the bottom of the screen facing them, and their opponent's cars at the top, upside down. Luckily, there's also a single player mode, as even if I could get someone to play, figuring out how this arrangement would work while emulating on a PC would be a bit of a hassle. The single player mode is surprisingly thorough, too! Though it's just a typical fighting game-style deal where you play against a bunch of opponents in succession, each more skilled than the last, there are three difficulty levels to pick from, and each of the three levels has its own seperate cast of opponents, all with unique sprites and animations, plus their own cute little introductory cutscenes. And there is actually a fair difficulty curve too! Well done, Allumer.

The other interesting thing is the controls. Since this is a game all about having the fastest reactions, using the joystick to move a cursor to select your card, then choose which pile to put it on would be far too slow. Instead, there are six buttons: two on the top row, representing the two piles and four beneath, representing your four face-up cards. Hit the button for the card you want, then the pile you want it to go to, and that's how you play. I may have mentioned before, but I typically use a USB replica SEGA Saturn pad for playing stuff on PC that doesn't require any analogue sticks, but in this case, I was having trouble figuring out a setup that let me press all the buttons quickly, while also avoiding my getting confused about which button was which. Eventually, I managed to come up with something that worked pretty well: holding the controller in my right hand, I had the two top buttons mapped to the Y and Z buttons on there, and with my left hand on the PC keyboard, and the four bottom buttons mapped to Q, W, E, and R on there. I could only play for 10-15 minutes at a time before the fingers of my left hand started getting stiff, but it was good enough.

In summary, Magical Speed is a very cute game, and it's fun enough, but I can't imagine anyone ever wanting to play it more than a few times in single player. I guess if you're lucky enough to ever encounter a real cocktail cabinet of it, it seems like it'd be a ton of fun to play against a real opponent that way, though.