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Pin Bot

Year released: 1988
Company: Rare
Genre: Pinball

For the last few weeks, I've been fascinated with pinball. There's an Addams Family machine in the CSUN arcade, and that is probably the thing on campus that's eating up the most of my money, behind food. As such, I've started gravitating towards the two pinball titles on the NES that I have. I plugged in the original Nintendo cartridge, and while it didn't bore me immediately, I did find myself having explored every facet of the game within a couple days. So, I popped in Pin Bot, the other pinball-based title in my collection.

If the battle of supremacy were fought on the basis of how long the game stayed in the console, Pin Bot would win that competition hands down. However, when it comes to overall enjoyment of the games, both titles in my possession are pretty close to each other, with Pin Bot only having a small advantage. Don't take this as a slam against the subject of this review; both games are quite fun and I'd rather have either of them than, say, Hydlide.1 But still, there are some elements of Pin Bot that trouble its overall rating.

On the presentation front, there really isn't a whole lot that could be done apart from accurately portraying the table as it appears in real life. The folks at Rare accomplished that quite handily; although on the whole the table looks a bit dark, it's not a major gripe, and kudos should be paid for the idea of keeping the flippers in view even when the ball is in the upper regions of the playfield.

The music isn't quite as good, although there are a couple good themes. None of them are really all that memorable, and the music played in the midst of locking your balls2 is extremely repetitive. The digitized sounds are a little muddy, as well. It took a few tries for me to understand what the voice was saying. You can turn any aspect of the audio off if you want, although I have no trouble leaving it on, too.

In pinball games, play control is not as much of an issue as platformers or soldier shooters, largely because you really only have those two flippers to work with. Still, the flippers do work with consistency. The ball physics, however, do need some work. A common practice is to "catch" the ball between the flipper and the inlane, but sometimes the ball careens down the lane with incredible velocity and rolls up the flipper onto the other side, and in some cases, the ball sometimes goes up faster than it came down. I'm not a physicist, but I know that such an occurence is impossible. Also, there's no way to pause the game without using a second controller. The Start and Select buttons are used the nudge the table back and forth if you have a fear of draining, and thankfully it takes a good 10 seconds of jostling to Tilt, but using Start to pause is an instinct that's tough to break.

The real problem, however, has to do with the fact that the programmers decided to fancy up the machine by including levels of difficulty. Not only do the higher levels offer no more points than those that precede it, but in many cases it tosses all enjoyability out the window. After clearing the first board, you have to contend with a slime that resides right in the center of the playfield and eats (or at least redirects) any ball that comes its way. Later boards are even more frustrating, as you deal with foes that fly around and steal the ball, or even shoot missiles at your flippers, crippling them. Why, oh why, oh why did they feel a necessity for this?

As a result, I tend to turn off the deck as soon as I accidentally advance to the next level. Doing so can be avoided if you know what is required to move up, but after playing for more than half an hour and having hit every switch, it just starts getting a little boring anyway. As far as the game's lasting power, it'll be a big hit for those who are pinball fans, and those who aren't will still find lasting, albeit duller, thrills playing the game. However, when people happen upon that ball-eater in the second round, they'll probably take the same course of action as I did.

On the whole, it's a pretty good representation of pinball on the NES, although the one glaring fault mentioned above really takes a lot of wind out of its sails.

1. Boy, I get a lot of mileage out of that game, don't I?

2. And any person who construes that as innuendo in any form will be ordered out of the gene pool.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 13
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 16
Overall Score: 69%