Pinball has always been a game built so simple, yet made so complex by the various bumpers, ramps, and objectives that the table has laid out. The number one goal of pinball has always been to reach the number 1 spot on the score list, but games like Pinball FX have adapted also to include achievements that unlock when you complete a specific task on a table. Some would argue that all pinball tables are the same, and while in the concept of it, that is true. However, the layout of the different tables is what makes the concept unique every time. Is it even possible to further advance the age-old pinball formula? Developer Shine Games steps up to the challenge with their release of Quantic Pinball. Does the game have the potential for a high score, or should we tilt towards something else?
Quantic Pinball takes everything you already know and love about pinball and attempts to add to it. The game features seven levels each with a different layout and various challenges to overcome. To unlock the exit gate to a level, you must hit specific ramps a number of times, which will unlock the gate, then you must proceed up the newly opened ramp to complete the level. The ramps required to open the gate are marked with flashing yellow arrows. If you see two or more arrows on a ramp, it indicates that you must hit that specific ramp two or more times. There is also a ramp that when hit, will activate a variety of modes. There are various different modes. Some will help the player, such as iron storm, a multi-ball that releases 5 or more balls at once. Others will hinder, such as blackout, which darkens the entire level other than a small illumination around the ball on-screen. There are even some levels that feature floor traps that will throw your ball in different directions. There are separate areas of the table that can lock your ball. When a ball is locked in each of the available areas on a table, it causes a multi-ball to start. These can be anywhere from 2 to 4 balls. Interesting in design, but how do these elements help the game to flourish?
What I liked:
Multi-ball Chaos – Mainly due to the constant ability to activate modes and lock balls, multi-balls are something that are not sparse in Quantic Pinball. In reality, I would say at least 70% of the time I was playing a level I was in a multi-ball situation. These are great not only for racking up points fast and easy, but for throwing balls around blindly to hopefully hit the more difficult ramps and unlock the exit. There also doesn’t appear to be a limit to how many balls you can have in play at a time. At one point on the delta level, I was juggling between 12 different balls at one time. The only bad thing about it is how hectic it became trying to focus on anything but the flippers continuously hitting these balls.
5-Ball Maximum – One thing that bothered me about Pinball FX is that in order to be eligible for the leaderboards, you were required to use only 3 balls. You can increase the amount of balls on table from 3 to 5 but that disqualifies you from placing on any leaderboards. Granted 3 balls are the standard for any pinball table ever made, but compared to the tables in the real world, it seems a lot harder to make progress with the 3 balls on a digital table. Luckily, Quantic Pinball offers 5 balls as their default, which give you plenty of opportunity to rack up points as well as hit the many different ramps required for opening the exit. It is worth noting however, that depending on how many balls you had left at the end of that level, you will have the same amount when starting the next level. They only reset if you reach game over and retry.
Space Invaders – The 7th level of the game is a separate bonus level that can be accessed on the level select screen at any time. What makes this level unique from all the other levels is that not only is it endless (there is no exit) but it has you playing Space Invaders while playing pinball. Upon launching your ball, enemies spawn in the middle of the room, and this begins wave 1. Using the flippers, you smack the ball around and try to hit the enemies. Successfully defeating all enemies in a wave starts the next one. There are also three lock spots to activate a multi-ball which can assist in destroying enemies and racking up points. The game continues until you run out of balls.
What I didn’t:
Agitating Modes – Some modes can cause the table to shut down essentially. While you can still use the flippers to sling balls around the table, any ramps you go down do not count towards opening the exit. Only after that specific mode ends via a timer on the right side of the screen will everything start back up. I found this very frustrating at times. If you’re trying to hit a specific ramp to open the exit, you could potentially activate a mode accidentally and be locked out of achieving victory. This feels awful when you finally hit the ramp you've been struggling to hit, and it didn’t count because the function was disabled at the time. There are even some modes such as warp sectors and a magnetic mode that completely block the ball from entering some of the more difficult ramps or even the exit gate for that matter, making it even more frustrating when trying to finish a level.
Exit Ramp Requirements – While I like the overall concept of opening an exit and escaping the level, it’s bothersome that the only way to do that is by hitting specific ramps a number of times. Some levels have one or more ramps that are next to impossible to hit but for the graceful luck of a multi-ball presenting the random chance that a ball may escape down the ramp you need and open the exit. Pinball is a game all about chance and luck, but it's also revolves around skill as well. Manipulating the flipper in just the right way can cause a ball to maneuver just the way you'd like it to. A game needs this element of precision to feel skillful and not random. It would have been nice for there to have been a secondary objective such as reaching a specific score to open the exit but no such thing exists.
Lack of Uniqueness – The biggest issue for me comes from the lack of diversity. While each of the seven levels is laid out differently, every level operates under the same color scheme, the same objective and the same modes. Granted as stated, the 7th level has a neat Space Invaders style mini-game to it, but other than that, there is nothing in the game that’s memorable, nothing to help it stand out among the other pinball games. Games like Pinball FX offer levels with objectives based solely on the subject of the table and innovate on what a digital table can be. Pinball Arcade features tables that have been built outside in the real world and a beautiful recreations of established classics. Quantic Pinball doesn't even come close to either of these games in table diversity.
Unfortunately, Quantic Pinball doesn’t even try to stand among the others. The elephant in the room is that games like Pinball FX 2 and 3 are free to download and each offer one free table. The uniqueness from those tables really help the game to stand out, to the point where it could potentially convince someone to pay money for other potential tables for the game. There are solid objectives that require patience and persistence to complete. These objectives can take a long time to achieve requiring many different playthroughs, but act as a goal for the player to achieve. The game even rewards the player who does accomplish these feats. Quantic Pinball tries to stand between the greats, but doesn't present anything memorable. Honestly, it feels more like a beta than a full release. The name of the game is plastered in the top right corner, and the play area is presented in a little box, with a splash covering the left and right sides. It's bland. Space Cadet Pinball from early Windows operating systems came free and pre-installed and it too had more depth and design than Quantic Pinball has. Unless you’re a hardcore pinball enthusiast, it’s probably best to avoid this game altogether. If you have $5.00 to burn, there are tables in Pinball FX 2 and 3 for the same price that offer more than any of the 7 levels in Quantic Pinball could.
Score: Limited Appeal
Quantic Pinball was developed by Shine Games and published by Plug In Digital. It was released on February 8, 2018, for $4.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.