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The Pinball of the Dead

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Sega/WOW Entertainment
Publisher:  THQ
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Pinball
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  9-26-02

The ghouls behind the House of the Dead series have done it again - they’ve come up with something even weirder than Typing of the Dead. This time around, it’s not guns or typewriters you’ll be wielding against the hordes of the undead, but (of all things) pinball !?! As a visit to any random arcade should confirm, pinball has pretty much died out. What better way to "revive" it than by pairing it with something else that has risen from the dead? Sega is your bokor, come to breathe new life (or at least a stolen soul) into pinball gaming with the release of Pinball of the Dead for the Game Boy Advance.

In keeping with its predecessors, Pinball of the Dead offers three obliquely named "chapters", or more precisely, tables, for gamers to try their pinball skills at: Wondering, Movement, and Cemetery. You also have your choice of how to tackle ‘em: in Normal mode, you can choose which table to play; in Challenge Mode you work your way sequentially through each of the tables. As you might expect, each table is filled with assorted zombies and undead monsters from the House of the Dead series.

Now let’s get one thing out of the way before we proceed: all things aside, Pinball of the Dead is a very silly game. Fun, amusing as hell, but completely absurd and nonsensical. Even substituting typing skills for trigger facility doesn’t come close to the utter foolishness of the concept of killing zombies shuffling around on a giant virtual pinball table by running them over with a pinball. That said, we can get down to business and do things the American way: just kick back and enjoy the stupidity. Nothing will prepare you adequately for the head scratching bemusement of crushing zombies by means of your long dormant pinball wizardry.

The controls in Pinball of the Dead are, as you might expect, very simple and easy to use. The left directional controls the left flipper and the A button controls the right flipper and shoots the ball. There is an amusing introduction each time you start a new table, where you have to take aim at a zombie through randomly moving crosshairs (kind of like playing darts in Shenmue – "ooh, so close!"). If you miss your target, you get the unique experience of being ragged on by a zombie, who will point and laugh at you heartily. If you hit the target you’re given a mystery bonus which can range from extra points or extra balls to being able to take on the boss right away. Personally, I think it’s more fun to miss on purpose. The zombie really seems to be enjoying himself at your expense, and I’m sure they don’t get many opportunities for amusement, being dead and rotting and all that.

The ball and controls behave fairly accurately for a virtual simulation of pinball. It does feels like the ball lacks weight at times, but for the most part, tracking is on point, bouncing off bumpers and flippers well enough to fool the undiscriminating. The flippers exhibit a weird ghosting effect when used, but all things considered, this is hardly a major issue, and doesn’t take away from the game in any appreciable way.

Certain conditions need to be met before you’re able to take on the boss in each pinball table. These range from achieving a certain number of points to spelling out words or unlocking stages by hitting a given bumper a particular number of times. When these requirements are met, an arrow will appear on the pinball table indicating that the boss is ready. You have to then direct the ball into a particular hole which takes you to the boss stage. Unfortunately, you’re not given much leeway to take on this challenge and if your ball slips past your flipper defenses, you have to start from scratch, which proves to be an extremely frustrating facet of the game (if fairly accurate, pinball-wise). The end result is that you don’t get to face bosses as often as you’d hope, even if you’re generally pretty handy with a pair of flippers.

Wow Entertainment has done a nice job of adapting the House of the Dead franchise to an extremely unlikely new format. It’s entertaining, if pretty damn silly; but then again, shouldn’t all games be like that?

Highs:

  • Zombies…and lots of them
  • Cheesy fun
  • Lots of things to distract you on the table; plenty of little "challenges" to keep things interesting
  • The physics of pinball have been captured fairly accurately

Lows:

  • only 3 tables and nothing appreciable to unlock
  • fairly difficult to get to bosses without sinking a ball (and losing everything you’ve gained save points thereby)

Final Verdict:

Pinball of the Dead is a fun virtual pinball game that should keep your interest for a bit longer than you’d expect. The zombies are a neat touch, which along with its many on-board challenges serve to make it stand out among pinball games per se. The lack of extra tables is a bit disappointing, but face it, if this were actual pinball, you’d find yourself a table you liked and stick to it anyway. Any frustrated pinball aficionados and ex- or wannabe pinball wizards (not to mention zombie fans) should get a big kick out of Pinball of the Dead.

Overall Score: 7.0

 



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