Review: Pinball Pulse: The Ancients Beckon (DSiWare)

Maybe too realistic for its own good

Pinball simulations have always been a mixed bag over the years. While some developers have chosen to shoot for more of an authentic pinball machine experience, others tried to make their pinball simulations more arcade-like using multiple boards and mini-games to further accentuate their gameplay schemes. Pinball Pulse: The Ancients Beckon takes the more authentic route, and while the experience ends up being extremely realistic, it still somehow leaves you yearning for the added variety of the arcade pinball simulations.

If you've ever played a pinball machine, you're going to have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this game. The two screens of the DSi system make up the pinball machine board itself, which features all of the bumpers and strobing lights of a real-life pinball machine, along with a very unique Dot-Matrix display board on the top of the machine that will keep track of your score and the current quests that are taking place.

The play control system itself is just as it would be on a real pinball machine. You basically control the three flippers on the machine using various button and D-pad combinations. You can choose to use the "L" and "R" shoulder buttons, or various combinations of the D-pad and action buttons. While all work equally well, the D-pad/A-button combo seems to be the most comfortable for long playing sessions. The game will even allow you to nudge the machine by swiping across the touchscreen, but you have to be careful, as performing this function too often will cause the machine to tilt and you'll lose your current ball.

There are basically two game modes for you to choose from. The Regular Game is where you'll spend the majority of your time and allows you three balls with which to rack up as many points as possible. This is the meat of the game and the mode you'll spend the majority of your time with. There's also a Daily Game mode that allows you to play a game using only one ball one time each day. It will even gray out the menu selection once you've played the game for that particular day.

Scoring points is the ultimate goal of the game and there are quite a few ways to do just that. There are two statues that play a key role in the game's scoring system: the main statue is the God Head which consists of the goddess Hera and the god Zeus. Your goal is to first hit the mouth of the statue with your ball which will cause the mouth to open, and you must then attempt to get your ball into the statue's mouth in order to score some big points. There's also a Medusa statue that controls the game's six quests. By completing these quests you can rack up even more big points; occasionally you'll even hear Medusa calling to you and if you can get your ball into her slot at this time, she'll turn your ball into stone, earning you large amounts of points.

The simple control scheme and amazingly realistic physics make playing the game as close to a real-life pinball machine as you can get. Even the pinball board itself is very well laid out and features plenty of bumpers and special holders to get your ball into. Of course since there is just basically one board to choose from, gamers expecting the type of variety of an arcade pinball simulation might find this title a bit too one-dimensional for their tastes, but for those looking for a more authentic pinball experience, this title easily fits the bill.

The rendered look of the pinball board gives it an extremely realistic look and feel. The level of detail in the game's visuals is actually fairly stunning, especially considering this is a DSiWare release. Even the chrome look of the pinball itself makes it look like the real thing. It's clear from the moment you fire the game up that the developers put a lot of time and effort into the game's visual presentation and it really pays off in the finished product.

The musical presentation sadly is a mixed bag. On one hand the musical track that's played throughout the game is a really fitting and interesting tune, but unfortunately you're going to be hearing an awful lot of it during your gameplay sessions. It's worth noting that the track is fairly lengthy and varied, but it does tend to get a bit repetitive after you've put a few hours into the game. Luckily the game does toss in some amazing pieces of voiced dialog, along with a host of extremely realistic sound effects to keep things fresh. Truth be told, you'll likely find yourself paying more attention to the dialog and sound effects than the actual music playing in the background, so it all kind of works out in the end.

Conclusion

It's difficult to fault the developers of this game, as they've captured the look and feel of a real life pinball machine very accurately. The physics in the game are some of the best ever seen in a pinball simulation and the game's high level of polish makes it easily one of the most impressive DSiWare releases to date. Pinball Pulse: The Ancients Beckon might be a little short on variety, but if you're looking for an authentic pinball simulation, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more realistic one than this.