Review: 101 Pinball World (DSiWare)

Deaf, dumb and blind

101 Pinball World is, quite frankly, confounding on every level. Teyon's latest misguided attempt to cram large numbers of poorly-designed levels into half-baked games has resulted in a broken, hideous, aurally offensive, shambling monstrosity of a game. And that's being polite.

Releasing in North America alongside the excellent Zen Pinball 3D, it's impossible not to compare the two games. In fact, if you've played Zen Pinball, just think about everything you like about that game. Now pretend it either doesn't exist or doesn't work correctly, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what it's like playing 101 Pinball World.

The game itself — "game" being the politest possible way to refer to 101 Pinball World — is a collection of 136 different pinball tables. Don't ask us where the "101" comes from. We don't know, and we're sure the developer doesn't either. Those tables are spread equally across four different themes, and you can access any of them you like, without the need for progression or unlocking.

Sounds great, right? Especially when compared to Zen Pinball's small handful of tables. Here's where the differences between these two games really becomes apparent, though: Zen Pinball's few tables offer frantic, addictive fun. 101 Pinball World's tables are barren, lifeless planes devoid of personality or inspiration.

The tables in 101 Pinball World are so bare that it's not uncommon to launch your ball, and then watch it sail immediately and uselessly through your flippers or down the sides without hitting a single thing. Granted, different tables offer different layouts, but the developers were so stingy with bumpers and other scoring devices that, at times, the game hardly even feels interactive.

We tried them all (oh, the things we do for you) and not one of them felt like it had any significant investment in its design. Bumpers, chutes and lights are shuffled slightly away from where they were on the previous table, and that's that. The developers didn't seem to care much about what the tables looked like — or played like — and that lack of enthusiasm bleeds through, creating a dull and dour playing experience.

The four worlds each offer a different visual aesthetic, but they range from charmlessly innocuous to insultingly bad. In the former category, you have the "haunted" tables, which, predictably, are adorned with boilerplate spooky imagery. In the latter category you have the "pirate" tables, which replace the flippers with cannons, slap skulls everywhere and give you a red ball that often blends in with the background so that you can't see it. Needless to say, it's a blast.

With this complete lack of obstacles and scoring devices, you'd think that the game would at least play smoothly. After all, Zen Pinball offers an almost overwhelming amount of interactivity and that game flows smooth as honey. Well, prepare to be disappointed, because 101 Pinball World is a laggy mess.

We cannot figure out why, but 101 Pinball World finds it difficult to render the ridiculously simple movement of a single silver sphere, chugging and straining away like the DSi's about to explode from the strain. Even with next to nothing happening on any given table, the game can hardly cope. That's downright embarrassing, and it makes the otherwise responsive controls that much less of an achievement.

Soundwise, the game is revolting. You'd be hard pressed to find worse music tracks than these, particularly on the "wizard" tables, where you don't so much hear music as you hear the sound of 400 garbage trucks honking crazily as they tumble down the side of a mountain while you're being attacked by bees. The quality is abysmal, and we're fairly certain that a glitch is preventing proper playback of these songs, because no human being would deliberately release anything that sounds like this.

As mentioned above, the flipper controls work well enough, but the menu navigation revolves around tiny buttons on the touch screen, obviously built for the stylus as even a child's finger would end up selecting more than one. This in itself isn't a problem, but as the game is clearly built for button controls it's more than a little silly to have to pull the stylus out just to select another level.

The game remembers your high scores, ranks you from one to three stars on your performance, and even offers small challenges to achieve while you play through the levels. This would seem to offer replay value, but as the game doesn't offer any reason to play it in the first place, that point is rather moot.

It's cheaper than Zen Pinball, that much is true, but remember that you get what you pay for.

Actually, scratch that; with 101 Pinball World, you get much, much less.

Conclusion

Forget comparing it to Zen Pinball; there's nothing that 101 Pinball World does right. With its slapdash level design, dire soundtrack and sub-Flash game physics, not to mention preposterous amounts of slowdown and a complete dearth of aesthetic appeal, 101 Pinball World is sincerely one of the worst games we have ever played. Save your time, save your money, and save yourself the frustration — pretend 101 Pinball World doesn't exist. We intend to do the same.