HAL's Pinball: Revenge of the 'Gator is a game which really needs to be approached with context in mind; back when it launched in 1990, real pinball games were still popular in arcades and digital representations were only just starting to offer the same level of enjoyment. Naxat's seminal Crush series — which includes Alien Crush and Devil's Crush — sticks out with many retro gamers as a turning point in the history of console-based pinball sims, but Revenge of the 'Gator is notable as being one of the first portable titles to successfully channel the spirit of a real table. When compared to what players have at their fingertips these days — Zen Studio's superb Zen Pinball being one such example — it looks hopelessly tame, yet there's still enough quality here for you to overlook the shortcomings brought on through the inexorable passage of time.
Visually, Revenge of the 'Gator is as basic as they come; monochrome Game Boy titles rarely boast impressive graphics, as developers of the period were forced to keep things simple to avoid issues with that iconic — but blurry — green screen. Still, there's enough character here to mitigate the sparse nature of the table. As the title suggests, there are a lot of crocs in this title, and should your ball drop below the bottom table it'll be consumed by a hungry alligator. The table is divided into four sections — linked vertically — and there are high-scoring bonus areas on offer, too.
Being a pinball title, the objective is simply to score as many points as possible; this is done by hitting various parts of the table or running your ball along lanes. Parts of the table change slightly when you make contact with them, but there are no transformations as drastic as those seen in the slightly disturbing Devil's Crush. Revenge of the 'Gator keeps things simple, foregoing distractions and instead allowing you to focus on keeping the ball in play and racking up that all-important score. Being twenty years old, it lacks many modern elements — such as a nudge command — and the basic nature of the table means that its longevity isn't all that impressive, but on the positive side the ball physics are decent enough, and ultimately that's the most vital thing in a game of this type.
Multiplayer modes are also present in Revenge of the 'Gator, but revolve around passing the 3DS to the other player when your turn is over. The original Game Boy release boasted a link cable mode but that understandably hasn't made the transition to the 3DS Virtual Console. It's a shame, as the head-to-head Match Play mode was jolly good fun, and it would have been nice to see Nintendo enable this feature via the 3DS console's wireless connectivity and "Download Play" feature.
Revenge of the 'Gator may lack the refinements showcased by modern pinball games, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored if you're a fan of the genre. The simplistic nature of the tables means you can give high-score chasing your full, undivided attention without being waylaid by distractions, and the ball physics are respectable enough to ensure you don't lose any games through anything but your own fault. HAL's effort may have been improved upon in recent years, but it's still an appealing and addictive pinball outing.