Stern Pinball Arcade for the Switch eShop prides itself on authenticity. The company Stern - as featured in the title's name - was founded in 1977, plying its trade as a pinball and arcade video game manufacturer. As the most experienced and largest producer of real pinball machines to this day, the publisher and developer FarSight Studios has taken up the challenge to digitalise Stern's collection of tables.
Released the same week as Zen Studio's Pinball FX3 on the Switch eShop, Stern Pinball Arcade channels its own company heritage to deliver a free pinball experience (featuring paid content) that's aiming to be a proper pinball simulator. The game has realistic physics, but due to its accurate depiction of the source material it's not as forgiving or fun as its competitors.
The 11 downloadable tables, available for purchase in two separate packages or individually, likely won't be as enticing to younger audiences. Forget The Walking Dead, Valve's Portal and a series of colourful themes covering a range of genres, because here you'll be playing the original Ghostbusters table and rocking out to AC/DC on another. A table based on the latest Star Trek movies is one of the newer ones, though all it really highlights is the weaker collection of licenses.
Stern Pinball Arcade is very much like a time machine, transporting the player back to a period when life was much simpler. Depending on your age, you're likely going to embrace this, or you're not. This simplicity is reflected throughout the game. Unlike other pinball games, there's no online connectivity or multiplayer or cross-network play, but a global leaderboard has now been added alongside a Portrait mode (for handheld use). There's not even a local multiplayer option. At the time of review, FarSight Studios is also still yet to incorporate a vertical camera angle for the handheld mode - whereas Zen Studio's latest release shipped with this feature.
What is present is a high score mode with unique pinball goals on each table and a challenge mode (where the player must complete particular tasks on each table). Each table has a table guide explaining its features and secrets as well. It's the exact type of content you would expect from a pinball game. Once you've grasped the basics, setting high scores and achieving goals becomes less difficult. The controls make use the L and R buttons as bumpers, the left analog nudges the table while the right one launches the ball into play - nothing all that different to other pinball games.
As jaded as a number of the tables look, the most impressive aspect is the accurate recreation of each one. Each table includes a description about its history and you also have the ability to view each table on certain angles. The music and sounds are authentic to the respective franchises and the game runs smoothly in both the handheld and docked mode. Collectively, these are definitely some of the stronger aspects of Stern Pinball.
The limited content in Stern Pinball is nonetheless well-crafted and certainly accurate when compared to real pinball. The issue is it's a rather simplistic game. The simulation aspects and overall realism does not make up for the severe lack of modern features within this title. Its primary competitor excels at offering a connected online experience with cross-platform play, global leaderboards and tournaments. Not to mention a large collection of prominent licenses. Stern Pinball has none of this and a limited selection of purchasable tables. It's by no means at the forefront of the digital pinball game market and in its current state is probably a good indication as to why pinball lost traction over the years.
This is reminiscent of a title that would have been released at some point during the early '90s due to its limited content - so even as a video game, it's considerably behind the times. The classic design might appeal to certain generations of players, but unless you're seeking a dose of nostalgia, you're probably better off looking elsewhere to get your pinball fix. It's also worth noting the game is available in a boxed version in the UK, the US version is free-to-play on the eShop (with extra purchases, naturally).