Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sega Mega Drive: Psycho Pinball

Year: 1994
Genre: Pinball
Players: 1-4 (alternating)
Our Rating: 7/10

Mini Review

Psycho Pinball for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis is part of a very niche group of games for the 16-Bit era. Surprisingly few pinball games were made for the Super Nintendo and Sega consoles, the other main titles being Sonic Spinball and Dragons Fury. The issue was the capabilities of the machines themselves. The physics of a ball bouncing off of different elements proved a real challenge to sell the illusion of realism. After all, publishing a game where the main sprite didn’t act appropriately would be a disaster. Especially as in the mid- 90’s real pinball machines were readily available at bowling alleys, some pubs and dare I even say real game arcades. Yes, a pinball game for a 16-Bit console was always going to be a hard sell. However, predecessors of the console era such as the Commodore Amiga had triumphed with both “Pinball Dreams” and “Pinball Fantasies”. To a lesser extent the Nintendo NES had an emulation of “High Speed” based on the popular pinball machine of the same name. Enter Psycho Pinball. The packaging was bright, the Codemasters logo was on the game and it had few other games competing for top spot in the genre.

I remember my first impressions of the game being quite mixed, it seemed that the game was almost half of what it could have been. For a start there were only four tables. Wild West, The Abyss, Trick or Treat and Psycho. All of which seemed very generic to my mind. The atmosphere of some of the tables was nice, the Abyss table in particular had appropriate Caribbean music and the Halloween themed table had some equally good back ground music. For me though there was something a little lacking in the game play, in particular the tables just weren’t that exciting compared to the real thing. 

The Trick or Treat table in particular seemed particularly sparse of objects to interact with. I also noticed a few issues with the multi ball function. It was possible to control up to three balls. However, whether it was just my Sega Mega Drive being a bit slow or a genuine deficiency, the multi ball often seemed to sap the memory out of the machine, particularly if there was lots of bumper bouncing occurring. The game never ground to a halt but it was clear that the console was on the edge of a nervous breakdown due to the action. With a little more processing power this game could have been so much more, to my mind I believe that the tables were sparse of interactive elements due to technical issues rather than down to the developers. I have possibly been rather negative in my assessment of the game but there are positives too.

The tables all include panel games with simulated dot matrix screens. This was an excellent touch of class. In general the tables we also smooth to play on, considering the limited processing power the physics of the ball movement are a great achievement. Psycho Pinball regularly receives very high scores from retro gaming websites. I’m still on the fence as to whether this is a great game or not. It’s certainly impressive for it’s time but I just feel that it was too limited by the technology of the day, after all I doubt that many gamers are still playing this one regularly. The dilemma here is should we base games on the limitations of the day. When we look at games such as Elite (written on technologically inferior machinery) we see that the concept and ingenuity transcends the limitations of it’s time. My fairest conclusion is that Psycho Pinball is a good game, it does nothing wrong in terms of game play or effort. My recommendation would be to give it a try, younger players will especially enjoy this game. I would recommend even more though that you track down the full sized “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” pinball table, it’s awesome!

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