Digital Pinball Review
Pinball is high score gaming in its purest form; smack a chrome ball around a table and watch the numbers go up. There’s obviously a little more to it than that, but pinball offers a great feedback loop as you hit targets, bumpers and ramps and the machine blasts noise and light at you to indicate you’re doing well. It’s a visceral and exciting experience that will cost you an arm and a leg if you ever wanted to buy your own table and maintain it, so thankfully pinball simulation games came to the rescue to allow us all to enjoy the thrill of pinball from our homes.
Digital Pinball or Last Gladiators or Digital Pinball: Last Gladiators (depending on what region you’re playing it in) is a sequel to KAZe’s Super Pinball on the SNES and it offers 4 unique tables based on gladiators, shogun, knights and barbarians that gives it a loose ancient history/high fantasy vibe. Each table is presented in a fixed angle that allows you to view the entire table without scrolling. While some games can suffer with only offering the one viewing angle, Digital Pinball has designed its tables to be shorter allowing you to see all the table’s gimmicks from this one angle. It’s a simple but effective design choice that means none of the action is ever obscured.
The action itself is fast and frantic and the ball reacts exactly as you’d expect it to. KAZe clearly understand the feel of pinball really well and the physics in this game are really satisfying with the ball never acting in an unnatural way. What I really liked about the game’s control is how the left flipper is mapped to every direction on the d-pad and the right flipper is mapped to every face button on the controller. It’s never difficult figuring out what button does what and the tilt functionality has been mapped to the shoulder buttons which seems like the most logical choice for a pinball game. Again, these are simple design decisions that just make the overall experience feel intuitive and easy to get on with.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Digital Pinball is its approach to teaching you the rules of each table. Instead of simply offering you a screen where the rules are described in a big wall of text, Digital Pinball highlights the next goal with on-screen pop-up windows that point at where you should be aiming the ball next. This means you can jump into any table without knowing its mechanics and learn them while playing. It’s a really smart design feature that gets you into the action quicker and helps the player feel like they can master the table without studying its instructions in finite detail.
Presentation is also of a really high standard. Sound effects are chunky and satisfying and offer great feedback. The music is wonderfully cheesy and is made up of ludicrous-sounding, squealy hard rock that gives everything a really over-the-top atmosphere that suits pinball really well. The artwork itself is also handled superbly and is drawn in a high-resolution mode that means it always looks sharp; a great benefit for action this fast.
The only negatives that show themselves are quite minor and don’t really detract too much from the overall experience. The Dragon Showdown table has some issues with its launcher that means the ball can get stuck in the launch ramp and will need to be fired again to get it into the main play area. The bumpers on this table also have a habit of not activating very often. Your ball seems to glide past them a lot which can be a little frustrating as it’s not something I experienced often with the other tables on offer. Also, the Warlock table has two very large translucent ramps with table gimmicks that sit behind them. Due to the Saturn’s difficulty in drawing transparent layers, the ball simply flashes between being visible and invisible very quickly to simulate that it’s behind the ramps which is not the optimal method of showing this, but it’s a satisfactory method that doesn’t distract too much.
Overall, Digital Pinball is a beautifully designed package that offers one of the best pinball simulations on the Saturn. Each table is vibrant and beautifully constructed to make the most out of the screen resolution without being too busy. The feel of the action is incredibly similar to real pinball physics and it’s an easy recommendation to both fans of the genre and newcomers, thanks to the decision of displaying the game’s rules and goals on pop-up windows during the action itself. It’s never distracting and it’s always really helpful as you never have to refer back to an instruction sheet. KAZe have done everything in their power to make Digital Pinball a fun and approachable experience.
Written by Lewis “Sonic Yoda” Clark on 05/02/2017