Balls Of Steel by Pinball Wizards/Wildfire Studios/GT Interactive (Win95 CD-ROM)
Balls Of Steel Box Art

01/1998, 02/1998

Rating: 4 1/2 of 6Rating: 4 1/2 of 6Rating: 4 1/2 of 6Rating: 4 1/2 of 6

Devil's Island Pinball

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Mutation, Barbarian, Firestorm, Darkside, Duke Nukem

Multi-table package with five themes. 2D planview in either full-screen scrolling or half-screen non-scrolling display. Various play modes from novice, regular and arcade that vary in handicaps to a standardized tournament mode that allows highscore registration via the WorldScores Web site at 5-ball play for up to 4 players and features such as multi-ball, video modes (some quite interesting ones like cracking a code sequence by swapping number pairs) and a separate highscore table for each play mode which holds the top 5 scores of each table. Control keys not configurable. Left, right and upward nudges somewhat ineffective and not enough for saves from outlane drains. Ball physics are fairly realistic but have more of an arcade than a simulation feel inspite of what the product claims. There are also arcade elements like monsters and critters that pop-up on the table as targets.
Proportionally, the balls are a bit too big (sure, Duke), especially in non-scrolling mode, and the main flipper pair is unusually long, leaving a rather narrow center drain which can be nice for keeping the ball in play but odd when you can just kind of extend the flipper tip and catch a ball that would probably be lost in real pinball. Generally, the balls don't drain that easily but once they are headed for the drains there is little you can do other than keeping kickbacks lit.
The dot matrix display is average and features some rather cheesy animations e.g. the word "Vest" in front of a ball to indicate that the ball is saved. Surely, someone could have thought of a more graphical way to express that. Various options control sound and graphic volume and detail. Sound effects include speech which adds value to the Duke Nukem table but otherwise seems a bit too stereotyped.
Microsoft controllers like mouse, IntelliMouse and Sidewinder are automatically supported according to the manual (I didn't try it). Some cheat codes are given away in an overall decent CD insert manual but - correctly - invalidate a highscore entry. The rich graphics detail is crisp and clean in the otherwise dreaded scrolling mode but somewhat hard to recognize in non-scrolling mode which uses the left half of the screen for the table and the right half for the "back glass" art and the dot matrix display. I definitely prefer non-scrolling mode but scrolling should be explored to check out the table details.
There are a few 'unconventional' things about ramps and ramp combos: Certain ramps don't count as a combo, others only sometimes do and combos are also awarded for shooting the same ramp twice or more. Also, several ramps score at the ramp entrance not the completion of the ramp and the 'grace period' to score a combo is rather long i.e. you can hit another target and still get a combo afterwards.
I would think that the Duke Nukem table is the selling point of this game and of course what inspired the game title. It features the well-known Duke humor ("now I have time to play with myself") and dozens of elements from the arcade shooter like the jetpack, night vision, air vents, key cards and of course the various monsters. The other four tables are not based on any "actual games or characters". They all have their distinguished topics - science (gone wrong), aliens, medieval knights and bomb squad - and while they have their own unique structure, targets and rules they also have common elements e.g. I don't see a creative difference between the HQ (Firestorm), Left Air Vent (Duke), Command Post (Darkside) and Store Room (Mutation) scoops. Again, the argument can be made if multiple tables alone make a pinball game better or not.
Overall, Balls Of Steel doesn't leave a bad impression but it doesn't knock me off my socks either. It's arcade pinball with a fair amount of pinball ethics that takes advantage of recent PC technology. It's a fun package but it's not a hardcore pinball sim and probably aimed at a younger target audience. I'd give it a 4 rating but add an extra half-point for the Internet highscore capabilities that should definitely boost motivation to repeatedly play the game.

Notes: The Internet highscores on have been discontinued in November 1998. There is now a patch (see sidebar on the left) that updates BOS V1.0 or V1.1 to V1.2 which features DirectX support.

Where Found: Babbage's, Arizona, USA, 12/1997

Released/Copyright: 1997, Wildfire Studios and Pinball Wizards