Pro Pinball: Fantastic Journey
by Empire Interactive/Cunning Development (Win95/98/NT)
The fourth machine in the highly regarded Pro Pinball series, which has upped the ante for sim value, realism and detail
one table at a time. This latest theme combines a homage to Jules Verne's 19th century science fiction with a classic
"mad scientist on an island must be stopped" scenario. Again, non-scrolling fullscreen 3D view at three different
angles, resolution up to 1600x1200 pixels at 16 million colors with additional settings for screen flipping, nudge scrolling
and dot matrix display characteristics (including a new full color mode as an alternative to monochrome orange). Ability to
zoom-in on the gorgious table detail or view a slideshow. 1-4 players, 3 balls per standard game and 5 different difficulty
levels from extra easy to extra hard as regular plays or buy-ins, creating 10 different highscore opportunities.
Highscore authentication codes fuel yet another competition for top ranks online.
Additional setup allows to modify the table slope and condition as well as the flipper power. For total
customization control and game statistics there again is the trusty operator's menu. Internet
head-to-head mode introduced in BRUSA has not been carried over (I never got into it in the first place).
The CD-insert booklet is less elaborate than previous manuals. Audio-wise the actual electromechanical machine sounds are as good as
they get but the soundtrack and digitized speech provide only mushy elevator music and generic cartoonish fare that never quite entertains
and fails to give the good and evil characters much of an identity.
Those characters are the good "Professor Steam" against the evil "General Yagov". The latter lives on an island and threatens to blow up the moon unless unspecified demands are met. As "Professor Steam" the player collects gadgets and employs a steam machine to combine them into a total of four different vehicles. Each completed vehicle leads to an adventure mode (air, water, underwater, underground) against Yagov's forces and success yields a crystal. All crystals combined allow to attack the island and penetrate its protective shield. Success activates a secret bonus adventure and a chance for ultimate points; failure rewards less points and returns the player to the regular four adventures. Along this logical and straightforward path lies a randomly cycling array of frenzies, multiballs, a video mode, combos, extra balls and other modes that can boost the score and prolong the experience.
Fantastic Journey continues the Pro Pinball series the way we've come to expect and love it. The features are individual yet fit into the established framework. I like that consistency. There is no sudden straying from the formula, it's fresh and different yet recognizable so you can jump right in. The graphics and ball physics definitely are at their best yet. What is different may be the extent of the game. It's got a hint of retro, it's more basic, simpler but not simplistic, maybe to imply how Verne's scientific theories are perceived today. There isn't a retro feel to the table per se. It doesn't model an older style machine. It does employ modern targets and "new-fangled" features like a hydraulic platform that lifts the adventure vehicles from beneath the table. But this time e.g. there are just the standard two flippers (why not for a change) and awards are only given for point scores unlike the previous titles that also recorded such things as number of ramp shots, special mode scores etc. It is again a challenge to score high but the ultimate goal is not as elusive. The result is a smaller loop until the story repeats but also a nicely compact integrity. I see all this as a design choice that was made and successfully implemented without arguing if "bigger is better" or saying that "less is more".
On a technical note, it seems as if the evolution has levelled off when comparing the progress from The Web to Timeshock, Timeshock to BRUSA and now BRUSA to FJ. For now, this is not a complaint because it puts the focus on the quality and coolness of the theme and design while we can pretty much take for granted the physics as we do in real-world pinball. What it boils down to may just be a matter of taste. I found FJ to be more addictive than BRUSA, judging by the number of games I've played with each. BRUSA may have more depth but FJ to me has more appeal while neither matches the impact that Timeshock had had. If you've never played a Pro Pinball game before FJ is a great start, you'll be blown away. If you insist that every successor has to have 1.5 times the quantity of the previous game it's probably a bit of a let down. As for the others, FJ is up there with the best where "best of the best" is personal preference.
Notes: When I bought FJ it came bundled with The Web, this may no longer be so or depend on the distributor.
Where Found: Media Markt, Switzerland, 12/1999
Released/Copyright: 1999, Entertainment International (UK) Ltd.