Microsoft Pinball Arcade by Microsoft (Win95/98/NT CD-ROM)
Microsoft Pinball Arcade Box Art

Reviewed: 11/1998

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

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Baffle Ball, Humpty Dumpty, Knock Out, Slick Chick, Spirit Of 76, Haunted House, Cue Ball Wizard

Multi-table package simulating seven historically significant real-life Gottlieb pinball machines from 1931 to 1992 (Baffle Ball - 1931, Humpty Dumpty - 1947, Knock Out - 1950, Slick Chick - 1963, Spirit Of 76 - 1976, Haunted House - 1982, Cue Ball Wizard - 1992). Full-screen non-scrolling 3D view with three levels of graphics detail. Game options for key configuration (including additional pair for Haunted House) and sound/music volume. 3-way nudges, top 10 highscore table with option to reset, number of balls and players fixed but dependent on and according to actual machine. Realistic sound effects down to the humming of the solenoids when holding the flippers on older tables and CD-ROM music tracks representing the decade the machine is from (except where tables had their own musical score). Beautiful graphics with mirror effects in highest detail level although the ball movement is not always as smooth as it could be, specifically on Cue Ball Wizard. Ball physics otherwise seem pretty much perfect but I must admit that I haven't played any of the featured actual machines to compare their characteristics against the sims. I'm quite confident that they are very accurate for each table but a few things puzzled me at times like acceleration, aim and 'bounciness' on some tables.
Additional CD-ROM features include a rather selective pinball history, table features and playing tips, backglass art, table fly-over videos as well as generic help and support topics. Unfortunately, the table rules are not very easy to grasp as they are scattered across a scrolling and clickable map of the table features.
When I first heard about MS Pinball Arcade I was ecstatic about the prospect of new real-life pinball sims since Amtex days while being somewhat concerned about the MS banner over the project but I must say they succeeded for the most part. It's a good-looking, solid, state-of-the-art package at its core but I sense a lack of ultimate passion that e.g. the Pro Pinball designer team musters to create truly outstanding experiences, real or fictional. However, the older tables up to 'Spirit Of 76' have grown on me. They can be a lot of fun and challenging if you put yourself in the right mindset. Even Baffle Ball can become addictive albeit somewhat futile. I'm not very fond of Haunted House which doesn't translate to the computer well due to its three field levels and Cue Ball Wizard which appears a tad too cluttered and fancy, not to mention that we saw a pool theme a few years back. I would have loved to see a few different newer machines: High Speed, F-14 Tomcat, Funhouse, Earthshaker come to mind (I guess they were limited to Gottlieb games to start with).
My main complaints about this game are: The loveless highscore tables which are plain text windows and don't represent the feel and features of the actual machines, the cheesy pop-up plunger applets a la Hyper 3-D and the lack of feature audits and owner adjustments which would give one those "wow, they thought of everything" warm-and-fuzzies and the inability to reset/restart a game without tilting the remaining balls/game or reloading from the main menu. I conclude that MS Pinball Arcade is a sim worth getting for realism enthusiasts, nostalgists and completists while it will possibly bore the Sierra 'action and gimmicks' kind and not completely satisfy the 'bent on strategy and competition' Pro Pinball kind. MS Pinball Arcade allows you to relive your pinball youth no matter what age you are, finally conquer those tables that you can't find at the arcades or fit into your living room anymore and get acquainted with 60 years of pinball culture. While MS Pinball Arcade gives you realistic real-life tables, Pro Pinball:Timeshock still gives you a realistic albeit fictional actual pinball machine. That said, the effort and dedication is definitely appreciated and I hope we will see more of it.

Where Found: Best Buy, Arizona, USA, 10/1998

Released/Copyright: 1998, Microsoft Corporation