Ever since I was a young man, I played the silver ball. There were definite stretches where I found myself preferring pinball machines to video games. The biggest ones that we played back in the early 90’s were The Black Knight 2000 (which had the best soundtrack *EVER*… jump ahead to 0:44), The Party Zone (featuring the supersonic robotic comic), and (my favorite) The Machine: Bride of Pinbot.

The advent of the home console meant that arcades pretty much disappeared. Much of this had to do with the “goal” of a game on a home console, of course, compared to the goal of an upright (that is, a home game really ought to give you hours and hours and hours of gameplay for your 40-50-60 bucks, while arcade games ideally have you play for 2-5 minutes before giving you a “continue?” screen). This resulted in pinball machines pretty much getting short shrift on both fronts. Even as pinball technology jumped forward by leaps and bounds, arcades were disappearing and home consoles weren’t doing a good job with pinball just yet… I honestly don’t think it was until this particular console generation that pinball actually succeeded… which brings us to the point:

They’ve succeeded. Finally.

Now, there are two kinds of pinball available for your home console: the FX2 Zen Pinball games and, now, The Pinball Arcade(both of these are available via XBox Live or the PS3 Network). Despite both of them doing “pinball” they’re doing very, very different things.

Zen Pinball comes out and says “we’re not limited by what is physically possible” and, from there, comes up with some seriously wacky animations and interactive possibilities. For example: the Spider-Man pinball game has a possibility for you to play with one of the Green Goblin’s bombs as one of the balls on the field (you can use it to do damage to the bad guys you’re fighting) while Biolab allows you to play a marble maze after making a particular shot and Rome shows waterfalls coming down the various ramps on the table (they’re aquaducts, you see). Making shots allows for different animations on the table or going to different tables entirely.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Pinball Arcade that comes out and, seriously, recreates tables that are downright identical to the tables you played in the arcade. At this point, there’s only Tales of the Arabian Nights, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Black Hole, and Theatre of Magic (but there’s an expansion in the works that includes, yes, The Machine: Bride of Pinbot). If you remember playing these tables, you will remember pretty much everything the second you start playing. Arabian Night’s snake charmer skill shot, Black Hole’s upside-down second level, Theater of Magic’s magic box, and Ripley’s shrunken head… they’re all there.

If you miss playing pinball and have been disappointed in the past by attempts to do pinball on a console? You should definitely give these guys a shot. (There are free trials available for download.) You’ll be amazed.

So that’s my recommendation for you this week.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


    • If you enjoyed that, you might be ready for this.

      It’s a mash-up of the Black Knight 2000 music and Kanye West.

      It just might be the reason the internet was created.

      • I’m not sure if it’s the same Black Knight game that I used to love to play.
        That one had two levels, about five flippers, and you could get three balls going at once. Very hectic.
        6 plays for a Susan B. Anthony dollar.

    • One of the things I love about Pete Townshend is that his sense of humor always, always, cuts through his self-importance. The Kids Are All Right includes a scene where he’s talking to an audience of teenaged girls, and he’s trying to come off the moody, dangerous, bad boy, but he can’t stop himself from making jokes for them. Here, in the middle of his dark, tragic opera about murder and mysticism, comes:

      He ain’t got no distractions
      Can’t hear those buzzers and bells,
      Don’t see lights a flashin’
      Plays by sense of smell.

  1. I put a ton of suzie-b’s into Pinbot (you got 5 plays for them instead of 4). Pinbot was awesome.

    Prior to Pinbot I remember playing a couple of pinball games where they’d been gimmicked to be under-sensitive to tilt, because that’s how the arcade owner liked to play. At the time, I wasn’t big enough to put too much english on the table, but you could definitely get away with a hard shove now and again keeping you alive.

      • Yeah, my first pinball machine was Flash Gordon, which I didn’t realize was a milestone of its own.

        But Pinbot was mindblowingly awesome.

  2. Two things:

    Vegas is the home of the Pinball Hall of Fame.

    There’s a post in the queue that you can post on Thursday if for some reason I don’t get around to it 😉

  3. Can the death of pinball really be pinned on the death of arcades? IIRC, they used to put them anywhere a person might be standing around with nothing better to do. My parents had a bar, and there was a pinball machine there. One of Warren Buffett’s first business ventures was buying pinball machines to put in barber shops. I’m pretty sure there was one in the convenience store by my house.

    The story I heard—and this has the feel of a just-so story, so I don’t know how much truth there is to it—is that due to the mechanical nature of pinball machines, you can’t make a pinball game progressively more difficult like you can with video games. To prevent highly skilled players from playing for hours on one quarter, they had to make the base difficulty level very high, which discouraged all but the hardcore pinball players from playing. Which meant that they had to crank up the difficulty level even higher to make money off a highly skilled player base, which drove away even more players, and so on.

    • It was video games that did pinball in.
      I remember playing Breakout, the arcade version. First video game I ever saw.
      Then Space Invaders came out, and Galaga was the next big one, the way I remember it.
      These were the days before Pac Man and Donkey Kong. By the time Donkey Kong came out, it was all but over for pinball.

      I suppose before then there were these racing games and such; tank battles. But those arcade games were huge, and they were often 50¢ to play.

    • The only pinball machines I see anymore are in arcades (though I consider the corner of the bowling alley to just *BARELY* qualify as one).

      They used to be damn-near everywhere. Now? I have to search for them. (And the ones that I find when I’m looking are light-years ahead of even the groundbreaking tables like Whitewater and Doctor Who).

  4. $60 for a videogame of dubious quality based upon shady reviews is forever. If you want good games, gotta wait for your friends to play it and say “ZOMG”.

    $60 in a video arcade back when dinosaurs roamed the earth was a good eight hours of gameplay at several different machines. Also no cutscenes.

    • It’s rare to find a videogame that could give as much diversity and/or joy as $20 worth of tokens in the arcade, it’s true. I’d say that these pinball games come kinda close…

  5. The Pinball Arcade and Zen games are really good. I have them both. But they still pale in comparison to a real pinball machine.

    Any pinball fan truly should own a real pinball machine. There are used games for any budget.

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