There’s no question that pinball as a form of entertainment has taken something of a back seat over the last decade or so. A generation faces growing up without the lure of the silver ball and the oft used and slightly hackneyed “misspent youth” associations. An American industry that enjoyed so many peaks and troughs from the 1930’s right through to the early 2000’s is now at best to be considered one that is on life support.
The big names have either gone bust or have moved their attention elsewhere and while private business concerns threaten to buy the rights to build reproductions of classic games so far the absence of any activity from these quarters has been glaring. One company still manufactures games (Stern) but alas its clear they are made on a budget and they lack the sheen and excitement of their forebears (although in fairness the company Stern, is improving and they do have a heritage in the industry so perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on them).
There is it seems however sufficient interest in pinball for someone else to take the idea and move it in a thoroughly modern direction.
Imagine a pinball machine with no moving parts, containing no less than six “classic tables” all housed in a design that is pretty much close to the original dimensions of the original pinball design. However this time around rather than opt for the chattering coils and relays and looms of wire that are held in place beneath the glass this is pinball for the 21st Century.
The Ultrapin might from a distance look very much like its ancestors. Yet the similarities are soon glaringly obvious. The playfield or ‘deck’ in this instance is a 42” plasma screen. Another smaller screen is housed in the backbox (the bit with the score reels or digital display on the modern machines).
The plasma screen mounted in the body displays a reproduction of a table while the backbox screen displays reproductions of the original screen printed artwork from the original tables. You even get the plunger to launch the ball into play and if you nudge the table you can even generate a “tilt” just like in the old days.
Its ambitious, there’s no doubt about that and anyone who has ever seen under the hood of a pinball machine will know there are so many moving parts that these things can be a nightmare to keep running for any length of time. So kudos to Global VR for trying something new, but on the flipside it has to be noted there are some things that just can be recreated in digital form. Pinball has always been an immersive “real world” experience. And while the reproductions visually look impressive, trying to recreate the physics of ball movement and the subsequent weight and ‘feel’ of the table is another matter. In speaking to enthusiasts who played the table there was an obvious and irreplaceable discrepancy in the way the table plays. Another issue graphically was the odd bout of pixilation when the ball was in frenetic play, sound reproduction however appears spot on.
The choice of tables you can reproduce however was slightly more inspired (Strikes & Spares, Xenon, Medieval Madness, Attack From Mars, Sorcerer, F-14 Tomcat) with the option of adding more tables later (Funhouse, Black Knight 2000, Pinbot, Firepower, Fathom).
In conclusion it’s a brave effort in a bid to save a cherished gamer’s medium from dying out altogether yet in another sense its also proof that sometimes an old model with all its faults and foibles is the best.