Mile High Pinball Hands-On

How many pinball tables can Nokia stack on top of one another? We discover the answer at GDC.

SAN FRANCISCO--Everyone knows that Nokia's been putting a lot of effort into expanding its N-Gage portfolio. Its new orientation toward the casual side of the market might be a bit of a surprise, though, given the company's efforts to position its gaming phone as a console for core gamers. In fact, relatively simple games like Mile High Pinball, which Nokia revealed yesterday at its GDC booth, appear to be much better suited to the mobile console than the difficult ports that have been the N-Gage's bread and butter until now. This upcoming pinballer's easy controls, speedy performance, and many interesting bells and whistles stood out in our preview session.

Mile High Pinball has its name for a reason. According to the producer, the game has 83 different pinball boards, which are stacked on top of one another to create what may very well be the world's largest pinball machine. Each of the different story's has a unique layout and is infested with a coterie of unique bumpers, puzzles, and enemies. For instance, you may have to turn on a certain number of switches to open up the door to the next level, defeat a hostile angel that's guarding a portal by slamming into it a certain number of times, or activate extra flippers to boost yourself over the top. The top of one level we played was policed by a large tornado that could paralyze your paddles with lightning bolts. Fortunately, there's no real way to die in Mile High Pinball. So if you drop down to a previous level, you can keep playing, although you may have to complete the challenges again. The game will feature 35 collectible power-ups to make things a little easier, including score and damage multipliers, cash to purchase items from a store, and even an item that will make your ball grow wings, Joust-style. There will also be a few instances in which you can warp up the tower by hitching a ride with a UFO or the like.

To add to the fun, Mile High Pinball will also have some pretty novel online functionality through N-Gage Arena. The game will feature some boilerplate high-score and fastest-time leaderboards, as well as a competition to see how many special hidden medallions you can collect through the course of play. A more compelling feature will be the cooperative mode, because it'll be possible for you to upload your saved game to the server and let several of your friends bang away at it, thereby progressing all of you up the ranks collectively.

Aesthetically, Mile High Pinball's looking like a very competent portable entry in the genre. The level backgrounds are nicely detailed and animated. Highlights that we saw included moving gondolas in the scenery of one alpine-themed level, as well as some neat special power-up effects. For instance, your ball showers stars when you're using a damage or score modifier. The controls are very easy, as one would expect from a pinball game...although the developer is still considering whether to add the ability to bump the table. The version we played felt like it needed a small adjustment to its physics model, but it shouldn't take much tweaking to get it shipshape.

We're glad to see that the N-Gage is going to be getting some more games built along the Snakes model: easy to pick up, fun to play, and enjoyable to watch. Mile High Pinball will even feature a Bluetooth-enabled five-level demo along the Snakes model, although the full game won't be freely distributed. Mile High Pinball is being readied for a summer release, so check back here for more details.

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