Believe it or not, there used to be a time when pinball machines were pretty popular. For a quarter or two, players were challenged to rack up as many points as they could. Players learned to nudge the machines to keep the ball in play and would have to try and plan their flipper shots to accomplish certain goals, such as hitting drop targets or locking balls in a capture hole. Players needed a certain amount of skill-- and a little luck-- to beat the high score and earn free games to extend their experience. Pinball games for home consoles aren't anything new, including conversions of popular pinball tables like Pinbot and High Speed, which were ported to the NES. Now, thanks to Crave and the development team at Farsight Studios, a new set of real-life pinball machines has come home. Pinball Hall of Fame contains seven pinball tables from Gottlieb, one of the most notable companies in the business. These tables range from classics such as Ace High and Central Park to more recent tables like Victory and Tee'd Off. Each table is an exact digital replica of the original, and players familiar with these tables will undoubtedly feel right at home. Each table has its own set of options, such as number of balls per credit, and its own goal. Accomplishing these goals-- which is no easy task-- unlocks special features, including a Love Meter, Xolten (think of the fortune-telling machine from the movie "Big" with Tom Hanks), custom ball skins, and even a nice slideshow that educates players on the history of Gottlieb and its factory. There's also an unlockable Tournament Mode which can add a little bit to the game's replay value as it challenges players to beat the free game threshold for each of the seven tables in order to get a high score. As mentioned, each table is a faithful replica of the original pinball machines that used to line arcades and other establishments. The score display is also faithful, with analog scoring for older machines and digital displays for newer ones-- including a dot-matrix display for Tee'd Off. Unfortunately, despite a silky-smooth frame rate, the same problem that's affected many console pinball games also plagues Pinball Hall of Fame: poor camera angles. While the game does have seven selectable angles, none of them feels right. Some are too low, others are too high, and the ones that are in-between really have trouble keeping up with the ball as it ricochets around the table. This problem leads to gameplay issues, as it's sometimes difficult to line up your shots to hit certain targets. This leads to more frustration than there should be. The gameplay issues unfortunately don't end there. The ball physics are a bit suspect, and there are instances where the ball will literally pass right through the flippers into the outhole. There are also times when it's possible to hit the ball just right where it flies off of the table and descends into nothingness, thus forcing players to exit from the table and start over. There's nothing worse than getting into a zone, setting a high score, and having something like that happen. The ball physics are also a bit wonky around the bumpers, as they sometimes don't seem to have much effect on the ball. One other gameplay letdown is that nudging the table seems to have no effect other than to activate the game's ridiculously sensitive tilt sensors on each table. Pinball players understand the importance of nudging in order to keep balls in play or to hit certain rollover targets; unfortunately, Farsight Studios seems to have forgotten this and penalizes players more often that not for using it. That's not to say that the gameplay is all bad, however. Much like when playing actual pinball, it's possible to really get into a "zone" where players can rack up serious points on one ball. It's still extremely gratifying to get a new high score, and if players have XBox Live, they can post their high scores to an online leaderboard. The tests of each table are still as challenging as they were when they were in the local arcade. Whether it's trying to start a multiball sequence or if it's trying to eliminate a certain bank of drop targets in sequence, the level of tension to be had during a gameplay session is about the same. Trying to fulfill the goal for each of the individual tables also helps to extend the replay value of this collection. While it can be argued that the unlockables in this collection are token ones at best, it's the feats required to unlock each feature that will test a player's skills. One last area of mention is the sound, which is a mixed bag. Some of the more modern tables have their own soundtracks, such as Tee'd Off, which comes complete with looping background music and one highly annoying gopher. The older tables don't have any music; instead, players will hear the sounds of other pinball machines and arcade games while they play. Astute players will recognize sound samples from games like Missile Command and Galaga. While this certainly adds to the immersion factor, it's unfortunate that there isn't an option to play music (or for custom soundtracks on the XBox version of the game). Even a few select licensed tracks from each time period would have been nice, much like there was in Activision Anthology. The sound samples for each game are rather muffled and the bumper sound effects are weak at best. This should have been cleaned up prior to release. Overall, Pinball Hall of Fame is a decent collection of pinball tables that will appeal to pinball enthusiasts and can also appeal to those with a casual interest in pinball, especially considering the fact that it's a budget release for under $20. The collection is not without its flaws, but if Crave can somehow get a chance to do another collection, perhaps of Williams tables, the team at Farsight Studios might get a chance to fix a lot of the issues surrounding this release.
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