PC pinball fans have had it tough the last few years. There just haven't been many pinball simulations, especially when you consider the early-'90s heyday in which pinball simulations were as common as any other kind of game. With Williams Pinball Classics, Encore Software has not only attempted to revive the pinball simulation, but has also done so with a quartet of real pinball tables. This budget-priced collection may not be as painstakingly accurate as Empire Interactive's Pro Pinball line, but the physics are good and so are the tables themselves.
Williams was always a pinball innovator and has created some of the best tables. It's too bad more of these--like Addams Family or Twilight Zone--aren't included in this bundle. Still, the tables that are included are memorable. Williams Pinball Classics gives you four to choose from--Lost World, from 1978, is the oldest. With a very basic layout, it's also the easiest to play, though a bit boring in comparison with the feature-heavy tables of the '80s and '90s. Tales of the Arabian Nights, from 1996, was a great table in the arcades, but the PC game version is difficult to play. The back area is so full of ramps and toys--including a large blue genie and a rotating magic lamp--that it can sometimes be difficult to see what's going on.
The same problem affects 1993's Creature from the Black Lagoon, which many pinball fans will remember for its innovative use of a holographic image of the titular monster. Creature from the Black Lagoon also has some annoying voices that outline the ongoing story in the game (which involves someone being kidnapped at a drive-in), but these voices only slightly detract from the fun. The best table of the bunch, if only because it strikes a good balance of features and visibility, is 1992's Black Rose, which requires you to hit ramps and holes to sink a pirate ship.
The visibility problem is the worst thing about Williams Pinball Classics. It's occasionally difficult to see the ball, and you're locked into a fixed view of the entire table. You can't zoom in and see the details like you can in Empire's Pro Pinball games. There's no rendering of the back panel, which not only makes your score difficult to track, but also detracts from the overall museum element of the collection. It's also a bit of a letdown that there isn't more information included about the tables and their history.
Each of the tables is rendered with great attention to detail, which makes the locked view all the more disappointing. The ball reflects the surfaces as it passes, and the toys all look like genuine rubber and plastic. The sound effects and music are both great and authentic. Other than the aforementioned voices in Creature from the Black Lagoon, the sound really adds to the nostalgic feeling of the collection.
The physics of the tables are good. There is some slight popping when the ball enters or exits a hole, but other than that, the ball behavior is fairly believable. You have the basic layout: two flipper controls and a plunger control. You can configure all the controls to your liking. You don't have access to the operator's menu as in the Pro Pinball games, but you can adjust the slope of the table to three different heights, which acts as a difficulty control, and play with three or five balls. Encore Software did add one feature that has been lacking in other pinball simulations: You have the ability to strike the table from the front, right, and left. This makes affecting the ball (not to mention tilting) easier and more realistic.
Williams Pinball Classics is notable for being the first realistic simulation of authentic tables. It's something PC pinball fans have wanted for a long time, and Encore Software has done a good job of bringing four classic tables to life. Plus, the collection's budget price makes the package all the more inviting for pinball fans. It's a shame there isn't more information available and that you can't examine the tables in their entirety, but considering how few pinball simulations are available, beggars can't be choosers these days.