While video games are still relatively young as a form of entertainment, pinball goes back centuries, with the earliest concepts dating back to the 1700s. The game persists to this day, though its traditional form has become a bit more scarce with the death of arcades. All the while, video game developers are carrying on the tradition by creating their own versions.
Generally speaking, this results in two types of games: Those which try to recreate the pure arcade pinball experience as closely as possible, such as in Pinball HD Collection, and more ‘video game styled’ pinball games, wherein the benefits of being completely computer-generated are exploited and used to expand the concept to a degree (such as Kirby’s Pinball Land or, taken to its utmost extreme, Sonic Spinball). Of the two types, Pinball Maniacs falls closer to the latter.
The premise behind Pinball Maniacs is that ‘Justin and his friends embark on an epic treasure hunt, encountering dangerous enemies along the way,’ which is used to explain away the two settings of a pirate island and a dragon’s castle (though the latter is locked away for a rather exorbitant price). You’ll ‘choose’ from a group of missions by hitting a corresponding orb on the table with your own ball, and then the table will be filled with treasures and enemies which go with that mission.
Lined up like bowling pins.
Unfortunately, the game can bea pain to play. As far as the controls go, it’s pretty simple: You tap the left side of the screen to activate left flippers, and the right side for right flippers. To get the most precision, you’ll want to be ready to hit either flipper at any time, which makes one-handed playing a practice not recommended.
The clutching position you’re likely to take with both hands can get a little uncomfortable after a while, and you are also unable to flip the iPhone, in case a comfortable position happens to cover the speaker. Trying to hold the phone higher can result in accidental triggering of the items menu (where you can peruse power-ups which have different effects on the board or ball, such as magnetizing the latter to attract coins), while holding it too low can result in accidentally tapping offscreen. The result is something of a balancing act which takes some getting used to.
One bothersome effect of this being a freemium game is that they exploit this at every opportunity, often to the detriment of the game itself. Ad interruptions are frequent, with some even popping up during gameplay (we got one ad during a round which we didn’t realize was an ad at first, and tapping it exited to the App Store… and even then, it loaded a blank page).
The points pile up.
Others manage to tease you: lose a ball, and they ask if you want to unlock the next table. Thinking you’ve met some criteria for unlocking it, you click okay, and then they hit you with the price: ten of the game’s difficult-to-acquire rubies, which cannot be bought with the ring-like coin currency (you can exchange rubies for coins, but not vice-versa). Or, you can buy enough rubies for about five dollars– a hefty price for a single table.
Driving the general cheapness home is the fact that during play, you only get one ball. As noted at the top of the article, pinball has been around a long time, and in our lifetime, this is the first time in a pinball game– be it a physical pinball machine or a video game simulation– where you only get one ball per credit. You can continue, but it costs you coins, and with each continue, the cost goes up more and more until you can no longer afford to continue– particularly bothersome when you’re having to swat away in-game ads, shake the iPhone to loosen a ball that got wedged somewhere, or just those occasions where it happens to drop right where neither flipper can reach it.
It’s not as though Pinball Maniacs isn’t fun, but it would probably have been more enjoyable as a full game where you simply pay a flat rate for a complete experience, rather than being pestered and taken for money, virtual or real, at every turn.