Price: $20 (single-user); $30 (two licenses)
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.2.8. Universal.
Trial: Fully-featured (15 days).
When I was in high school, a buddy and I hit the arcade regularly. While I played a variety of games, when I was with Robert we always played pinball. There was a nostalgic warmth to pinball machines, and I loved how the better machines represented a challenge at multiple levels. Robert was especially adept, and he could frequently count on earning himself a free game.
I have fond memories of playing pinball in the arcade—standing before a familiar structure, middle fingers on the flipper buttons, a Coke resting atop the glass. In the home movie of my mind, Robert watches on from one side of the machine, and perhaps his girlfriend or mine is at the other side. We would take turns, flipping, nudging, and laughing for hours.
Fast-forward 20 years, and now I can play pinball on my Mac, thanks to baKno’s MacPinball. I played pinball on a Windows PC before, and never found it to be very fulfilling. So I tried out MacPinball for a few evenings to see how close it came to my fun memories of high school arcade runs.
MacPinball opens to present a basic set of instructions for which keys operate the different functions—left and right flippers (or “bars” in MacPinball terms), the shooter, and—as a very nice touch—even a nudge is provided. From there, all you have to do is start playing.
The gameplay is a good approximation of real play, allowing many of the same tricks as a live machine might offer. You can trap the ball with the flippers, for example, just like in a real pinball machine. You don’t have to wait for the ball to drop in to pull back the shooter. Sound effects are good, not too annoying, and also fairly approximate a real machine. I can tell that the developers have actually played pinball before, and enough to appreciate the nuances.
Three different “machines” allow variety for gameplay. One has a series of chutes and ramps, with a magnetic spinner; another has chutes, tunnels, a spinner, and more bumpers than the first; the third has a double set of flippers, ramps, a spinner, and a big tunnel. Each machine has a different table-top too, and very different looks. And each supposedly emulates a different ball—plastic, wood, or metal—for further variation. All three are about the same difficulty level, however.
An option for two-player mode offers competitive play. I haven’t had an opportunity to try this out; my wife isn’t much of a gamer! But apart from two sets of balls, there is apparently very little difference otherwise.
Though the settings are sparse, they are useful. You may choose from a handful of camera angles, largely designed to enhance the realism of the gameplay. You can also choose to use a faster ball—which is, I’m guessing, intended to represent a higher level of difficulty. Frankly, I didn’t notice a substantial change here, and I ended up leaving this setting on for the whole time I played. Window size and turning sound effects off and on round out the settings.
Finding how to switch from one “machine” to another was tricky and required probing until I found it. I’ll let you in on the secret: it’s in the different ball types. Each of the three balls is directly tied to a different machine. In other words, you can’t play the same machine with three different ball types. This might be a fun switch, particularly if there are actually variations in the way they emulate the ball action. (This matters in real-life play; a metal ball is heavier and hard, while the plastic ball is hard but lighter, and a wooden ball has the weight but is softer with a bit more give.)
MacPinball is written to run on the multi-platform Mono environment (somewhat like Java, from what I gather). Thus, though MacPinball is a “Mac-only” game according to baKno, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it would be difficult to port it to other platforms. The bare-bones interface (due to the Mono setup) gives the game a less-than fully Mac-like experience. This isn’t a problem for playing the game, but users looking for a true Mac game might frown.
Somehow, the experience of Pinball doesn’t translate into a computer game like I want it to. I suppose it is sort of like playing poker or blackjack through one of the many locally-installed card games—the lack of investment (in the case of pinball, hard-earned quarters!) makes the experience less fulfilling. MacPinball does a good job of bringing the game-play part to my Mac, but the joy of the whole experience is lessened.
Still, MacPinball is, overall, a good pinball game, as computer games go. It does a fine job of emulating the essence of the pinball experience, as much as one can expect it to do so on a laptop or desktop computer.