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Excuse me if I wax nostalgic for a minute. I was lucky enough to be a student during the early nineties golden age of video-game pinball. As ‘Cash in the Attic’ and ‘Deal or No Deal’ had yet to be invented, our household of arts students had to find something to fill the hours we could possibly have spent writing dissertations or researching in the library, and while Civilization and Secret of Monkey Island were ideal when we weren’t feeling sociable, we needed something to play in the afternoon or when we’d brought back some mates from the pub. The answer came in the shape of Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies. Oh, those happy hours, the rocking soundtrack of the Graveyard table, the clatter of the keys on my Amiga keyboard, the muffled swearing and pitiful coughing as a rival tore his way to a new high score. And to think the team behind these classics – Digital Illusions CE – would one day go on to produce the Battlefield series. Ah, how things have changed….
Of course, at the same time as Pinball Dreams was rocking my world, developers on the PC Engine and MegaDrive consoles had realised that by combining Pinball with the shoot-em-up and elements of fantasy, horror or sci-fi – not to mention the wretched US hairspray metal of Motley Crue – they could create an exciting new hybrid. Anyone who played Devil Crush, Alien Crush or Dragon’s Revenge will have similar memories (bad luck if you only played Crue Ball. Even Kiss made for a better Pinball game).
If you remember these games with any fondness, then Metroid Prime: Pinball will bring all the good times back.to you. Admittedly, it’s more in the vein of Devil Crush than Pinball Dreams, but there’s something about the overall attitude that still reminds me of my uni-days fave. In case you can’t guess, it’s themed after the Metroid Prime series of games on the Gamecube and DS, with the pinball in question being bounty hunter Samus Aran in her tightly rolled morph ball form. The tables, meanwhile, are based on environments familiar from her 3D adventures.
As with Devil Crush, not to mention the likes of Sonic Spinball, Pokemon Pinball and Pinball of the Dead, this isn’t a pure pinball experience but a hybrid. Ninety per cent of the time your attention is concentrated on the flippers, which are best controlled using the DS shoulder buttons, and you’re using them to send the ball towards specific targets, bumpers and chutes. As in any pinball game, hitting specific targets in sequence results in a bonus, dramatically increasing your score. However, as this is a Metroid game, some of those bonuses result in the introduction of notorious Metroid enemies onto the table. Some of these have to be whacked repeatedly with the ball before they disappear, while in other cases the bonus chain causes Samus to rise in regular, armoured form from the centre of the table and blast the oncoming critters to smithereens. This is where then shoot-em-up bit comes in.