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For Supple Wrists Only

Pinball Hall of Fame - The Williams CollectionI have to admit that I like playing pinball sometimes, even if pinball doesn’t like playing with me. When I was about 11 years old, my dad bought the family a late ’70s-era pinball machine at auction. It had a gnarly stone age monster theme — rendered in vivid oranges, yellows and greens — and we enjoyed having the luxury of multiple plays without having to feed it quarters all day. Alas, once we got an Atari the bloom fell off that rose. Still, I occasionally got a pinball fix at Castles ‘N Coasters in Phoenix, an arcade/mini golf emporium which houses a roomful of old-ish machines that would give any coin-op museum a run for its money. After getting Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection for the Wii, all these scattered pinball memories came flooding back. All this game does is faithfully render ten vintage pinball machines in a virtual arcade, but it does this so well that it’s like having a little Castles ‘N Coasters at your own disposal.

When you first pop the disc into the Wii, you’re presented with the arcade (complete with generic heavy metal music playing in the background) and 40 credits to spend. Of the ten machines available, only four are unlocked for unlimited free play. Accumulating credits is easy enough, however, and even an average player like me can get all ten machines unlocked within a week or so.

The machines themselves boast a wide variety of visual styles and complexity, enough to keep one busy for a long time. I was even happy to see one table, Gorgar, which closely resembles the one my family had all those years ago (although I don’t remember the name, it must’ve been Bally’s attempt at a Gorgar knockoff). Another favorite was the groovy Jive Time, by far the oldest table of the ten and a creaky antique by pinball standards. Although most of the reviewers I’ve read seem to hate this simple game the most, I find playing it weirdly comforting. The sound of the ball rolling on a wood surface, old-style bell dings, a spinning wheel, and a Peter Max-like playfield add up to a brainless little diversion that’s enjoyable just for winding down at the end of a busy day. With the two most recent machines, Funhouse and Whirlwind, I can recall getting a few frustrating plays from their real-life counterparts. Playing the virtual versions ends up being so much more fulfilling, since it’s a lot less painful to lose balls in the gutter on the Wii. Speaking of the Wii, the makers of this game did a great job adapting pinball controls to the Wiimote and nunchuck. In addition to roaming the arcade playing games randomly, you can also do tournament play and something called the Williams Challenge, a machine-by-machine tournament. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get past the Funhouse stage on the challenge — since basically I suck at Funhouse. The aforementioned Jive Time, Pin*Bot and Taxi are my three favorite machines.

Here’s my obligatory link to buy the game at Amazon. At thirty bucks, it’s a steal. Hey, I might become a pinball wizard after all.

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