IGC Retro Odyssey: Disney Classic Games – Aladdin and Lion King (Review)

As someone who grew up with no nostalgia for any of the games featured here, I think maybe today’s gamers need a review like this. Because Aladdin (Genesis) and Lion King (SNES/Genesis) are not great games. But a lot of gamers from the 90s remember them as such. Kinda. I mean, the #1 memory of Lion King seems to be of children unable to beat it, even on easy mode. And really, that’s such a common story for so many licensed games of the era (especially on SNES it would seem) that I don’t really find it all that interesting. Aladdin has a little bit more going for it, but that’s by virtue of what’s not included in this package: the Super NES version. Oddly enough, I have played that one extensively. It was one of a handful of SNES titles we had in my house that I could go back to after 1996, when Santa Claus brought me a PlayStation and planted the seeds for my gaming life. In fact, it was probably my favorite of those. Besides Zombies Ate My Neighbors, which I didn’t like so much as seven-year-old me was *terrified* of that game and would play it while peeking out from under many, many blankets. Hey Konami, I have five or six excellent indie devs on standby to bring that series back. Call me!

So, Genesis Aladdin. It’s weird. Whereas the Capcom Aladdin for the House of N featured traditional hop-‘n-bop type of gameplay and was based around jumping on enemies and swinging off pegs, the Genny Aladdin opts for sword-based combat. And it looks great. Nice use of colors. Good animation. But, even the “final cut” version (which is the ONLY version you should play, take my word for it) has flimsy combat and confusing platforms. It’s often not clear what you can jump on, or how far platforms go. I had to turn to Twitter once because I couldn’t figure out how to outrun a boulder. It turns out, I was jumping too soon. You’ll forgive me, but where I come from, when the game shows the platform has ended, I don’t assume I can keep running past it before jumping. I’m weird like that. People say they could still see the platform. Let me ask you something: do you?

The issue here is that the shading for the rock changes but it does so in a way where it’s abrupt and you can’t tell its one continuous platform. Dumb.

See?! That’s ridiculous. But that kind of design is all over Genesis Aladdin. Now, I’ll concede that the game had a short, very rushed development cycle. Fun story on that: it was originally going to be made by BlueSky Software. There’s an irony there: BlueSky was who Sega gave the Joe Montana football series to after their original choice, a company called Mediagenic (who was the linear continuation of the Atari 2600 era Activision) lied to Sega about the progress they’d been making on the game. Sega had Electronic Arts finish the first Montana game while actively searching for who would do the remaining games on Montana’s contract, and BlueSky got the call. Years later, Disney and Sega were so unimpressed with BlueSky’s work on Aladdin that they turned to Virgin Games with 99 days to go before the game had to be finalized in order to be manufactured and ready to launch alongside the VHS release of the Aladdin film. Why? Because 10,000,000 flyers for the game had already been printed and would be included with the home release of the Aladdin movie.

The fun continues with the Montana story: EA was launching their first Genesis Madden game ON THE SAME DAY as the game Sega had hired them to make to compete with their own product. While that didn’t end up happening and Joe Montana instead came out a month later, you still have to think about it: it’d be like McDonalds paying Burger King to open a location next to theirs. But EA wanted a good relationship with Sega so they decided to make a more casual, arcade-style football game with Montana to counter their more simulation-like Madden title. But, get this: the Montana game they made in short order (around four months) was universally regarded at EA as more fun than their own Madden game, so right before they sent it back to Sega, they deliberately went back and made Joe Montana Football worse. Golly, the 16-Bit era produced some insane stories.

So yea, Aladdin had the development cycle from hell. But, I can’t factor that in to the review because it doesn’t make the game more fun. Just more technically impressive. Plus, that boulder thing above is just the tip of the iceberg. Unavoidable projectiles come from off-screen. Enemy placement can result in seemingly unavoidable damage. And that combat. The primary cited difference between the SNES and Genesis Aladdins is the Genny game is based on sword combat. My major combat pet peeve.. beyond controlling well, at least.. is that combat in games has to feel like there’s real world weight in it. I put so much stock into this that I gave Urban Champion, one of the most hated Nintendo games ever, my Seal of Approval, because I had fun throwing punches that felt like they were connecting. My expectations were high for Aladdin’s sword combat. It’s the third best selling Genesis game ever. For real. Only Sonic 1 & 2 sold more. It more than doubled the SNES version in sales. This HAD to be awesome, right? And then I swung the sword at an enemy, and nothing happened. I swung a bit more, and the enemy disappeared. Womp womp.

I think the main problem with it is there seems to be a system where enemies “open themselves to attack” that you have to wait for. But the problem is the enemy character models and stances they show don’t appear defensive in nature. They just look like cartoon characters sneering or looking left to right. There’s statues that attack you that you can swing away at, but you can only actually hit them if they’re in the act of throwing something at you, and there’s nothing that really shows this. Because when they’re just standing there, it’s not like they look like they’re guarding at you or anything. And when you do defeat them, again, it’s like you wave a sword in front of you and they just sort of disappear into a puff of smoke. I’m not saying I want or expect blood & guts in a Disney game. But you don’t need those things to have combat feel like physical, living beings swinging sharpened metal at each-other. Hell, look at the original 1987 Legend of Zelda. When you hit an enemy there, it feels like you’re hitting SOMETHING. It doesn’t feel like you’re hitting anything in Genesis Aladdin, but merely doing a magic trick that blinks an enemy out of existence.

The real reason the Genesis version outsold the SNES version 2 to 1: no monsters that suck your brains out with their dicks. Nintendo sanitized everything back then.

Aladdin didn’t “do it” for me, and that’s a shame because there’s some nice level design elements and I happen to be a fan of the movie. I literally can’t believe that this was part of the “Genesis v SNES” debate. The only plausible explanation is that Genny Aladdin owners never played Capcom’s take. The single worst 16-bit sword combat I’ve ever seen, boring bosses (seriously, the boss fights are just awful), frustrating platform identification. Virgin’s Aladdin is pretty horrible. It still has fans, and frankly, those fans have made me repeat the line “have you played it lately?” more than any retro game I’ve ever done as Indie Gamer Chick. I don’t get it at all. This was a terrible game.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t familiar with Lion King at all. Like Aladdin, it had a short, cash-in development cycle. Its main claim to fame is that the character sprites were all done by “real artists” at Disney. Instead of those lowly video game artists. That this was apparently used for marketing reeks of elitism within the entertainment industry. Like video game artists had no clue what they were doing and to make sure they didn’t totally embarass the integrity of the brand, the REAL artists of Disney made sure to do the heavy lifting for them. Weird, they didn’t do Aladdin and yet Aladdin looked like Aladdin. Amazing how that worked. And the really funny thing about it all is that they don’t look any better or worse than you’d expect. I mean.. it looks like Simba to me. I wish I had something more interesting to say about Lion Kong besides bitching about their marketing angle, but it’s just so damn bland. The primary novelty (besides playing as a lion) is a ROAR mechanic. Which really only stun-locks enemies and takes too long to charge up. I found the Roar to be so worthless after the first stage that it was almost a determent to use it because of how long it takes to activate. It really doesn’t help that, in later levels, enemies are so spongy that it feels like they’re taking pity on you when you finally beat them. Oddly enough, my favorite part of the entire game was a maze of monkeys that throw you around like the barrels in Donkey Kong Country. Apparently everyone but me hates this part. I liked it! I wish they’d build an entire game around it!

The only part of Lion King that I found truly offensive was this waterfall section. An overly tall climbing section that took me a solid half-hour to finish, even with rewinding. Now granted, my reaction time isn’t great while I recover from recent health issues, but I don’t think that factored in given how much pain my older Twitter fans underwent just from their memories of this section.

Lion King never truly shits the bed (except the above waterfall) but it’s rarely better than bland and boring either. And it makes many the same mistakes that Aladdin does, like taking unavoidable damage from enemy placement or from having projectiles fall from the ceiling so fast you can’t avoid them. Truth be told, I haven’t ran into too many people who fondly remember Lion King. It’s just not good. I don’t believe reviews should award actual points towards a recommendation for extra circumstances, since those don’t make the final product any more or less fun. But I think it deserves at least some respect.. from a safe distance away from actually playing the games.. for what it achieves. Because the team that made it only had roughly a week to draw up a gameplay concept, pitch it, and then around six months to develop a fully fleshed-out game. Yeah, a short development cycle that banks on name recognition is cynical, but that’s not on the actual game makers. Because what’s here is playable. Of course, they took the safe route and didn’t get ambitious like Howard Scott Warshaw did with ET on the Atari 2600. That’s why I believe Lion King was doomed from the start, no matter who drew the sprites for it.

There’s things that frustrate me Disney Classic Games. Why did it crash so much when I took media using my Switch? Why weren’t more Virgin Interactive Disney games included? Hell, why wasn’t Jungle Book included? It was made by Virgin Interactive and critically acclaimed. Uh, which is sort of the situation these two games were in, come to think of it. Because these were, and still are, pretty popular. I’ve said dozens of variations of “Aladdin sucks” on Twitter and gotten dozens of “no it doesn’t” variations back. But I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. Well, I guess “have you played it lately?” is doing that, but that’s not the point. Frankly, these might have been good for their time (except the Game Boy versions. I can’t imagine those were ever considered good). The really weird thing is the Final Cut version of Genny Aladdin doesn’t represent a later patched version of the cart, but rather a brand new version that re-balances combat damage (but doesn’t add weight to it) and smooths out scrolling, but doesn’t fix the biggest problems, like platform visibility. Had it not been for the package having Infinity Gauntlet of Emulation features like rewind or save states, I’d certainly not finished either game. I wouldn’t have had the patience.

The Game Boy/Super Game Boy (?) versions included are both among the worst games I’ve ever played in my life. Sluggish, unresponsive, and terrible in every single way imaginable. Chalk this up to them, instead of doing their own thing, trying to be shot-for-shot remakes of their 16-bit cousins with the same combat and same level design. What a dumb idea.

At this point, I do want to give a massive shout-out for Disney Classic Games featuring the coolest feature in all of retro gaming: like SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, there’s full play-through videos of some of the games, which you can pause at any time and take over the controls from that point in the video. This needs to be in EVERY retro gaming package. Among other things, when I’m wrapping up my reviews, it allows me quick access to go back and replay sections like the Scar battle at the end of Lion King to figure out if he was overly spongy or if I could beat him in mere seconds. The answer? Mere seconds. That feature saves me from sounding like an idiot more than my family hovering over me saying “don’t say that, check it again first” does.

The only thing I found of value in the set was the extensive making-of featurettes. And, surprise, they’re really nice to watch! Well, except the Lion King Breakfast, which is basically like a mini E3 style press conference just for the game, though it does make for an effective sleeping aid. Still, everyone involved is passionate about their work and excited to tell people about how these games came together. I hate that I didn’t like their games because they all seem so gosh darn nice and accomplished a lot for games with development cycles straight out of nightmares. But sadly, I do. Aladdin is bad. Lion King is bad. The Game Boy versions (which, to be fair, are included as bonuses) are among the worst games I’ve ever played. I do think there’s value in Aladdin for game developers, but for all the wrong reasons. Lion King offers no thrills and is so vanilla that it’s almost a chore to play, but in a completely competent way. Gaming history fans will appreciate the behind-the-scenes stuff (though it looks like most of it has been uploaded to YouTube) but it’s hardly worth buying a pack of two mediocre-at-best games to get them. And yes, I did test these games on the target age range and, in fairness, the kids (age 13 and 9) enjoyed Aladdin more than me. Lion King they were pretty much as bored as I was. That to me sums up the legacy of these titles.

Aladdin: still good for kids, badly aged, needs more work.
Lion King: never had a chance at being good. Flawed from the start. Sort of like the live action Lion King, only this didn’t gross 1.6 billion dollars.

Total Games: We’re calling it 4 (Final Cut Genesis Aladdin, Game Boy Aladdin, SNES/Genesis Lion King, Game Boy Lion King)
IGC Approved Goal: 2
IGC Approved: 0
**SET FAILS**

Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King were published by Disney Entertainment
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$29.99 are working on their roar in the making of this review.

A review copy was supplied by Disney Interactive. A physical cart was purchased so that money was paid for the game.

Indie Pinball Chick: Williams Pinball (Pinball FX 3 Set Reviews & Table Rankings)

This is the first Indie Pinball Chick review where I have to cover multiple DLC packs. Well, unless you consider that Star Wars Pinball for Switch is on Pinball FX 3 for PC/PS4/XB1 as multiple smaller DLC sets. But, we’re talking about Williams Pinball sets for Pinball FX 3 today. Each of them costs $9.99, unless you buy the Williams Season 1 pack for Xbox One/Steam/PS4, in which case you’re paying $31.99 for all twelve tables it includes. These rankings also include the two tables in the Universal Monsters Pack that I’ve already covered and the free-to-download Fish Tales.

All four of the original Williams sets are Indie Gamer Chick approved. If you’re curious which order I recommend them, volumes one, two, three, and the Universal Monsters Pack each contain a masterpiece-caliber table. Volume 4 stands alone as the only set that doesn’t feature a “must own” table. But, keeping it real, one of the tables I have ranked as “bad” in that set is currently ranked as the ninth best solid state table ever at the Internet Pinball Database. So, your mileage may vary. Volume 1 is the only of the Williams sets with three tables that I gave a positive ranking to every table it has. Meanwhile, Volume 3 has only a single table I ranked positively, making it the highest price-per-quality-table Williams set. But, the one table I liked is good enough on its own merit that I’d still recommend purchasing that pack (especially if you can get it discounted). Finally, the Universal Monster Pack only has two tables, but one of those I have ranked as one of the best Williams recreations, which takes the sting out of getting fewer tables. After strong consideration, I’ve ranked the Pinball FX3 sets in the following order:

#1: Williams Pinball Volume 1

1 Masterpiece
2 Good
Price per Quality Table: $3.33

The only set that runs the table (pinball puns, gotta love them). If you can only buy one Williams Pinball FX 3 collection, this is the most sure-fire, can’t miss one. Medieval Madness is the dream table many silver ball enthusiasts wish they could own the real version of. Let’s keep it real here: Medieval Madness is a $10,000+ table. Buying this set nets you a very, very accurate version of it at a 99.9% discount. And, when you inevitably grow bored with it (like the vast majority of first-time real table buyers do), you don’t have a $10,000 gigantic reminder of how poor your spending habits are hogging up space in your rec room.

Plus, you won’t have to repair the trolls when they break. Which they will. Personal experience talking here.

Medieval Madness is worth the price of Volume 1 by itself. But it doesn’t come alone. You also get Getaway: High Speed II (which my Dad wants to note was HIS favorite table in the entire Williams collection) and Junk Yard. Getaway is more of a traditional table and feels the “oldest” of any of the Williams tables, with simple targets and a short upper-orbit. Junk Yard is a novelty table based around a wrecking-ball gimmick (and one of only two tables Williams ever did that lacked bumpers). Neither table is great, but they’re nice to have and far from boring. The icing on the Medieval Madness cake.

#2: Universal Monsters Pack

1 Masterpiece
1 Good
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

I’ve wrote already about the Universal Monsters Pack. Having it ranked #2 despite being one table smaller than the other four sets really should speak to how much I cherish Monster Bash. Creature from the Black Lagoon has its merits and is certainly a good table, but I think it’s historically over-rated. It’s all about Monster Bash.

#3: Williams Pinball Volume 2

1 Masterpiece
1 Good
1 The Pits
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

Party Zone is a horrible table and Black Rose is among the most frustrating good tables out there. But, these two deeply flawed tables are counter-balanced by being packed with Attack from Mars. That’s kind of a big deal because I literally can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it. If not for Party Zone, there’s a strong chance this set could have taken the top spot. Really, the top three positions were close and Vol 1 won by virtue of having no bad tables. Any of the top three are no-brainers.

#4: Williams Pinball Volume 4

1 Great
1 Good
1 Bad
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

The only set that lacks a masterpiece-level table, Volume 4 is hardly a wash. While I’m sure my opinion on White Water’s value (or lack thereof) will be controversial, there’s no question that Red & Ted’s Road Show is a lot of fun. Also included is Hurricane, a problematic table that still manages to entertain. Part of me wishes they’d saved Hurricane for a future triple-pack that contained the complete Barry Oursler trilogy of roller-coaster/theme park machines and put the legendary FunHouse in Volume 4 instead. But, at this time, Zen Studios isn’t recreating any tables with numeric or alpha-numeric displays, and Hurricane is the only of those tables to have a dot matrix display. Whatever the case, Red & Ted is the only SuperPin (a series of ambitious, wide-body tables from Bally/Williams) on Pinball FX 3 and the spiritual successor to FunHouse. And hey, the purchase price allows you to play White Water and ask yourself how anyone in their right mind could consider it to be one of the ten best tables of the Solid State Era.

#5 Williams Pinball Volume 3

1 Masterpiece
1 Bad
1 The Pits
Price per Quality Table: $9.99

The only set that I had to think about, Williams Pinball Volume 3 led to an actual screaming match in my house regarding how I rate these sets. Because, while I have Volume 3 ranked last among the five available sets, I felt Theatre of Magic was good enough on its own to justify giving it the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. Originally, I came up with the following formula: every set should contain at least one table ranked masterpiece OR two tables ranked great or better OR three tables ranked good or better. Then, as my Dad pointed out, Volume 4 didn’t fit that. D’oh. Theatre of Magic is so fun, despite being deeply flawed in terms of scoring balance, that I gave it a masterpiece ranking. Why they have to pack it with two novelty tables is beyond me. Safe Cracker’s main appeal as a real machine is completely lost in digital form, while Champion Pub is simply a horrendous game of pinball. This is the ultimate “your mileage may vary” DLC pack. If Safe Cracker’s merits as a straight table appeal to you, this becomes a little easier to recommend. If you want to try a broken table that never really was good to begin with, Champion Pub will wet your weird appetite. For everyone else, Volume 3 is all about Theatre of Magic. I liked it a lot. If you don’t, this is the one volume I have no problem telling you to skip.

Really, we all win out with Pinball FX 3’s Williams collection. Each set can make a claim to stand on its own merits without the need to own any other set. You almost never see that with any game’s DLC. These are wonderful recreations of legendary tables from a bygone era. The physics can irritate sometimes, but I prefer them to the glidey, weightless feel that Pinball Arcade often feels like. And having a new generation of pinball enthusiasts get low-cost access to them is delightful. Further proof that we’ve entered the golden age of digital silver ball.

Pinball FX 3 Williams Pinball Season 1 (Vol 1 – 4) was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$9.99 each (I spent $4.99 on Volume 3 and 4 on XB1) likes the sound of “season one” in the making of this review.
All Pinball FX 3 Williams Pinball sets are Chick-Approved

 

Special thanks to Steve Da Silva for his guides, which were very helpful. I’ve linked to them all.

Table Rating Index

Pinball FX 3: Williams Pinball Season One + Universal Monsters Pack
Total Tables: 15
Masterpieces: 4
Great: 2
Good: 5
Bad: 2
The Pits: 2

The Pits

#15: The Champion Pub
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Based on a concept by Pete Piotrowski, 1998
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

In your heart, you want this to be Punch-Out!! In reality, it’s more like Power Punch II.

Sometimes you hear the concept of a game or a pinball table and you say to yourself “gee, that sounds amazing! I can’t wait to try it!” And then you actually play it, and you realize that what sounded amazing to you (and those who made it) could never actually work when done for reals. The Champion Pub is probably the best pinball example of it.

The Champion Pub has one of the most bizarre development cycles in pinball history. It has no lead designer, and the primary concept came from an engineer by the name of Pete Piotrowski. Piotro Pete was awarded several patents still in use in pinball today, but he wasn’t a game designer by any means. So the people of Williams came together to bring this idea of his to life. The result is one of the worst tables I’ve ever played, and one of the most notorious for breaking down. You don’t have to worry about that in the digital version, though there is a prominent dead zone smack dab in the middle of the table where marooning balls is a common hazard. In real life, you’d have to call an attendant to un-stick the ball, or accept a TILT in order to shake the ball loose. In Pinball FX3, the ball magically teleports to the chute to be auto-launched back onto the field. That’s nice, I guess.

At one point I launched a ball so hard off the ramp that shattering the glass would have been in play.

Pub is such a bad table. The layout is garbage. The fighting concept is extremely poor in execution. I landed head-shots that counted as body shots so many times that the boxing gimmick fails completely. This is also extremely unstable in Pinball FX 3. More than once, the game credited me with starting a multiball despite not having done so, giving me XP for doing so and even leveling-up the multiball boost. This happened once *after* I’d already gamed over and was entering my initials. Like the real table, there’s a gap that allows you to land live balls back into the starting chute, and this seems to trigger the multiball glitch. Since you can use a boost that gives you extra points while in multiball, it’s never clear if you’re scoring based on what’s really happening or what the engine THINKS is happening. Sometimes the camera wouldn’t do a close-up of the jump-rope or speed-bag minigames, and other times it would. It was never consistent.

I feel horrible about this because Champion Pub has fans out there, and having a digital version of a rare table that’s hard to find in working condition (and would breakdown if you got it anyway) sounds like it should be awesome. In theory, this version should be better than a real table. All the fun of the original without any of the mechanical failure bullshit. But the digital table is every bit as unstable and broken as a real Champion Pub machine. It’s the worst of the Williams tables, easily.

#14: The Party Zone
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by Dennis Nordman, 1991
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Party foul.

Dennis Nordman made some truly great tables (and some truly over-rated ones too). This isn’t one of the great ones. It’s also one of the few real tables I’ve never played before, but based on what I’ve seen here, The Party Zone has to be one of the worst tables I’ve ever played. This is a miserable pinball machine. It plays too fast for such a limited layout. In fact, the ball practically teleports across the board when you hit it. The key to faster-than-light travel could be contained within Party Zone. The drain is powered by a black hole. About one-third of my launches I never could play because the ball got hung up on the bumpers just long enough for the ball save to evaporate, then dropped straight down the middle.

You’d think a game with a party theme would at least be inviting and fun. But, the primary target has a kicker that can send the ball directly to an outlane. I’m sorry, but I’m of the belief that if you lock the ball on a target designed to score points and the lock throws the ball down a drain or outlane, that’s straight-up robbery. These were designed to cost $0.50 a play, after all. If you’re going to cheat players out of their balls, Nordman might as well of dressed-up like the Hamburglar and beat up school children for their lunch money with shit like that. And what’s actually here isn’t really that good. There are targets in the upper corners that are actually fairly easy to hit, especially the right one which triggers most of the modes of the game. But the modes really aren’t complex or interesting. Really, the only thing Party Zone does is set the baseline for a bad table being recreated as well as possible.

The Bad

#13: White Water
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Dennis Nordman, 1993
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

This is the one that gets me blown-up like Robert De Niro in the beginning of Casino.

At least it’s based on rafting and not a real estate scandal.

There’s two types of pinball tables: operator’s tables and player’s tables. White Water is an operator’s table. It’s designed to look pretty, lure in players, make money, and then kick players to pay up for more or let the next idiot pony-up. I consider myself a reasonably skilled player and even after putting a few hours into White Water alone, I still frequently had games that lasted under a minute. For all three balls. There’s no ball save unless you literally score no points. The left outlane is one of the most hungry I’ve ever seen. The orbits are narrow and too steep. In the normal Pinball FX 3 mode, most shots done towards an orbit will result in a straight-down-the-middle instakill if it’s anything but a full-strength hit. This is the one Williams table where I actually preferred Classic mode more. The physics aren’t as punishing.

And the shit thing is, this SEEMS like it should be a fun idea. White Water rafting! Wavy ramps! Whirlpools! Robin Williams.. oh wait, that’s bigfoot. Bigfoot!! But, like The Party Zone, White Water is designed to look great but game over quickly. Dennis Nordman must have been a fucking all-star with arcade owners for as often as he cranked at brutal but irresistible tables. It was suggested to me that you had to use the tilt on this table more than any other, but I *was* tilting and it didn’t matter for drain-shots. The outlane? Sure. But there’s also a limit for how many times you can use that. Plus, many times I’d start a multiball only to have the VKU feed an unplayable house ball straight down the drain. White Water not having ball save is a crime against humanity. After a certain point, you just have to concede that a table isn’t fun, was never supposed to be fun, and move along. White Water should never have been ported to Pinball FX 3. It’s a table designed to cheat players out of quarters, and nothing more. Easily the most over-rated machine of the solid-state era.

#12: Safe Cracker
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Designed by Pat Lawlor, 1996
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

“Let’s have a smaller table, but let’s pack as much shit into that smaller table as we would a normal table.”

Safe Cracker has its fans because it’s just so weird, but I really was just bored silly by this table. And that’s heart-breaking for me because Pat Lawlor is my all-time favorite designer. But, not every idea is a home run. Clearly Safe Cracker wasn’t, as operators weren’t inclined to order it. At 1,148 units, it’s his lowest-selling table (at least from his Bally era). In part because the table is significantly shorter than other tables, which makes it look kind of dumb when displayed near other tables. The other reason is because it runs on a timer instead of having three balls. Safe Cracker is a anomaly among pins. As one reader of mine put it, a niche of a niche. Combining pinball with a board game.. a very slow, very basic board game.. the primary draw to players was the idea that you’d win real collectible coins by playing well. Of course, that novelty is lost in a digital translation.

The board game is extremely limited and based on chance. When I finally got to the center and got my first non-existent token, I didn’t feel accomplished. I felt like luck finally played out for me. I’d played rounds where I’d added tons of time extensions, but because the dice rolls didn’t work out for me, I didn’t make it to the center. The time I did happened during one of my less well-played rounds.

All that remains is a basic, bland, overly crowded table with nubby electro-mechanical era flippers. Safe Cracker feels like one of those higher-end toy pinball tables you spend $200 for at Christmas.. nowhere near arcade quality, but kids are dumb and won’t realize it.. then you watch in horror as your kids play a couple rounds, then never touch again. I’m not even exaggerating. It feels like a toy pinball table. The point of the table is really to move the action to the backglass, where the board game takes place. You roll dice, move spaces, and if you can make it to the center of the board, you win a real life coin. Only you don’t here. An animation of a fake digital coin falls and that’s it.

I could totally get why this table would be so memorable to arcade-goers from the 90s. Not a lot of games rewarded you with actual, corporeal keepsakes you got to take home with you. The only possible reason to want to play Safe Cracker can’t translate to a digital recreation. So, like, why bother? This table sucks without it.

The Good

#11: Hurricane
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Barry Oursler, 1991
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

The finale of Oursler’s Roller Coaster Trilogy (following 1985’s Comet and 1988’s Cyclone) and, in my opinion, the weakest of the three. Hurricane is a good table, but in Pinball FX 3, it’s not a great one. Many Pinball FX 3 tables feel like the slope is too steep or the gravity is too strong in the standard mode with the specialized PBFX3 physics. That stood out so much more in Hurricane than any other table. I own a real Hurricane table. It’s not even remotely this hard to get the balls up the ramps or clearing orbits. I’d made flush hits that should have easily had sufficient enough force to climb the front ramp, only to see the ball stop just short of the top and come back at me. But, here’s the weird thing: EVERY ramp had this “YOU ALMOST HAD IT” phenomena going for it. Accessing the Ferris Wheel? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! Accessing the Hurricane roller coaster? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! Accessing the Juggler? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! It got to the point where only trapped tee-shots could ever hope to get the correct force needed. It didn’t feel on the up-and-up. Yea, this isn’t present in Classic mode, but (1) the physics are TOO rubbery-bouncy in any table’s Classic mode for my tastes and (2) you don’t get XP, boosts, or super powers in Classic.

And, while we’re on the subject, as far as I can tell you can’t post any high scores online playing in multiplayer. And that’s a damn shame because, a while back, my father and I had an epic duel at Medieval Madness in Classic Mode where we both surpassed my own posted high score a few times over. There’s really no reason to not have that. Heck, make a Hot Seat leaderboard if you have to.

Hurricane is one of the tables where you can’t really see the back of the table at all unless you use one of the cameras that follows the ball. I wish there was a better top-down view to practice on.

Anyway, it speaks to the potential quality of Hurricane that, even with YOU ALMOST HAD IT syndrome, the table is a lot of fun. Heavy on toys and gimmicks but with a layout optimized for casual fun. Professional pinballers (yes, they exist) hate Hurricane because you can easily “chop wood” (repeat simple shots and grind up points) and draw out matches. Also, Hurricane is easily the table that you’ll want to use the Skillshot boost on the most. You can post a top 500 global score just by having it, the Score boost, and hitting the skill shot all three balls. It worked for me.

#10: The Getaway: High Speed II
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Designed by Steve Ritchie, 1992
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Getaway is yet ANOTHER table that was notorious for breaking down in real life. Getaway had one of the worst fatal-flaws in all of pinballdom. Balls would get stuck under slingshots, which would short-out the MPU. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the owner’s manual had a misprinting that instructed operators to use a 48 volt lamp light instead of a 20 volt. Smart.

This is a hard, hard table. The margin-for-error on shooting is narrow, on a table designed to be (at the time) the fastest in the history of the medium. Getaway: High Speed II is a punishing table. It’s also fun. But very deceptively so. Every single shot is super tight, so if you want a table that’s not n00b-friendly and requires precision, this is really the best table in Pinball FX 3 for that. But, once you get the hang of it, you’ll find a rewarding experience based around lightning-fast timing. Getaway is also primarily built around shooting orbital combos, but the timing for shooting them is more difficult on a game controller than it is for a real table. Once you get the timing down, successfully shooting those combos and seeing the huge scores build up is insanely exhilarating.

Also, this is one of those tables where some of the fun elements from the real machine are lost in translation. Throughout a session with Getaway, you’re supposed to shift gears, which is done with the auto-launching plunger. On a real Getaway table, it’s an actual gear shift! Here, that’s a simple button. It’s an ever-present, problem with digital pinball: some of the charm is lost. Ultimately, Getaway is a strong table, but might be too frustrating for many. It’s also probably the simplest or most “old-school” of all the Williams tables released so far, maybe too much so for snobbish modern audiences. Ahem. Yea, this is the point where my Dad wants to point out that this is his favorite in the series. He’s a Ritchie fanboy. Moving on.

#9 Creature from the Black Lagoon
Featured in Williams Pinball Universal Monsters Pack
Designed by John Trudeau, 1992
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average

Maybe the prettiest table in Pinball FX 3’s Williams’ collection. So there’s that!

Combine one of the most clever themes with one of the most maddening layouts ever and you get Creature from the Black Lagoon. First thing’s first: John Trudeau should be fucking horsewhipped for covering the right flipper’s lane with a “transparent” whirlpool that absolutely does block your vision. I play the game muted and thus get no cues on when balls are being VKUed to the right flipper, so I’m kinda screwed by this choice. And what am I being screwed by? A feature that’s barely used. In dozens upon dozens of rounds, I only once was able to get into the whirlpool. Granted, doing so paid off huge and single-handedly gave me table mastery status and (at the time) a top 100 global score, but still, it’s a high visual price for a relatively barren feature.

You get there via a two-ball multiball that has no ball save attached to it. Activating multiball was no problem for me. But, the mode would pretty much end in under three seconds every single time I did so, with the very first ball taking a trip down an outlane no matter how I hit it. Creature has too many brickable shots to keep up with such an unforgiving setup. You CAN restart multiball once but that requires hitting the snack bar within a limited time. Damnit, I don’t want to get mad at this table. It sure seems like it should be tons of fun. But the drain is so huge it could be legally be described as a canal, the outlanes are too hungry, and Creature just plain frustrates too much. Good table, over-rated, next.

#8: Black Rose
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by John Trudeau & Brian Eddy, 1992
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Change what I said about Creature from the Black Lagoon: THIS is the prettiest table in Pinball FX 3.

Yep, this is a John Trudeau table. Developed alongside Creature from the Black Lagoon, Black Rose (part of his “black” trilogy which began with Bugs Bunny Birthday Ball, objectively the most dark and evil table ever made) has all the hallmarks of a Trudeau design: maddening mulitballs that are designed to drain out before you get a chance to play them. A wide drain. Starving outlanes. But, Brian Eddy (Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness) co-designed it, and his design signature (a prominent central target) is along for the ride. Like the Darth Vader table in Star Wars Pinball, Black Rose is really notable for being a valley-style table, with an empty center for a playfield that runs the length of the board, with the primary target against the back wall and all other targets off to the sides.

And that primary shot is absolutely maddening. It’s crowded, but in one of those logical pinball-type of ways. Hitting the target spoon-feeds the right flipper the ball (just hold it for a trap and you’ll be delivered the ball safely every time). But, the wide drain and sharp angles makes nearly every other target super high risk. Combine it with one of the most impossible video modes I’ve seen (walking the plank, which requires you to pump the action button, which nobody in my house could successfully pull off) and a cannon that, I swear, misses manage to drain out every time. Plus, there’s absolutely no semblance of risk/reward balance. Easy shots pay off huge. Difficult shots aren’t worth anywhere near as much as they should be. Black Rose has a fun swashbuckling theme, but I can’t help but wonder if this table would have been so much better if it’d been a 1996 – 98 table instead of a 1992, when they were just starting to get the hang of more high-concept layouts.

#7: Junk Yard
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Designed by Barry Oursler, 1996
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

I can just hear the pinball community now. “YOU MURDERED WHITE WATER BUT PUT JUNK YARD #7? JUNK YARD?!” What can I say? Guilty pleasure.

Junk Yard is based mostly around a single gimmick: a second ball that’s suspended by a chain that you whack to hit other targets. At first, a person might think the wrecking ball is all Junk Yard has going for it. And yeah, this is a pretty limited table. There’s no secondary flippers. It doesn’t have orbits to shoot combos. It doesn’t even have bumpers. From what I can gather, it’s one of the least popular tables among professional players, where matches end up slogging and players resort to chopping wood (shooting low-risk targets to grind up scores). Skill shot, extra ball, and Time Machine mode are all shared by a single, easy-to-hit target. It sort of has to, since the rear of the table needs enough room to make the wrecking ball gimmick work. This table shouldn’t be good.

The wrecking ball is dumb fun. Yea, I totally get why pros hate Junk Yard, but this was easily the most popular Williams Pinball FX 3 table in my house among the less hardcore pinheads in the Vice family.

But, I like it. In a guilty pleasure sort of way. Easy to get multiball, easy to get jackpots and super jackpots. A few video modes. A few roulettes. Even the backglass comes into play with random chance prizes. Is Junk Yard a finesse table? No. But it wasn’t meant to be one. This is a rare pinball table from the era where it feels like they knew the end was near and decided to just make the most wild designs imaginable because they might not get another chance to. Certainly worth a look.

The Great

#6: Fish Tales
Free to Download with the Pinball FX3 Launcher
Designed by Mark Ritchie, 1992
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Simple elegance. They really couldn’t have chosen a better table to be the freebie.

Designed by Mark Ritchie (kid brother of the legendary Steve Ritchie, designer of Getaway: High Speed II), Fish Tales is free for everyone as the sample Williams recreation table for Pinball FX3. Probably a good choice for it, too. It’s one of the best selling pins ever, at over 13,000 units made. I joked that Fish Tales was required to be installed in every tavern as part of their certification. I can’t imagine children of the early 90s would be interested in a fishing pinball game. Then again, one of my favorite launch-window Dreamcast games was Sega Bass Fishing. And I did basically use Animal Crossing as a fishing game..

Okay, point taken.

What strikes me most about Fish Tales is how simple it is. Clean layout. There’s no supplemental flippers. There’s no skill-shot with the auto launcher. There’s no complex step-by-step objectives. The targets are simple, the ramps and orbits have clear, easy shots. Maybe too easy in the case of the ball lock. It got to the point that I could very easily shoot three consecutive shots into it without breaking a sweat. Not that the rest of the table is easy. In fact, I died as a result of the multiballs that lock triggers. Still, Fish Tales feels like a table that brings the best qualities of the early 80s through the early 90s without any of the confusing, overly elaborate excesses.

The horseshoe design leads into one of the most intense but simple combo-shooting experiences in PBFX3.

The result is a pretty dang good game. And, like all other Pinball FX3 recreations, this is a solid port job. The biggest flaw in Fish Tales is that Mark Ritchie designed the table to use standard flippers, but the machine shipped with the infamous “lightning flippers” that are very slightly smaller than normal flippers. This was done at the request of UK operators who were pissed that players lasted three minutes at a table instead of under two. Many owners of real Fish Tales tables change over to standard sized flippers, since that was Ritchie’s intent and all the angles were based around them. But, Pinball FX3 offers no such option, and uses the Lightning Flippers despite them being a last second addition to the game to cave in to the demands of bitchy arcade owners. Do the right thing, Zen: give us normal flippers.

#5: Red & Ted’s Road Show
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Pat Lawlor, Dwight Sullivan, & Ted Estes, 1994
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

I’ve always wondered if this was originally supposed to be based on a licensed property and the construction stuff was added when negotiations for something broke down. Possibly something with a country-music theme since Red is voiced by Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter Cash.

1993’s Twilight Zone is wide(bodi)ly considered the greatest pinball table ever. Red & Ted’s Road Show is Pat Lawlor’s follow-up to it, and you’ve got to feel for him in the same way you feel for Francis Ford Coppola every time someone talks about anything he did after the Godfather or Godfather II. Once you’ve made anything that’s, according to fans and many peers, “the best ever“, you can’t possibly live up to that prior work again. Road Show doesn’t remotely try to feel like Twilight Zone. The only similarities are being part of the SuperPin line of gigantic wide body tables (in fact, Road Show is the final of the series) and being a mode-heavy experience. Lawlor has a reputation for making the most complex pins imaginable. This one might be more convoluted and confusing than even Twilight Zone.

More than any other Williams Pinball Season 1 table, Red & Ted’s Road Show requires a time investment just to get a feel for what you’re supposed to be doing and how the massive volume of modes work. There’s over twenty, mostly named after cities. There’s a vast, wide open playfield with two nightmare-fuel ventriloquist heads that serve as the primary targets, but most of the modes are activated by shooting ramps and targets behind them. You know what? Fuck it. Just watch this video courtesy of Bowen Kerins and the Replay Foundation. It’s 33 minutes long. Yea, it really requires that much time to figure this fucking thing out.

Did you watch it? LIAR! You did not! And you really should, because you’ll be expected to do all that. Is it fun? Well, yeah. I mean, obviously. I have it ranked as “great.” But Red & Ted has issues. The scoring balance is wonky, with some of the easier modes worth more points than harder ones (and hell, that’s before you factor in Pinball FX 3’s boosts). My Dad’s been on my case all week for rewarding tables that FUBAR the risk/reward balance, especially since that was the main complaint of my Nintendo’s Pinball review. Yea, that’s a legitimate complaint. What can I say? Nintendo’s Pinball isn’t fun. Red & Ted is. Theatre of Magic is. And there’s something about the SuperPin line that makes hitting high degree-of-difficulty shots feel so much more satisfying. My biggest issue with Red & Ted is there’s simply too many things to keep track of, with too many important elements based on chance. Also, I’m going to go ahead and say it: worst launcher/skill-shot ever.

The Masterpieces

#4: Theatre of Magic
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Designed by John Popadiuk, 1995
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Below Average (This will get me hate mail)
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Not to be confused with Capcom Pinball’s Magic. Speaking of which, Zen Studios has worked with Capcom in the past. God willing, we’ll get a Capcom PBFX3 pack that contains Pinball Magic, Breakshot, Big Bang Bar (less than 10 units made it into the open market), and Airborne. I’d pay $19.99 for that four pack. Are they any good? I don’t know. I’ve never played any of them. Even Breakshot. Here’s hoping!

While John Popadiuk’s story once he left Williams was, ahem, less than inspirational, Theatre of Magic has left its mark on pinball as one of the most popular and influential tables ever. I’m surprised operators allowed this to become such a big hit. A relatively easy (by the standards of the era) table based around shooting combos, Theatre of Magic is built for fun, with any quarters it ate being secondary to that. Originally intended to be based around David Copperfield, Theatre utilizes the magic gimmick to its fullest potential. This includes a heavy use of magnetic areas, including magnets that save balls from outlanes. It’s ambitious, and it works.

Theatre of Magic is a player’s table, and a genuine masterpiece. But, it’s hardly perfect. In fact, my ranking of it at #4, in the masterpiece category, was the source of controversy in the Vice household that led to a full-blown shouting match. I felt the the biggest flaw is the high-risk center orbit that, depending on the angle the ball enters it, can lead to a no-hope (even if you attempt to tilt it) instakill drain-out. My Dad, a pinball purist, felt that an instakill orbit was nothing compared to the utterly broken scoring balance. Simple orbits pay off too much. The multiball is too easy to trigger (even average players should be able to activate it every ball) and jackpots are too easy to come by. The biggest rewards in Theatre come from relatively easy shots. Also, there’s a video pinball mode on the dot matrix display that’s possibly the worst video pinball ever. Why would you do a video pinball mode that bad on any real pinball table? Come to think of it, once we’re doing a video pinball mode on a video pinball game, we’re sort of through the looking glass. Ugh. But ultimately, it feels like a table designed primarily to be fun, not to make money. I can’t justify ranking Theatre of Magic this high, except to say that it’s insanely entertaining. Isn’t that why we’re all here?

#3 Attack from Mars
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by Brian Eddy, 1995
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

The real life table was the first pinball machine (and one of the first arcade games in general) that came with an epilepsy warning. My family has an Attack from Mars in our collection that has the strobe lights removed. Besides roughly eight-dozen tables not yet included, my #1 wish-list item for Pinball FX 3 is being able to turn off certain flashing lights. Epileptic people can’t play real tables if they have strobe lights (unless we buy our own), nor can we just go up to the operator and ask if they’re unscrew the lamp lights just for us. They’d be annoyed by it. Video pinball should be their ticket to pinball heaven, but nobody is including options for us. Yet, at least.

Brian Eddy is one of my favorite pinball designers, but the man only really led the design on three tables: Medieval Madness, The Shadow (based on the Alec Baldwin movie, itself based on an old pulp magazine), and this. All three are masterpieces in the annals of silverball. That the medium faded out just as Eddy was hitting his stride is one of the great tragedies of gaming. Attack from Mars is a wonderful table. One of the fastest, high-thrills pinball machines ever made. And one of the best in terms of layout. A clean, simple design with clear targets and simple angles. The challenge comes not from impossible shots but relying on players to feel the pressure of a high score as it draws near. Eddy understood that the best challenges in pinball are ones players put upon themselves.

So, what’s the problem with Attack from Mars? No seriously, I’m asking you. Because I left this part of the review blank for days while I finished off the other tables. I’m here right now trying to figure out a negative thing to say. I can’t. Attack from Mars proves perfection isn’t unobtainable. The scoring balance? Rock solid (even if the “count by hundreds of millions” shtick feels forced). The modes? Easy to grasp, difficult to master, with a perfect tempo. The theme? So much fun. I’ve heard player after player who has been buying these sets tell me that, going in, they thought it’d be Medieval Madness or Theatre of Magic they’d keep returning to, but it turned out that Attack from Mars was that game instead.

Attack from Mars is a close cousin of Medieval Madness. Replace the alien invasion theme with sword and sorcery and really, the two tables aren’t that different.

I hear you asking “so, why isn’t it #1?” Simple: there are two tables more fun than it. While Attack from Mars is genuinely flawless (one of only three games I feel you can say that about, along with video games Tetris and Portal), and one of the best pinball machines ever made, I feel, even at its fullest potential, Medieval Madness and Monster Bash are just more fun. I can’t stress enough: Attack from Mars is the perfect table. In fact, it should be the first table that everyone learning the in’s and out’s of modern pinball practices on. I just watched my nine year old niece get her first wizard mode. Brings a tear to my eye. But Attack from Mars also proves you can be perfect and still not the best.

#2: Monster Bash
Featured in Williams Pinball Universal Monsters Pack
Designed by George Gomez, 1998
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average

It’s worth noting that the art for these tables aren’t 100% arcade authentic. Changes were made in order to assure an E rating, which in some cases Zen Studios was likely under contractual obligation to do.

Initially, I had Monster Bash #1, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt Medieval Madness is the most purely fun, perfectly-balanced real table recreated by Pinball FX3. It’s the table I’ll be going back to the most. And thus, Monster Bash wins Miss Congeniality, by a razor thin margin. It really only comes down to how darn precisely measured the scoring for Medieval Madness is. Monster Bash is slightly more chaotic, based around stacking modes. Modes are super easy to trigger, and really, this is one of those wacky fun tables Midway (under the Williams label) was cranking out at the end of the 90s.

My top two tables have a lot in common. They’re player’s tables that feel like a love letter to every eccentric pinball trope. And stacking modes. Lots and lots of modes. Monster Bash is toy-heavy and built around triggering Monster Bash mode, where every single toy becomes active. If you’re playing in the standard mode and have unlocked the scoring boost, you’ll want to save it for this (and stack it with the multiball boost). And by God, this mode alone is probably the greatest multiball of all-time. Monster Bash isn’t perfect. Monster Bash mode is so central to gameplay that everything leading up to that feels more like an arbitrary checklist. I don’t get excited for the other modes the same way I do for starting anything in Medieval Madness. And that’s what really makes the difference. The greatest mode doesn’t make the greatest table. But don’t let that scare you off. Bash is good enough to be worth the $9.99 pricetag of the Universal Monsters Pack alone.

#1: Medieval Madness
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Designed by Brian Eddy, 1997
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

The best of the best. At least until Zen ponies up to do Twilight Zone.

What can I say about Medieval Madness that hasn’t been said? It’s one of the all-time greats. It’s one of the last great Williams/Bally tables. It’s designed for chaotic, flipper-mashing mayhem. It guest stars Tina Fey (no joke). This is a wonderful table. Like a more refined, idealized version of Attack from Mars with a dungeons and dragons theme. Which makes sense, since both are Brian Eddy designs. Same basic concept, really. There’s a large, primary target in the center of the field that you chip at. There’s simple orbits on the sides with easy-to-access loops. There’s tons of quick-to-activate modes. Really, it’s Attack from Mars on steroids: bigger, stronger, and slower. But slower in a good way. Really, Medieval Madness couldn’t have handled being as fast as Attack from Mars. It would have ruined the table.

Medieval Madness’ greatest strength is that there’s no wasted room. Every single successful shot feels like the player is getting something out of it. Multiball modes stack. You can cycle through progress of different modes. The biggest issue by far is that the table’s primary target, the castle gate, is designed in a way where the ball has about a 30% – 50% chance dropping straight down the middle from a variety of angles. Which, frankly, is the exact same issue with Attack from Mars. There’s “smart angles” that you can take shooting it, but the margin for error of those angles is razor thin. Also, the super skill shot (which you do by holding the left flipper) is worth less for skilled players (irony) than a standard skill shot because it doesn’t give you multipliers for making it, and multipliers are a bit harder to come by than the points you get from the super skill. But, like I said, nit-picky, as you can tell from the ranking here. Any would-be pinball designer should study Madness in laboratory conditions just to learn how you properly balance risk-reward. Let it be said: no table of the dot-matrix-display era handles scoring better. Medieval Madness is a legend for a reason, and the best real table on Pinball FX 3.

Indie Pinball Chick: Williams Pinball: Universal Monsters Pack (Pinball FX 3 Review)

Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster Bash are legendary tables, but I’ve barely gotten to play either. And that’s really weird because Creature from the Black Lagoon was in my family’s personal collection for years, but the fucking thing never worked. It was like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Apparently whoever had it before us had issues with it too and in attempting to repair it (and also follow mod guides despite having no engineering background), he actually did more damage to it. In 2016, we traded it along with a few other tables that were, ahem, problematic for some working ones. I’d like to think the guy who ended up with ours went on to have wacky adventures with his Creature from the Black Lagoon table. Maybe he had to travel into the heart of the darkest jungle to retrieve the magical power supply or replacement ROMs to get it running. Maybe it was like that frog from those Looney Tunes shorts and it drove him to the streets, just him and his broken table. Maybe we’ll be reunited someday and it’ll fail to register targets for old time’s sake. Or maybe I’ll just get another off Craigslist. One that’s been fully cleaned and shopped wink wink. You’re not actually supposed to type wink wink in a Craigslist ad but, God, it would be so helpful if sellers did.

Or, I can skip all that shit and just buy the Pinball FX 3 Universal Monsters Pack for $9.99 and enjoy my 99.9% discount on a real table.

UPDATE: My father found the gentleman we traded our Creature from the Black Lagoon to. The table was fully restored and sold to an owner who was very happy to get it. Aww, I always tear up for happy endings.

Yes, yes, the hologram is there and works like a hypothetical working table would. I’m convinced it’s the sole reason the table is “legendary” because the gameplay is just alright.

By the way, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the actual pinball machine, is one of the most notoriously difficult tables to repair. In-part because getting replacement parts for faulty components is difficult. ESPECIALLY if you’re anal about “authentic parts”. The famous green hologram on the table? Yeah, it wasn’t made to still work decades later and many have since rotted into an non-functional sludge-blue. But hell, even replica parts can run you hundreds of dollars, and those parts don’t install themselves. There’s entire guides dedicated to do-it-yourself replacement kits and work-arounds and modifications and homemade solutions just for this table. If you genuinely love this Creature from the Black Lagoon pinball but lack any semblance of engineering skills, you’d be a fool to spend the thousands of dollars (hell, up to $15,000!) on a real Black Lagoon pinball table (or ANY real table, because ALL need repairs at some point). Even if you got a mint condition, rarely (if ever) routed table, it’ll eventually break down. You’ll need to fix it, and if you can’t, you’re stuck with a gorgeous but large and expensive paperweight. Hell, my Dad DOES have engineering skills and still couldn’t fix ours. Shit, $9.99 for a very well-made digital approximation of the same table is sounding pretty fucking sweet right about now.

It’s worth noting that Creature from the Black Lagoon is hardly alone in being a white elephant. I can’t stress enough to people who’ve imagined owning a real pinball machine of their own: unless you’re truly passionate about it, don’t do it. Stick to recreations. Go to Craigslist and look at all the non-professional dealers selling their tables. They were you once.

Anyway, we have two new Pinball FX 3 tables released in time for Halloween that required the Universal license, which Zen Studios already had. They have a set based on Jurassic Park and another based on miscellaneous Universal movies ET, Back to the Future, and Jaws. I was hoping for a fourth table based on Schindler’s List. Or, maybe one based around Sid Sheinberg’s ego, but it’d probably require a 200GB file size. There really were tables based around Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, but those were done by Data East and Sega Pinball, both of which still exist today as the modern Stern, which has a deal with Pinball Arcade. So, sadly, it’s unlikely we’ll see them recreated anytime soon.

And the sadness continues, as two tables that would have fit perfectly with the theme that were hypothetically available (they were by Midway under the Bally license) couldn’t be used. 80s B-Movie hostess Elvira is actually something of a legend in pinball circles because she was the theme of two iconic pins: Elvira and the Party Monsters and Scared Stiff. I think Party Monsters (which, believe it or not, was digitally recreated for Atari Lynx) was a little overrated while Scared Stiff is every bit as deserving of its reputation (and wallet-busting $8K – $11K price-tag on the second-hand market) as it gets. However, Elvira signed on to do a third table with Stern recently, and Stern is partnered with FarSight Studios to do The Pinball Arcade/Stern Pinball Arcade. I prefer Pinball FX 3 to FarSight’s pinball engine, but I really just want these tables recreated regardless. Maybe the two companies can work out some kind of trade: the 90s Universal tables (Back to the Future/Jurassic Park) for the two Elvira tables. Call me guys. I’ll negotiate it for you.

Monster Bash is a truly fun, thrilling table and a great way to introduce players to stacking modes. It’s a table that feels like a last-hurrah for the golden age of solid-state pinball.

So, two tables for $9.99. Is it worth it? Well, frankly, Monster Bash is worth it by itself. It’s the best of the recreated Williams tables I’ve played yet. Creature from the Black Lagoon is vastly overrated historically. Which is not to say it’s bad. Overrated doesn’t mean bad. It means overrated. It’s not an all-timer. It’s just a solid, maddening table that simply has one of the best themes in pinball history: a loving tribute to Drive-Ins. I’ll be giving full reviews to the tables by themselves in an upcoming Indie Pinball Chick post that rates and ranks all fifteen Williams tables in Pinball FX 3. Until then, just know that I absolutely recommend this set because both tables are worth preserving and fun. Creature from the Black Lagoon, for its extreme difficulty, is still alright. Monster Bash, on the other hand, is absolutely deserving of its legendary status. I look at the Universal Monsters Pack as paying $10 for Monster Bash and getting Creature from the Black Lagoon as a throw-in bonus with it. And hey, at least their version works!

Pinball FX 3: Universal Monsters Pack was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Steam

$9.99 did the Monster Mash in the making of this review.

Universal Monsters Pack is Chick Approved.

A review code for the Switch version was supplied by Zen Studios. We bought it on Xbox One.

Table Index

Williams Pinball: Universal Monsters Pack (Pinball FX 3)
Total Tables: 2
The Pits: 0
Bad: 0
Good: 1 (Creature from the Black Lagoon)
Great: 0
Masterpiece: 1 (Monster Bash)
Total Quality Tables: 2
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

 

Galaxy Champions TV (Review for Nintendo Switch, Steam)

I don’t like Smash TV at all. You’d think that’d make me want to skip a game that invokes the legacy of Smash TV to such a heavy degree that it even includes the “TV” part of the title in its own name. Well, it’s simple: I like games that take the core gameplay concepts of classic games and refine them for a modern experience. I don’t even need to like the original game to enjoy the end result of such a project. That’s already been the case once with Smash TV once here at Indie Gamer Chick. As of this review, Iron Crypticle, which swaps out the futuristic game show theme for a medieval swords and sorcery one, is ranked #14 on the IGC Leaderboard. That puts it in the top 97.7 percentile of all games I’ve ever reviewed. And I hate Smash TV, so that should speak to how open I am to enjoying a proper tribute to a game I dislike.

In fact, Galaxy Champions TV is *supposed* to have a game show theme as well. But, unlike Smash TV, the theme is vastly underutilized here. It just doesn’t feel like a game show. There’s a cheering crowd, but that’s it. They really needed to ham it up with commentary, cut scenes, maybe parody commercials. Something. ANYTHING!

Well, I don’t like Galaxy Champions TV. But at the same time, I think Smash TV fans would very much enjoy this. That’s just a guess, and I can only speak for myself, but GCTV sure seems like it’s been something they’ve wanted for a long time now. Well, up to a point. Though it doesn’t quite nail the gameshow immersion.. or really, get it right at all.. Galaxy Champions TV features a variety of upgrades that are permanent once purchased. It turns the grind of simply progressing into a grind where you get stronger as you go along. I’ve always kind of liked that type of grinding. And, while the variety of weapons is relatively small, there’s enough options and extra abilities you can unlock that it turns the Smash TV formula into one that’s kind of rewarding.

BUT, it’s still just basically Smash TV. You start levels in the center of a stark, empty room surrounded by doors. Swarming enemies pour out of the doors, which you then run from while shooting using twin-stick mechanics. While you don’t get to choose which path to take on the map (always moving to the door to the right), and there’s no catchphrase-spewing host or BIG MONEY BIG PRIZES shit, the actual gameplay absolutely nails the feel. Sometimes when I give a game a negative review, the asinine response from fanboys or “critics” that nobody realistically give a shit about is “did it achieve what it set out to do?” It’s the stupidest defense of a bad game ever, since for all we know, the game set out to simply not crash when booting up. But, with Galaxy Champions TV, yea, it sort of does do what it set out to do. Whether that’s a good thing or not is completely dependent on whether or not like you like the source material.

I only made it to the first half of the third level. But, I took down two bosses, neither of which are sponge baths. In fact, I took down the first boss on my very first attempt and the second boss in two tries. That sure beats spending ten minutes pumping bullets into the bosses in Smash.

Smash TV was hard. Well, no shit. It was created to earn money one quarter at a time, and if players last long, it ain’t earning quarters. But, difficulty is NOT the defining memory of Smash TV. The gameshow stuff is. It would seem that the developers latched onto the challenge as the primary selling point of the game and not, you know, the incredible theme and immersive setting. Because Galaxy Champions TV is so absurdly difficult, and crosses so many lines into unfairness, that I struggle to think even the most masochist golden age gamer would defend it. While you get stronger as you make progress, by the second world the enemies start triggering environmental hazards that make progress next to impossible. Take this shit for example:

Imagine playing ANY level of Smash TV, or any twin-stick shooter.. or any game EVER.. where enemies were capable of completely blocking 80% of the player’s view in a way that lingers for a few seconds at a time. One of the most baffling design decisions that was allowed to be in the final product I’ve ever seen in eight years of reviewing games. What the FUCK were they thinking?

This is only the second of four worlds. There’s enemies that can unleash long-lingering screen-blockage. In a game based on fast-moving, swarming enemies. Oh, and there’s mines on the ground, usually three per room. And it gets even worse. See that green puddle peeking out? Yea, those can be entirely covered by the clouds and cause damage if you step on them. There can also be pink puddles that glue you to the floor. There’s a dash mechanic that you can upgrade that somewhat shields you, but if you don’t shoot down the cloud things (which are the fastest moving enemies I’ve encountered), you have to deal with that much obstruction. This is absolutely unreasonable and beyond ridiculous.

The fully-upgraded flamethrower feels satisfying to use.. until it actively starts to contribute to the screen spamming that makes following the action so difficult.

The issue becomes that Galaxy Champions TV is so reliant on overwhelming odds and unfair situations to create challenge that when you do win, it feels like you were the beneficiary of dumb luck via weapon and item drops. Hell, when I finally beat the first level it was because the enemies dropped so many shields and hearts for me that I was basically being IV-fed them. In any other circumstance, I’d died and started the world over. The one positive I can say is once you finish a planet, you don’t have to start over from the beginning when you game over. Good thing, since you’ll die a lot. And thus, Galaxy Champions TV reveals its biggest flaw: like so many punishing games before it, it makes the mistake in believing the highlight to players is the deaths. It’s not. It’s when you actually survive. But, it has to feel you survived based on your play, and not because you got lucky. I always felt lucky with health or shield drops when I progressed in Galaxy Champions TV. Given that it gets to the point where you can’t even follow the action, I think most people will feel a sense of luck rather than accomplishment.

Really, Galaxy Champions TV is commendable because the movement, shooting, and weapons feel properly tuned, and the upgrades succeed in making you feel like you’re getting more powerful. But, the complete lack of enemy balance undoes all of that. Just before publication of this review, after many, many hours of gameplay, I purchased the final upgrade I had remaining while on the third world of the game. But this occurred on a level with enemies that fire what appear to be Spartan Lasers, enemies that dash at you (mind you, the dashing ones are that world’s most basic enemies), enemies that plant themselves and cause telekinetic explosions across the screen, and respawning landmines so subtly placed that you can’t possibly see them or keep track of them among all the chaos. The game becomes so busy and incomprehensible that I no longer felt like I was accomplishing anything and surviving came down to luck. It was like watching pixels of a screen saver going to war.

The main factor in my final quit was that I just couldn’t tell what was going on anymore. Galaxy Champions TV is too visually noisy. It would be like a Where’s Waldo shooting game.

So, I didn’t like Galaxy Champions TV. Will Smash TV fans? I can’t speak for them. If they want a game that nails the feel (if not the theme) but feels somewhat fresh and modern, this is the game they’ve been waiting for. I can’t recommend it to anyone else. The line between a good tribute, a bad tribute, and a GREAT tribute isn’t as thin as some would suggest. A good tribute is easy to recommend to fans of the game being honored. A great tribute is easy to recommend to even those who hated the original. I could do that with Iron Crypticle, ergo it must have been great. With Galaxy Champions TV, I only can guess that fans will like it, but once I reached the late second world, I even questioned if they would tolerate it. I still think it’s probably worth a look for Smash TV fans, and Smash TV fans only. It pains me to say this, because I’ve ALWAYS hated the assholes who use this term, but this is the one instance where I feel it’s actually true: Galaxy Champions TV does what it sets out to do. You have no idea how much it hurts me to say that. As for everyone else, I can’t recommend you buy it, even for a dollar.

Galaxy Champions TV was developed by aQuadiun Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.89 (Normally $6.99) didn’t get to play this co-op because her family says she has “anger issues” in the making of this review. I do not.

A review copy was supplied to for this review, after which I purchased a pre-order copy. All indies reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for by me out of pocket. For more on this policy, read my FAQ.

Indie Pinball Chick: Alvin G. & Co Table Pack (The Pinball Arcade Review & Table Rankings))

You might not know the name Alvin G. & Co. Founded in 1991 by Alvin Gottlieb of the famous pinball-making family, Alvin G. & Co never managed to capture any substantial success or market share and went out of business in 1996 (and functionally finished by 1994). Sadly, Alvin Gottlieb has since gone to the big arcade in the sky. I’ve got to be honest: I’m seriously stoked that anyone would think to recreate the works of this company. It represents a very positive step in preservation of the field. An obscure pinball manufacturer defined entirely by abject failure can still get officially recreated, over-priced releases in the 2010s. What a time to be alive!

I’m not a big fan of the Pinball Arcade’s physics, but in Tate Mode on Switch the games are a little more playable. But this package costs $7.99 and nets you only two tables. Mind you, Alvin G. & Co only released four traditional tables and one that’s a two-player versus game with flippers on both sides of the table. That one wasn’t included. Wouldn’t that have been neat if it was? I don’t know. Maybe Farsight didn’t have access to the other two traditional tables released by Alvin G. & Co, neither of which were manufactured in large quantities. But then again, so was Pistol Poker at only 500 made (and they probably didn’t sell most of them) and it’s here. Mystery Castle (no relation to the recent indie tribute to Lolo that I reviewed) is missing, and it at least looks interesting. The rarest Alvin G. table, Punchy the Clown (only 103 units made) is missing and.. uh..

Even Pennywise is scared of this shit.

Yeah, I’m actually kind of cool with that shit being left out. Also, my apologies to everyone who won’t sleep for the next few weeks.

Anyway, the games are stamped with the Gottieb logo on the Pinball Arcade menu, so I’m not sure why they didn’t just roll these into other Gottlieb table packs. This is pretty much the worst value in the entire Pinball Arcade collection, and there’s absolutely no reason for these tables to be so expensive. I mean, it’s not like they have some kind of expensive license or incredibly ambitious rube-goldberg type of mechanics. These are fairly basic early-90s solid state tables. I assure you, there’s nothing special about them. They’re very generic If they had to be sold separately, this should have been $3.99 at most. Maybe if the tables were good, you could justify it. But Pistol Poker is one of the more blandly designed card/casino themed tables I’ve seen, while Al’s Garage Band Goes on World Tour is simply a terrible all-around table that’s made even worse by the floaty physics of Pinball Arcade. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a worst value or a weaker collection of tables than what’s offered in this pack. Alvin G. might as well have a spin-disc on his grave because he’s probably doing a lot of spinning right about now.

The Pinball Arcade: Alvin G. & Co was developed by Farsight Studios
Point of Sale: Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam
$7.99 said “seriously, couldn’t they give us at least ONE more table” in the making of this review.
Switch version covered in this review.

TABLE INDEX

Alvin G. & Co Table Pack: $7.99 (The Pinball Arcade)
Total Tables: 2
Bad: 1
The Pits: 1
No Quality Tables

The Pits

#2: Al’s Garage Band Goes on World Tour
1992 Alvin G. & Co Recreation
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Table on Internet Pinball Machine Database

This is like what an old person thought kids of the early 90s were into.

What a miserable table. There’s a spin-disc at the top of the playfield that can’t be missed by the auto-launching plunger. If you hit it, and you sort of have to hit it, there’s a high probability it’ll drop the ball literally straight down the drain. I’ve had several instances where multiballs were ended immediately, even with ball save turned on, because the spinner dunked all three balls in the drain in under a second. And even if it doesn’t do it straight away, it might fling them into targets, but still in a way where they’re unplayable. I’m going to guess the real table doesn’t feed the drink as much, even if it’s ultimately a product designed to make quarters.

And it’s not a very interesting table anyway, though it shares a similar attribute to the Darth Vader table I called the best in Star Wars Pinball: there’s nothing in the entire center of the playfield, with everything moved off to the sides until you get to the disc at the top. There’s also a gap behind the disc that leads directly to a reset. But the ball lock is too close and too easy to shoot, as is the extra ball target. It’s as if the table knows it’s garbage, so it makes up for it by trying to give you as much free shit as possible so that you don’t walk away feeling totally ripped off. I only rate this game Above Average in difficulty because the outlanes are hungry and clearing the spinning is entirely on luck. The theme is so horrible, too. It feels like it was meant to be based on Wayne’s World or This is Spinal Tap or something. The worst table recreated table I’ve played so far, easily.

Also, what the fuck is the “bump button” and why does it keep being brought up? You have to tell us this shit, Farsight!

The Bad

#1: Pistol Poker
1993 Alvin G. & Co Recreation
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Table on Internet Pinball Machine Database

The voice of the gunslinger sounds like Sarge from Red vs Blue.

I suspect this table would jump to “good” on any other pinball launcher. One with decent physics. Pistol Poker feels a bit more floaty than normal, and actually getting credit for hitting the targets felt especially wonky here. It’s not like this had potential to be amazing or anything. There’s literally dozens of tables out there that have pretty much the same poker concept, but with better layouts. Pistol Poker is one of those split-level tables where the lower flippers can’t really target anything on the top of the playfield, and instead you get a single right flipper to do all the target shooting. Sometimes those works. For Pistol Poker, the bumpers crowd the limited upper-flipper. I think it’s supposed to create a sense of urgency, but it’s not that hard to get to the upper playfield. This split-level didn’t work for me at all.

And the old west theme is barely used. There’s ONE fun mode where every light and target goes live and counts as a bullet being fired by a gunslinger. I wanted more of that type of stuff. But the bonus entrance that allows you to get cards you haven’t gotten the target lit for, which requires you to time a light indicator on the backglass, is too prominent. It’s literally right in front of the flippers and is arguably the primary target of the table. Bizarre to be sure. I wish I had more to say, since this just technically won “best in set” for the Alvin G. & Co pack, but ultimately Pistol Poker is just really boring. If they’re going to ever do another table like this, I’d rather they do the 1994 Data East table based on the movie Maverick. That’s a good card game based table. Pistol Poker is shooting blanks.

High Noon Revolver

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Capcom’s SonSon or SNK’s Psycho Soldier. So, how’d I end up with an indie tribute to them? Well, I base my purchases for Indie Gamer Chick on cover art, theme, and one screen shot. I didn’t realize I was buying a game that would start behind the eight ball with me. But, I’d like to think I’m professional and fair. So hear me out..

High Noon Revolver is one of 2019’s worst indies.

I put a lot of time into it, and couldn’t make it past the first level. Despite not being a fan the source material, I consider myself a relatively skilled gamer and I should have been able to make SOME progress. For those that don’t know the concept, the idea is you’re in an auto-scrolling, three-lane shooter where you dodge bullets, shoot enemies, and collect coins or hearts. Coins can be spent to buy temporary (as in they last until you die) item upgrades during breaks in the action. But what upgrades you get to choose from is determined at random. So is whether or not enemies drop coins. I’ve played rounds where almost every enemy dropped one, and ones where none of them did. Success and failure in High Noon Revolver is governed by RNG luck more than any amount of skill. You’ll take damage from fast enemies spawning behind you in a way you can’t possible hope to avoid. You’ll take damage from heat-seeking flying enemies that can spawn directly above you if you’re in the top channel. Ones that also have the advantage of the player character having a, shall we say, slightly generous collision box. People call me a crybaby for complaining about “gotcha” stuff in games, and I don’t get it. What is FUN about just dying at random? If you have no chance to avoid it, it’s really not a game, is it?

I never got past the first boss. Even once when I had six full hearts and longer invincibility from taking damage, I came just shy of getting it half-way down on its life. It’s spongy, it cakes the entire screen in shit that tries to kill you, AND enemies spawn while you battle it. Some of them, like the guys in the mine carts you see, drop bombs that give you even more shit to dodge. This shit isn’t fun. it’s a war of attrition. This was the best I did at it, getting it about 3/4 of the way dead before I finally died when the mine cart guys started spamming the screen with bombs and my only option was to jump into them and get killed or stand still and die from a heat-seeking missile.

And staying in the center channel isn’t really an option. There’s a character that can fire a shotgun in three directions, but you have to be in the exact right spot to hit the channels above and below you. The screen scrolls fast and you’re almost always dodging bullets or enemies. Some of the enemies have shields. Some of them apparently poison you (and the poison effect is so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was happening). It took me around an hour of the most miserable play time imaginable to unlock my first character. Now mind you, the first two starting characters are balanced. The first unlocked character has more life and a weapon with bullets that pierce all enemies (except shelled ones). That sounds fine, but it’s another sign that no consideration was seemingly given about balance while High Noon Revolver was being developed.

I wouldn’t have been so angry if not for the fact that there’s some hope for fun to be found here. Some of the items are truly nifty, like ones that cause enemies to spray bullets out upon being shot, which can possibly set-off a chain reaction. But getting to use the good ones is rare (I played for hours yesterday and today and only got to use that once the entire time). The fun stuff is just too hard to acquire, and it seems that the game becomes its most dickish when you have a potentially great loadout. Most of the items are not all that useful. Why would I need to buy an upgrade that shoots all the way across the screen when my gun already does that? But that becomes an option. The one thing High Noon Revolver does that feels like it’s “smart” is if you have less than 10 coins when you open a chest during a break in the action, you get coins from it instead of options to buy stuff. But literally everything else is done badly. The sniper rifle is the most fun to use, but it’s slow and clunky unless you get to increase its bullet size or eliminate the recoil. The dash move is useless and gets you killed more than it helps. Sometimes it seems like the game drops one heart after another and sometimes it doesn’t seem to drop them at all. Really, it feels like this was meant to be an actual 80s arcade game designed specifically to limit playtime.

These guys look like the blue shells from Mario Kart, but they’re so much cheaper. You get no warning if enemies are coming from the left of the screen, but often that side of the screen is the only place you can safely stand. This is one of the cheatiest games I’ve played as IGC.

And you get no help for the most part. You move too slow to avoid the enemies in too many situations, and sometimes and there’s not enough room to maneuver in a safe way at all. Especially with birds. You’ll wish you had a way to wipe the screen of them. And then you see the bombs, and you get excited. But, in fact, High Noon Revolver has the most pointless, useless bombs in action gaming history. You start each round with a few, and enemies can drop them. But, when you activate them, they don’t clear out the enemies on-screen. As far as I can tell, they don’t damage the actual enemies at all. They only remove enemy projectiles. Which sounds valuable in a game like this, where the whole screen can be cluttered with bullets. BUT, when I’d need to activate them, I’d take damage anyway from the projectiles if they were too close. You really have to fire them off before the projectiles are a real danger. What’s the point of even having them? It’d be like the “break glass in case of emergency” axes only worked if you think there’s a fire. I literally can’t believe the game botched bombs. The easiest, most cliched mechanic in action-arcade games and it still managed to fuck them up. It’s kind of incredible.

I think a big problem is the screen’s scrolling speed. I mean, there’s a LOT of problems with High Noon Revolver. But I think a lot of the balance would be better if you had more time to defend yourself. Those shell enemies shoot in eight directions, but if they spawn during the scroll, they won’t open themselves up to attack until they’ve reached the middle of the screen. By that point, you have other shit to deal with. And, unless your bullets pierce the shells, they act as shields for all other enemies behind them. High Noon Revolver is cheap in the literal sense at $3, but it’s cheap in the other, whiny way.

I literally can’t think of anything nice to say to balance this review. But, then again, the developer didn’t consider balance, so why should I? Even the presentation I find obnoxious because it seems like all the effort was put into making the game look good. I was posting one thirty-second clip after another showing how mind-numblingly unfair High Noon Revolver was and people reading completely missed how angry I was because it looks fun. But it’s not. High Noon Revolver feels like a freemium, pay-to-win game that forgot to add all the pay-to-win stuff. It’s hard to describe, except to say it feels like it’s cheating. More concerned with screwing players over than letting us have fun. Some people genuinely like insanely hard games. But, I’m of the opinion that a game based entirely on luck is only “hard” in the same way winning the jackpot in the lottery is “hard.” It’s luck. Luck isn’t difficulty. It’s just not! If a meteorite crashed through my house and killed my entire family but me, nobody would congratulate me on conquering the meteorite. I didn’t! It just missed me! I got lucky! So why would anyone say differently about video games based on luck? I don’t get it. All High Noon Revolver is a $3 die-a-lot game, and good for it. I like my games fun, and there, it’s firing blanks.

High Noon Revolver was developed by Mike Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$2.49 (normally $2.99) hung it high in the making of this review.

Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San and Pirate Pop Plus

I didn’t grow up with an original Game Boy, and only had a Game Boy Pocket because I wanted to dive into the Pokemon craze right away and had gullible parents unaware that Game Boy Color would be arriving two months after Red & Blue hit the US. To say I have zero nostalgia for the platform would be an understatement. Especially when my primary reason for wanting to own a Game Boy in the first place was a series that’s had roughly two-kajillion sequels with essentially the same gameplay but better writing since then. And frankly, I was never a big fan of the watershed titles for the platform. I’ve played all the Mario Lands. I had Link’s Awakening DX on Game Boy Color. They were what they were, but I wasn’t a fan. Really, the only stand-out to me was Donkey Kong ’94, and that was by virtue of it not having a console-counterpart. If you had asked 10-year-old me what was the worst game I owned in 1999, there’s a good chance I would have answered Donkey Kong Land. Mind you, I had Bubsy 3D.

That’s no joke, by the way. I asked Santa Claus for a PlayStation 1 for Christmas of 1996 because I got hooked on playing Crash Bandicoot while playing a PS kiosk. A few months later, it was time for me to pick out my first non-Christmas-gift game for my first ever console. This is what I chose. With encouragement from my parents, who thought it looked “easy for a little girl.” So my parents were condescending, had horrible taste in games, AND were sexist. On the plus side, I think the seeds for Indie Gamer Chick were planted that week. I really do.

Until recently, while I believe my “anti-Nintendo” reputation was a bum rap, it’s safe to say I really was anti-Game Boy. Following my re-evaluation of Donkey Kong ’94, along with my play sessions with Operation C and Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, I’ll admit that portable gamers weren’t entirely hosed. But I also don’t get why anyone would want to make a game that looks and plays like a Game Boy game in the modern age. A severely limited system where even the best games had many compromises that had to be made in order to keep them portable. Don’t get me wrong: it is impressive when someone pulls off the mimicry without it feeling like they just colored a game in creamed spinach tones. Take both the games I’m reviewing today. They both feel very authentic, to the point that you can buy them as lost 1989 – 1995 titles for the platform that were just now unearthed. If seeing that off-putting color palette stokes those nostalgia fires, ignore this review. Both these games rise high enough that they should work for you. Well, that’s assuming you ignore the maddening difficulty of Mr Tako, but since so many blowhards from that era bitch about games today being too easy, I assume that’s you.

For everyone else, the question is: how good are these games on their own merit?

I want to be.. under the sea.. in a Octopus’s gar.. OH SHIT! NOBODY SAID THEY FORM ARMIES! RUN!

Save me Mr Tako is probably considered the best Game Boy-like ever. It’s super popular. And, yeah, it really does feel like something that could pass for an unreleased mid-90s Game Boy title. One of the ones that came out after developers figured out how to optimize it around the time Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 or Link’s Awakening hit.  It also offers alternate color palettes that I believe are based on ones offered by the Super Game Boy. The sound, the look, the cramped field of vision. It’s all here. For better and for worse. Picture “worse” here being carved into a series of Everest-sized mountains.

Mr Tako is one of the most baffling experiences of my IGC life, because everything is in place for a fun game. It has a quirky story about a brewing war between sentient octopi and humans. It has an absolute ton of power-ups to keep things fresh through-out. The storyline has you occasionally switch from playing as the titular Mr Tako to human characters to solve puzzles and beat levels. And Mr Tako is potentially one of the great indie mascots. He’s overflowing with charm and personality and is Pikachu-levels of adorable. And there’s a huge variety of levels and themes and enemies. Really, Save Me Mr Tako should be an indie platforming epic.

Look how happy Mr Tako is just to jump! I just want to pinch his little cheeks. Wait, do octopi have cheeks?

And I was just so bored playing it that I legitimately felt guilty. Like it was on me. That *I* was doing something wrong. And this is before the game totally shit the bed with some of the most cheap, unfair shit I’ve seen in years and one really bad oversight. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Save Me Mr Tako was developed by Christophe Galati ($4.99, normally $14.99 peed lavender ink in the making of this review). **NOTE: This review only covers the Nintendo Switch version. The Steam version is updated to fix many things complained about here. I didn’t like the base game and didn’t care to pay to start over a game I didn’t enjoy in the first place. But the Steam version might be better.

The one concession that Mr Tako offers that feels modern is offering 20 starting lives. As opposed to just doing away with lives. I mean seriously, if you’re going so far as to give players 20 lives, why do lives at all? Every other aspect feels married to being a Game Boy release. The levels are ambitious for 1991-93, but not for modern gaming. Just lots of jumping around. Trees. Nook-and-cranny exploration and searching. It feels like it’d be an incredible, critically acclaimed, game-of-the-year-on-its-platform contender. And it’s not just a typical hop-and-bop. Mr Tako can’t kill enemies. Instead, he hits them with ink and it stops them. While covered in ink, he can jump on them to reach higher platforms. All this framed with a relatively complex story that’s sort of like Wag the Dog, only with an army of Octopuses. Of course, the writing is married to being Game Boy-like as well. Very on-the-nose. Very to-the-point. The most basic writing style. I hate it when neo-retro games do that. The only one that’s really pulled it off is Shovel Knight, where at least the visuals did a little more.

For whatever reason, Mr Tako just never held my attention. I’d knock out a few stages, find something else to play, and dread reopening it thinking “oh God, I’m not liking this and everyone is going to be pissed at me.” Because I honestly couldn’t put my finger on why it wasn’t “doing it” for me. Maybe it was too simple? Maybe it was too basic of design. I don’t know. I did like one aspect of the platforming: when you’re just under being able to jump up on a ledge, the game automatically gives you a little boosty next to the edge of it to put you up and over the top on it. It’s actually nifty. Never seen a game do that. And that is the only aspect of the gameplay that really stood out to me in almost three hours. Now mind you, by time I threw in the towel, I was only 22% complete on the game. If anyone thinks I gave up too early, (1) if a game needs three hours and over 20% of its contents to “get to the good stuff” I say that game is an automatic failure and (2) by time I did quit, Mr Tako had absolutely cratered into a slog of frustration and madness that made me actively hate it.

The good people of the Exxon corporation would like to remind you that THIS SEAL IS HAPPY!

Mr Tako’s one-hit difficulty becomes intolerable when playing as anyone but the octopus. A human character with no means of defense who has twice as much surface-area for enemies and projectiles is just not as fun to play with in our zany cephalopod adventure. It creates such an unwelcome pacing issue in what is already a game that feels slow despite having relatively small stages. There’s fifty hats that grant Mr Tako powers, but most of the ones I’ve gotten so far aren’t fun to play with. And on top of all that, the current Switch build doesn’t pause the action when you open doorways by solving “puzzles” (which is as simple as pushing a gravestone). When the camera pans over to show you what you opened up, you can die, even though you’re not on the screen and have no means of defenes. It’s one of the worst oversights I’ve ever seen in a game. There’s actually a patch that’s been waiting to be applied for a long time, but the developer has no control over when it’ll go through. It’s apparently fixed on Steam, but it doesn’t change the fact that I had no fun up to the point I quit. Maybe the easy mode that’s included in the patch will fix that. I don’t know. I’ll need to try it again when that patch hits. I know one of the devs from Twitter. Nice guy. He knows to hit me up for his Second Chance with the Chick when it’s live.

By the point I quit, I burned 40 lives between only two levels, trying to get past crows and ghosts that buzz-bomb you. Often with limited room to actually dodge them. And then, when I’d actually got past them, I’d open up a pathway by shoving a gravestone over, only I’d somehow die before the camera reached the thing it was trying to show me I unlocked. I’m happy a patch is coming (maybe. Apparently, it’s been stuck in queue for months), but seriously, how did they miss THAT in play testing? Developers really need to remember to find people who don’t know how to play the games to do the testing. If they can’t find such a person, they need to pretend they don’t know themselves and play like a newb would. I run into shit like this far too often.

Really, I think I must just be bias against looking like a Game Boy game. Because I recently also bought a game called Pirate Pop Plus. Instead of opting for complexity, it feels more like one of those really simple early-generation GB titles like Alleyway or Balloon Kid. Inspired by the classic arcade game Pang (also known as Buster Bros. in many releases), you throw a harpoon up at bubbles, which split into progressively smaller bubbles. The twist in the formula is that a pirate shows up to randomly shift the gravity on you, causing the action to rotate around the play-field. It is a fresh twist that manages to play intuitively. I should have liked it given that I’ve enjoyed Pang in the past, and while the gravity stuff is unquestionably gimmicky, it does work.

Also, neither Mr Tako nor Pirate Pop Plus allowed video capture on Switch. Which really sucks for them more than it does me because I post roughly six-thousand 30-second clips per Switch game during my play sessions, give or take. I might not have a million followers on Twitter, but the nearly 20K I do have buy a lot of games based on those videos. Indies are dependent on word of mouth, but with quick video capture options, they can also use show-and-tell too. You need every tool you can get, developers. Don’t cut your fans off from doing your marketing for you.

And yet, I was once again just sort of bored. There’s visibility issues (mostly owing to the backgrounds occasionally being too noisy) and the whole thing just looks and feels very old and tired. I normally don’t give a flip about visuals, but here, they don’t work. And I don’t think it’s just about having a limited four-color palette. Gyro Boss DX had one also. But there, the visuals are stark and clean. No matter what color scheme you’re using in Pirate Pop Plus, it’s still married to a Game Boy aesthetic not in service to the actual gameplay. And that’s a damn shame, because looking the way Pirate Pop Plus does really does take effort. It’s not like making your game look this way is a corner-cutting measure.

Bill Simmons often points out the weird, unique-to-basketball phenomena where traded NBA players look completely different in their new uniforms. When Shaquille O’Neal was dealt midway through the 2007-08 season from the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns, even though he was exactly the same player he had been just a few days before, Shaq suddenly looked fat and out of shape upon donning the Suns jersey. But nothing had changed besides putting on a new top. When Kwame Brown was traded from the Wizards to the Lakers, he looked amazing in the purple and gold, and for all we knew, he was going to breakout and prove he wasn’t one of the biggest busts ever. It didn’t happen, and why would it? He was still Kwame Brown! He sucked! But man, did he wear that Lakers outfit to perfection. Meanwhile, I watched Kevin Durant for three seasons on my Golden State Warriors, and while he played marvelously for us, something always looked horribly off. I think even the most diehard Dubnation member would concede it.

There’s tons of unlockables to keep players interested. But, no online leaderboards, which is the only thing with me proven to for-sure keep me going even with games I dislike.

Pirate Pop Plus was developed by Dadako ($3.56, normally $4.99, received an Angry Pirate once in the making of this review)

I can’t help but wonder if this also applies to video games. I recently played Contra Anniversary Collection. When I saw Operation C, and by “saw” I mean literally saw screenshots of it, I was bracing for the absolute worst. It used almost the same character models and lots of aspects of the game were simply black-and-white versions of gameplay elements lifted directly from Contra and Super C on the NES. But it just looked wrong. And guess what? It wasn’t at all. It was one of the best Game Boy games I ever played. One of the most faithful adaptions from the NES to the Game Boy I’ve experienced. And for the entire two hour play-session, my brain kept telling me “this can’t be happening. It just looks like it shouldn’t be possible!” At least my session with Operation C tells me that I’d recognize a good game when I play one. So I don’t actually think Save Me Mr Tako or Pirate Pop Plus are good. But then again, maybe if they looked different, I’d be willing to give them a little more rope. Besides to hang themselves with, I mean.

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