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.

Indie Pinball Chick: Star Wars Pinball (Review & Table Rankings)

It’s not an indie, but following my scathing review for the 1983 Nintendo Pinball (or at least the arcade version of it), a frankly insane amount of interest in pinball drifted my way. And that’s just fine with me, because pinball is one of the great passions of my life. I’ve got real tables. I’ve read books on it. Some of my fondest memories involve the pastime. Like being a four-year-old and having my Dad put a chair in front of our Firepower table, and even then barely being able to reach the flippers, yet still being dazzled by the lights and the action and the noises (and I hate loud noise, so that tells you something). My Dad loved the game, and while gaming was something we never shared, pinball was always there.

“So Father, let me get this straight.. you figured out that I was your son when I was in a completely different ship from you and firing on the Death Star, but you didn’t realize Leia was your daughter when she was standing right next to you?” “Yea? Well you have the Force too and you didn’t realize she was your sister when you kissed her.” “Hah, shows what you know because I totally did and I’m totally into that!”

And then I developed epilepsy at the age of sixteen. But my father was not prepared to have me lose pinball. So we just removed the especially dangerous lights, or used duller LED lamp lights. The situation still sucked. I couldn’t play the tables with the lights out. I couldn’t play routed tables on location or visit the Pinball Hall of Fame when I was in Las Vegas (well, IN THEORY I could if the tables are arranged in a way where ones with strobey effects are not visible to me). And, most importantly, I couldn’t really get into video pinball as the genre advanced past the primitive “living ball physics” of the 80s and 90s. And that sucks, because we’re only just now, in the relatively recent past, getting the ability to fairly accurately recreate real tables, or design original ones that have all the charm and nuance of real life pinball combined with fantasy and sci-fi elements only possible in the anything-goes realm of video games. This is the golden age of video pinball, and up to now, I’ve mostly missed it.

And then I realized that, on the Nintendo Switch, I can turn the back-lighting down low enough that it all but eliminates my personal risk. And so, mid-September through mid-October is Pinball Month at Indie Gamer Chick. And I’ve decided to start with what is not only the best value you can get in the modern digital pinball experience, but what is one of the best Switch games of 2019. Star Wars Pinball uses the engine perfected by Zen Studios with their Pinball FX series and is a complete set of tables released on other platforms. These aren’t to be confused with real tables based on the franchise, most of which the rights are now owned by Stern and could only be recreated on their Stern Pinball/Pinball Arcade platform if they were able to get the rights that are owned by Zen Studios. Which wouldn’t really be worth it, none of them are all that great, though the 1992 Data East table is probably the best of the bunch. In this $29.99 collection, you get a whopping nineteen tables. And, keeping it real, besides the mini-games, they could probably plug-and-play any theme into the tables, so being a Star Wars fan isn’t necessary for enjoyment.

One of the only things that’s on my wish list for Star Wars Pinball is an option to practice just the mini-games. Maybe that would nerf the challenge, but I think it would make it better since some of the games are kind of confusing and you have to take your eyes off the table, with limited time, to read the instructions. Give us practice, Zen! We’re talking ’bout practice, man!

Most modern video pinball DLC comes in packs that typically average out to a cost of $3.33 per table. For the all-in-one Star Wars Pinball package on Switch, it works out of $1.57 a table. It’s the best value out there, easily. Well, unless you count all the tables you get in the truly bizarre Zaccaria Retro Pack (review coming). But those are.. weird. Here, the only thing weird is how good of a value this is. Maybe Zen Studios missed the memo about charging a Switch Tax.

For Pinball month, I’m going to do my best to focus on the tables themselves, but I want to tell everyone first that the physics for Star Wars Pinball are incredibly accurate. It’s very unlikely that video pinball will ever feel 100% table-authentic, but the team at Zen has gotten pretty close to it. While this isn’t as good as some of the tables in their own Pinball FX3, it’s very impressive. There were only very limited moments of wonkiness, like having the ball stop-on-a-dime when it should have bounced at least a little. Or getting balls stuck on the flippers or even knocked out of the playfield altogether. But, in over thirty hours of playtime, I could count the amount of times something that made me go “what the fuck was that?” on one hand, and I’d still have fingers left over for members of the Skywalker family to cut off with their lightsabers. So, this is a good game on its technical merits. And I also don’t feel that Star Wars Pinball did “on-rail shots” or “railing” where some pinball games give players the benefit of the doubt and guide the ball to targets if your aim is close enough. I hate that shit. I want to live or die based on my skills. It feels patronizing otherwise. Anyway, Star Wars Pinball also offers extra modes (like leagues and a career mode). Me? I’m a table dancer. I mean.. wait that’s not what I meant. Well it kinda is but isn’t. Shut up.

There are built-in table guides, and there’s also special challenge modes that are based around honing your skills.

But, I can’t stress this enough: Star Wars Pinball is a damn good game under any circumstance. There are only five tables that aren’t really fun at all. That means you’re getting fourteen quality tables that bring interesting game play and ideas to the table. A handful of those are absolutely breathtaking. Having said that, all the biggest problems with Star Wars Pinball are common with every table. It’s utterly married to the concept that you’re playing on a real pinball machine, and thus all mini-games exclusively use the flipper buttons and sometimes the launcher button to control. But there’s really no reason it should do that. Yea, this is on other platforms, but they could optimize the console versions to use the controller. Or hell, make entirely new mini-games for the Switch version. Why not? Zen Studios, makers of long-time favorite of mine CastleStorm are certainly capable.

Some of the mini-tables are honestly more fun than most of the indie games I review.

Other niggling little annoyances: the plunger is sometimes hard to judge for the skill shots. The game recycles assets between tables a lot. There’s a Darth Vader animation that keeps popping up and looks like he’s trying to offer someone a hand or attempting to declare a thumb war. The voices often don’t sound right at all. There’s no table where Rian Johnson is strapped to a chair while you just batter his ballsack with the flippers.

But, the pinball is mostly solid, the tables all feel different from each other, and staying consistently creative for nineteen tables is commendable. That applies to even the bad ones. I totally hated the Han Solo table, but I admire that at least they were trying something different. Take my word for it: you won’t get bored after a few tables. Each one refreshes the excitement and sense of discovery that Star Wars Pinball offers. And ultimately, that’s why it’s the best video pinball game I’ve ever played. Well, at least for now. I spent over $200 buying up pinball games and DLC this last week. But, if you’re looking for the best package of pins for the lowest cost, this is where the fun begins.

Star Wars Pinball was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Switch
Special Note: All the tables in Star Wars Pinball for Switch were sold in DLC packs as part of Zen Pinball 2. The tables are unchanged, so please reference the table index if you need help knowing what packs to purchase.

$29.99 shot first in the making of this review.

A review copy was supplied by Zen Studios to me. Upon the release of Star Wars Pinball, I purchased a copy of it out of pocket.

Table Rating Index

Star Wars Pinball: $29.99 (Nintendo Switch)
Total Tables: 19
Masterpieces: 3
Great: 3
Good: 8
Bad: 2
The Pits: 3
Total Quality Tables: 14
Price per Quality Table: $2.14

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

The Pits

#19: Han Solo
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Han Shat First.

I went back and forth between Han Solo and Rogue One for the worst Star Wars Pinball table, like Star Wars editors trying to decide if Han shot first or at the same time or what. Rogue One feels like a hackneyed rush-job. Han Solo is very ambitious. But, after extensively replaying both, there’s no doubt about it now in my mind: Han Solo is the worst table in Star Wars Pinball.

So, where to begin here? There’s four ramps on the lower-half of the playfield, some of which are crowded by bumpers that can rise out of the floor. There’s often not enough room to build up speed to clear the ramps, but with a crowded playfield, most of the techniques you can use to build that speed up are are blocked in some way. The Millennium Falcon toy in the center is also hard to clear since the lane for it is covered. Combo circuits are frustrating because of the wavy ramp design. Modes and mini-games are clunky. It has the most unforgiving outlanes of any table. I have nothing nice to say about this one. Han deserved better. Between this, going out like a bitch in Force Awakens, and the whole fiasco with the Solo movie, the smuggler with a heart of gold has had a tough 2010s.

#18: Rogue One
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Below Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

The still image of Jyn Erso has more charisma than the real Felicity Jones. She’s only twenty-two months away from setting that world record for longest time a human being has gone without expressing a single basic emotion. Fingers crossed for you, girl! You got this!

I really don’t get what they were aiming for with Rogue One. The “highlight” of this table is a cluster of jet bumpers with five light targets. In front of this is a large sinkhole that sends the ball to a VUK that feeds the right flipper without fail. The jet bumpers increase multipliers, have easily to unlock multiplier holds (which allow those to carry over if you lose the ball), and open up simple, high-payoff modes. Ignoring every other aspect of the table, I was able to cheese up nine-figure scores focusing on this one aspect of the table with little resistance. And that’s just as well, because the modes aren’t all that fun.

The one redeeming quality I can say about Rogue One is that it might make a good starter table that has simple to hit straight-shots and easy-to-activate locks and lights. Since the table practically spoon-feeds you the ball and potentially challenging modes are muted by ball save being turned-on, you could do worse than starting with Rogue One. It’s a potentially effective confidence booster. BUT, there’s actually a better tutorial table (Empire Strikes Back) that doesn’t feel like shooting Porgs in a barrel. If you’re brand new to pinball, and I mean still-saturated in amniotic fluid new, Rogue One is the easiest option, but otherwise, this table is just boring.

#17: Solo
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

I’m not sure if this table was made by the team of Lord & Miller or Ron Howard.

Not to be confused with Han Solo, this one is actually based on the solo Solo movie. And that’s fitting because it’s every bit as disjointed as the flick is. The Solo table is the most busted of the entire set. Everything is horrible about it. Solo is based on ramps and orbits, but the ramps are too steep and run the length of the table, and the angles of the tables aren’t suitable for building up speed. I’m guessing combos weren’t the point, because actually being able to pull one off is practically a fucking miracle and rewarded with crazy high scores. The slingshots and rails for the outlanes are practically ball vacuums. Orbit exits point at the very edge of the flippers. The front target of the Millennium Falcon has a high probability of falling straight into the drain.

I initially liked this table, but once I started putting significant time in it, I realized this is actually one of the worst in the set. There’s just no polish. I even was able to knock the ball off the table in my final round playing this. And the shit thing is, there’s some neat ideas, like a stealth-based mode. I couldn’t really play it well because I have to turn the backlighting of my Switch all the way down, but it was a neat idea. I wish it had been on a better design. The scoring is unbalanced. The timers are too short. The best mode involves shooting a ball at a storm trooper walking on the board, but even that can be wonky. Man, Han got screwed by Star Wars Pinball even worse than he did by Lando in Empire. No doubt about it: in Star Wars Pinball, Han shot first. And then died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Bad

#16: Boba Fett
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Boba Fett, patron saint of failures everywhere, got his own table. Like his real fictional counterpart, his table looks awesome but is ultimately kind of useless.

This table is proof the Speed/Difficulty/Modes ratings aren’t a measure of a table’s overall value. Here, the primary failure is in an overly-basic layout that falls victim to simple risk-reward mistakes. There’s vertical flipper on the left wall that’s very high-risk for shooting the right outlane, yet the reward for successful shots using it is relatively limited. In fact, the most low-risk shots (such as running combos through the ramps) score highest, while the high risk shots put the succubi outlanes in your sights but for minimum score and mode gain. The respect system goes under-utilized. The modes are dull. Boba Fett isn’t a total wash (and it’s very generous with ball-saves and kickbacks), but it’s probably the least properly balanced table in the entire collection.

#15: Might of the First Order
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Based on tables like High Speed and Haunted House, which are great tables on their own. Mixed together, it’s a freakshow.

Might of the First Order is the single most tragic table in Star Wars Pinball. It has a lot of clever ideas and homages to classic tables that individually work well. But when you put them all together, it’d be like if Keith went to form Voltron and the Lions all crashed into each-other and exploded.

There’s an under-field similar to Gottlieb’s Haunted House or Black Hole, but without a proper transition when you enter it. It’s hard to tell when you’re in that table and no angle with the camera properly expresses depth, and consequently even skilled players will see their rounds with it end almost instantly before they even realize the mode has began. Star Wars Pinball has multiple tables with mini-fields, but they do it the right way: the action pauses while the camera transitions to the mini-field. Here, since it’s trying to pay tribute to classic real tables like Haunted House, the camera stays fixed and the ball enters play immediately. Thus a good idea is turned into garbage. And don’t get me started on how miserable managing multiball is with this gimmick.

Other problems are all over this one. The time limit on bonuses is too short. The mystery sinkhole is too prominent. The mini-games are boring. General Hux looks more like Tobey Maguire than whoever it is that plays him in the movie. And I’m especially frustrated by all these issues because the layout is one of the better ones (mystery sinkhole placement not withstanding), the speed is spot-on, and there’s a lot of fun gimmicks, like the fireball bonus. Might of the First Order is a bad table that, with a few minor tweaks and timing changes, would jump straight over the good tables and land somewhere near the top of the great list. Lots of fine ideas with bad execution. Sorta like Last Jedi, come to think of it. The movie, not the table I’m going to talk about later.

The Good

#14: Calrissian Chronicles
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Yes, the prequels are stupid, but look on the bright side: George Lucas never wrote a scene where it’s revealed Mace Windu was Lando’s father. Lucas apparently only knows two black people in the entire world and thinks that Red Tails was the first action movie starring African Americans. You KNOW he at least thought about writing that scene. You know, the one where it’s revealed Obi-Wan knows that Mace fathered a child out a wedlock named Lando and so Anakin having kids with Padme isn’t totally unprecedented.

Lando’s table is probably the most difficult in the entire collection, and also probably the most like a real pinball table that’s designed to make money for route operators. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on your personal tastes, but if it were real, Calrissian Chronicles would be a quarter-muncher. I personally enjoyed it, but this is a maddening, unfair, insanely unbalanced table designed to feed the drain like a concubine hand-feeding grapes to Caesar. There’s a multiball-generating captive-ball target, but it’s placed in a way that it has a relatively high-percentage chance of sinking into the drain. There’s cardboard targets, some of which are moving, but they also have a high-percentage chance of draining out. The slingshots feed the outlanes. The lane rails feed the outlanes. The modes are authentic to normal pinball but are all dull and repetitive. This is a brutal table. But, I appreciate that at least one table made a large effort to feel real-life authentic, so it can bring up the rear of the the good tables. But I could totally see where those who consider this the worst table are coming from.

#13: Droids
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Remove the Star Wars theme and you could easily base this on the mythological Kraken with the mess of ramps that look like tentacles.

Droids probably should be in the bad tables list. It shirks every semblance of balanced, logical pinball design in favor of being the most ramp-heavy table imaginable. It feels like someone was just taking the piss with the table design editor, but then a nightmare deadline came up and someone shoved this tangled monstrosity into the final set.

But, fun is fun. And the Droids table is pure dopey fun. And it has actual value: it’s easily the best table for newcomers to practice shooting ramp combos on. You have clean access to every ramp, the entrance to each is low-risk, medium-low at the very worst, allowing players of all skill levels to get a feel for the timing of combo shots.

Sadly, that’s pretty much all Droids has going for it. Confusing mini-games, clunky modes, and lots of lost potential plague this table. It’s a terrific giggle to watch C-3PO blow up and have to collect his parts, but the actual collection process is messy and unrefined. I recommend playing this one, because there’s nothing out there quite like it, but these are NOT the droids you’re looking for.

#12: A New Hope
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

I hate to say it, but this table feels gimmicky. A straight table would have been preferable to this roundabout stuff.

Another table that I originally over-rated. A New Hope is based in part on Fish Tales. The entire playfield is a series of horseshoe orbits. And a big problem with that is the access to those orbits is too small a target. Considering how crowded the table is, how high-risk the slingshots are, and how the outlanes practically snort the balls, it’s one of the more difficult tables in the collection. I’m not even exaggerating when I say I sunk 20 consecutive balls in the outlane in a span of under three minutes. You have got to keep the ball as far away from the outlane rails as humanly possible. Even if the ball is beginning to enter the inner-most lane, it has a better chance of rimming out and sinking straight-through the outlane. A New Hope seems specifically made to induce rage.

A New Hope also has a problem with transitions between mini-fields and the main table. There needs to be SOME warning.

But, when it’s not doing that, it’s a perfect fine table. It has one of the more fun multiballs (based on the Yavin Death Star raid) that makes it rain jackpots. It’s got one of the best mini-games (a shooting gallery). It even tries to go retro with a dot matrix screen mini-game. I just wish they had rethought the outlanes, because they’re too easy to hit and almost every mode ends prematurely with them.

#11: Starfighter Assault
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Below Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

Strangely, the plunger is on the left side of the board when you play as the Empire, which resulted in me flicking the left analog stick. I did this nearly every new ball. My brain just couldn’t comprehend that it was still the right stick that controlled the damn thing.

Starfighter Assault is the first table I’m covering today where the mini-games are fun and live up to the theme. I just wish they played better. One plays like a rudimentary space-shmup, another is a first-person view. The issue with them, and all mini-games in Star Wars Pinball, is that even though you move away from the table and enter games with entirely different engines, you’re still controlling the games as if they’re dot-matrix-display minigames that only use the flippers and the launcher. They can still play well, but why not take advantage of the medium more? I don’t get it.

Otherwise, Starfighter Assault is a perfectly fine table. You have to choose whether you’re playing in the Rebel Alliance or the Empire at the start, but that only changes the look of the table and what side you launch from. What I regret about it is how stop-and-go it is. There’s multiple sinkholes and gaps that reset the ball to the flippers, and they’re positioned in ways that an errand shot at the otherwise combo-rich table pretty much halts the gameplay and negates the risk that should come with missed shots. And speed is a constant issue here. The center of the board is narrow, so building up the necessary speed to clear the upper ramp (when it forms) relies on running through combos. Which is not to say it’s not fun. Like Droids, Starfighter Assault is based around racking up combos, and the layout and modes are optimized for being able to make combo-heavy, high-scoring runs. It just hits too many speed bumps.

#10: Ahch-To Island
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Why on Earth did Disney allow them to name the place “Anch-To Island”? Did Michael Arndt sneeze during his pitch meeting to J.J. Abrams and was too embarrassed to admit it, so he just ran with it? “And then finally the movie ends with Rey finding Luke on.. on.. AAAAAANNNNCCCCCHHHHHHH-TOOOOOOOOOO.. uh.. Island. Ahch-To Island! Yep. And then wipe to the credits! While I wipe my nose!”

The primary feature of Ahch-To Island is a prominent spin disc in a cove in the upper-center-playfield, similar to games like Whirlwind, Hurricane, No Good Gofers, or modern Stern releases like Tron or Kiss. I usually dislike them, but Ahch-To’s is implemented in a way where the ball’s exit isn’t quite as chaotic, nor is it as likely to be an unplayable house ball. If anything, I think they might have been overly conservative with the disc.

In fact, Ahch-To Island’s biggest issue is that it’s incredibly basic. Like Droids, this is a table built more around combos. Simple orbital lanes with high-scoring opportunities if you get into the right rhythm. What limited targets are here are fairly easy to hit. Most disappointing is the modes. They’re all pretty fundamental. This was the first table I opened Wizard mode on, and I did so when I was practically drip-fed extra balls. Still, Ahch-To is an incredibly fast-paced, often intense table. Probably a good table for stepping up your reflex game. Also, it spits up more multiballs than pretty much any other table, so if you’re like me and suck at those, this is your chance to improve. And Porgs. Can’t forget the Porgs.

#9: Empire Strikes Back
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

The only truly GREAT Star Wars movie is just alright in Star Wars Pinball.

Empire Strikes Back marries a realistic widebody table with video-game style mini-games. And the layout is awesome. Superb ramp placement. Smart short orbits. A fun spinner toy shaped like a Cloud City building. A pop-up ramp in some modes. This is a solid table. And it includes some interesting mini-game ideas, like recreating the lightsaber battle from the movie between Luke and Vader. That game isn’t perfect. You have to use split-second reactions to judge whether Vader is moving left, right, or straight ahead and block his attacks. The issue is, when he moves left or right, the timing for blocking is so unforgiving that you practically have to react the moment he starts to move. I one time had the privilege of facing off against a professional Rock-Scissors-Paper player, rolled my eyes at the concept, then proceeded to lose 20 straight shoots to him. He might have been able to face Vader. For everyone else, the only action Vader does that it feels you have a reasonable time window to block is the straight-ahead attacks. Every time I beat him, it felt like I got lucky.

But, that’s not the issue with Empire. The problem is it has the easiest method of beginning “scenes” (modes) in the entire Star Wars Pinball package. The target to trigger the entrance to the modes is right in front of you. It’s the most basic of shots. So is the entrance, which is a large hole even closer to the front of the flippers. It’s basically handing players the modes. It’s almost as if they weren’t happy with the table or thought the table didn’t have enough going for it so Zen decided to hypercharge the table by always having modes going. They really sold the table short. In reality, the only thing holding it back is the simple mode activation. On the positive side, Empire is the best table to introduce new players to playing through modes, so there’s that.

#8: The Force Awakens
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

If the broken auto-launcher gets fixed, you can bump this table up a spot or two. I’d be fine with that.

I went all over the place with this table, and at one point, in a fit of uncontrollable rage, dropped it to dead last in the rankings. That part was mostly owed to at one point locking a ball for multiball, and then having the auto-launched next ball clear the entire playfield and go right down the fucking outlane. It caused me to go full pony (I screamed until I was a little hoarse). BUT, to the game’s credit, I might have been able to have given it a little nudge to prevent that. Still, I think that should be patched out.

So yea, Force Awakens is a pretty decent table with some of the more fun modes. Modes I’d have enjoyed a lot more if the ball didn’t have an uncanny knack for going down the right outlane on the onset of almost every one of them. Especially the one involving the Rathtars, which I never got to experience in a dozen times triggering it because the triggering event always led directly to the ball falling down the right outlane. Okay, fine, maybe it’s a little broken. But the multiballs are fun. The BB8 stuff is fun. It’s a solid table, but one that either needs more work or was designed to be unfair. I don’t get the point in that. When a person buys a video pinball game, it’s made its money. It’s not trying to earn route operators quarters.

#7: Masters of the Force
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Worth mentioning: right before starting the write-up for the Masters of the Force table, I set the world record on it for Switch. After joking about all the records I was setting before the game came out, it was nice to finally become a world champion on one table, even if that has no chance of lasting past this week.

Masters of the Force is another high-concept table that feels very post-Williams. There’s a cube toy that triggers a simple multiball that’s maddening to play well due to the side flippers. There’s mini-tables tied to Yoda and the Emperor that are relatively easy to access but surprisingly hard to play out. There’s nifty simulations of famous Jedi v Sith battles, but they’re done via cardboard targets that crowd the flippers and feed the drains (as do the slingshots). Really, the theme for Masters of the Force is “deceptively difficult.” And that frustration is compounded by being outright screwed by the table. If I had a nickle for every time the Yoda mini-table dropped the ball straight down the drain, I’d.. probably have around 30 cents. But I cussed every time. There’s also a lot of downtime on the table due to an enormous gap in the upper table that really does nothing more than reset the action. I hate those in any game. They’re never good.

Of the 19 tables, as of this writing a week after Star Wars Pinball’s release, this is the lowest global high score on Switch for any of them. STILL COUNTS, FUCKERS! I am the World Champion of this table. Suck it!

And it’s a shame that the table seems to be designed to be so specifically frustrating, because it’s potentially one of the most fun tables. The Balance of the Force concept, which comes down to which flipper you use to hit which target, is well implemented and clever. The mini-tables might feel like glorified dollar-store plastic pinball games, but they work well (most of the time) too. Masters of the Force brings a lot of ideas, good and bad, to the table. That’s fitting, I guess? It’s still fun, but designed to channel your anger to the Dark Side.

The Great

#6: The Last Jedi
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Below Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

This is literally the only good thing to ever come out of Last Jedi.

One of the most bizarre tables in Star Wars Pinball. The modes are based entirely around running orbits on the various ramps and circuits, all of which are fairly basic shots. But it works insanely well because the layout is so perfect. It’s debatable whether Last Jedi or Rebels is the fastest table in Star Wars Pinball. But, Last Jedi feels like it uses the speed better, and the homages to other high-octane tables like the Williams classics High Speed, Taxi, and Getaway are all over. There’s also a fun shooting gallery mini-game with BB8, though I wish getting these games started didn’t involve so much lumbering animation. With a game that feels like the table is greased, you don’t want to have too many interruptions in the action, and Last Jedi comes close to falling in that trap.

I might have gone higher on this table, but personal issues playing the game got in the way of my enjoyment. Because of my epilepsy, I’m playing on the pinball games on Switch in handheld mode with the backlighting turned as far down as it goes. Unfortunately, many of the modes on Last Jedi (Scene 3 and the Kylo Multiball) turn the screen almost completely dark. I couldn’t pause the game and turn the brightness back up just for these modes because jackpots or other high scores triggered flashes. So this table might actually be better than I have it rated (a lot of my Twitter fans named it their personal favorite table) but I can only rate these based on my own experience. Meh, it’s still better than the Rose subplot from the movie.

#5: Return of the Jedi
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Eh, better than Porgs.

I hate Return of the Jedi. It’s boring. The movie, I mean. The Star Wars Pinball table is great. Themed around Endor, Ewoks and all, Return is another table that, with adjustments, would work as a real-life table. Which is not to say it’s perfect. There’s a sinkhole with a flipper to the right of it that’s highly susceptible to abuse, as finding yourself in a position to use it as a dumper and reset the ball to the flippers is too simple. Probably to make up with overly-bouncy outlane rails. The right one, especially, sucks with all the power of Starkiller Base and took roughly 90% of my lives, especially when I had just started a high-scoring mode. It seemed like my ball was suddenly an Olympic gymnast and could do the most improbable tumbling act of all-time finding its way into the that fucking outlane. It’s the only time in my entire thirty hours spent with Star Wars Pinball that I questioned whether Zen Studios caved in and rigged a table for difficulty.

I honestly would have welcomed a round of Oh…Sir! over this.

But, Return of the Jedi’s simple, clean layout and easy to navigate orbits make it a fairly smooth table to play. And then there’s the modes, which range from the perfect examples of risk-reward pinball (the Dark Side spin-disc) to modern pinball’s worst excesses (an everybody out of the pool type of multiball that involves a storm trooper firing onto the balls and altering their gravity or outright destroying them). And then there’s the Speeder Bike mini-game, which is, and I’m not exaggerating here, the worst mini-game in the history of video games. And it especially sucks because it feels like it takes forever to get to the game, and as far as I can tell, there’s no way to skip the fluff getting it started.

But regardless, this is one of the best tables, mostly because it feels real. Nice, clean layout. Excellent target placement. The theme was integrated well with modes based around taking out the shield dish or having a final duel with Darth Vader. Proper balance of risk-reward. This might actually be one of the better tables to show a naysayer pinball purist what the best video pinball can do. It might even be the table I end up going back to the most once the review is done.

#4: Rebels
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

It’s amazing how both Clone Wars and Rebels, two shows I wanted to like but couldn’t, ended up inspiring two of the best tables in the entire collection.

In my first run-through of the tables, I had Rebels pegged as the best table, and in the Masterpiece category. But, my extended playtime with it revealed quite a few teeny tiny flaws that drops it down to merely being pretty dang great. It has a target placed in a straight line above the drain that’s far to easy to hit from multiple angles. But, the way they designed it, with walls on either side, it too frequently straightens the path and drops the ball down the sink. The issue is, this is the board’s primary target, and a necessary component for so many modes. This was not the target to up the risk-reward factor on.

And that’s such a damn shame because otherwise is one of the best digital pinball tables I’ve played so far. Really fun, insanely quick gameplay. Maybe the fastest overall table. Besides that damn ramp/target, the other targets are clean and well placed, the ramps and orbits are exhilarating, and it feels just sort of spunky. It probably has the best hurry-ups in Star Wars Pinball too. It’s a lot of fun. But incredibly unfair too.

The Masterpieces

#3: Battle of Mimban
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

I wish this was a little brighter. I might have been better at it.

More than any other table in Star Wars Pinball, Mimban (which I called “Mimbah” for 90% of my tweets related to it. I swear, I’m not a Rush Limbaugh fan) feels like it’s a video game with a pinball theme. It takes advantage of the medium. And I don’t mean it has mini-games that couldn’t be accomplished on a real table. Rather, it feels like it’s taking place during an actual battle. Most of the modes involve cardboard targets or pop up Mimbanese snipers, which, granted, can crowd the flippers sometimes or lead to errand bounces into the outlanes. Also, of all the good tables, this has the weakest multiball, involving imperfect spherical rocks that occasionally get stuck. Some other tables do that too. This one does it worse.

But, I’m an action type of chick, and Mimban is about fast-paced target shooting. Which is not to say there’s not other fun stuff like combo ramps and orbits. But Mimban focuses on hitting things with the ball, not passing over things with the ball. There’s a base bombing mode. There’s a shooting gallery. There’s drop-targets themed like crumbling pillars that ad so well the the decaying battlefield theme. I love this table. This represents the highest potential Zen Studios can do in making video games you play using pinball mechanics instead of simply being pinball video games.

#2: Clone Wars
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

This is where the fun begins.

You know what’s really nutty here? I’m not a fan of the Clone Wars movie or TV series. But man, did it inspire one wonderful digital pinball table. Clone Wars has one problem, and only one problem: its outlanes are too hungry, its rails too rubbery, and getting kickbacks turned on is a chore. Okay, wait, that’s.. (counts on hand) three problems. Oh, and the slingshots are basically outlane waiters. Four problems. Otherwise, this is a white-knuckle, super-fast paced table. Excellent layout. Great target placement. Some clever modes, including one that places a force-field on the table. Hell, Clone Wars even has the best mini-table in the game. Even the look of the table is striking. This could be a real table. A really good one.

#1: Darth Vader
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

I have to point out that the voice actor for Darth Vader in Star Wars Pinball sounds nothing like James Earl Jones. It sounds like literally every single father in America’s impression of Darth Vader. The one he does that embarrasses you in front of your friends.

The best example of how the table attributes don’t matter to the overall value of the table. Darth Vader, a slower, limited-frills table is just wired for fun. Strange design too. The center of the playfield is essentially empty, with the majority of bells and whistles clinging to one sides. Perhaps a metaphor for Vader himself, torn between the type of person who takes Padme out for a romantic picnic and the type of person who commits genocide with his lightsaber. Twice (don’t forget the Tuskens). The Vader table has an optional intro sequence where you have to build Vader’s suit. I can’t stress enough: you sorta HAVE to do this. It’s the easiest ten million points in all of Star Wars Pinball. But then, yes, you have to sit through a recreation of the “NOOOOOOOO!!!” from Revenge of the Sith. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

If you enjoy mutliball, and I normally don’t, this is the table for you. And it does have a little more going for it. But there’s elements that I find confusing. There’s a dead flipper on the right side of the table and I can’t figure out what actions give it power. I can’t figure out why the Lightside/Darkside multiball jackpots don’t seem to work sometimes. And while I’m at it, Darth Vader has one of the best mini-games in Star Wars Pinball, based on taking control of Vader’s TIE Fighter during the trench run from the original movie, but it’s maybe the most difficult to access mini-game in the entire collection. It’s not quite a blind angle, but it’s close. Otherwise, great table. Deliberate. You can pace out the multiballs when they happen. Orbit combos are clean. The theme works. It’s the most popular table in the set for a reason. It’s by far the most fun table in the set. And, by definition, that makes it the best. At least in my book.

Arcade Archives: Pinball (Review for Nintendo Switch)

Another day, another Nintendo coin-op that’s damn-near identical to an NES launch counterpart that costs $7.99, which pretty much only nets you the same game that’ll inevitably be ported to Switch Online for free. Joy. Today, it’s 1983’s Pinball by Satoru Iwata of all people. And it’s not good at all. It’s horrible. It’s one of Nintendo’s worst published games.

But Mario has a very brief cameo in it, so Nintendo fanboys of the past convinced themselves it was awesome. That’s par for the course on those Nintendo black box releases. Imagine if he’d made an appearance in Urban Champion. It wouldn’t have the unjust reputation as the worst game Nintendo ever made. While we’re on the subject, Pinball somehow managed to not be that either despite busted physics and some of the the most cheating gameplay ever. Of all time.

I see London. I see France. Pauline ain’t wearing underpants!

You can tell Pinball wasn’t made by someone with a deep understanding of what makes real pinball work. A lot of people describe the pastime as “controlled chaos.” But I grew up in a house with pinball machines (specifically the Williams classics Firepower and Black Knight, both from 1980 and both by the legendary Steve Ritchie, both of which my Dad bought in the mid 80s before I was even born. I got two things from my father: a love of pinball and a predisposition to high blood pressure. Thanks Daddy). Pinball, when played at its top level, is anything but chaos. With enough time and patience, anyone can clock a table, learning every angle, skill shot, and the risk/reward factors of each target. Pinball is a very precise sport. Yes, sport. Fuck you. If curling, golf, or League of Legends are sports, so is pinball. And pinball, which is one of the great joys of my life, has only recently been successfully recreated digitally. It took gaming less time to figure out proper online play than it did to get digital pinball right.

This isn’t the snobbish “real pinball is the only pinball” hot air that you get from a many silver ball enthusiasts. A lot of people don’t have the money you need to truly get into it. A decent pin will typically run you $1,500 – $2,500 minimum, $4,000 for iconic tables, going as high as $10,000 for legendary tables. And that’s not even considering the amount of work you need to put into them to clean and maintain them. Turning pinball from a hobby to a passion is very expensive. The majority of people who do buck up and buy a table end up not liking it as much as they imagined they would. That’s why I like video pinball’s potential. If you don’t fall completely in love with the experience, you’re only out a couple bucks. As opposed to thousands.

And, in 1983, this is probably as close to looking like a real table as video pins got. But it’s also not pinball in the sense that you can play it like a real machine. You can’t, because you simply can’t clock Nintendo Pinball. For starters, the ball is alive and always vibrating. Because it’s always having a seizure, even if you hold the ball with a flipper to set up a shot, you can’t control what trajectory it’ll take or how the ball will react upon hitting walls and surfaces. It’s completely random and never consistent from one shot to the next. Nintendo Pinball’s reality lives up to the greatest misconception of real pinball: it’s governed by random chance. The ball also does weird things like somehow retaining inertia that it should have lost when you grab the ball for a tee shot. And the plunger is not easy to use either since there’s no analog way to fire it off. Probably 49 shots out of 50 had me getting the in one of the 500 point lanes instead of the 1,000 point one. Which also tells me that the game does more than just rely on its limited physics to dictate the ball’s path. It must be doing something more to pull the ball away from targets. Simple random chance odds tell me that the ball should be able to go down the center chute one out of three times, instead of once every fifty shots. So something is not on the up-and-up with Pinball. Other parts of the game make this even more clear.

Those slots where the cards are became the most maddening aspect of the game. Because the ball is so erratic and doesn’t have consistent weight or gravity, even if I slowed it down so that it should drop into one of the slots, it’d inevitably suddenly become a high-density rubber ball and bounce off. Also, this almost always happened to the left, leading me to believe there’s invisible suction that draws the ball away from targets.

It also doesn’t help that the table layout isn’t very good. The game is split into two screens. The upper one contains a slot machine that you activate by going down one chute. The numbers don’t stop on their own, and instead you must hit a moving target when it’s hovering above the reel that’s spinning. In over ten hours spent on this game, I only successfully pulled this off three times. This mostly owes to the upper level having three ways for players to be sent down to the lower level: the drain (the gap between the flippers), a portal that fires you past targets on the lower level, and finally a outlane on the left side. This outlane I genuinely believe is rigged with some kind of suction. It has to be. Too many times the ball bounced into it when it had none of the required moment to even come close to the opening, let alone go through it. Inevitably, if the ball even came near the entrance to it, it was like crossing the event horizon of a black hole: no escape.

And then you have the lower level, where the majority of available points are (if you’re playing the five minute caravan mode, getting points in the upper level is so slow you practically have to let the ball fall down to it). Here, there’s five slots that reveal playing cards. Get all five cards revealed and you get a drain stopper and score points. You can also enter a bonus room here. This is where Mario shows up, and it’s possibly the most busted aspect of the game. Ironically, the BONUS room ruined my best runs of the five-minute mode because sometimes the ball’s momentum would just stop on a dime and it would proceed to very, very slowly roll towards a drain. It could eat up thirty seconds by itself. In the NES/Famicom version of Pinball, my understanding is you’re not guaranteed to be able to enter the bonus room. In the arcade version, you enter it every time you hit the portal to it. Assuming you’re actually trying to score points in it, you must reflect a ball with a paddle similar to Breakout. Mario holds the paddle, thus earning the game acclaim from slobbering Nintendo fanboys the world over. If you successfully do this, Pauline will fall from her holding chamber. You must then catch her and deliver her to an exit (which again, she walks VERY slowly to). If you successfully pull this off, you only get 5,000 points. It’s such a little amount of points for such a high-degree difficulty challenge. But, far too often, the ball will launch in a way where it’s unplayable from the start. And, since you only get the points earned in it after losing your last ball, it’s not desirable to enter this room at all in the Arcade Archives Caravan Mode. Even killing yourself to get those earned points isn’t worth it, because it takes forever for them to be added to your real score. Why is everything about Pinball so slow? Pinball ain’t slow!

This is NOT exactly the NES version. In it, the flippers apparently don’t disappear as often, the physics are altered, and you have to unlock being able to successfully enter the bonus room. I guess. I have no means to play it. I suspect it’ll be coming to Switch Online soon. But the disappearing flippers becomes insanely annoying. They’re still there. You just can’t see them. You can cheat like I did and mark where the optimal spot on the screen they are.

In fairness, this bonus room wasn’t designed around a special mode of the game being surgically grafted to it 36 years later. But that doesn’t excuse why the bonus room is so miserable to begin with. Or why knocking down all the drop targets makes your flippers invisible. What in all the fuck is that? Why invisible? Why is the scoring balance so off? Why are the high degree difficulty shots in the upper level worth so little points, while the relatively easy to hit bumpers on the lower level worth so much? High scoring is as simple as getting the ball trapped in a cycle in them, having them knock around, and up through the card slots. I posted the fifth highest score in Caravan Mode’s global leaderboard doing this. It’s pretty much the only way you can do it. I also finished 28th in Hi-Score mode, where you must play with the machine’s default options. So nobody can accuse me of disliking Pinball because I sucked at it. I’m high up on all three global leaderboards.

Especially the normal mode, where high scores count no matter what options you use. I kept all the default options but gave myself five lives instead of three. And then I posted the second highest score ever recorded on the Arcade Archives Pinball original mode global leaderboard: 843,020. A pretty amazing achievement.

Too bad it’s fake.

To my credit, the game kept cheating me. What’s good for the goose..

Yep, I cheated. It’s a bullshit score that I achieved by exploiting an absolutely galling oversight on developer Hamster’s part. Anyone can beat if they have enough time and patience, skill level be damned.

Here’s how I did it. Pay attention Hamster: I’m about to close a loophole in your games for you. You’re welcome.

Unlike Hi-Score and Caravan Modes, where pausing the game to the menu forfeits your score and session, original mode allows you to access a menu, where changing anything but the game’s dip switch options keeps your current session alive. Included in this is a Save State Interrupt feature. For most emulators, Save State Interrupt should only work to save a game if you need to power down the platform you’re on. When you resume the session, it erases the save state. Hamster forgot the erase part. Erasing the state only happens when you game over. Using the save state, I could quit to the game’s main menu if I died or the ball wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I would just replay sections bit by bit, creating a new state every 10,000 or so points and dropping balls occasionally to make it look like it was a believable score, finally laying my ball down once I cleared the 2nd place score to make it look realistic. In reality, I considered taking the top spot (which is over two-million points, significantly higher than the next highest scores) but it took me hours just to get to second using this trickery.

It’s absolutely fucking insane that Hamster didn’t think of this, and it puts a taint on every previous Arcade Archives release. I went back and checked them. All the ones I own have this exploit in their original modes. And yea, I feel bad about it (my apologies to everyone with real scores I beat out making this point). That’s why I put effort towards posting impressive real scores in the other two modes. But, ultimately, even my fifth play finish in Caravan Mode was via dumb luck. My ball at one point got stuck in a cycle in the middle of the bumpers and went through the queen’s slot a dozen times in a row. I also managed to avoid the bonus room and the ball, for literally the only time the entire time I was playing, seemed to bounce in my favor. But when my best accomplishment is based on dumb luck, it sort of mutes the point of being one of the top five scorers ever, does it not?

I’m going to guess the top score isn’t legit either. Looking back, all the Arcade Archives titles have massive gaps in the top scores. You can tell which ones are real and which ones aren’t just by noting those gaps and at which point on the list scores start to cluster closer together. This is also why the scores in Hi-Score Mode and Caravan Modes tend to be closer together. Still, I can’t believe the Vs. Super Mario score is legit. Meanwhile, I cheesed Kid Niki’s global board too in another way (that review is coming up).

So yea, I hated Pinball too. And I’m not even willing to give it kudos for ambition for its era. It’s a horrible layout. The scoring is all out of wack and not balanced to factor in risk/reward, it has a busted bonus room, and it’s almost entirely based on luck. It’s more pachinko than pinball, and since this was made for a primarily Japanese audience, that’s probably by design. I hate to bring back this old chestnut, but I’m sort of forced to: gaming has come a long ways. But the Atari 2600’s Video Pinball from 1980 did predictable, reliable physics better than this warped version of pinball on a more advanced platform three years after-the-fact did. I have to believe Nintendo’s version could have done it too and simply didn’t. Pinball isn’t the worst early Nintendo game. But it is maybe the most broken. We exist in a world that has Ice Climber, so that’s saying something.

Arcade Archives: Pinball (despite this being a Vs. System game, it’s not called “Vs. Pinball”) was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 studied under Rosie Ruiz in the making of this review.

A fan purchased this game for me. All indie games reviewed at this blog are purchased by me. Retro AAA games I accept fan donations on. I matched the purchase price of this with a contribution to the Epilepsy Foundation. And then I blistered my thumb playing it. Also, I think Iwata haunted my Switch.

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.

StarTropics

I’m rushing through all the games included with a Switch Online subscription, along with other NES games available on current consoles via other classic gaming collections, trying to get the Indie Gamer Chick Retroboards ready for launch (coming this Fall!). I usually post what games are the ones I’m about to hit-up during my NES play sessions. And then, when everyone saw that I was about to play StarTropics, it got an usual amount of hype and anxiety. Which took me by surprise, because StarTropics is such a non-entity in Nintendo history. It’s literally the only Nintendo-published franchise that has no representation in the Smash Bros series. Not a single cameo, trophy, sticker.. nothing. Maybe because it never came out in Japan and Smash Bros is supposed to be a tribute to Japanese games. I don’t know. I do know that, based on what I’ve seen from my fans (who tend to skew 7 to 10 years older than me), it is remembered. That should count for something.

It doesn’t, apparently. Frankly, I’m surprised Nintendo has even thought to include StarTropics in Switch Online, or the NES Classic for that matter. Maybe it was an afterthought. Given that the Switch Online port doesn’t include the “dip the note in water” instruction book mechanic that reveals you’re supposed to give the R.O.B. that pilots your submarine the code 747 to get past Chapter 4, it probably was an afterthought. And that’s a shame, because there’s some very fun gameplay in StarTropics. And a whole lot of bullshit and downtime, but hey, it’s free!

Hey, this place sucks-cola! You’re boring-cola! Go fuck yourself-cola!

StarTropics is one of the most give and take games I’ve ever played. It has a very indie feel to it, with lots of pop-culture references, or NPCs being given quirky speaking ticks (adding “cola” to the end of a lot of names and sentences for no fucking reason), and awful pacing issues. Action areas are buffered by sloggy top-down RPG style talking, and this is where the game is almost entirely ruined. It’s such a chore. You don’t open up the first action section of the game until you talk to every single, solitary member of the intro village. Which wouldn’t be bad if they had anything relevant to say. They don’t. It’s busy work for the sake busy work. If it was done for immersion, talk about a fail. It’d be like saying I couldn’t play a round of golf at the country club until I’ve talked to everyone in the dining hall, pro shop, gym, and swimming pool first. The world doesn’t work that way. StarTropics does, because it’s the absolute stupidest good game ever made.

Which is not to say it’s always stupid. It has some clever boss fights that are more than “smack enemy until dead” encounters. Here, you have to activate two buttons that drop this fire god thingy into water. Why a fire god thingy would place its lair above its only weakness is beyond me. Okay, fine, maybe it’s always stupid.

And that sense of busy work never ends. In the third chapter, you have to once again talk every boring villager, then make your way through a bush maze to the bottom of the village to talk to a chief, then make your way through the bush maze and to the top of the building the same chief is in, go up a stair case, talk to his comatose daughter who literally only says “Zzzz” before going back through the bush maze and out a different exit. BUSY WORK!

In the fifth level, you have to talk to everyone in a village, including a chief, to unlock a parrot. Then you have to walk all the way to the left of the map to find the parrot who will tell you that it won’t talk with you until you bring it a gift. Then you have to get into your submarine, where the R.O.B. the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. Then you have to go all the way south on the map, then east and submerge in your sub, which will take you to another island, where you pass a giant pipe organ that you can’t get past even if you know the right tune because you haven’t triggered the event that allows it yet. You have to make your way through a maze to find a worm to give to the parrot. You then have to go back to your sub, where AGAIN the ROB the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. Then you have to go south again, submerge in your sub, then go back up north to the island you started the level on and give the worm to the parrot. The parrot then tells you what keys you have to press on pipe organ to open up the action stage for the chapter. You then have to go back to your sub, where ONCE AGAIN the ROB the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. You then have to go south and east and submerge AGAIN in the same spot, then go to the island north of you and into the place with the pipe organ, where you now can press the keys and it’ll actually work. Finally, this opens up the action area for the chapter.

BUSY WORK!!

So much busy work that I’m surprised California schools don’t make StarTropics part of their ciriculum.

You can suck my asshole, Chapter 5, you miserable fucking slog.

It completely killed the mood of the game for me. Instead of feeling a sense of excitement and anticipation about the Indiana Jones-like adventure that awaited me every new action section, I felt a sense of relief that I was given a break from the boring RPG stuff. And that’s where StarTropics really fails. The RPG stuff is among the worst I’ve ever played. The writing is embarrassing. The NPCs are not remotely interesting (No, I don’t give a shit who won Miss Cola in a village with a population of eleven. IS THERE EVEN ANOTHER CHICK ON THIS ISLAND BESIDES THE 103 YEAR OLD? DID SHE EVEN COMPETE AGAINST YOU? You fucking won by default!) It’s BORING! But the action stuff is not among the best ever, which throws off the balance so much. I can’t tell if the action stuff is interrupting what the director thought was a brilliant RPG or if the RPG stuff was added to pad out the action. The two gameplay elements do not mix well at all.

And then there’s the action, which is based on grids and features some of the strangest movement ever. It feels clunky and never intuitive. Then again, I also had StarTropics 2: Zoda’s Revenge for the Wii Virtual Console, which kept the same basic idea but eliminated the grid stuff and found it to be practically unplayable. Maybe they were onto something here. But the issue is that too much of the “puzzle solving” is limited to slowly hopping around on different tiles hoping to spawn buttons that will open up the next room. It gets tedious. And then there’s times where you open up a new room and walk into it, only to find out it’s an insta-kill death pit. OR, even worse, you go up a staircase and it takes you out of the fucking stage and forces you to start it over again. A mechanic I officially nominate as the worst “gotcha” in gaming history. I can’t imagine playing this without the Switch’s Infinity Gauntlet-like rewind feature. I’d say it’s beneath the quality of StarTropics, but then again, read what you have to do to simply open up the action section of chapter five. Clearly Genyo Takeda had a busy work fetish and his main focus was coming up with as many ways as possible to create it for players. I literally can’t believe this is the same guy who was responsible for my beloved Punch-Out!! games. This shit feels beneath him.

With some older games, you can spot the exact moment that everyone creatively gave up and then broke out the cocaine. With StarTropics, that moment is easier to spot than most.

Reading back all the above, I realize it must sound like I hated StarTropics. I didn’t. All the above is frustration, because the level design (besides the gotcha shit) is really well done, and the combat is truly fantastic. Using a yoyo (now ROM-hacked into being called an “Island Star” because Yoyo is a trademarked term) to smack enemies works. It feels like it has weight to it, and I’m all about combat that feels like actual damage is being registered. There’s also a ton of items, a huge variety of enemies, and some of the most entertaining boss fights from the NES era. It mostly made the RPG slog worth slogging through. And then the game totally shits the bed by having the final two chapters turn into a generic space adventure. Hell, Zoda, the final boss and the titular character of the sequel, you don’t even learn the existence about until the very last action stage of the game. Having my island-hopping tropical adventure devolve into a dull affair featuring space aliens and ray guns was just the final punch in the gut for what is the most inconsistent NES game ever made. That’s what gives it that indie feel. It’s like nobody was ever there to tell anyone involved “maybe drop the 30 minute long RPG runaround stuff” or “maybe we shouldn’t do aliens.” It’s a great game without an editor, and hence it becomes merely okay.

The reveal of the whole game being about aliens would be quite the twist. That is, if that wasn’t spoiled by a single throw-away line earlier in the game. And here, seeing Zoda morph into this giant alien piranha thing would have been a heart-pounding final twist to the final boss fight. That is, if you the game hadn’t showed the morph about fifteen minutes earlier when you beat Zoda’s first form.

And that sucks, because there’s a masterpiece buried somewhere in this dumpster fire. A game that can be one of the most boring shit-sandwiches in gaming at its worst, yet still feels fresh when you’re actually fighting monsters and hoping around tiles. Perhaps because no game ever has felt like StarTropics. Not even its sequel. It’s almost thirty-years old and still feels like it has new ideas to bring to the table. I’d love to Nintendo give this to an indie developer with a pedigree and let them try to revive the series for modern audiences, only with sharp writing and less gotcha bullshit. Sadly, StarTropics has never had the chance to live up to its potential. That it can’t even get a passing reference in Smash Bros, a game that has EVERYTHING Nintendo in it, really tells you how much faith Nintendo has for the franchise. It’s dead. And it’s unlikely to come back. Well, at least beyond re-releasing it every few years. I mean, they’re not going to not re-release it. It’s Nintendo! That’s what they do!

StarTropics was developed by Nintendo
Free to play with a Switch Online Subscription

StarTropics is Chick-Approved and soon to be ranked on the IGC NES Retroboard

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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