Pinball is a dying art– or at the very least, it certainly feels like one. Once a staple of skating rinks, bars, arcades, and game rooms alike, you just don’t see good old-fashioned pinball machines now the way you used to, not even that long ago. With the ever-increasing power of home video game machines, the interest in arcades across North America has dwindled. Heck, odds are the very device you’re reading this on is many, many orders of magnitude more powerful than some of the best machines from just 15 years ago– that includes those of you reading this on a phone in the palm of your hand, and it’s only onward and upward from here.
As arcades have faded, so too have the pinball machines which once co-occupied the spaces alongside their joystick-bearing kin. They still exist, if you know where to look, but the business is no longer nearly as prolific as it used to be. But there’s a funny thing about that: The very beast which killed the arcades and dealt pinball machines a similar devastating blow is what allows the medium, the art form (such as it is) to carry on today.
Video game pinball has been around nearly as long as the medium itself, and with video game and computing machines so much more powerful now than in those early days, capable of recreating the most realistic environments and features. It seems like a relatively simple feat to recreate the layout of an arcade machine in the palm of your hands, and like others in the field, that’s just what the developers such as those at Sony are providing with Pinball Rocks HD.
For all intents and purposes, Pinball Rocks HD looks and feels as close to playing real pinball as you can get without actually dropping a quarter into an actual live, three-dimensional machine. If the devil is in the details, then each table available is like staring at an open crate of Red Hots (well, before they updated the packaging, anyway). Numerous nooks and crannies are all over the place, with great decorations on the floor of the game space and in the background. Some tables have custom flippers, such as AC-DC’s lightning bolts, and different custom props unique to their table, from bells to skulls and whatever else might be associated with the group’s career. Even the ball launchers are tricked out, with Bullet for my Valentine sporting a pistol-like casing to “fire” the ball, or Alice in Chains’ coffin, which reveals a skeleton when pulled back.
These band-specific tables– one each for AC-DC, Alice in Chains, Slayer, and Bullet for my Valentine will cost you extra, however. Furthermore, you only get to try short demos of them when you purchase the core package– enough to get a good taste of what each brings, to be sure, but only just.
Personally, I rather like the default “Pinball Rocks” table on its own merits. Relatively speaking, it’s fairly generic yet undeniably charming as you launch the ball with a hand throwing up horns, flick the ball into the “V.I.P Area” containing three bumpers which look like tables you might see at the Hard Rock Cafe, and even a pair of side areas labeled as restrooms (enter the left, and you hear a toilet flushing when it sends your ball back out; make your way to the right, and you’ll hear a lady scream, followed by a slapping sound as the ball is ejected).
Control is simple and intuitive, at least for anyone who knows anything about pinball. Just touch and slide your finger back before releasing to launch the ball, and touch the left and right sides at the bottom of the screen to trigger the corresponding flippers. From there, it’s all up to you! You can even adjust the camera as necessary with a quick two-thumb drag up or down, giving you either a close-up of wherever the ball is on the table, or zoomed back for a view of the complete board, lending to a feeling of overall authenticity.
Helping out are some nuances brought over from real-life pinball, such as shaking the machine to try to “encourage” the ball to go where you need it. The realistic physics can work both ways, though, as the speed and trajectory of the ball can sometimes send it right down between your two flippers without much of a chance to hit it.
A solid representation of the true pinball experience is great and all, but you could get that just as easily with Zen Pinball 3D. What makes this game stand out as a unique entity from those offerings is the rock music, and it is here in spades.
The core package, as noted, is relatively generic (but again, no less charming) in looks, though its soundtrack may be another story. Songs by Three Days Grace, Red, The Sword, Queensryche, The Virginmarys, Filter, Norma Jean, For Today, Anvil, Krokus, Lordi, and Richie Kotzen accompany you, a different one for each ball launched. SiriusXM Radio’s Zeena Koda further adds to the experience with his in-game voiceovers. And, as noted, there are four other tables available to purchase, each with their own unique songs, visuals, and voiceovers from members of their respective crews.
Incidentally, if you should happen to discover a song you like while playing, the publishers at Sony Music Entertainment have got you covered. With a simple in-game purchase, you’re able to instantly download any of the game’s songs to your own personal Android music collection. Well, almost; while the songs from the additional paid tables of Slayer, Alice in Chains, and Bullet for my Valentine are present, there is no AC-DC representing.
Please Refrain from Throwing Objects at the Stage
For the most part, Pinball Rocks HD… well, really rocks. Unfortunately, there is one thing which really drags the whole thing down: Full-screen in-game pop-up ads. If it wasn’t bad enough that they can disrupt the flow of the game in between losing a ball and launching a new one, they feel incredibly out of place– that is, really out of place. If you see the entire screen begin to jiggle, shake, and otherwise freak out on you, don’t be alarmed– it just means an ad is about to appear. On second thought, maybe you should be alarmed, particularly if you hate having them pop up at such an intrusive time, but don’t be afraid something is wrong with your machine.
This might not even be so bad, were there a way to opt out of them– paying a price for no ads, for instance. Sure, they allow you to purchase multiball and other such options/cheats, but I can’t seem to find anything that allows me to be rid of those annoying ads.
The Final Act
So there you have it: Pinball Rocks HD does a nice job of recreating the pinball experience on Android and offers lots of music and options for rock fans in the process. And yet, the insistence on including those irritating ads is what takes you out of the experience as quickly as you get into it. Given that the core game is free, it largely comes down to what you’re willing to tolerate. Personally, as annoying as those ads are, they don’t ruin the game, but they do drag things down a bit. Despite that, it’s still worth playing.