Well, here we go again. After a couple of excellent collections, Farsight Studios finally switches over to a digital distribution model, turning its pinball engine into a platform to hang as many classic tables off of as possible. The Pinball Arcade is the first four tables of many to come, and while the initial package is a bit bare-bones in its options, it's a great start at preserving a major part of arcade history.
The Pinball Arcade is, basically, a bare-bones presentation of four very fun pinball tables.
While future plans are all very nice, though, at the moment The Pinball Arcade is a little threadbare. There's a lot of fun to be had with the initial lineup of tables: Theater of Magic, Ripley's Believe It or Not, Tales of the Arabian Nights, and The Black Hole. Each board has its own personality, not just in the obvious theme but also style of challenge. The Black Hole is a giant open field with a second mini board sunk into its chest cavity, while Ripley's has ramps and loops and a shrunken head. Theater of Magic has a relatively clean layout that still manages to fit in a variety of paths to send the ball along, complete with the giant rotating magic trunk target. The weakest board is Arabian Nights, with its spinning lamp gimmick dominating the other elements and the upper right field being a total mess, but even so, once you've got a handle on the layout there's a lot of fun to be had exploiting its scoring system. The basics of pinball are always rewarding once you've got a feel for a table, and comparing leaderboard scores is always good incentive to go back for another round.
This is, however, just a nice start, as The Pinball Arcade is as much a platform as a game, and the platform has some problems. The Black Hole, for example, has a shot you can reliably use to bump the ball off the playfield, where it will roll under the table and back to the plunger. Theater of Magic pauses for a half-second sometimes when registering the Advance Clock shot. The ball bounces a bit weirdly on all tables sometimes, and very rarely will even pass straight through a flipper when moving at high speeds.
Additionally, the front-end for choosing a table is perfectly serviceable for the four pinball tables available, but as the months go by and more get added, this isn't going to work. Hitting the left and right flipper buttons to scroll through the tables, displaying one at a time, isn't going to work if you plan to add too many more boards to the collection. Once you've chosen your board you can check details like a very thorough set of instructions divided up by chapter, and even the flyers sent out to arcades, but the in-game options such as audio controls or operator's menu are nonexistent.
The Pinball Arcade is, basically, a bare-bones presentation of four very fun pinball tables. The good parts are due to the excellent source material and a physics engine that represent the feel of the real thing as close to perfectly as is reasonable to hope for. The bad bits are due to the occasional bug and the nagging feeling that there really should be more options available. The Pinball Arcade is a nice start, and with a bit of care and attention it should have a very promising future. Right now, though, there's still work to be done to bring everything except the fun, fast, exciting core gameplay up to speed.