When Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection released last year for the Wii, PS2, and PSP, it garnered my vote for “Most Surprising Game of 2008”. Now it has launched for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with hi-def graphics, online leaderboards, an improved game engine, and three additional tables. So it should come as no surprise that FarSight Studios and Crave Entertainment have succeeded in making this mean game of virtual pinball even meaner. In fact, let me just be blunt and throw the hyperbole out there: this is the finest video pinball game available and you need to play it.
The primary reason this compilation is so great is the thirteen classic tables included. Take a look at this list: Funhouse, Taxi, Medieval Madness, Gorgar, Pin*Bot, Whirlwind, Black Knight, Firepower, Sorcerer, Space Shuttle, No Good Gofers, Arabian Nights, and Jive Time. These are some of the greatest pinball machines ever concocted… and Jive Time (sorry, it’s a bit dated for my tastes). The detail put into reproducing the sights, sounds, and feel of each table will make any geek giddy while reminiscing about all the times Funhouse’s Rudy mocked them or how persistent Gorbachev and Dracula were about needing a cab ride.
Having grown up playing a fair share of these machines in arcades, I was quickly reminded of all the quirks and nuances that made these tables infinitely enjoyable and challenging. From the moment you launch the ball and try to complete skill shots (using the right analog stick) to performing ball traps with the flippers and planning out your next path, everything reacts exactly as you would expect. The ball physics are excellent giving the right sense of speed, weight, and “Oh crap, that ball is totally going to rocket off that bumper and rifle straight back between my flippers!” moments. Not to worry, though, the game does allow you to jostle the table to tilt things in your favor and keep the ball in play so you can have a better shot at besting your friends’ scores.
As if chasing down points on perfectly replicated machines wasn’t enough, to extend the replay value even further, each table has five Basic Goals and five Wizard Goals. These, along with the built-in detailed walkthroughs of the tables, really help in teaching you how to truly succeed on each table and give you a sense of purpose greater than just batting balls around and hoping for something good to happen. Beyond the casual single table play, the Williams Challenge mode challenges you to play each table in succession while meeting minimum scores. The game also features a tournament mode where you can set up multiplayer tournaments across different tables. Multiplayer is limited to local controller passing-style play, so if you were hoping for some sort of online multiplayer, you won’t find anything outside of the online leaderboards.
The new tables are wonderful new additions to the collection. Medieval Madness is the clear-cut strongest of the three and worthy of usurping the game’s box art from Funhouse. It’s one of the most involved tables ever created with several different ramps that are each linked to fun goals like invoking peasant riots, breaking down the drawbridge of the castle, and rescuing Tina Fey-voiced damsels in distress. Along with being a well-designed playing field, Medieval Madness is really an audio treat with humorous innuendos and “Toasty!” soundbites from classic Midway arcade games. The two other new tables are fun as well. Arabian Nights with its spinning golden lamp, giant genie, and heavily involved LED board has a completely different feel from the other tables and No Good Gofers is a cute Caddyshack inspired game of golf.
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection does have flaws, but most of them deal with presentation and mechanics outside of actually playing pinball. For instance, all of the pinball machines are placed inside an arcade where you can cycle through the different tables. For some strange reason, all the machines are spread across three different rooms with non-playable generic arcade cabinets interspersed throughout. I appreciate capturing the arcade feel, but why not just put the machines all in the same room and take out the non-playable arcade machines? It’s a small complaint, but it just makes navigating to the machine you want to play more cumbersome than necessary. Another area that could have been streamlined is the camera settings. Each table gives you four or five different views for the ball launch and for the playing field. Unfortunately, the game never remembers what views you like on each table so you are forced to quickly cycle through cameras while the ball is in play every time you change tables. Also, it would have been nice if Wizard Goals could be completed in the same play session as Basic Goals. I had several instances where I would be having a great game where I completed the Basic Goals and continued playing only to realize that I wasn’t getting credit for meeting Wizard Goals (because they aren’t technically unlocked until the game finishes). As mentioned before, some sort of online multiplayer would certainly enhance an already awesome title, but I don’t really view it’s absence as a detractor from playing.
There are slight differences between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. The most apparent difference is the requirements for obtaining Achievements and Trophies. Achievements are awarded based upon completing the Basic Goals and the Wizard Goals for each table, while the Trophies are much easier to obtain as they are unlocked simply by placing a high score on each table’s in-game scoreboard. (The Basic/Wizard goals are part of the gameplay on the PS3 version, but they don’t relate to the trophies.) The only other difference I saw between the two versions was slightly longer loading times on the PlayStation 3 version. The only reason I noticed this was because the loading screens contain gameplay tips. On the Xbox 360 version, I rarely could read the tip before the table had loaded, while on the PlayStation 3 I could read through each tip without having to rush. You really can’t go wrong with either version though.
If for some reason you still have reservations about Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection, I challenge you to play it for fifteen minutes. Once those fifteen minutes have somehow turned into an entire afternoon, I think you’ll understand the charm of this collection. Some may question the $40 price tag and point to downloadable pinball games that are much cheaper, but I assure you that the quality and amount of content is worth the cost of admission. I surprised many a CAG with my accolades of the original release last year, but I haven’t talked to anyone who regretted that purchase. This updated collection is an entertaining game you’ll always return to, and I recommend everyone add The Williams Collection to their personal collection.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $39.99
Current MSRP: $39.99
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection was provided for review by Crave Entertainment. I have played 8 hours of the Xbox 360 version completing the Williams Challenge and the majority of Basic Goals. I played the PlayStation 3 version for 3 hours and failed on the last table of the Williams Challenge. The game is currently available through Amazon for $29.49.