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Adventure Pinball: Forgotten Island

Score: 65%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Digital Extremes
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

The first thing that you'll notice when you start playing Adventure Pinball--during the intro, even--is that the game is fully rendered in 3D. Every pinball game I've played to this point has been two-dimensional, a flat surface on which you play. Not so for this game. The camera swoops, zooms, and in general moves a great deal in an attempt to get a good view of the action, and the whole shebang moves along with it.

This is a cool feature, but it's also a downfall to the game. For one, the boards are nowhere near as elaborate as a real pinball machine. I remember looking at a machine in an arcade once and spending many, many minutes trying to find everything there was to find on the table. The tables in AP:FI, on the other hand, are considerably more sparse when it comes to 'goodies'.

They're also a lot more angular, because of the 3D engine used to power the game -- the Unreal engine. While the sweeping designs of the stages--from one that has you 'climbing a mountain' to the beautiful last level set partially under the ocean--is quite impressive, the whole thing looks considerably chunkier than the more refined tables in, say, Pro Pinball: Timeshock! or something similar.

More frighteningly, the game actually chugs occasionally, even on my rig. This generally only happens when there's a lot of stuff going on on the screen at once, but I can imagine that the effect is worse on those machines which aren't as powerful as mine. Admittedly, my resolution was jacked up, but if Unreal Tournament can handle the resolution I had it set to without a dropped frame, why can't this pinball game?

The sound . . . is a definite mixed bag. Of special, irritating note is the announcer, who is constantly jabbering throughout each board. While it's informative at first, it would be nice to be able to have him shut up after he explains a particular event once or twice. If I hear him say 'Climb the mountain!' one more time I'm liable to play Frisbee with the CD. Argh. The 'oogs' used on the menus are also pretty highly annoying. The in game sound effects are passable, but definitely pretty run-of-the-mill. The music, when you hear it, is good, but nothing to really write home about. Adventure Pinball really doesn't impress when it comes to the aureal quality.


Gameplay:

And, to be honest, it doesn't impress when it comes to actually playing the game either. While most pinball games go for one or two really solid tables, with lots of things to do on each, Adventure Pinball: Forgotten Island instead goes for a relatively large number of not-very-detailed boards. The problem is in the execution--instead of a bunch of skilled shots, the game ends up having boards that you must win by pure luck, and the whole ordeal ends up being a frustrating experience. Because of the tightly linear progression throughout the game, the few bad apples end up spoiling the whole thing.

There's some absolutely absurd plotline here, about helping to save the island by replacing the eyes of the idol or some crazy nonsense. As far as I'm concerned, AP:FI consists of nine different pinball boards, each with a theme of 'lost island' but with different twists on the genre. To unlock all the boards, you have to play through them in story mode. After that, you can play any of the boards with up to four people at a time--taking turns, of course.

The basic gameplay is precisely what you'd expect from a pinball game--flippers, targets, the ability to shake the board, and so on. But the board design, while sometimes quite inventive, often leaves a lot to be desired.

For example, the first level I hit that was truly irritating was the mountain-climbing one. After hitting some targets on the bottom 'table', you have to drop the ball into a hole, which puts it into a nest that a pterodactyl visits. The dinosaur picks the ball up and brings it to the next board. Simple enough. On the next board, you must once again drop some targets and hit a hole.

However, on the third and last board of this series, you have to make your ball into a 'waterball' and then hit three plants in the top corner. The problem is that it's pretty much impossible to hit these plants using skill. You have to hope that the bumper mayhem will have you roll over them. And the waterball runs out after a few seconds, which means you have to hope it happens quickly enough.

I played that one board about twenty times before I finally beat it.

The last level is bad too, although not as bad. And most of the levels are almost trivially easy--I blew through roughly half of them way before I had any real familiarity with the board. I went back and played the boards some more, but they were still way too simple.

Indeed, one heavy night of playing will probably get you through Adventure Pinball, assuming you get lucky enough to get through some of the more challenging boards. There's not quite enough here, to be honest -- even though there's a lot of boards -- and you can go download a new one free from the website -- there are no boards that really drew me back to play a lot more. In DE's older Epic Pinball, however, I must have spent days playing Android, because of all the crazy goodies that were on that table.


Difficulty:

Adventure Pinball: Forgotten Island has a pretty hit-and-miss methodology to the difficulty. The first few boards are trivial, and then you hit the nearly impossible mountain board. The snow level's easy, but then soon after the crystal cave is challenging. And the last level requires some shots that the game almost never wants to give you. Ugh. Prepare to be frustrated as the ball seems to always go where you don't want it to, but once you get lucky enough times in a row you'll be blazing through the entire set of boards in no time. Use the tilt buttons judiciously, as they can seriously save your butt on a few of the levels, and are sometimes the only way to consistently hit some targets.

Game Mechanics:

While the basic controls are simple enough--two flipper buttons and two 'tilt' buttons, along with one you use to launch the ball at the beginning--the game's mechanics still don't work tightly enough with them. The place that the ball goes is too tightly tied to the paddle, meaning that there's a linear 'sweet spot' on the paddle that you absolutely must use to get the ball to get certain places. Others, like the aforemented flowers on the mountain, require judicious use of the tilt along with luck with the bouncers. Ugh. The game as a whole feels a little rougher than it should. I even got the ball stuck in a location once, and had to shake the board to get the damn thing out. The ball mechanics aren't anywhere near as tightly engineered as some of Digital Extremes' other efforts, which is depressing.

While Adventure Pinball: Forgotten Island is a nice idea, and the execution definitely has its cool points, the game simply doesn't have enough staying power to make it really worth getting, and the frustrating locations of some of the goals only makes it that much more irritating. With more tightly engineered boards that offer more surprises, rewards, and less 'luck shots', this potential series could be a winner, but as it is Forgotten Island would perhaps best be forgotten.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x/2K/ME, P2 266, 32MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, 155MB HD Space, 4MB video card, sound card, keyboard, mouse
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows 911 Fire Rescue Windows Age of Empires

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated