Metroid Prime Pinball
It’s common fact that game spin-offs generally tend to fail. Metroid Prime Pinball is an exception to that fact. It stands above failures such as Pokemon Dash and Simpson’s Skateboarding with an effervescent glow and confidence. Samus has a new challenge, and it involves her balls.
All of the action in Metroid Prime Pinball takes place over the DS’s two screens, and while initially it takes some getting used to (the gap in the DS’s hinge between the two screens serves as an imaginary screen), once you get to grips with it and the speed of everything it works incredibly well. The pinball boards are full of life and vibrancy, and the two screens make for some frantic fun. Instead of a metal ball as per usual, you bump Samus’s morph-ball form around the boards, which makes sense and is a subtle but brilliant way of mixing the Metroid world with pinball.
There are three modes in the game – Multi-Mission, Single Mission and Multiplayer - and these offer variety and choice for different types of gamers. The Multi-Mission mode is arguably where you’d be spending most of your time, since it holds all but one of the seven overall tables in the game, and serves as the main campaign where you will be unlocking boards for single-mission mode, and trying to reach the end board, and the final, epic boss. The main aim of the mode is to collect enough artefacts to progress to other boards – while still racking up a respectable score – and eventually finding your way at the beautiful artefact temple, before you face one final board. Artefacts are collected over the many tables in the game, with the most available on the two main ones – Tallon Overworld and the challenging Pirate Frigate. Artefacts can be collected by completing certain objectives, or challenges - for instance by beating a horde of bad guys, or felling a boss. The various bosses in the game demand different approaches, yet none need a weak point discovering; they require a more laid back approach. By launching the ball hard into them you can cut at their health, but Samus’s rockets or a well detonated power-bomb gives greater damage, provided you have them at your disposal. In the game you are given many chances to morph into Samus’s bodily self, and in doing so take on waves of bad guys with your gun and rockets to score points and again unlock prestige artefacts in your quest for completion. Again this takes some emphasis away from the pinball mechanic and adds a shoot ‘em up spin on things, the variety on offer is refreshing to say the least. Additionally, Samus’s morph-ball bombs can be used, laying hell on its victims with a swift press of a button, everything unique about Metroid is included in this game. The pinball physics are excellent, too; flippers move believably, bumpers bump accordingly, and the ball flies through ramps at ferocious speeds. Metroid Prime Pinball is not just a pinball game, but it also acts as a respectable pinball simulation.
Further adding to the simulation aspect is the aptly named ‘rumble pak’ that comes with the game. It fits into the GBA slot of the DS, and when first activated it can feel a little odd. It makes a small noise every rumble and you’re treated with a very small jolt in your hands. When playing the game with the feature on it starts to feel better and better with every bump round the board. It’s not essential, but it adds realism and meat to the game, adding a great amount of value for money since some future DS releases will support the ‘pak’. That said there’s still room for improvement in the vain of the almost irritating sound it makes.
There are six total boards in the Multi-Mission mode, with the two main boards, two boss stages, an alternative temple board that requires skill and accuracy, and then a final boss encounter. Each board is completely different with its own nooks and crannies to be exploited so calls for a different strategy on each. Whether it’s activating a force field so that enemies can’t throw you through your flippers or when is the best time to use your power ball, the game gives you a lot to think about. Pinball games with depth don’t come that often, and Metroid Prime Pinball comes filled to the brim.
Once you’ve got the most out of Multi-Mission mode, you can move on to Single-Mission. Like the name suggests, you are only able to play one board, and for the highest score possible. If you’re a high-score junkie then this is where you’d spend most of your time. Depending on the board you could be playing for points or, if a boss battle, the fastest time possible. Again these demand different strategies (for instance only having one life on the boss tables means having to be extra careful) and the game is all the better for it.
Multiplayer (or Wireless Mission) supports up to eight players, with only one copy of the game needed. Unfortunately only one board is available, however, the board cannot be played in single player and so is optimised for a multiplayer experience. The aim is to earn as many points in order to reach the target score. Your position is tracked as you play and so can make for some frenetic fun.
In order to make the Metroid universe as believable as possible in a pinball game, developers Fuse Games have created a game with stunning graphics, especially considering the technical limitations of the DS. Each board has a distinct style and vibrancy that makes it stand out. Tallon Overworld is a natural beauty, with a serene waterfall and Samus’s static ship. Showers of rain also pour down upon activation over the board, and add to the organic feel. The Phendrana Drifts are suitably snowed up, with breakable ice and caved tunnels. The Artefact Temple brings a welcome change in aesthetics, with beautifully crafted architecture and an overall epic styling. Each table stands out, and they are all so delightfully made that not one can be criticised. The animation on offer is also first-rate, with the bosses especially moving menacingly and with character. The use of enemies in the game gives a realm of seriousness to the action – it’s clear that Nintendo did not want this to be ‘just another pinball game’.
The soundtrack is in the same class as the graphics, and doesn’t disappoint. The music is filled with stellar guitar riffs, hi-tempo drum beats, and infectious synth. The music is reminiscent of previous Metroid games, and the theme of science fiction is undeniable. Sound effects, too, are as you’d expect and pleasantly executed, with everything sounding as authentic as a real pinball table, with a techno-inspired twist. Voice-overs, even, are included in play, and rightfully so.
If Metroid Prime Pinball had one or two more main boards on top of the original two, then it would be a definite purchase for any DS owner, though as it stands, a lack of boards means a lack of playing time, and so after a week or two, the appeal of the game could wear off on you. The use of touch screen in the game is also slightly underwhelming, with the only real use of it being to nudge the table if your ball’s heading for the gutter. Some pinball sub-games requiring use of the touch screen would have been a nice addition. The quality of the game is unmistakable; however, if you aren’t a fan of pinball, it’s unlikely this game can change your mind.
It could have been disastrous, but Metroid Prime Pinball is a fantastic example of a series spin-off executed extremely well. Not only have Fuse Games successfully melded the Metroid Universe into a slick and hugely attractive pinball package, but they’ve done it with style and conviction. As pinball games go, there isn’t much better on the market.
Eight out of ten
- Highly attractive visuals and memorable audio
- Rumble pak, while not outstanding, adds charm and value for money
- While there isn’t a huge amount of tables, those on offer are well varied
- Metroid universe lives on in the game, with great attention to detail
- Only two main pinball tables
- Use of touch-screen a little uninspired