Pinball Hall of Fame - The Gottlieb Collection Review

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Graphics: 7.0
Sound : 7.0
Gameplay : 7.0
Multiplayer : 6.0
Overall : 7.0
Review by Stevie Smith
Pinball Hall of Fame first made a notable appearance on the PS2, and now those established fans with longings to play portably can stop hauling their TVs while carrying a power generator on their backs: Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection is here for the PSP. A port it may be, but it still offers masses of passionate point-scoring magic for all those pinball wizards wishing to flex their paddle-flipping muscles in a simple but well crafted arcade title.

The Gottlieb Collection offers up 11 classic Gottlieb pinball tables representing 5 decades of the company’s history. What’s more, the usual arcade approach so often seen in pinball releases is replaced by a more ‘simulation’ feel that offers a refreshingly challenge while also being merciless in its realism. Indeed, losing balls without any player influence has never been so frustrating—in a good way. Seeing as though The Gottlieb Collection is a port from the original PS2 version, much of the game’s table content is quite similar. The likes of Genie, Black Hole, and Big Shot are all present, but there are also various new additions like El Dorado: City of Gold and Strikes ‘N’ Spares to test your pinball mettle. Beyond the obvious draw of the tables themselves, there’s also distraction to be found in the fortune-telling Xolten, and the amour-expounding Love Meter.

The PSP portrays the tables extremely well considering the reduced screen size, and the portability of Sony’s handheld system means that players have the option of switching the gameplay view from horizontal to vertical while choosing between two sets of applicable controls, in order to get a ‘longer’ perspective over the action. Furthermore, from a realism standpoint, the tables certainly all look and play in an authentic manner in terms of age and technological progress—the simple and straightforward Ace High (1957) feels positively archaic when placed against the flashy dual-level evolution seen in Black Hole (1981), though both tables offer totally different challenges. Table detail is fabulous throughout, and the sensation of authenticity can be stretched yet further by opting to turn on the ‘Table Reflections’ option, which picks up virtual light sourcing from ‘around’ the player. This certainly elevates the genuine sense of realism, but unfortunately intrudes on the central gameplay aspect as, unlike in real life, you can’t shift your actual view to compensate for the reflections. That said, the visuals in The Gottlieb Collection are always well presented and lovingly polished.

Game sound is fairly restrictive—though this is in no way a fault—as pinball action down at the local arcade is only likely to offer up a certain amount of useable ambience. The usual beeping and booping of surrounding machines is prevalent, and when immersed on your own table, the standard-issue tinny effects soon take precedence. This is, of course, accompanied by the weighty clicks and snaps of the table flippers, and the thrilling zip and fizz of the pinball. Beyond the passable in-game sound effects, The Gottlieb Collection also contains verbal historic descriptions and carefully explained verbal instructions for each available table, which successfully pull the player a little closer to the overall package.

In terms of gameplay, The Gottlieb Collection can only accomplish so much. It’s not a multi-tiered role-playing adventure, there’s no leveling-up to be had, no weaponry collection, and no character creation. It’s pinball, and it never attempts to leave the simple niche that it occupies so well. From the get-go, certain tables in the ‘arcade’ are instantly accessible to the player. However, plenty of other tables are locked, and require set amounts of amassed credits in order to play them. The ‘Gottlieb Challenge’ is where the credits start to roll in, as the player travels across all the arcade tables and attempts to best the defined high-scores on each. Success sees steady progression, whereas failure sees a complete restart from the first table once limited replays are exhausted. Then there’s ‘Table Goals’ where specific challenges are laid down on each table and the player again must emerge victorious to secure credits, or unlock more tables to play openly in the free play arcade. Gathered credits can also be traded in for ‘unlock’ codes to free up even more tables. Tournament mode offers progressive free play for up to 4 players as they battle to build the best score on each playable table. Two players can also enjoy most of the game’s tables wirelessly through the PSP’s WLAN share function (with only a single copy of the game).

While a somewhat throwaway experience by its limited genre content, The Gottlieb Collection definitely provides a formidable gameplay challenge, and some of the specific goals laid at the feet of the player are nigh on impossible without masses of sheer luck. But its challenge is also its greatest asset, and returning periodically for another hit of simple pinball action is certainly a strong draw projected by the overall game. It doesn’t want you to invest masses of time, there’s no sense of forced evolution, and it doesn’t dazzle and mollify with unnecessary gloss, Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection is simply an instantly accessible and attractive pick-up-and-play experience that demands nothing from its audience apart from relaxed flipper-pounding fun. Not for everyone, but certainly a rare gem for the pinball fraternity.