Stern Pinball Arcade Bundle Pack 1 Review

Pinball is one of those wonderful things that, despite the changes that have happened in video games over the decades and years, never seems to fully change. When you go into most arcades, if you can find one, you’ll see at least a couple pinball tables set up, usually in the back, away from the rhythm games and the noisier cabinets. Pinball is timeless, combining a physical mechanic with an ever changing landscape of electronic engagement. Zen, the studio behind Pinball FX3, saw the changing tide and decided to go in a bold new direction, keeping the core ideas alive while totally redesigning how the game was played. Stern, one of the most tenacious makers of pinball machines, had a different approach: change almost nothing and stay the course. It’s bold, but,miraculously, it’s worked out well and, despite re-investing in pinball when the industry was all but dead, they’ve managed to stay afloat and prosper. So keep those ideas in mind as we dive into Stern Pinball Arcade for the Nintendo Switch.

Nearly every table you’ll find in the Stern Pinball Arcade is a real table somewhere in the world (ok, somewhere in North America). There are no mind-bending creations or wormholes of magic, but, instead, clever designs that keep the players on their toes with both new and old ideas alike. This serves as both enticement and a warning for players looking for more pinball on their Nintendo Switches. On the one hand, some players will really enjoy this back-to-basics approach, and the nostalgia factor is HIGH on this first DLC that we’ll look at, Bundle Pack 1. On the other, since everything is really wood and steel with some LED glass mixed in, younger players who are less into retro will get bored and frustrated FAST. All of the tables are fairly new in terms of pinball machines (nothing made prior to 1996), but they carry the tricks, flaws and quirks of classic pinball. Let’s take a look at the four tables here in this first pack.

The bottom rung of everything is Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Although the table is fairly interesting on the eye, nothing about it really stands out for players looking for an exciting experience. Paying homage to the eerie and bizarre museum chain that acts as a modern day freak show, most of the items on the table – shrunken heads, wild jungle fronds – are campy in a way that doesn’t totally appeal to the overall gameplay. Most of the goals involve trying to venture to other lands in order to discover more and newer oddities, but the posts and slots tend to be just beyond normal shooting range. All of the audio revolves around ambient drums and tribal sounds while the shrunken head talking in a distinctly cajun style, which grates on the ears pretty quickly. And the infamous “third flipper” is on the right side and aims positively nowhere. More often than not, it’s a hindrance rather than a help, so players trying to get the higher up flags are better off shooting from the bottom. Lastly, it’s got a really clear “dead drop” zone: that is to say, you’re very likely to have the ball plummet straight from the top of the table between the flippers without any chance to save. Careful rocking can be the solution, but Ripley’s table is very sensitive to tilt, so you’re better off just eating the ball and cursing out the maker. Long story short, I didn’t enjoy this one.

Starship Troopers is the next table, and this one is straight over-the-top in a good way. Emulating the film from the 90s, you are greeted with a barrage of lights and sounds that are entirely gunfire and screaming from your commanding officer. In an effort to fight off the Bug invaders, you need to destroy targets, meet up with other troops and run raids amiss a table that spends a lot of time testing to see if you’re epileptic. This table does suffer a bit of design flaw because it was made by Sega, not Stern themselves, so you’ll find some questionable choices, such as a third flipper that’s directly above the right flipper but needs a different button to activate. This is easy to pull off on a controller, but I can’t imagine how crazy it must have been on the table itself. In any case, it’s incredibly simple to set up a lot of loops and goals due to chute placement, and the game is relatively forgiving on dropped balls and broken combos. Sega also must have decided that “bigger is better” in terms of scoring, because even simple bumper hits rack up thousands of points in mere seconds. As a result, replay and free balls come around the ninety MILLION marker, which is borderline ludicrous. Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had here, and I enjoyed the Bug that exists on the table. Additionally, much lower tilt sensitivity than Ripley’s, which gives players the freedom to play a little bump and grind in order to get the last save in.

Star Trek: Vengeance is the newest table of the pack, having been developed in 2013, though most people will find it in arcades simply titled as “Star Trek.” Based on the newer series of movies (specifically Into Darkness), you don’t need to even be a Trekker to understand that this is a beautifully made table. Everything is incredibly sci-fi and minimalist, with a lot of open space to allow for players to strategize about goals and targets in the higher register. The tiny model of the Enterprise rocks and sways when the ball hits the sensors below it, and it can even lock in the shot when certain missions are open. This table is very sensitive to tilt, so players need to play as clean a game as possible, though that may be very difficult. For one, the third flipper is imprecise but entirely necessary if you want to nail one of the left ramps in time. Additionally, this is one of the first tables I’ve seen with a clean loop on the main table: if you shoot too far left or right, you simply catapult yourself around the board with neck breaking speed. Getting the shots, however, can still be quite simple, and I appreciate that the ball save simply auto-launches you instead of waiting for a player to set up the shot.  If players are hesitant about enjoying what modern pinball looks like in the tangible realm, this is the table to show, because it’s both a game and art.

Our last table is easily my favorite, and it’s clear to see why: the AC/DC table. I don’t know who this was made for, in any aspect. It’s an incredibly technical table that has multiple levels, blinding lights and massive lightning bolts that flash at every possible moment. It literally picks an AC/DC classic and plays it over and over while you’re gaming, and, if you miss a ball before the song finishes, it starts over again from the beginning. So if you seriously can’t bear to not hear the final riffs of Highway to Hell, you better keep your ball alive, because the table doesn’t care how far you were in the song, it’ll go right back to the opening chords. There’s a mini table built into the floor where you gotta shoot loops or hit demon targets when the mini game unlocks, and it’s hard as hell to see on the actual table. On top of everything, this was put out in 2012, long, LONG after the large scale popularity of AC/DC had died down. But holy crap, is it fun. It’s got a tilt sensor that’ll actively taunt you if you bump too much, a ton of targets and ramps that crop up everywhere, and a moving cannon that you can shoot straight up a goalpost if you time it right. It’s the only table that I keep going back to because it transitions so much better to digital than any of the others. With the AC/DC table in real life, you either need it by itself in the corner or you don’t get to fully enjoy the audacity of it all. Here, on the Switch, you can finally engage fully with the rocking riffs and get Shook All Night Long.

And there you have it! Four tables, three fantastic, one a bit lacking but, overall, a great package for pinball enthusiasts. Given that the average table here sells for thousands of dollars normally, this DLC package, complete with history notes, table explanation and tons of additional information, is worthwhile to any collector who’d rather pay rent and eat than sleep on a pinball table. Highly recommended, even if only for AC/DC.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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