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PINBALL DREAMS

                                                                                                                 —€    PINBALL.TXT 0€ 

This  is a belated appraisal of one of the most famous pinball sims  of  its 
time. Pinball Dreams, started life on the Amiga, and seemed to go everywhere 
else. All the major computers, a Jaguar version, and one even for the Falcon 
030,  in  those  heady days of 1993,  when it seemed Atari might actually do 
something meaningful with that machine?

Of  course,  we  all  know  better now,  but Pinball Dreams was one  of  the
survivors of that trickle of misplaced optimism.  For a long time, it was on
sale,  through  16/32  PD  here  in  the UK.  At that  time,  I  wasn't  too
interested,  looking more closely at the homegrown alternative, 'Obsession'.
(Indeed  building up quite a close relationship with the suppliers  of  that
game, who were of course, Merlin PDL.)

Now a long time later,  where in commercial eyes, the Falcon is judged as an
obscure  curiosity,  half-buried in the grave dirt of Atari,  the authors of
the game have kindly re-released the game as freeware. Which is where we can
come in now...

This  is  downloadable  from  a  number of  places,  including  the  not  so
unfamiliar  Dead  Hackers  pages.  A small amount of  initial  confusion  is
engendered  by a lack of instructions.  The data and program files are meant
to  be  copied to floppy disk,  and installed back to hard disk from  there!
Attempting anything else just gets nowhere. But there is nothing to tell you
this! Of course, the average Atarian has more resourcefulness and ability to
work  things out in their little finger,  than a plastic-roofed barn full of
"average" PeeCee owners has between the whole crowd of them...

Once installed,  it runs. Prefers an RGB screen, really strongly in fact. It
garbles on SVGA. It also seems to really want to co-operate with accelerated
Falcy's  such as my CT2,  but that machine is connected to an SVGA,  so it's
back to the Nemesis machine for this one.

Running  it  starts  up  with a dramatic or cheesy  fanfare  and  a  heavily
stylised  griffon 21st Century Entertainment logo,  designed for the  easily
impressed  Amiga  owners perhaps?  A Digital Illusions geometric  reflective
logo,  which shows some early '90's demo artist roots too, follows up. So we
end up at the main menu.

You  have a selection of four differently themed tables,  all selectable  by
the function key, read 'em and weep!

F1 - Ignition,  a space themed playscape, new players could do no worse than 
blast off here!

F2  - Steel Wheel,  a wild western locomotion,  tracking you to a successful 
finish!

F3  -  Beat Box,  get that big break using your ball skills in to the  music 
industry!

F4 - Nightmare, a haunting atmosphere makes this a table to be careful of!

Now that was really really horrible, wasn't it!?

Graphically  it  shows its Amiga origins.  I'm not even sure if it has  been
enhanced  over  the basic Amiga 500 palette?  If you take Obsession (and  it
looks like I'm going to be doing this a lot, sorry!) There, the artist seems
to  have made better use of the limited number of colours allowed on  screen
and  the overall effect is brighter and much more cheerful.  There are  also
greater differences in the 'look' of the different tables with Obsession. In
the case of 'Dreams, the drawing of the tables looks very dull and 'flat' in
places.

One other thing on the graphics, Obsession, lovely shiny steel ball, Pinball
Dreams, ghastly white plastic thing! It's the little details that count!

But  how  does it play?  This is the all-important benchmark of pinball  sim
excellence. No matter how sparkling a game may look, if it plays like a dog,
it deserves to sink without a trace.

Here,  the  news is good.  Pinball Dreams is a good and competent pinballer,
able to hold its head up with the rest. Of course, it would have to be half-
decent at least, to get as far as it did. Comparing with Obsession, it seems
to  be a little short in some areas.  Only three balls per game,  which only
just  gives an average player the chance to get into a game.  The individual
tables on Obsession seem to 'play' differently to each other too. In Pinball
Dreams, it doesn't really feel like there is a lot of difference between its
four  themes.  In Obsession,  you get four solidly different pinball tables,
rather than variants of the same table, as in 'Dreams.

Of course, I am biased, only having a brief encounter with Pinball Dreams. I
am  a lot more familiar with the table strategies on Obsession,  so probably
Pinball Dreams would turn out to be more interesting,  the better you get to
know it.

One   other  thing,   the  ball  movement  algorythm  is  definitely  better
implemented in Obsession.  The ball in 'Dreams has an occasional tendency to
'stick' or 'drift' when it is close to the flippers,  and going very slowly,
which suggests that there are some rough edges lurking in there?

The sound and fury aspect is spot on, with several good modfile tunes backed
up  by a full range of sampled spot effects,  which is exactly the same sort
of system that they used in Obsession. I am happy to report there is no real
difference  between  the two games in that respect.  A lot of the  music  in
'Dreams is very listenable in fact. A major plus point in my view.

So,  is Pinball Dreams worth the effort?  Well I would say yes, on the basis
that a classic game deserves proper recognition. Pinball Dreams, for all the
slightly  unfavorable  comparisons that I've just made  with  Obsession,  is
still worthy of attention as a well made and competently produced game. Many
of  my  comparisons with ahem,  the other Swedish produced pinball sim,  are
entirely  subjective and personal in nature.  Also it is interesting to look
at as an archaelogical relic of what a big name software house in the  early
1990's was releasing.

I'm  still more likely to give Obsession a thrash,  if I fancy a quick blast
on the classic pinball sim though...

Ratings..

Graphics:-  75% - Disappointing for a Falcon game.  Murky and slightly drab
looking, ported rather than enhanced from the Amiga 500?

Sound:- 80% - A very good selection of tunes and spot effects.

Playability:- 85% - Very playable, one which may well reward persistence.

Overall:- 80% - A classic if not a groundbreaking game.

CiH for Alive! mag, August 2001.


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