Let’s roll: comparing four Nintendo pinball games

Pinball games, most people will probably turn up their nose at them, but in fact they can be really fun. Like puzzle games, I prefer to play them on handhelds, so that’s what all my pinball games are for. Here I give my thoughts on the four pinball games I played extensively enough to say something about them: Kirby’s Pinball Land on the Game Boy, Pokemon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire and Super Mario Ball on the Game Boy Advance and Metroid Prime Pinball on the Nintendo DS. As you can see, all of them are spin-offs of big Nintendo franchises, but which of these is the best?

Super Mario Ball Mario-Pinball-Rating

From a graphical standpoint Super Mario Ball looks fantastic, with bright and impressive 3D visuals. The game’s concept had great potential. A pinball game in the Mario universe, with Koopas, stars, Bowser… anything that makes a Mario game a Mario game. What could go wrong? Well, the main problem is that the gameplay just isn’t what you expect and want from a pinball game. You play on a network of small, connected boards, which sounds like an interesting concept, but the boards are so small that you just don’t feel like you’re in control, and every time you drop the ball to another board, the board you fell from resets, wiping out all your hard work. It should have been more like a traditional pinball game, with larger boards and less emphasis on collecting stars and more on getting a highscore. If the entire board didn’t reset if you fell, it would have been a lot less frustrating.

Another big issue, is that Mario Ball has the single most horrific save system I have ever encountered in a game. And that’s not an exaggeration. What happens? When you load your savefile, the game deletes it. The idea is, that you save it again when you decide to quit. But this is so illogical that I didn’t expect it all, until I found out the hard way. When you play a bit and don’t make any progress, and you decide to just shut off your system without saving (as there is no reason to), you can say goodbye to your entire savefile. To this day it’s a complete mystery to me why the developers decided this would be a good idea, but I have one theory: maybe the game was just so demanding of the GBA hardware, that they chose to do this in order to save memory. Maybe that’s nonsense, but I can’t imagine there isn’t a reason for them to do this.

In short, Mario Ball could have been great but the developers just made the wrong choices with this game.

Metroid Prime Pinball Metroid Prime Pinball Rating

This is a great pinball game, from the creators of Mario Ball, so it seems like they learned from their mistakes. It’s a more traditional pinball games with larger boards, and you feel a lot more in control.

The game is based on Metroid Prime, and it’s a nice trip down memory lane for those who played the Gamecube classic. There is a story mode in which you have to collect glyphs by completing tasks such as defeating enemies, complete with level bosses. The universe of Metroid is very fitting for a pinball game, with Morph Ball Samus as the logical protagonist, and boards inspired by spaceships. There’s also a highscore mode with the option to choose separate boards. Another nice extra is the rumble pack that comes bundled with the game, which is noisy but gives the player some extra feedback.

Kirby's-Pinball-Land

Kirby Pinball Rating

This is an awesome pinball game. The boards consist of three smaller screens on top of each other, each of them with different tasks for the player. You can also travel to any of the three main boards, so there is quite a bit of variety. If you let the ball slip on the lower board, you can get another chance of launching it back up (your timing has to be spot on though), which helps to combat frustration. The cheerful Kirby music adds to the fun experience, and the game is quite challenging if you want to beat it completely. Of course the fact that Kirby is a round character, basically a ball, makes him an excellent protagonist for a pinball game.

Pokemon Pinball Ruby and Sapphire

Pokemon Pinball Rating

The best pinball game I have played. Collect all 201 Pokemon by performing set tasks, while playing with different Pokeballs. There are only two main boards, but they are entertaining enough to keep you busy. Besides, there are also some fun bonus stages. The fact that you can collect all Pokemon and look at them in your Pokedex gives you a real incentive to keep playing, and I didn’t stop until I had collected every last one of them.

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