If you were born after 1985, you probably haven't played a whole lot of pinball in your life. Chances are, if you have, it's been the newer games like Addam's Family, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, or Twilight Zone. Since the arcade scene is mostly dead and gone, game's like Pinball Hall of Fame are the only way you'll get to experience old school pinball, and it's the only way that older folks, like your parents will ever get to relive their glory days of playing pinball at a smoky bar, trying to reach scores in the thousands, and not the tens of millions like current tables.
Pinball Hall of Fame features seven tables (I don't count Play-Boy since it has no flippers) from the 50's through the 90's. All of the tables are from Gottlieb, a now defunct (like them all) pinball manufacturer. The oldest table is "Ace High" which was released in 1957, and the most recent game is "Tee'd Off" which hit arcades in 1993. Several of the tables are great, like Genie and Black Hole, but others either aren't very interesting, or are incredibly frustrating. From a historical perspective, it's nice to see Gottlieb's tables preserved in this fashion, but from a consumer's perspective, there could have been some much better machines added to the game.
Accompanying each table is a brief history of the machine, which is a nice touch, and gives you a little more appreciation for some of the tables. Also included is a copy of the game's flyer, and detailed instructions which do a nice job of telling you exactly what you need to do to achieve the various table goals.
The game's controls are quite simple – you pull back the right analog stick to shoot the ball, and you use the L1 and R1 buttons to control the left and right flippers respectively. You can tap the left analog stick to nudge the table, but hit it too hard or too often and you'll "tilt" the game, and lose a ball. For some reason, there is no analog flipper control, which not only makes some of the game's targets difficult to hit, but really takes a lot of the subtleties associated with the game of pinball away. Part of pinball's charm is that you can feel the ball against the flippers, and you can decide how hard you want to hit the ball. This part of the game is gone here, and it's really missed.
In addition to no analog flippers, the game's floaty physics don't do the machines justice. The balls typically move too slow, and roll like they are too light. As a result, you'll spend a lot of time just watching the ball popping around the top of the machine, waiting for it to come down. Certain tables, like Black Hole don't seem to have this problem, but others are pretty far off from how you'd expect them to play in real life.
Realism is a good thing, especially when you are trying to recreate the experience of playing a specific machine, but you've got to draw the line at having machines freeze up and forcing you to tilt them to get your ball back. This actually happened while playing Tee'd Off, and it was pretty frustrating. Black Hole also has several glitches, including a ball getting stuck and sometimes one that goes' right through a flipper.
In addition to seven pinball tables, there are several other classic machines, including the Love Test machine, Xolten the fotune teller, and an old flipper-less game from the 30's call Play-Boy. There's also a tournament mode, a Gottlieb factory tour (nothing more than black and white photos) and custom balls that can be unlocked. Unfortunately to play them all you have to achieve the high scores on the game's tables. Reaching the set goal for each table is no small feat, and for many people, it will be impossible. Since the game initially retailed for $20, you'd think that Crave would realize that the people that are buying this game might be looking for a quick pinball fix and would like as many features open to them as possible. Anyone with the old-school skills to quickly unlock all the game's features would be willing to shell out more than $20 for this game, so FarSight Studios and Crave missed the boat on this one.
Pinball Hall of Fame's visuals aren't very dynamic, but they do get the job done. It's obvious that the tables were recreated with care, and are all faithful to the machine they are emulating. Unlike the Xbox, the PS2 doesn't support progressive scan, so the tables come off a bit blurry, and a lot of the details are difficult to see, unless you are using one of the close camera angles. Speaking of camera angle, HoF has six different perspectives to choose from, but all but one are too close to the action, rendering them pretty useless, unless you want to check out some of the table detail.
The game's sound effects are realistic, yet for the most part, they are incredibly boring. Pinball tables from the 70's weren't exactly a hotbed for great audio, so being stuck listening to bells, buzzes and chimes isn't terribly exciting. You can hear other arcade sounds while you play like someone playing pool and other old videogames, but that's about it. While it would have been nice to have some music while you play, the game's menu screen features a cheesy "Pinball Wizard" knockoff that is bad enough that it might make you glad there's no music during play.
If you're over 30 years old and grew up playing pinball, then Pinball Hall of Fame, at its current $10 price is certainly worth picking up. Unfortunately, the gameplay is limited due to the poor ball physics, lack of analog flippers, and questionable table selection. For anyone under the age of 20, these tables probably don't have enough action to hold your interest, and achieving scores of 400 on the Central Park table isn't likely to be your cup of tea.