23 March 2010

Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection - Wii

Our wireless connection is down so for the past week or so I've been writing on the floor of my basement man-cave. I pulled the Ethernet cable out of the PS2 slim (why is there even one plugged in?) and connected it to our badly beaten iBook G4, now approaching its 6th birthday. All of the gaming stuff is kept down here. One of every Atari system console ever made – likewise for Sega, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. A Magnavox Odyssey II; various Pong consoles. Of course I have an Intellivision, a Vectrex, and forgotten peripherals such as the Menacer for the Genesis and the ill-advised Tony Hawk RIDE skateboard. Like books on the bookshelves upstairs there are games down here I have never played - and just as many I have never finished. When friends come over to play games you would think the options would mean for limitless fun, but it typically involves limitless decisions. Like navigating a Chinese restaurant menu, sometimes too much is too much.
Not for me, of course, because I'll eventually play them all.
When faced with the physical timeline of an entire medium I typically choose to play something obscure. There are games I have to play (for the reviews in the paper and our web site, eastbayri.com), and there I games I want to play – such as the original Halo, which I could play over and over again until my eyes bled. But then there are games - like some books - that I want to want to play.
This collection of pinball classics is just such a game. It represents a flaw I explored briefly in my blog entry on Atari's Video Pinball. The technology of the Wii, while underpowered compared to the 360 and PS3, is still not enough - or maybe too much - to do justice to a pinball game. It simply can't be done. Playing pinball is playing pinball. You can't replicate it any other way. It's interesting that video games, a medium that strives to replicate everything from sports to driving to murder, seems to struggle the most when it tries to replicate one of its own.
This is not to say that it's not fun playing this game. It is. In fact, even more than some of my older titles from forgotten systems this game reminds me why I ever walked into an arcade in the first place.
Gottlieb is no Williams. The tables you play in this game are a bit obscure - Play Boy from 1937 and Ace High from 1957 are among the selections. But the fun is there.
Even in a basement filled with distractions and evidence of my obsession as a gamer, pinball is primal enough to be the one thing that reminds me why this medium is important, where it came from and where (I hope) it will take me.
By Victor Paul Alvarez