• Metroid Prime Pinball Review - Nintendo DS

    Considering Samus can freely morph into ball-form whenever and wherever she so desires, it would seem more than likely she was the first choice to host a pinball game. Not, it seems, to Fuse Games. Back in 2004 they literally squashed, squeezed and squished together Marioís plump form in Super Mario Ball (also known as 'Mario Pinball Land'). To be kind, it was an awkward mess whose only saving grace was its scrumptious visuals. Technically, Fuse did a remarkable job with the GBA, creating sharp and detailed pre-rendered sprites, which often created the illusion of three-dimensional imagery. It wasnít enough however, and Mario Pinball was a pitiful effort that disserviced the plumberís name. Years later, Fuse now returns with their second Nintendo-themed pinball title, and unlike their first attempt, it plays like a dream.

    The GameCube classic 'Metroid Prime' is the theme here where many of the gameís finer moments are recreated on the handheld, albeit in pinball form. Unlike Marioís premise, which swayed away from its pinball roots, the Metroid setting is only the flesh and bones of the game whereas the heart and soul is pure pinball passion.

    There are two main modes of play, with an additional multiplayer that seems a little tagged on. Mission mode is reminiscent of Metroid Primeís adventure in that it is objectively driven. There are twelve artifacts to collect and several bosses to face, including the iniquitous Ridley. These artifacts are acquired by completing challenges ranging from hitting coloured targets with a matching coloured ball, or destroying wandering enemies with missiles from a third-person perspective, or collecting all the letters to spell out the word SAMUS. And it isnít easy. Where various recent titles are often criticised for their witless challenge, sacrificing difficulty for complexity, here, using a simple two-button configuration, Metroid's fast pace and heightened activity forces the player to maintain their wits and concentration, ready to flick those flippers. Sometimes up to six balls can be bouncing across the board at furious speeds, each equally important to reach those high points and earn that much-needed artifact.

    Alternatively there is the Single Play, which is primarily point-based inducing an urge to improve scores that does not sit idly by. Because Prime Pinball relies purely on the playerís own skill and dedication, it creates an irresistible itch to refine reflexes and tighten technique, which prompts a wrenching, twisting, grinding pull to play again, and again. And thatís the beauty of Metroid Prime Pinball's nature at heart; a five-minute blast can effortlessly turn into an hour as time disappears into the distance. The high score is there waiting, it just takes practice.

    Finally, the multiplayer mode acts as a pleasant addition, but it offers nothing that one wouldn't expect. Up to eight players can share a single DS cart wirelessly, however there is only one board to play with the following singular objective: the first player to reach 100,000 points wins. Simple.

    Once a game starts it is immediately apparent how beautiful it all looks and sounds. There are a handful of familiar, smile-inducing tunes (including the hypnotic Phendrana Drifts), and although they cannot compare to the originals' quality - sounding a little jerky and shaky only in comparison - they nonetheless push the handheldís sound capabilities to their limits.

    Similarly impressive is how the boards are brightly colourful and tightly condensed across both dual screens. Each area showcases its own Prime-themed presentation from the dark Pirate Frigate to the ancient wastelands of Tallon Overworld. And rather than simply providing a visually pleasing presentation, each board hosts a dynamic and exciting range of obstacles, targets, bumpers and spinners meaning there is a lot of variety, which is good news considering there are only eight of them.

    It would all mean nothing, however, if there was no weight to the ball. Thankfully, the in-game physics are well-defined and realistically implemented, meaning there are no cheap deaths. Samus slides across the silky smooth surfaces and responds well to her surroundings, meaning her fate is never destined by the pull of gravity alone. Even when she is being repelled and ejected across the board at swift speeds, the player stays in control by timely strikes with multiple flippers spread across the boards.

    The touch screen is cleverly used to add an additional layer of control, where the player can "nudge" the table by sliding their thumb on the touch panel and pushing the machine. Shaking the table causes the ball to adjust its path, which is vital to save an otherwise doomed miss. Although initially fiddly, forcing the player to use the shoulder button flippers for beneficial results, it is an inspired little addition that, although not necessary, certainly adds a welcome spin. To further add to the pinball immersion, there is a rumble pak included within the box. This goes in the GBA slot and is exactly the same size as a normal GBA cartridge, which is remarkable, given the sheer quality of the rumble.

    There really isnít much to criticise. Aside from a fairly standard multiplayer affair, Metroid Prime Pinballís only true downfall is that there isnít enough of it. After practice, the Mission Modeís final boss can be reached in a hour and rather then rewarding the playerís efforts with more boards, newer enemies and more imaginative challenges, the player is forced to retread previously explored ground. The mission modeís difficulty level is, of course, increased, but it threatens to become old and less exciting quite quickly, relying on the Single Play's score system for replay value. Additionally, some players may shake their heads in frustration at the third-person, action-orientated missions because they can interrupt and disturb the ballís fast pace and furious flow. However, in the context of the gameís overall quality, these are just small quibbles that are almost naturally overlooked.

    Fuse Games has managed to mould an inspiring example of how to beautifully blend an already existing genre with an established and cherished franchise. Metroid Prime enthusiasts will inevitably be drawn in and delighted by the Prime theme, but beneath the finely detailed veneer is a memorable and brilliantly executed pinball game that should please fans of the genre, and, ultimately, rouse interest and intrigue within the hearts of newcomers. There has been an eight-month difference between the US and UK release, so now, finally, everyone can sample this achievement.

    Score: 8/10
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Golgo's Avatar
      Golgo -
      This is a cracking game - I love it. It's very 'easy', though, and I'm not even a hardcore pinballer. When I was playing it a lot I sometimes just had to stop because it just went on and on.
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      I find it easy on some days and then others I can't get anywhere