November 9, 2005


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Video game reviews aren’t usually the source of paranoid conspiracy theories, but I can’t help but speculate about the suspicious timing of Metroid Prime Pinball’s release, coming on the heels of Metroid Prime: Hunters’ disappointing delay from a September release to first quarter 2006. Was Metroid Prime Pinball developed solely because of risk of holdup with Hunters? Or did Nintendo realize that Hunters’ release would completely overshadow Pinball, so they pushed its release date back so that Pinball wouldn’t end up as a financial disaster?

We may never know the answers to these numerous questions, so those of us awaiting Hunters have no choice but to wait patiently. Which leads to yet another question: Can Pinball tide Metroid fans over in the meantime? That’s a tall order for a measly pinball game, but Metroid Prime Pinball comes as close to filling it as one could reasonably expect.

Metroid Pinball’s developers were smart to implement a wealth of intricacies in order to differentiate it from traditional pinball games, and almost all of them are successful. Unfortunately, the game’s biggest letdown pertains to its shrewdest marketing move, and what should have been its greatest innovation. Metroid Pinball comes with the brand new Nintendo DS Rumble Pak, which works similarly to the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak; the user inserts the pak into the DS’s Gameboy Advance slot to simulate the feel of real pinball action. However, what should have added immeasurably to the feel and excitement of the game ends up barely adding to its appeal, as the Pak’s vibrations are barely noticeable.

Fortunately, almost every other aspect of the game is successful. For starters, a pinball game is perfectly suited for the DS’s double-screen format. (Although, Pinball fails to properly implement the lower touch-sensitive screen, as its only purpose is to tilt the table, which actually makes doing so more difficult than if that function were simply designated to one of the buttons.) The split screen format didn’t make it any more difficult to follow the ball, and in turn this helped make the designation between certain levels’ lower and upper flippers clearer.

The levels themselves are the strength of the game, particularly when played within the multi mission mode. Each level resembles those found in prior Metroid games on Gamecube, and if you progress far enough within each level, a unique warp function allows the user to transport from world to world. There are several basic levels that function as a traditional pinball game, but later worlds bear resemblance to boss stages of classic adventure games. A villain – with a health meter and everything – stands on the top screen as the user attempts to strike it dead in the midst of what is otherwise a regular pinball game. Playing these levels is Pinball’s true pleasure.

Yet even single mission play is worthwhile, as the basic levels contain a wealth of creative mini-games that add objectives to the game beyond the mere tally of points. There is Combat Mode, where Samus appears on the bottom screen and you shoot his gun at nefarious attackers who strike from the top screen. Enhancing the fun of this mini-game (which can be played in both single and multi mission mode) is the fact that the user can collect more complex weapons the longer they play. This is the easiest and most enjoyable way to destroy the villainous bosses mentioned above.

There is one mini-game that I truly hated, however, mainly because you try to eliminate these evil creatures who, if they manage to capture your ball, almost always fire it back down in between your paddles and end your turn. If I kill myself within the next two weeks, this will be why. Metroid Prime Pinball’s shortcomings don’t detract from the actual fun of playing the game; it’s just that knowing things could have been even better than they already are is disappointing. Pinball is a simple and enjoyable game that, at the very least, will help accelerate the wait for what is sure to be Hunters’ brilliance. I can’t ask much more from it than that.

Archived article by Ross McGowan
Sun Staff Writer