Pros: Good for a pinball fix; great sound; nice table variety
Cons: Aliasing, cameras, and graphics can intefere with playing enjoyment
I've been looking for a pinball video game for a while but couldn't find any reviews for one. I happened to find Dream Pinball one day in the store and, not knowing anything about it, decided to give it a shot since it was only $15.
The game itself has 6 different pinball tables to play, based on various themes: knights, horror, dinosaurs, helicopters, scuba diving, and fantasy. Like real pinball machines, each one has a different layout, some with multiple flippers and rails.
Like real pinball, multiple targets are present and different patterns can be hit to perform certain tasks, such as locking balls for multi-ball or hitting a certain sequence to get the max bonus.
The sound effects are quite good. Each table has a different music theme and table sounds; depending on the age of a child, the horror-themed table may make him nervous.
The upper screen is used for the back of the pinball machine, displaying your score and any messages a normal game would have. The lower screen is where all the action takes place. The game has 7 different cameras to choose from for the lower screen, each providing a different angle of view or how much it tracks the ball.
This is one of the problems with the game. The screen is so small that it has to scroll quite a bit to follow the ball, especially with certain cameras. The big issue I found is that the ball can move quicker than you expect, resulting in it rolling past your flippers before you know it. Sometimes it's difficult to judge exactly where the ball is in relation to the flippers because you can't see the whole table like in real life.
Graphics, in general, aren't so good. The developers did the best they could within the limitations of the DS but making the game 3D may not have been the best choice. Some of the tables' designs cause the flippers to become lost in the background, especially flippers that are nearer to the top of the table. I found it easiest to push the flipper buttons a few times before actually playing to see where all the flippers are on the table; even then, they can still "disappear" when you're playing as you forget where they are located.
Another issue with the graphics is aliasing. This is the jaggedness of lines that aren't completely horizontal or vertical. The limitations of the DS mean that the jagged lines are fairly pronounced, which contributes to the difficulty of seeing where various objects are.
Unlike real pinball, the ball in this game can change it's type, e.g. gold, wood, etc. I can't determine if it actually makes a difference in play or if it's strictly a cosmetic change, but it's a neat idea. However, on some of the tables the color change makes it even harder to track the ball as it blends into the background. If you're playing on the upper field and trying to use the extra flippers, you may not be able to hit the ball exactly when you want.
Besides regular pinball, the game has two other modes: mission and wireless multiplayer. Mission mode is simply trying to complete a certain mission in the least amount of time. For example, you may have to get multiball unlocked or get a x10 multiplier. During these missions, you don't lose the ball; it's automatically "recycled" if it sinks past your flippers. It just means more time is ticked off as it comes back into play.
I haven't been able to play wireless multiplayer so I can't say exactly how well it works or if there are any special considerations that have to be made. But the regular game allows up to 4 people to play on one DS, which should be good for most people.
Finally, the controls are easy to use. The two corner buttons on the DS (index finger buttons) are just to hit the flippers. The D-pad allows you to bump the table from side to side and upwards; I've never been good about bumping strategically so I rarely use it. The game does have a tilt "sensor" so if you are too aggressive in bumping, the game will tilt and you lose.
I have found it extremely easy to accidently change the camera angle because it uses the B button, which is just about where your right thumb sits. It's easy to brush it when playing normally or if you get confused when trying to bump the table. Normally it's not a problem but if it happens to switch to an odd angle, you can lose track of the ball and miss it.
I have found the ball to not be as responsive as I would like when hit with the flippers. It can be very difficult to get the ball up-table after a hit; it just seems to get halfway then loses momentum. This can make it difficult to get to a particular ramp or rail, making mission completion frustrating.
Overall, it's not a bad game if you have a pinball craving. The graphics aren't bad for being 3D but I think a 2D interface would have allowed for less aliasing. The sound is great and the variety of tables is surprisingly good. I don't know if the tables are based on real ones, but they seem like they would be fun to play in real life.