Review by Retro

"Add your name to the list."

Unexpected occurrences, whether good or bad, can change our life forever. You entered a sweepstakes a few months ago and the hassles of everyday life have made you forget all about it. You only have one chance in several million to win it anyway; it'll never happen. It's a Monday morning and you're getting all the sleep you can before you have to get up and go to work. All of a sudden you hear a knock at the door. ''Go to hell,'' you yell at the door, mad that your beauty sleep has been disturbed. But they refuse to stop pounding down the entrance to your house. You finally give in and go answer the idiot. IT'S THE PRIZE PATROL! YOU'RE THE $10 MILLION WINNER!! Now you can tell your boss the good news and never work again. And you can even go back to bed and sleep all you want! You'll never forget this day.

Pinball Quest may not be a life changer, but it was one of these unexpected occurrences for many gamers, including myself.

With the word ''pinball'' in the title, you'd expect to see some good ol' bumper-smashing, table-tilting action lurking somewhere close. There is a total of three pinball variations included. Each one comes complete with what you'd expect to see in a typical pinball simulation, but that's not all.

Circus is my favorite of the three. Knock the pinball around the sky blue surroundings with your two pairs of flippers as you try to hit the clown faced bumpers for maximum points. Or, for even more fun, take a spin on the slot machine and get three of the same thing and you may get to go to a real circus where you are the ringmaster who gets to capture lions and other animals that are chasing after a helpless girl! After visiting the circus, stroll on through Pop! Pop! and plow through all the bowling pins on the screen and then sink your pinball into the starry hole right above the flippers. You'll instantly shrink and be transported to that boxed-in area on the playing field for a chance to knock pins into four holes in the corners (neato). Do away with them all in a limited number of shots and a bonus will be yours! Viva! Golf would be more up the alley of a laid-back kind of player. But golfers can be violent too! Those birdies (or gophers perhaps?) that are literally popping in and out of holes to see what's going on are too nosey for their own good. Whack them with your metal pinball and ring the hole with the flag standing over it and a temporary stopper in the form of a golfer's head will be put up between your flippers to save you from death. Oh yeah, and keep in mind that pinballs don't enjoy swimming in lakes.

These three pinball variations that can be played by up to four people are indeed original for being made in 1990, and they're great, but like all pinball simulations, they have a tendency to become repetitive after a few plays. And of course there's always that issue that all pinball games have: It's too easy to lose a ball between your flippers. You hardly ever get to play long enough to fully satisfy your pinball hunger.

But all hope is not lost.

What you would not expect to see from an 8-bit pinball title that was made in 1990 is an RPG Mode. A group of mud-colored goblins trot casually into a place that was once ruled by a pinball and a princess, and (how unique!) they kidnap the princess, making her yet another damsel in distress. After being transported to the first level, which is set in a graveyard, a ghostly angel then urges you, the stark naked pinball, to put your unlimited lives to use and rescue her!

Thus your quest begins! You'll immediately notice that this isn't your normal pinball title. Instead of a plunger, a sort of slingshot contraption is used, and trees serve as the bumpers. By busting up four graves and then rolling headfirst (the pinball does appear to have a face) into the open space that's marked with an arrow, you'll make yourself up to the top half of this first level. If you thought the bottom half was unique, wait until you see what's up here! It's pretty simple, still. Just press up to move your single pair of flippers from the bottom of the screen to the top (nice!) and then destroy every single living skeleton you see. Eventually, these beasts that represent the living dead will quit coming back to life and just give up. In a haunting fashion the screen suddenly flashes different colors and a clothed phantom comes walking through the castle door. Whack him a few times to make him bite the dust, collect the key, and it's off to see what the next area has in store!

All six or seven levels (12 years and change and I haven't quite beaten the game yet, but I have a feeling I've reached the final territory) are like that, pretty much. Start out in one part and make your way to another section of the screen and defeat the boss. Another thing each level has in common is that they're all fun! Visit a plain gray dungeon and match wits with an ugly as sin witch who has several pet cats that would gladly take a bullet, or pinball, in the chest just to save their master's life. But watch out for the bubbles that this wicked witch spits, because they taste so foul that they can literally destroy your flippers. Explore the insides of a pink castle as you dodge evil green turtles, spin around in loops like a real pinball would, wait on the edge of a river for the next boat to hitch a ride in, and finally end up at the boss: five strong, armored knights who never seem to die. Those are just a few examples of the fun and fairly difficult challenges that are awaiting your presence in Pinball Quest.

Unlike most other pinball titles, you can never get a game over in Pinball Quest. Falling into a hole at the bottom of the screen will simply return you to a level that you've already passed. Or, if you're already down to the beginning stage, the aforementioned angel spirit will say, ''Uh-oh. You didn't complete your quest. Do you want to try again?'' Well duh! Somebody has a knack for pointing out the obvious, with a specialty for grinding on your last nerve when you lose several times in a row. When you make your way back up through the familiar places and reach an already conquered boss, you don't have to defeat him/her/it again; you just have to pass through the previously opened exit. Phew, now that saves the player from a lot of useless headaches.

Another innovative feature about Pinball Quest that will leave you scratching your head and saying to yourself, "This is an 8-bit pinball game?" is the fact that you can roll on over to a shop that has a devil sitting at a table. If you have enough points on hand, you can purchase from a wide variety of temporary and permanent stoppers and upgraded flippers that pack a stronger punch against unlucky foes. Unfortunately, you seldom seem to have enough gold (determined by your points) to purchase anything good; you're left going back to the game just to rack up more points. This is unfortunate because it's overly easy to lose your ball and have to go back to the previous level. Many a time you'll find yourself falling between your flippers and complaining about how you've seen this place enough times for a lifetime already. Being low on dough, you could always opt to try and steal items from the shopkeeper (seriously), but more often than not you'll leave with a bruised ass less confidence than you came in with.

As unique and entertaining as the RPG mode and the regular pinball games are, the way your surroundings look and sound are nothing to get excited about. Things aren't very colorful or pretty in this pinball quest. The pinball, enemies, and environments are detailed and animated well enough I suppose, but nothing really stands out from the crowd. The music and sounds are the same way. They're all at peace with being average. Not a single one has a drive to be better than the rest.

But it's clear to see that Pinball Quest, even with its errors, did have a drive to be the best pinball title for the NES. Forget about the fantasy of winning millions. It'll never happen. Pinball Quest can happen though! Today's technology allows you to instantly buy video games or bid on them using online auctions (it's cheap on eBay; I just checked). Or, for the growing number of cheapskates in the world, you could simply download it. A game that dared to be this original and innovative for its time deserves to have as many fans as it can get. Add your name to the list.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/07/03, Updated 07/16/04


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