To be blunt, video pinball has never quite lived up to the real thing. Nothing quite beats the sights and sounds of playing at a real pinball table and the satisfaction of managing to ricochet the ball from the table to the protective glass at the top. Okay, maybe that’s just me. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Capcom, a company that’s been on quite a roll lately, was developing a pinball game and releasing it at a budget price. On top of the budget price, the game sports a great visual style which is something Capcom has been doing a great job of pulling off lately. With everything going for it, I honestly thought that Flipnic: Ultimate Pinball would be the best version of video pinball since Epic Pinball was released on the PC oh so many years ago.
To call Flipnic a true pinball simulation would be blasphemous since there really isn’t much simulation going on here aside from the ramps, bumpers, and flippers that are synonymous with pinball. The game’s “tables” for the lack of a better word are comprised of a series of areas, each with its own style and feel that resemble levels from a platforming game with some pinball table elements thrown in here and there. Each level of the single player game has a set list of objectives that you must accomplish in order to unlock the next table. Some levels will require you to defeat a boss while others require you to cause an event to happen, like freeze over the level and destroy a wall. Other levels will have you searching for your next objective by navigating a series of tangled ramps or launching the ball from one magnetic rod to another. While it sounds cool, it can be frustrating in retrospect since a lot of pinball (and trust me, I’m no expert) seems to depend on pure luck rather than skill. You’ll often find yourself mistakenly warping yourself to other areas of the level accidentally in a frantic attempt to accomplish the current objective, which can be frustrating. Some levels don’t have this problem and are really enjoyable while other levels will have you counting the minutes until they’re done. Chances are that no matter how enjoyable the levels are, you most likely won’t find yourself going back to play them again and again.
Some of the more interesting events come in the form of small mini games that you’ll discover or win while trying to reach your overall goal of beating the level. Some mini games will have you guiding a monkey with your flipper buttons in an attempt to collect bananas for a bonus or collecting stars in a game that resembles Plinko from The Price is Right in order to save flamingoes. You’ll also find yourself attempting to destroy UFOs for extra balls and energy tubes within a set time limit, but those are a little less exciting aside from the suave cinematics that play when the games are being introduced. If some of these objectives seem a tad odd, well they are. Flipnic has a strong “straight from Japan” feel which along with the visual style, helps to make this game more than just another mediocre pinball game.
In addition to the single player conquest mode, Flipnic also boasts a fairly entertaining two player mode where you can play Foosball, Pong, and Basketball with a pinball twist.
As if it hasn’t been mentioned enough already, you just can’t look past Flipnic’s graphical presentation and not be impressed. You’ll know what you’re in for as soon as you finish watching the very cool and retro intro cinematic and jump in to get your first glimpse of the game. Each level has a different style, from a tropical level to a metallic maze in the middle of space to a table that resembles something you’d play on an Amiga or Commodore 64. Of course, all of the basics are represented nicely. The ball looks metallic, shiny, and a tad heavy, just like the real thing. What else can I say about the ball aside from the fact that it’s spot on? Combine all of this with the great cinematics for the mini games and introductions to the levels and you’ll almost shed a tear that the gameplay doesn’t manage to be as great as the visual presentation that’s on display here.
Each level has music that meshes nicely with the visuals of the level including 8-bit MIDI music playing for the Amiga level which is a nice touch. Bumpers all sound great and really sound like they’re bumping your ball back with force. One drawback to the sound would be the announcers that announce the objectives for each section of the level. To be honest, they sound down right creepy. Not in a horror movie “ROAR!” kind of way, but in more of a Zen-like cult member way.
Flipnic truly has the potential to be great, but is dragged down by overly simplistic and sometimes frustrating objective based gameplay. There are some redeeming qualities to be found, but there just isn’t enough to quantify purchasing this game without a rental first. If you’re a fan of pinball no matter what the cost, then the $19.99 price tag might be enough for you to get some enjoyment out of this one.
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media