Pinball Tristan (Review) iPhone/iPod/iPad

Pinball Tristan (Review) iPhone/iPod/iPad

Seeing as how there’s a gazillion iPhone pinball games already, the average gamer is probably wondering why there’s any reason to get excited about this title with its spartan “toy-like cabinet (and) old-style mechanical score drum.” Furthermore, it’s easily the most primitive game released by a developer whose never budged from charging new-release prices even for titles that are 20 years old.

Mentioning the name of the developer – LittleWing – is when those in the know begin to salivate.

The company has released a series of pinball games (and only pinball) for the Mac and Windows since 1990 which have attracted a fanatical following for their realism. Other companies get into giant scrolling tables, multiple layouts, excessively flashy and fancy camerawork, and “extra” tweaks of physics and mechanics that are impossible in the real world. LittleWing, meanwhile, keeps putting out virtual machines whose uncluttered layouts hide all kinds of complications and goals to achieve. Also, while unerring physics and sounds are increasingly easy to implement, LittleWing’s titles have been achieving both since day one.

In the interest of full disclosure, 1) I’m among the fanatics (as it that isn’t obvious) and 2) I wish they’d released a slightly more sophisticated title for their debut on the iPhone platform, although I understand the fiscal reason behind an apparent plan to rerelease them in the order they came out for the desktop computers. But since Tristan is $1.99 on the iPhone compared to the $20 they’re charging for the Mac version (which won’t run on any OS or machine made by Apple for nearly the past decade) the irritation is roughly equal to swatting away a fly during an all-day hike.

That said, objectivity means recognizing there’s a ceiling on Tristan’s overall appeal and rating, meaning even a perfect conversion can’t hope for a five-star rating even against other pinball apps. Some of LittleWing’s more sophisticated titles can hope to contend for that rare status if and when they’re released.

The first two desktop titles released by LittleWing after Tristan – Eight Ball Deluxe and Crystal Caliburn – are among my favorites (and the fourth, Loony Labyrinth, is a consensus fan favorite). An iPhone release of Eight Ball Deluxe in particular would be welcome since it’s an exact replica of a real pinball game released in 1980 by Bally, whose copyright restrictions are keeping LittleWing from offering the desktop version in its current catalogue.

The iPhone version of Tristan includes a zoom camera option where roughly one-third of the playfield is visible when a single ball is in play (it automatically zooms out to the full table view during multiball). I’ve never been a fan of this in any computer pinball sim, but obviously it’s an in-demand thing. There’s also the standard global scoreboard and sound/music toggles.

One new feature to avoid at all costs is the Rock’n’Play mode, where you control the ball by tilting your iDevice in any direction without the usual downward slope of the pinball table to impede you. It completely eliminates any challenge and in less than two minutes you can reveal every secret and accomplishment the game has to offer, which takes a big bite out of the motivation to discover them through accomplishment in the normal manner. I actually nicked Tristan’s grade for this “feature” because, while it’s easy to argue one should simply avoid it if one doesn’t like it (a.k.a. pornography if you don’t like it then why visit, I’m guessing most unsuspecting users will turn it on at some point simply to see what it is.

I’m not a big fan of most iPhone pinball titles, with the recently released War Pinball probably my favorite of the lot (one-sentence, three-star review: the three action-movie tables are cheesy and overcluttered, but the physics are exceptional and there’s a “static” view option instead of being forced to tolerate a zoom camera). Tristan doesn’t come close to eclipsing War Pinball’s sophistication and appeal to the general gaming population, but does come closer to capturing a realistic “old-time” table experience.

You get three balls per game and it’s always irked me slightly you can’t adjust that up to five, if only because I’m old enough to have played real tables when manufacturers were generous enough to provide that many. I’d rate Tristan’s overall difficulty as modestly easy since the table is simple enough to keep track of everything, but the flippers and other ball-saving mechanisms aren’t nearly as generous as modern sims like War Pinball tend to be.

Gamers used to modern tables really will think they’re playing a toy when they experience Tristan’s pastel colors and high-pitched sound dinks. There’s only three round bumpers, four small sets of knockdown targets (three of the adjacent on the left-hand side), a trio of ball-trap mechanisms (two which award points and only one functioning as a lock for multiball) and one set of flippers. Points are tallied on a simulated eight-digit analogue score drum similar to the cheap plastic tabletop games I got for Christmas as a kid.

But I’m still old school enough to appreciate a pinball table that doesn’t feel too overwhelming to learn and achieve all the extras. A few of Tristan’s bonuses that can be activated include double scoring, a time-limited “suddendeath millions” and something simply labeled “magic.” It’ll take a decent player a while to achieve everything and afterward there’s always the global online scoreboard to serve as incentive.

Touch-screen controls in the normal mode are simple and effective, with the lower corners controlling the flippers and a drag-and-release motion controlling the plunger. Touching the top of the screen pauses the game and allows tweaking the options.

I have doubts Tristan will win over many iPhone gamers not already in LittleWing’s fan club, but I suspect that subset will buy this game in droves to encourage the release of subsequent and better titles. Once those start rolling out there will be no hesitation recommending them to even the most jaded of modern pinball fanatics.

Mark Sabbatini
Pinball Tristan by LittleWing Co. Ltd.
Category: Pinball
Requires: iOS 4.2 or later.
Languages: English, Japanese
Rated: 4+
Size: 12.6 MB

VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
Comments are closed.