Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 10/24/05 | Genre: Simulation
We're used to seeing Mario spin-offs, but you can understand why Nintendo fans were concerned when Metroid Prime Pinball was announced. Metroid Pinball was developed by the same studio that brought us Mario Pinball Land, a game which was not well received. Fortunately, it turns out that Samus fits into pinball form much better than Mario does, and the game is much more than a cash grabbing spin-off.
Metroid Pinball's got all of the features you'd expect in a pinball game. Bumpers, ramps, multi-ball locks, combos, and more make this game feel authentic while still being unique. The surprising part is that Fuse Games did an excellent job adapting many elements of the two Metroid Prime games into their pinball table designs. It doesn't seem forced at all.
Much of the game plays just like normal pinball. Samus appears in morphball form and behaves with very natural and intuitive physics. You'll need to use the flippers to shoot the ball up ramps and at targets. The Nintendo DS's dual screens are perfect for the game as the vertical window looks and feels like a real pinball table, or at least as much as one can for a handheld video game. The fun part about Metroid Prime Pinball is that there are all kinds of obstacles and challenges that wouldn't be possible with a real pinball table. For instance, players can trigger certain events that cause different enemies to appear on screen. Depending on the situation, players will have to slam the ball into the enemies, or at certain times, Samus can even stand up and players will have to aim her arm cannon to kill Space Pirates and the like. Samus can also lay bombs while rolling around in ball form. There are other types of mini-games to play as well. In another special challenge, gems (actually pieces of phazon) will appear all over the table and players will have to hit each gem with a matching colored ball to collect it. The design team came up with some really creative stuff and it both fits well into the Metroid universe and into the pinball gameplay.
The mission mode is what I really enjoyed. It mirrors the Samus's adventure in the GameCube hit, Metroid Prime. You'll have to complete challenges on different tables to collect artifacts and you'll also need to defeat boss enemies. Once certain objectives are completed, you'll be able to move to different tables and finally to the final boss fight. This gives the player a greater focus than with regular pinball when the goal is to get a high score. Both the physics and the design of the challenges require skill to progress, and it feels very satisfying. In other words, it's not about randomly bashing the flippers.
The boss fights are a lot of fun. You can actually collect classic Samus upgrades such as missiles and power bombs that will help you defeat the bosses. My only complaint is that the mission mode is too short. There are two "main" tables with several objectives to complete on each. Then there are another four boss fight tables. The four boss fights are fun, but there's not much else going on in those tables besides the boss fight. So what the developers have created is excellent. There's just not nearly enough of it. There is a multiplayer mode (only one game card required for up to eight players), but pinball doesn't inherently support an interesting multiplayer experience. It's basically just a point race with no real interaction between players. The game designers did create a special table exclusive to multiplayer, but it's much blander than what's offered in the single player modes.
Metroid Prime Pinball's presentation deserves some special recognition. The artwork and graphics are fantastic. The tables and various objects moving about them are very high in detail and color. These have to be some of, if not the crispest, most detailed 2D graphics I've seen. The art designers did a great job of capturing the look of Metroid Prime. I was also impressed by all of the details that made the levels look like they could be real pinball tables. You can see all of the little lights and buttons and would make a real pinball table function. The use of various colors and HUD displays also lets players clearly know what's going on in the game.
The sound is also fantastic. Of course there's great realistic pinball sounds and Metroid Prime sounds (Samus's weapons, the enemy's roaring, etc.), but there's also a good variety of sound effects to cue the player to various events that have been initiated or completed. The game features original and remixed tracks from both Metroid Prime games. It's high quality and makes me wish there was a Sound Test feature.
It's hard to believe that Metroid Prime Pinball comes from the same team that brought us Mario Pinball Land. I generally don't even like pinball video games, and I was especially wary of this one. Like many fans I was worried that it was a cheap spin-off that would tarnish the Metroid name. Not so. Fuse Games did an excellent job of integrating elements from Metroid into a pinball game and when you play it, you'll see that it actually makes a lot of sense. Because of this intelligent adaptation, Metroid Prime Pinball has some very unique play mechanics for the pinball genre. I had a great time playing it and wish there was more. In the end, the game comes up a bit short on replay value which is the only major count against it.