Review: Hyperspace Pinball

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We’re big on video game pinball around here, whether it’s the more traditional style of the Zen Pinball/Pinball FX series or something like Rollers of the Realm that fuses pinball gameplay with the mechanics of other genres (in RotR’s case it was RPGs). Add Hyperspace Pinball to the latter category, a clever hybrid of pinball and retro arcade high score shooters.

In brief, I would summarize Hyperspace Pinball as pinball crossed with Geometry Wars. Or you could just call it an arcade shooter pinball-’em-up. Either one works. Like regular pinball, a silver metal ball is launched into a table playing field by pulling back and letting fly a plunger, and once in play left and right flippers are used to redirect the ball into bumpers, kickers, loops, targets, and rollovers to score points. There are opportunities to earn extra balls, play multi-ball events, trigger timed mini-challenges, and score big in jackpot rounds. This is totally pinball.

The twist, of course, is the arcade shooter progression. Playing in the main Campaign mode, the primary objective is to hit the ball into geometric enemy shapes that spawn and randomly bounce around the open space at table center. Hitting multiple enemies in flight without the ball falling back to the flippers adds a scoring multiplier equal to the number of kills. Destroying these shapes also fills a bar on the left side of the screen, and once it’s full a portal opens through which the ball must travel in order to advance to the next level. The neon vector graphics and enemy designs change with each passing level, as do the bumper configurations. You’re only given four starting balls to make it through every level in one go, no checkpoints, continues, or saves-and-quit allowed. So the game is quite challenging.

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Boss stages, which are the coolest part of the game, also occur at set intervals (level 4, level 9, level 14, etc). Each boss essentially is an homage to an old arcade great like Arkanoid, Breakout, Galaga, or Centipede, which adds an undercurrent of nostalgia for players old enough to remember such classics. Some of the bosses are even reminiscent of shmups with their glowing weak points and attacks that destroy or grab the ball.

I believe there are somewhere around 20 levels in total for the Campaign, but level 11 is as far as I’ve been able to get in I don’t even know how many attempts at this point. Additional modes include Boss Run, which allows you to face off in on-demand battles against the eight different bosses, as well as Endurance, which challenges you to destroy as many enemies as possible with a single ball. Campaign and Endurance modes have their own dedicated online leaderboards, with filters for comparing against friends or global users. In regards to inputs, keyboards and gamepads are supported, with fully rebindable buttons/keys so you can set the controls to your exact preference. The game could use more variety, especially since there’s really only one exceedingly simple table design reused throughout, but for less than five dollars there’s plenty of bang for the buck here.

As much as the game looks and plays like pinball, it doesn’t entirely feel like pinball in the traditional sense. The tricky thing about Hyperspace Pinball is that the ball and flipper physics just aren’t the same as real pinball; the ball moves faster and doesn’t have the tangible weight and momentum of a metallic orb. The physics aren’t bad mind you, just different. You sort of have to trick your brain into viewing the flippers as the paddle in games like Breakout or Pong, where you’re mainly trying to get them in the way so the ball can bounce off and do what it wants to do. There is skill involved to some extent, but as the table has no ramps and very few target points to aim at, achieving a high score relies on keeping the ball in play and trying to put it in optimal positions to hopefully get more lucky bounces than unlucky.

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The scaling between the ball and flippers feels just a hair out of whack too. The main bottom flippers are gigantic in relation to the tiny starting ball size, which when combined with the noticeably wide gap between the flippers and weird instances where the ball, at high speeds, almost seems to pass straight through the tip of a flipper, leads to a lot of cheap, unavoidable ballouts. Some balance is provided by relatively abundant ball save barriers, collectible power-ups that temporarily increase ball size, and a table shake mechanic to nudge the ball to one side or the other. Plus there’s the fact that the table only has inlanes, meaning the only way to lose a ball is through the gap between the flippers. However, there are still so many areas of the table that have an uncanny knack for ricocheting the ball right into a central dead zone that no amount of flipper flipping can do anything about. The table shake helps a lot if you can master the timing, but even then the ball too often deflects so fast that it’s in the gutter before you even see it go by, let alone have any chance to react.

Pinball purists may find it challenging to adapt to the non-traditional physics and table layout, but given enough time and patience to get into a groove with its arcade shooter configuration, Hyperspace Pinball becomes a fun and highly addictive challenge. Although the execution isn’t honed in as well as it could be, Gamieon’s unique spin on pinball deserves to be played.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Addictive fusion of pinball and arcade shooters
+ Clever boss stages pay homage to arcade classics

Cons:
– Physics and table layout take time to adjust to, particularly if you’re accustomed to real pinball
– Could use more table variety

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux (There’s a mobile version for Android and iOS as well)
Publisher: Gamieon
Developer: Gamieon
Release Date: 9/30/2015
Genre: Pinball/Shooter
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!