Review: Pinball Heroes

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Pinball Heroes came out back in November, and at the time it represented somewhat of an experimental release in Sony’s digital-download push following the PSPgo launch, offering a unified experience across four individually-sold tables available in sort of a “pay as you go” format. From the moment the game hit the PSN store, though, PSP users lamented the $3.99-per-table pricing and cried out for an all-in-one bundle at a fairer rate. So I guess you could say Sony’s experiment reached a definitive conclusion.

Personally, having been hooked on Pinball Heroes since the day it launched I’m thrilled with the quality and don’t think the pricing is that out of hand – yeah, $16 for the whole set is a bit much, but with this collection of tables you absolutely get what you pay for. But the good news now is that the pricing situation has been taken care of, so it’s really not an issue any more. Sony obviously listened to the many readers who lit up the PlayStation blog with requests for a bundle, and as of yesterday’s PSN store update Pinball Heroes and all four of its tables are available in a bundle deal for only $9.99 (individual pricing remains the same). Problem solved!

But enough about pricing. What’s most important of all here is that Pinball Heroes is a phenomenal production of videogame pinball. As I said earlier, there are four tables currently available, and each one is themed after a Sony franchise – Uncharted, Hot Shots Golf, PAIN and High Velocity Bowling make up the current collection, but more are supposedly in the works (if you watch the trailer embedded further down the page you can spot what appears to be a Wipeout table in the menu at the very beginning – and, if you’re listening Sony, might I toss out LittleBigPlanet, ICO/Shadow of the Colossus, Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter as suggestions for future tables).

The tables really are the stars of the game too. Each one is vibrant and wonderfully detailed, and all the little graphical effects, music and table sounds are authentic to the sourced franchises – you’ll hear a lot breaking glass, honking car horns and grunts of pain on the PAIN table, while on the Uncharted table you’ll hear appropriate treasure-seeking chimes as the game’s adventuresome theme song plays in the background.

The table designs, in terms of layout and gameplay, are even more impressive. These tables are very different from any other pinball game I’ve played, with challenges and missions that go beyond the pinball norm. My favorite tables of the lot have to be Hot Shots Golf and High Velocity Bowling, as they both bring their respective sport to the pinball table in a fun and inventive way.

On the Hot Shots Golf table, for example, you can actually play through a full 18-hole round of golf if you’re skilled enough. An enclosed putting green sits in the center of the table and you have to hit different yardage blocks on the outside to open access to the green and sink the ball in the hole (while also avoiding hazards and dealing with changing wind effects), and of course you earn more points for completing each hole in as few strokes as possible. The High Velocity Bowling table is equally addictive, with a lane of pins (initially blocked off by a lane sweeper) you can complete a 10-frame round of bowling on.

I haven’t played other highly regarded PSP pinball games like Pinball Hall of Fame to make a comparison, but I think it’s safe to say that Pinball Heroes nails all the basics and will make casual players and pinball veterans very happy all the same. The ball physics are outstanding, as the ball pings around like it has real weight to it, and the flippers have a tight, tactile feel to them as you flick the ball. I also appreciate the thought that went into the game’s interface. By default you play with the PSP in its standard position using the shoulders to flip the flippers, and there are two camera views to choose from – one that’s zoomed in real close and pans to follow the ball, and one that provides a bird’s eye view with the whole table squished into the center of the screen. However, the recommended method is to play in vertical mode holding the PSP upright with your thumbs on the X and Triangle face buttons to activate the flippers. In this setup you get to see the whole table in its appropriate format without sacrificing clarity, and although it may sound awkward to hold the PSP flipped vertically, it’s actually a very comfortable way to play.

Rounding things out, each table has a built-in “Trophy Shelf” housing trophies you can unlock by completing table challenges and achieving various score milestones, and the game also allows you to post scores to local and online leaderboards if you want to see how your skills stack up against other players. I guess if you want to get nitpicky you can complain about the lack of a multiplayer mode and what some may consider a slim table count, but for a downloadable pinball game Pinball Heroes really hits the spot.

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Pros:
+ Incredibly addictive
+ Sound pinball physics
+ Superb table designs
+ Nice graphics and sounds
+ Option to play in vertical orientation
+ Trophies and leaderboards add replay incentive

Cons:
– Having to wait for more new tables!

Game Info:
Platform: PSP via PSN
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA San Diego
Release Date: 11/12/09
Genre: Arcade Pinball
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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!