Review: Super Steampunk Pinball 2D

Super Steampunk Pinball 2D brings video pinball back to how it existed on 16-bit consoles like the SNES and Sega Genesis. (I would say it looks and feels more Genesis than SNES.) For only a couple dollars, you get a single 2D pinball table designed with a steampunk theme, from the pixel art to the nostalgic chiptune music and sound effects. The table isn’t exactly alive with color and fancy lighting effects, but the clockwork gears, copper tubing, gaslight lamps, and clouds of spewing steam carry through the retro steampunk vibe effectively.

The Super Steampunk table has the core elements that make up any standard pinball table: a ball launch plunger; a pair of flippers; angled kickers above and on either side of the flippers; outlane and target lamps that grant a multiplier boost once all are lit; and an upper area containing spot targets and a few bumpers. Each attempt gives you three balls to achieve the highest cumulative score possible, with opportunities to earn extra balls and other bonuses along the way. Once all balls have been lost to the spiked grinder at the bottom of the play area, your score is posted to a local scoreboard under the initials of your choosing. Global leaderboards are also in place to track your high score, as well as a handful of other stats, online under your Steam username.

For a 2D game, the ball and flipper physics are surprisingly on point, and the overall table layout is very well balanced. While you can’t reliably trap the ball with the flippers for more targeted shots, everything else feels like an accurate representation of pinball in two-dimensional pixels, a feat that deserves a lot of recognition. Three difficulty settings also allow for tweaking how the ball moves, from easy mode, in which the ball is rather slow and floaty, to the hard difficulty where the ball pings around like it has actual metallic weight to it. Contrary to the labeling, to me playing on hard is actually easier to score due to the more realistic weightiness and momentum. While the slower ball makes it far easier to keep the ball in play on easy or normal, I find that it’s actually harder to hit lanes and rack up high scores due to the floatier ball movement.

In addition to the difficulty options and variety of leaderboard categories, three camera views, HUD scalability, and modes for solo play and two-player hotseat round out what is a fairly robust pinball platform.

Regardless of difficulty, one aspect that is perhaps too forgiving is table nudging. Even after the ball has made it beyond the flippers, it’s incredibly easy to mash the nudge button to jostle the table and keep the ball from rolling down into the grinder and eventually get it to pop back up into the field of play. You can nudge the table endlessly because there is no tilt mechanism to prevent doing so. But in the end it’s an exploit every player can learn to take advantage of. On some level it adds a certain retro charm that becomes a part of the strategy to earning a high score.

The centerpiece table feature is its steam-powered bonus mini-game. The two crescent bars forming the circular area around the bumpers are actually steam gauges that can be filled up by either passing the ball through the lane spinners or, for a larger, instant boost, into the turbine mechanisms on either side, which are accessed by opening the gated ramps after first hitting their tricky-to-get-at unlock buttons.

Each gauge supplies the kickback for the outlane on its respective side of the table, a blast of steam that saves the ball from dropping all the way down to the grinder. While the kickback functionality is very helpful, the main objective is to conserve steam supply until both gauges have been completely filled, at which point a gold cannon appears down between the flippers, ready to launch the ball off for a shot at the bonus round mini-game. This is where the game is at its most challenging and addictive. The bonus round consists of an endless, randomly configured tower of flippers and contraptions. You’re given two and a half minutes (or until the ball is lost) to get the ball as high up the tower as you can. Forward progress is tracked by a height marker that moves up the track as you go, so even if the ball falls back down to a lower tier the highest point for that round is always maintained. At the end of the round, the achieved height is computed into bonus points for your overall table score, and one or more stickers is provided as a reward.

This is pinball so there is no end point as long as you feel like continuing to improve your high score, but a certain level of completion can be achieved by unlocking all 20 of the stickers (10 regulars, and 10 “shiny” rares). Problem is, the unlock requirements for earning stickers are very murky. Coupled with randomized drops, the process of unlocking stickers feels more arbitrary and luck-of-the-draw than rewarding. Case in point, I unlocked 15 of the stickers within my first two hours of play, but in the four to five hours and dozens of bonus round attempts since I’ve earned nothing but regular duplicates and not a single shiny sticker. The developer did tell me on the game’s Steam community forum that a patch is in the works to raise the drop rate for shiny stickers, so that’s something to look forward to.

In a day and age dominated by the 3D flash and sizzle of Zen Studios’ many elaborate and inventive pinball tables, revisiting pinball in 2D may not sound that appealing at first thought. But remarkably, Super Steampunk Pinball 2D does in pixels what Zen Studios has been doing so well in polygons, offering an authentic virtual adaptation of pinball with engaging table mechanisms and a mini-game element that quickly sinks its hooks into you. Reaching new heights in the infinite tower becomes as much of an addiction as increasing your high score, if not more.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Solid 2D pinball physics
+ Infinite tower bonus mini-game becomes incredibly addictive
+ Simple yet engaging steampunk table design
+ Nice variety of leaderboards and gameplay settings

Cons:
– Sticker unlock conditions feel more arbitrary than rewarding
– Presentation is a little drab

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac
Publisher: Devonian Interactive
Developer: NCC Moore, Steve McRae
Release Date: 1/19/2018
Genre: Pinball
Players: 1-2

Source: Steam code for Super Steampunk Pinball 2D was provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by Devonian Interactive.

Buy From: Super Steampunk Pinball 2D is available on Steam for $1.99.

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!