Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Stern Pinball Arcade Review (XONE)

Makers of fine digital recreations of real pinball tables FarSight Studios have teamed up with Stern Pinball, the real world makers of many of those real pinball tables, for the stand alone release of Stern Pinball Arcade, a sister title to the extremely great The Pinball Arcade already available on Xbox One and other platforms.  Stern Pinball Arcade features quite a few tables already available in The Pinball Arcade, which makes the $40 price tag a little tough to swallow, but the new exclusive tables introduced here are pretty fantastic.  Value is always going to be subjective, though, so we won’t go too far into that, and instead can happily report that the pinball gameplay itself in Stern Pinball Arcade is as sharp and as close to perfecting the real thing as ever.  See all of the details here in our full Stern Pinball Arcade review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: FarSight Studios            
  • Developer: FarSight Studios
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Pinball
  • Pros: Awesome gameplay; perfect recreations of the tables; good selection of tables
  • Cons: Expensive; missing some features from The Pinball Arcade
  • MSRP: $40 for disc, tables can also be purchased a la carte
Read our review of The Pinball Arcade

Stern Pinball Arcade is available both as a $40 retail game that includes all ten currently available tables, but also as a “free” digital platform similar to how The Pinball Arcade works.  You can download the Stern Pinball Arcade for free, and it comes with the Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein table, but you’ll have to buy the other tables separately.  The tables are available either individually or in bundles and you get by far the best cost-per-table-ratio buying bundles of tables or, better yet, getting the physical disc for $40 (or less on sale).  Hardcore pinball fans might not need or want to buy all of the tables here, though, as we’ll detail below (spoilers: you probably already have some of them).

Value is sort of a relative term because $40 for 10 tables is a far cry from the 13 tables for $30 offered in Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection back in 2009 or the huge array of tables available in The Pinball Arcade, but you also have to consider that the tables featured in Stern Pinball Arcade cost a lot more to produce.  Many of the tables in Stern Pinball Arcade are more modern and, thus, more complicated to emulate.  Likewise, most of them also carry mainstream licenses which make them much more expensive.  This is a trend that we have started seeing in season 4 and 5 of The Pinball Arcade that is simply continuing here.  FarSight Studios have pretty much exhausted the cheap and easy tables so the days of being able to buy a dozen tables for a song are pretty much over and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly. 

As mentioned above, a surprisingly large chunk of the tables on offer here are also in The Pinball Arcade.  Of the ten tables currently available, seven of them are also in The Pinball Arcade (and, no, tables you buy in one game don’t cross over to the other, they’re separate).  Those tables are Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Phantom of the Opera, Harley Davidson Third Edition, Starship Troopers, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Last Action Hero, and High Roller Casino.  If you already own them in The Pinball Arcade then the Stern Pinball Arcade isn’t nearly as interesting.  Since it is a stand-alone release it does come with its own set of achievements for these games and a fresh 1000 points of GamerScore, though, which might be enough to entice some players to double dip. 

Or you can, of course, save some cash and only buy the handful of brand new tables.  The three new tables are very interesting and represent some of the most ambitious and innovative pinball tables ever made.  Star Trek (based on the J.J. Abrams movies) is from 2013, AC/DC is from 2012, and Mustang is from 2014 and all are brand new to the Pinball Arcade franchise and incredibly high tech with licensed music tracks, multiple game modes, and complex scoring and mission systems that really push the boundaries of pinball.  Stern Pinball Arcade will also be getting its own line of DLC tables as well with a Ghostbusters table already lined up with more to come down the road. 

There are a couple of other slight differences between The Pinball Arcade and Stern Pinball Arcade as well.  Stern Pinball Arcade presents all of the tables in a sort of 3D arcade with all sorts or artwork for the machines and tchotchkies on the walls and it looks very cool.  The load times are a little longer in Stern Pinball Arcade, though, and it is missing the options to change the room lighting and select different colored balls.  Being able to change the lighting in particular is very helpful for certain tables in The Pinball Arcade, so not having that option here is a bit disappointing. 

The core pinball gameplay itself in Stern Pinball Arcade is exactly what we’ve come to expect from FarSight Studios.  The tables are perfect digital recreations of the real tables with impeccable ball physics and they’re even running the same ROM code as the real tables to ensure everything plays just like the real world versions.  The tables play great, the physics feel right, and all ten tables are an absolute blast to play.  When you realize that pinball isn’t simply about randomly hitting the ball to survive and that there are actual missions to complete and high level play requires a decent amount of skill, suddenly things become a lot more interesting and addictive and awesome and Stern Pinball Arcade delivers those feelings in spades.

I think it is important to remember that Stern Pinball Arcade isn’t just the sum of its current parts and is actually a new platform that will improve as new tables are added in the future.  We certainly wish there was more new stuff here, but as a way to lay the foundation for the future Stern tables to be added later it is solid.  Pinball die-hards likely will already have most of the tables here, but in that case you can only buy the new ones and skip the ones you already own and look forward to the new tables coming later as DLC.  If you’re a Pinball Arcade newbie and haven’t already played these tables, on the other hand, Stern Pinball Arcade is a pretty good way to get your feet wet and well worth a look. 
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by FarSight Studios.