Pinball gaming has officially made its mark on the Nintendo Switch with a simultaneous release of Pinball FX3 and Stern Pinball Arcade. Both are free-to-start games, but they offer different experiences from each other.The former focuses on newly designed tables that cannot be replicated in real life, while the latter focuses on faithful recreations of real vintage tables. If you’re familiar with FarSight Studios’ work on their Pinball Hall of Fame and Pinball Arcade series, you know what to expect here. If you aren’t, you can catch up on their history/my history with their games by checking out my Retro Flashback on their work.
Stern Pinball Arcade is formatted not unlike the original Pinball Hall of Fame games, only this time with – of course – tables from Stern Pinball’s archives. Since SEGA sold all of their pinball assets to Stern long ago. I was kind of hoping for a few tables from that era to be represented here (South Park, personally); however, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the only SEGA Pinball table here, and it’s the one table that’s available to play right off the bat. You would have to buy the rest of eleven tables as DLC, whether they be individually bought for $5-10 or together in bundles for $20. If you want the full game altogether, you’d have to pay a total of $40 or go get the physical copy. Having all of them is the only way you’d get to play the Challenge Mode, too.
One small thing I thought was underwhelming was the menu presentation. Compared to how the Hall of Fames made the player feel like he or she is entering a pinball arcade, Stern Pinball Arcade‘s menus just feel static. Other than that, the pinball machines represented in the game look as faithful and true-to-life as they could possibly get. It’s par for the course for the series, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
The same thing goes for the audio coming from the machines. After all, the folks at FarSight take apart the real cabinets to analyze how the tables work and port over the sounds and music from them. There’s something endearing about the slightly muffled clips that would play during the cabinets’ video screens. It’s clear they aged like wine; the sound bytes provide plenty of nostalgia for those that played the silver ball back in the day, and the constant bells and whistles liven up each table with audible glee.
If you’ve ever played a pinball machine, then you can expect the same ball-flinging action in video game form via Stern Pinball Arcade. There is a nice variety of licensed tables in this compilation, from Ripley’s Believe It or Not to Ghostbusters to High Roller Casino. Although pinball can generally be summed up as a game where you hit a ball against bumpers with a pair of flippers, each table has elements unique from one another similarly to how worlds in a video game tend to be distinctive from each other. This is done through memorable set pieces (like the crane in Last Action Hero and the cannon in ACDC) and by carefully designed paths and scoring methods the ball can roll into. If you’re lucky enough, you may even encounter a Video Mode where you have to look at the table’s video screen to play a bonus minigame for points.
Each table also has a set of Table Goals. They basically make up a built-in achievement system, as they are more for bragging rights than anything else. I don’t think they unlock anything, though. It would be nice to unlock an extra table or two by completing enough Goals. If you’re looking for a better sense of progression, you may find the Challenge mode to be of interest. Here, you have to play all of the tables in succession; the only way to move on is by beating a certain score. While I do enjoy playing this mode, tables like Last Action Hero tend to test my patience with their uncanny abilities to screw me over.
Nevertheless, Stern Pinball Arcade is an essential for pinball wizards that own a Nintendo Switch. Even if you aren’t interesting in buying the full package just yet, you could download the digital version from the eShop to play Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for free. It’s not only a great pinball table on its own, but it could probably get you to want more.