Thursday, October 05, 2006

Metroid Prime Pinball Post-Mortem

[Now Experiencing] [Computer Gaming]

Everyone likes a good pinball game. There's something really viscerally satisfying about using flippers to bash a ball bearing around the insides of a complex electronic device. And if ever there was a console on which this particular style of time-waster belonged, it's the Nintendo DS. So really, Metroid Prime Pinball seems like it should be a marriage made in heaven.

Metroid, of course, is the classic exploration-based platformer starring everyone's favourite bounty hunting woman, Samus. Metroid Prime is Metroid as a 3D first-person-shooter, as released on the GameCube to general acclaim and applause. Metroid Prime Pinball is neither 3D nor a shooter, so the word "Prime" in its title is probably a bit redundant.

In Metroid Prime Pinball you'll be taking control of Samus, who's on an important mission to... do... something, which in some way involves a pinball table. Oh, who am I kidding, there's no plot - it's just a pinball game with a Metroid skin.

Samus spends most of the time in her bomb-laying morph ball form during the game, which ideally is exactly the right size and shape to use as a pinball on the variety of table layouts the game throws at you. Most of the pinball tables are divided into upper and lower components, each with a set of flippers - you'll be generally trying to keep Samus on the upper part of the table, depicted on the top screen, for maximum point scorage and minimum danger. The flippers are controlled by either the left and right shoulder buttons, or the D-Pad and X button. Rubbing the touchscreen shakes the table. Samus occasionally changes into bipedal form for certain challenges; during this mode, she stands in the middle of the table and fires her gun, and you use the shoulder buttons to aim her shots at incoming enemies.

There are five tables in all, plus a special multiplayer table. You're regularly given opportunities to move from table to table by shooting special targets on the play area. Each table has a variety of achievements to aim for, such as dealing with invasions of metroids, or fighting off swarms of shriekbats. Successfully achieving an objective rewards Samus with an artifact. Collecting all 12 artifacts on a single playthrough allows Samus access to the final table and a showdown against that infamous dragon-pirate-thing, Ridley.

There is no way to save your progress. I'll say that twice - there is no way to save your progress. You get all 12 artifacts in one sitting, without losing all your lives, or you start from the very beginning. The game records your high scores, and makes tables you've reached in the main game mode available for single-table play, and that's it. I got all 12 artifacts on my very first game, and then died against Ridley. I've never been able to get more than 10 on any subsequent attempt.

The core gameplay is sound. The controls are tight, and bouncing Samus around the table is reasonably fun. However, the achievements you aim for are a bit shallow, and the tables themselves are not particularly complicated. Of the five tables, three are boss fights, and are significantly less involved than the other two. Overall, the lack of content included with the game is disgusting, and will likely leave you feeling like you're playing a demo rather than the full game.

The game ships with a "rumble pak", which goes into your DS's GBA slot, and causes your system to vibrate in connection with the movements of Samus around the screen. This makes the process of hitting bumpers and so forth a bit more fun, but is largely just a gimmick. You can also use the rumble pak with Metroid Prime: Hunters, which does NOT ship with the pak, so if you're a big Hunters fan you might be able to justify the purchase in that way.

The levels of Metroid Prime Pinball are based on recognisable environments from the original Metroid Prime, including the Tallon Overworld and the Space Pirate Freighter. Very memorable tunes from the Metroid series play throughout, and there's obviously been a fair amount of care spent to make sure that the game is as much Metroid as it is Pinball.

There's a wireless multiplayer mode included with the game (not compatible with play over the internet). In this mode, up to eight players compete on a single table to see who can reach a target score first. You only get one choice of table, one choice of target score, and you're not actually occupying the same play space. Everyone gets their own version of the table on their own system, and the score progress of your opponents is tracked on a bar at the top of the screen. You have infinite lives, but losing a ball costs you a chunk of score. This whole mode is actually a lot more fun than it sounds, especially if you're close enough to your opponents to hear them cursing their failures and cheering their successes, but ultimately it's still fairly shallow and unlikely to last you beyond a few games.

Overall, if you see Metroid Prime Pinball for a bargain price, and you're a pinball fan, then you may find it worth getting, but otherwise, when there are so many other really good DS titles available, there's no justifiable reason to waste money on this.

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