Friday, 6 February 2015

GROW: Pinball Fantasies

Pinball Fantasies

Released: 1992
Systems: Amiga, Amiga CD32, DOS, Game Boy, iOS, Jaguar, MeeGo, PSX, PS3, PSP, SNES

Produced by: Digital Ilusions CE
Published by: 21st Century Entertainment
Code: Andreas Axelsson
Graphics: Markus Nyström
Music and FX: Olof Gustafsson
Physics: Ulf Mandorff

Oh, the good old arcades.  The loud noises, the bustling crowds, the flashing lights, the fast moving metal balls...

WAIT!!  What are you talking about?  Arcades are places with upright video games, endless Street Fighter tournaments and gorillas stealing women atop giant construction projects!  Metal balls?

That's right kids, there used to be a time when arcades were all about the "pinballs".  (cue The Who here)  Games that merged the natural world of physics with electronic lights and flipper paddles to create great games of skill.  These games dominated coin based amusement for damn near 50 years until video games came along and stole their thunder.  But they weren't completely beaten, and in the late 80's and early 90's a new batch of pinball games arrived on the scene, merging pixelated displays, digital sounds and basic computer tech to take the thrill of keeping that damn little ball bouncing to a whole new level.  Tables like Terminator 2, The Machine: Bride of Pin-bot, Funhouse, Whirlwind, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Party Zone and Batman showed what the merging of technologies could do for the classic game. 

The boys at Digital Illusions CE were keenly aware of this and knew how to appreciate these gems, first by creating the superb Pinball Dreams and following it up a year later with Pinball Fantasies.

Originally released for the Amiga, the game featured unprecedentedly smooth scrolling and realistic ball physics.  The decision to scroll the table as opposed to showing it all at once, which had been the norm with pinball simulations up until that point, meant that the 4X3 proportions of the old RGB monitors were no longer a limitation to detail and precise ball shooting.  Of course this move did bring a few new problems, such as the impossibility of a true multiball mode, but given the complex physics of the game this probably wouldn't have been possible without a serious hit to the frame rate anyway.

The games sounds are perfectly atmospheric, combining the ball and flipper noises one would expect with digital samples of speech and sound effects to indicate when objectives have been met or specific game modes have been entered.

The big innovation over the previous entry in the series, Pinball Dreams, is the overhead display, which is no longer a digital symbol display, similar to an old digital watch, but a pixel based amber display, as one would see in an arcade of the time, or on a modern pinball table.  Graphics, scrolling text, scores, etc. keep you informed of what's going on and what your goals are.

The game  is made up of four tables: Party Land, Speed Devils, Billion Dollar Gameshow and Stones 'n Bones.

Party Land: 
Heavily influenced by the then current pinball game Funhouse, it has a theme park motif.  The course features three main ramps, with one only accessible by using a third flipper located half way up the table.  As in most of these tables there is a hidden target at the apex of the big loop, which, if measured just right can be hit without too many problems. A great table, with a log of challenge and replay value.

Speed Devils:
A car race themed table, that again features a mid table flipper, and multiple intertwined ramps.  The table rewards maintaining the speed of the proceedings, so combining different ramps will get you extra points.  The largest of the ramps requires quite a bit of speed on the ball to climb up, so strategically laid out sequences of shots will be necessary to master it.

Billion Dollar Gameshow:
My personal favorite table in the batch.   This gameshow themed table has you trying to win big money and big prizes!  At the top center is a tangle of ramps and targets that require a lot of skill to hit and successfully navigate.  The big open space in the bottom half of the table, requires a lot of long distance shots and practicing this is rewarded. 
I can still hear the anouncer talling me I just won a TV...

Stones 'n Bones:
A nightmare themed table, that Relies on long distance shots (no mid table flipper) and a almost dizzying mix of ramps and platforms.  Probably the most complex design of the bunch, mastering this table takes a lot of practice, but is again very rewarding.  Simply mashing the flipper buttons will get you nowhere, as many ramps are only accessible with the precise speed and angle on the ball.

So while the game saw many ports (mainly by other developers, mostly quite inferior, with problems with either sound effects, scrolling, physics or a combination of the above), as well as a 256 color AGA update for the Amiga 1200 and CD32, the classic Amiga version is probably still my favorite.  It isn't as complex as modern pinball simulations such as Pinball Arcade, but it brought pinball home, saved a bunch of quarters and kept the dream of the silver ball alive!

Review by Trantor


  1. Great review.. I love this Pinball game and was suprised on a previous RGS podcast that the US boys hated it (assume they did the SNES one)

    Nowadays a good place to buy it is on

    This pack includes all the games in the series Pinball Dreams Pinball Fantasy, Pinball Illusions, Pinball Fantasies/Pinball Mania.

  2. Top Review!!! I never played this one back in the day but will give it a try soon as I really like how each of the tables have their own play styles. Many of the pinball games from the early 90's always felt like the same game just with a different skin so this looks promising and refreshing.

  3. Nice review Karl. I used to love Pinball Fantasies and Pinball Dreams on my A500. We really need to the get RGS guys to play the Amiga version of this one.

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