Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
In the back corner of the dimly lit arcade one can find a special machine amidst the smoky haze of gamer exhaust. The Wizard approaches and allows a thin smile to creep across his face as he surveys the cabinet in all its beeping booping paddle-flipping light-up glory. It is called Pin*Bot and the table is one radical ride through the solar system, causing anxious palms to sweat and the heart to start pounding. He leans forward, one hand on the plunger, the other wiping his brow before he takes a deep breath and slowly exhales. In that moment, time slows down, all else fades, and the galaxy beckons for one last celestial game through the cosmos.
In 1990, high-quality developer Rare released a pinball machine-based video game called Pinbot for the Nintendo EntertainmentSystem. The cartridge was based on the Pin*Bot pinball unit manufactured by legendary arcade cabinet producer Williams, with their logo firmly planted on the bottom of the gameplay screen throughout the 8-bit iteration.
Up to four players could take turns at the PinBot table, but pinball is a one-player pursuit at its core. The B button pulls the plunger, the A button uses the right flipper, any input on the directional pad uses the left flipper, the Select button bumps the tables to the right, and the Start button bumps the table to the left. Hitting the B button on the second controller pauses the game, and from the pause screen can select different options for music, voice, and sound effects.
Otherwise, this is a pinball simulation, so the goal is to rack up as high of a score as possible. Beating the default computer high score (a little over 9,800,000 points) will earn a credits screen. Among the NES pinball conversions and other iterations, this is likely the best, as the ball mechanics and overall gameplay effects are fantastic. From the targets to the solar ramp to the on-board lights to the bumpers to the Cyclone to the multipliers to the ball locks, PinBot is a pinball classic and this 8-bit cartridge version performs honorably as a console port.
Although truly understanding all of the scoring opportunities at work would require play experience combined with reading the instruction manual or an online guide, the basic gist of the game involves trying to travel from Pluto to the Sun and thus every planet in between by hitting certain targets on the table and completing other objectives. There is some double-ball play available, during which all scoring is doubled (which essentially makes two-ball time a quadruple-scoring opportunity). There is a Solar Ramp that increases a bonus given by using a right-side exit, by 50,000 points each from a beginning point of 100,000. There is a certain spot on the Cyclone, the initial point of plunger launch, that rewards 100,000 for precision, and forms a worthwhile goal if the player can earn multiple shots in one round. The default setting is for three balls, with opportunities for extras to be earned.
The play is fast-paced, gorgeous, and with just enough challenge to maintain replay value. There is a way to advance levels, which then introduces on-screen enemies, which seems silly for a pinball port and actually cheapens the experience somewhat; however, to an extent, the foes can be avoided or defeated outright. Otherwise, this is a classic pinball machine brought to a television screen for the enjoyment of both pinball enthusiasts and overall retro gamers alike.
Pinbot is a gorgeous game by its own merits, but truly remarkable as a pinball game. The spot-on, pitch-perfect presentations keeps the classic ingredients such as blinking lights and smooth movement intact, with welcome flourishes such as a modest contrail on the rolling ball and notably rapid action in the bumper cluster. Even elements such as the high-score screen and title screen are absolutely groovy, including a full-screen shot of the Pin*Bot woman, a scantily clad robot female that sublimely fits the retro sci-fi arcade feel.
Pinbot on the NES must be played in order to fully appreciate the immaculate quality of its soundtrack. Not only are there explosion effects with punch and wonderful digitized robotic voice effects, but the background music is outstanding. The bass synths hit terrifically low notes for 8-bit console hardware, and the entire experience is soaked in science fiction disco arcade cabinet pinball nostalgia. A text description cannot do it justice.
Pinbot was not the first nor nearly the only pinball simulation on the Nintendo EntertainmentSystem, but it arguably the golden standard. Its frozen-frame gameplay, with the bottom fifth of the screen showing the paddles while the rest scrolled across the table accordingly, was a stroke of necessary genius. The entire presentations displays a perfect environment for the intended setting, a spectacularly retro-chic sensation that only enhances the addictive nature of this title.
While it can be difficult to pinpoint all the truly innovative bits, Pinbot on NES showed what happens when two noteworthy companies like Williams and Rare somehow combine to provide gamers with a superb experience. While the addition of enemies and the occasional flipper physics flaws tarnish what could have been something truly singularly extraordinary, Pinbot is still a very solid game and racks up four stars out of five for its tubular, addictive qualities.
For reviews of other NES video games, both ports and originals alike, check out NintendoLegend.com.