True Pinball is one of those games that everyone on the planet seemed to own but me. Indeed, whenever I would ask the kids at school what games they had for their PlayStation, they would invariably read off a list that included it. If I ever perused the magazines, I would see it included in package bundles where you could purchase the console with a selection of games. It holds a place in the PlayStation platinum range, which means it sold more than 400,000 copies in one year, making it one of the best-selling games on the whole console. And yet despite all this, the best I could get from people who had played it was usually, “It’s just a pinball game, really,” which seemed quite understated for a game that seemed popular enough to have sold as many copies as it had.
Looking back at it now with modern eyes, and also taking into account that I have now managed to play it after tracking it down at a Cash Converters pre-lockdown for a paltry £1.99, the fact that True Pinball finds itself in the platinum range is kind of amazing. To put it into perspective, the sales figures it enjoyed puts it in the same group as all of the Spyro and Crash games, Tomb Raiders 1 to 3, and also Final Fantasy VII. These are big-selling games that all earned themselves a platinum label, so having True Pinball essentially in the same club is kind of impressive.
Part of me thinks that a contributing factor to the sales True Pinball enjoyed was that it came out in 1996 when the PlayStation was still in its youth and early adopters were looking for releases to pad out their burgeoning game collections. Seeing as the console was yet to truly hit its stride, a rather barebones pinball simulator that you could play with up to 8 of your friends, should you wish to, would likely have sounded like something worth getting thanks to its broad appeal and multiplayer possibilities.
Regardless of your video game-playing ability, anyone can have a bash at pinball, so it made the game instantly pick up and playable whilst also offering a further challenge for someone if they wanted to try and master it. I must admit that I enjoyed my time with True Pinball, even though I’m hardly an especially good pinball player myself, because it delivers pretty much everything you are expecting from a game like it, and it works great as either a brief time killer or something that you can sink an entire evening into in the pursuit of high scores.
True Pinball has a choice of four tables, Law and Justice, Babewatch, Extreme Sports, and Vikings, with each one having its own unique pratfalls and bonuses. My personal favourite of the four was Vikings, mainly because it was the one I was the best at, for whatever reason. As well as being able to assign a button to the left and right flipper, you can also assign buttons to nudge the table itself either up, to the left or to the right, depending on what you need to do at any given moment. As someone who is far from a Pinball Wizard, I’ve yet to really get the hang of nudging either in the virtual or real pinball realm, but ideally, you can use it to move the ball towards one of your flippers when it looks like it’s going to fall between them or to even set up certain shots if possible.
Ultimately, combining nudging and timing of your shots is what you will need to do in order to maximise the amount of points you score, so if you want to keep ranking up the points total, then you can hunker down and fine tune your skills until the table quakes in fear at your mere presence. One big downside to the game, however, is that there isn’t any save function, which means you will not only have to recalibrate your controller settings every time you boot it up, but your hard-fought high scores will be wiped every time you switch the console off, which strikes me as a bit of a design flaw. Surely the big appeal of this game is to break the high score record and then show off the fruits of your labours to your mates? What’s the point in not giving a player the chance to save their high scores? I can only assume that memory cards were still kind of a new thing back in 96, and it wasn’t considered that people would want to keep such things.
Overall, True Pinball is a decent slice of pinball action, and I certainly got my money’s worth when you consider how little I had to pay for it. I think charging more than budget price for it would be a tad criminal, but as a cheap bit of fun, True Pinball more than delivers on what you would want from it. I must say that playing it intrigued me on the game of pinball in general, and I might look further into it once lockdown finally meets its bitter end, and I’ll be free to actually head to some arcades again so that I can have a bash on some real tables.