Pinball Challenge Deluxe – A Retrospective Review

Several years before DICE started to make their wildly popular Battlefield series, they made pinball games. Starting out as an offshoot of a Swedish Amiga demoscene group, The Silents, the company then known as Digital Illusions released three of the stable of pinball games published by the British company, 21st Century Entertainment Ltd. First released for the Amiga and then ported to several other platforms, including MS-DOS, the SNES and the Atari Jaguar, Pinball Dreams, Pinball Fantasies and Pinball Illusions were well regarded by the contemporary video game press.

In 2002, the same year as DICE released the first of the games in the Battlefield series, DICE’s pinball games found their way onto the Game Boy Advance. Developed by another British company, Binary9 Studios and published by Ubisoft, Pinball Challenge Deluxe incorporates all of the elements of the first two games in the series, Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies. With eight tables available covering a range of themes from horror to space travel, Pinball Challenge Deluxe has plenty to offer for a pinball fan.

DICE’s pinball games tended towards the simulationist bent, with realistic ball physics and tables that looked and felt like they could easily make the transition to the physical domain. Binary9 did an expert job of replicating that on the Game Boy Advance, with the physics and table layouts fully intact. The developers did have to compensate for the lower resolution and smaller screen size of the Game Boy Advance compared to the Amiga, with the game requiring considerably more in the way of scrolling on the playfield, but aside from requiring more in the way of prediction to figure out where the ball is going to fall onto the flippers, their efforts do not diminish from the fun of the game. On the other hand, Binary9 have included some extra details on some of the tables that were not present in the original Amiga versions for the Original Chip Set and the game retains its colourful and stylistic presentation, which does a good job of capturing the essence of each table.

The music has been ported over properly as well. Originally composed by Olof Gustafsson and representing some of the best tracker music on the Amiga, the music is one of the highlights not only of the original DICE versions but of the Game Boy Advance port. The music does retain the Amiga version’s tendency to cut out and restart from a certain point after certain sound effects, probably a consequence of the Amiga’s limited number of sound channels, but this is authentic and doesn’t detract from the quality of the music in the first place.

I find the controls to be a mixed bag. While successfully putting all of the controls from the Amiga version onto the handheld platform, including flippers, spring control and a button to tilt the table vertically – and a tilt sensor to regulate use of that feature – the flipper controls are mapped to the shoulder buttons. Most pinball games I have played on Nintendo’s handheld systems have instead or also allowed the use of the left arrow key and the A button and while the use of the shoulder buttons works out acceptably on the original model of Game Boy Advance and the Game Boy Micro, it is a bit uncomfortable on the Game Boy Advance SP models or the Nintendo DS in either of its GBA-compatible forms. Nevertheless, the controls are responsive and the mapping isn’t a deal-breaker.

Pinball Challenge Deluxe doesn’t add many elements that weren’t already present in the original games. The load times are substantially better than they were on the Amiga original by virtue of the cartridge storage medium and the options menu does give you the option to decrease the volume of the sound effects and music, while also giving the option of how many balls you get per playthrough, from the original three up to five. However, I’m not particularly fond of the latter option, as I think it plays havoc with the authenticity of the original gameplay. On the other hand, the Pinball Fantasies tables retain the original feature whereby one can randomly receive an extra ball after losing their last one based on the first digit of their score and the game also saves three high scores per table.

Generally though, despite the lack of extra features over the original games, Pinball Challenge Deluxe is a good conversion of the original games. Retaining the same challenging, yet rewarding simulation of real-world pinball, the colourful and stylish graphics and the outstanding music, it’s a solid package and while the diminished resolution and extra scrolling of the Game Boy Advance versions mean that the Amiga versions are still what I would consider to be the definitive versions, the portability and quicker loading times make this a port worthy of praise.

Bottom Line: Pinball Challenge Deluxe does a good job of replicating what made the original Amiga games so much fun and maintains the strong simulation of pinball on a portable game system.

Recommendation: If you’re a pinball fan looking for fun on the go, take a look at it. It’s also a decent title for dipping your toes into the world of pinball, but don’t pay too much for it.

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