As a long-time fan of pinball, I’ve always been drawn to home versions regardless of the platform. Whether it was the Pinball Dreams series on the Amiga, Zen Pinball 2 on the PS3 or it’s later conversion to the PS Vita. But since joining the ranks of Switch owners worldwide, it was obvious that I was going to start a collection on that as well. And kicking things off was Stern Pinball Arcade…
The Oddity That Is Stern Pinball Arcade
I have to be honest and say that this is a strange release for the Switch. Developed by Farsight Studios, they made their pinball debut on the PSP converting a series of tables from Williams and Bally across two superb themed releases. Over time, their game engine evolved, bringing perfect recreations of some of the world’s top pinball machines into the home.
But in the case of this release, something odd happened. Stern Pinball Arcade offers players 11 different tables from manufacturer Stern. Available from Nintendo’s eShop, the core game engine is free with individual tables or table packs are available to buy depending on which ones take your fancy. However, also available is The Pinball Arcade. This was Farsight’s earlier pinball release which also includes these 11 tables, but also offers ones from other manufacturers.
But for now I’m focusing on Stern Pinball Arcade itself. The age of the tables on offer vary, but they’re all from the relatively modern pinball era, each having animated dot matrix video displays to accompany the on-table action. There are plenty of licensed tables based on film and television franchises (something Stern specialise in), and the set includes tables dedicated to Star Trek, Ghostbusters, AC/DC, Starship Troopers and more.
I do have fond memories of the AC/DC table in particular. I remember playing this on holiday in an arcade near the entrance to Blackpool’s answer to a newzealand casino (in the same building that housed a cabaret theatre) prior to seeing a show by a Queen tribute band. Hearing the music blast out from the table really set the theme of the table perfectly, with no fewer than 12 of the band’s classic tracks pumping out of the speakers. It certainly got me in the mood for the rock show I was on the way to see later that evening.
Playing The Game
Each table is selected from a main master menu, and while loading the original table flyer is displayed. Once loaded, controls are simple enough – the shoulder buttons control the flippers, the analogue sticks control the tilt and either the A button or right stick activate the plunger to launch the ball. The screen can be rotated through 90 degrees to play the tables in portrait mode for easier viewing although this is better suited for use on a regular Switch rather than the Switch Lite that I own. Finally, there are a choice of four viewing angles so you can adjust the game to suit your own tastes.
A Mixed Bag
Not all the tables will be to everyone’s taste but that’s only to be expected. Phantom Of The Opera left me somewhat cold but as I said before I absolutely loved AC/DC. High Roller Casino is probably one of the hidden gems amongst the collection though. It’s not licenced but really manages to capture the feel and atmosphere of the best high roller casino sites and real casinos without having to leave your house. With plenty of mini games, it’s amazing how much has been crammed into this single table.
One I was probably looking forward to the most was Ghostbusters though. Arguably one of my favourite films of all time, apart from the music and snippets of speech from the film, I felt that it was a bit of a let down. Perhaps I was expecting too much from the table, but there didn’t seem to be any story build up in the table itself as some have done before. Instead, the game modes seem to be a randomly arranged mix of scenes and encounters from the film and it just felt disjointed.
As I mentioned earlier, one thing I did find confusing about this game was it’s availability online. In the eShop it’s available both as Stern Pinball Arcade and The Pinball Arcade. Frustratingly, despite all of the tables in Stern Pinball being available in The Pinball Arcade, you need to purchase them again to use them in its sister title.
When Zen Studios released their separate titles on the PlayStation 2 and PS Vita (Zen Pinball 2 and Star Wars Pinball), purchase of a table on one game automatically unlocked it for use on the other. Here it just feels like greed from the developer.
While this is available as a series of individual tables or packs through the eShop, the best option to buy Stern Pinball Arcade is at retail. While digital titles for the Switch are usually cheaper or at least comparable to their physical releases, this is something of an exception.
Buying the individual tables (or the packs) could cost as much as £40 to get all 11 tables. While this is still good value for money for so many arcade perfect tables, it’s a shocking price compared to the boxed version. Now this is a curiosity in itself.
At retail it’s available both as a physical cartridge and more commonly as a Code In A Box. The latter is available from most retailers for under £15 – a fraction of the price on the eShop even though it’s the same product. It’s still a great game either way, but given the price I know which option I would choose.
Stern Pinball Arcade is a fantastic release, but the you won’t come back to play all the tables. It’s a self-contained game if you opt for the retail version and that will give you the best value for your money. It’s a perfect game for pinball purists and you won’t find a more accurate recreation of these classics, but for sheer fun the Pinball FX series from Zen Studios still wins out.