Sunday, 1 November 2015

Chapter XXVIII: Quiksilver Pinball

Until recently, I had used Pizza as an example of a thing that even when it’s bad, it’s better than just standing still and breathing oxygen. I had to let go of the Pizza analogy when eating at a canteen of a workplace some years ago. What they offered as “Pizza” was just pre-made frozen dough, of the most rock-hard variety, covered in ketchup. So I had to come up with a new analogy instead, and that was Pinball.

Everyone loves Pinball right? What isn’t there to love? Just kick the ball to see lovely lights everywhere and numbers going up. When I came up with the substitute for Pizza, I was going through a bout of addiction to the fantastic Pinball Arcade. In that game, even the worst table is miles better than the “Pizza” from the canteen. To avoid having to go through the same disappointment that the ketchup pizza gave me, I started thinking of all the Pinball games that I’ve played throughout my life to see if the analogy still stands.

The Digital Illusions classics, Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies, pass the test easily. Even if they’re not to the current standards of Pinball Arcade, they’re still fantastic games. One of the oldest memories of a game of this kind is me playing Pinball Action on a knackered arcade machine on a coffee shop near my grandma’s house, and that game is still fun, even if a little primitive. The Windows 95 pinball game and Tristan are out of the scope of this blog, but for me they’re still better than playing solitaire. So in the end it came down to one game that was hidden in my memories, and I remember very little about it: Quicksilver Pinball.

Quicksilver Pinball was one of those games that only seemed to exist in my friend Magellan Joe house. In this group of games I also recall Ooops Up and Ninja Rabbits. Maybe they were shitty games for not spreading in the wild like those classic that everyone seemed to have, but for me those games make me remind of those happier times and those friendships long lost. This only means that it’s a huge mistake to revisit the game. Well, at least I can have Ooops Up and Ninja Rabbits to look through rose tinted glasses.

I shouldn’t search about the game before playing it, lest I become filled with preconceptions. But in this case it was useful in showing me that that I was writing the name wrong, and it’s “Quiksilver Pinball” instead. I don’t know why the stupid spelling. Maybe they didn’t want to be sued by the wetsuit company, but I digress. Besides that, I shouldn’t have known that the Lemon Amiga rating for this game is a miserable 3.4. Since there are only 5 votes, maybe I’ll have a chance for making a difference after playing it.

Keeping in line with my low expectations, I’m ready to accept that the music that accompanies the Skid Row cracker screen might be the best thing this game has. Seriously, these tunes were almost always glorious. I pity the fools that didn’t pirate games.

First impressions: It looks like a PD game. The options screen is endearingly amateurish, with a psychedelic frame of colour switching that one might imagine it could happen on an hypothetical 16-bit ZX Spectrum loading screen. My first experience was a frustrating one of not finding the plunger key. It made me search online for the game manual, which while not giving me the answer I was searching for, at least made me aware that the bumping function in this game is known as “Ball English”.  First I thought this was due to some bad translation, but most of the people involved in the game have Anglo-Saxon names, so it either is a very obscure private joke, or some clue for a cheat code. It can even be the porn name of the main programmer for all I know.

Since I never got to know the keyboard key assigned to the plunger, I had to play with the joystick instead, which is a terrible control scheme for a pinball game, but on the upside at least I have a valid excuse for my awful performance. But first I have to talk about the graphics. For some reason, and maybe influenced by the name of the game, I remembered a chrome colour scheme, as if it was designed by the Bitmap Brothers. Not only I was wrong, but the graphics are very plain and charmless. I still can’t shake the image of my head of this metallic pinball game, which lead me to search online for it. No, it doesn’t exist.

As for the rest of the game, it’s quite primitive. There’s no scrolling, so it alternates between the upper and bottom parts of the table, it’s not very smooth and it isn’t particularly well designed. The sound is also very minimalistic, and there’s no music at all, which for me constitutes a capital sin on an Amiga game. It’s needless to say that there’s no multiball or other advanced modes, but that’s expected, as not even the Digital Illusions game had those. Still, age doesn’t excuse the dull design of the table, since the game was released right in the middle of the golden age of pinball machines, as it’s contemporary with famed machines such as Terminator: Judgment Day, The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone.

But to answer the fundamental question, is it fun? Well, sort of. It certainly beats playing shitty games of any other genre, or even below average games of other genre. For me it definitely is better than to play some recent mobile f2p game. In the end, I feel that my analogy is future proof, because if this game can be fun, and better than some pizzas, every other pinball game can. For that reason I feel that the current score for this game on Lemon Amiga is unfairly low, but I’m not going to be like those people who give 10 points to the Hobbit films on IMDB and destroy the system for everyone else. I think a five is more than fair, which upped the score to 3.67. Ok…maybe I should have done like those The Hobbit fanboys after all.

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