We’re big fans of pinball video games, and over time, the differences between “great,” “good,” and “okay” titles have become fairly obvious to us. Simply stated, Gameloft’s new Mystery Mansion Pinball ($5) is a good pinball game for Click Wheel iPods, dragged down in our ratings by some odd lag and control issues that detract from what would otherwise have been a solid new addition to the iPod nano, classic, and 5G library. Pinball fans will enjoy it anyway.
Mystery Mansion Pinball has been designed around the theme of a storybook monster mansion, notably featuring an oversized Frankenstein head with sometimes glowing eyes, animated crows picking at the table’s corners, a ghostly lane, and electrocuted bumpers. For the most part, the game consists of standard up and down scrolling across two total screens full of targets, ramps, bumpers and obstacles, but the speed and variety of objectives keeps the pinball action interesting. Gameloft’s collision detection, physics system, and rules are also a little on the generous side, so you don’t feel as if you’re always losing balls and prematurely ending the game.
Two people can take turns playing, or a single person can play alone.
Though pinball games tend not to photograph especially well, we were pleased with the overall mood set by Gameloft here, and oddities aside, the audio portion is definitely better than what we hear in many Click Wheel iPod titles. There are continuous voice and bumper sound effects, surprisingly consisting of repeated phrases such as “I am the devil,” zaps of electricity and the like, as well as lightly spooky music that’s half theme park and half rock opera. It’s obvious that someone actually sat down and tried to make this game entertaining, and somewhat easy to follow, even adding a digital score and instruction board to the top of the screen.
There’s also a surprise of sorts in the form of a “video screen” that appears as a narrow overlay in the middle of the table on occasion, letting you play mini-games that are triggered by hitting targets on the table. One is sort of a Frankenstein Dance Dance Revolution where you have to hit the left or right Click Wheel buttons when a moving arrow hovers over a fixed arrow pointing in the same direction; another has you dropping liquid into vials, and another has you hitting the arrows to steer a mine cart through a crypt.
The games aren’t a ton of fun, not are they especially graphically impressive, but they break up the action and attempt to keep in theme with the table.
The single biggest issue with Mystery Mansion Pinball during our testing was that it seemed to be straining to fit everything on the horizontally oriented iPod screen. Most pinball games we’ve seen on consoles run for the equivalent of three screen lengths, scrolling and sometimes zooming in to show you where things are going on, but between the ever-present scoreboard and the relatively short pinball table, Gameloft obviously had to make some compromises to try and let you see the action—especially when the game shifts into multiball mode and you don’t know what’s happening with all the balls at once. We would have been more impressed if the table was larger, or if there were some better special effects, or if the game had transitioned from table to full-screen mini-games to present the action.
Gameloft may have been limited by the iPod’s memory. For whatever reason, Mystery Mansion Pinball exhibited a more than typical tendency to stutter and lag in controls during our testing. Despite the apparent simplicity of the gameplay and the mini-games, the hard drive constantly seemed to be loading as we played, and there were times when a screen stutter, split-second freeze, or apparent control lock stopped us from being able to really hit targets as we normally would have.