Video games used to be a magical thing. I’m
not talking about Final Fantasy or any of
those games that purport to use magic, I’m
talking about the technology itself. You hook
this box up to the television, plug in this
big gray thing, and bam. You’re playing
tennis, right there in your living room. And
not just Pong, no, by gum, this thing has
COLOR. And you don’t even have to put clingfilm
over the screen!
Here’s the problem, though. Those days are
kinda past. We’re all too savvy for basic
verisimilitude, well-executed as it may be.
If you haven’t noticed, this shot of Tennis
– another of the NES launch titles… well,
it hasn’t changed. Because this is all the
gameplay there is. Now, mind you, it’s well-executed,
down to the timing of your swing determining
the ball’s trajectory, and all the actual
rules of tennis are there. Heck, you’ve
even got Mario or some Mario-lookalike up
there on the chair, if you need a face at
which to direct your John McEnroe-style rage.
But at the end of the day, it’s just a game
of tennis, no more, no less. You can select
a difficulty, you can play singles or doubles,
one or two players. And then it’s just bouncing
a ball over the net. We can no longer see
the novelty in such an exercise, unless it’s
got Mario and Sega franchises bundled in.
Unfortunately, however hard you squint, that
opposing player is never going to look like
So let’s do ourselves a favor and combine
some of these more simplistic NES titles into
one video. The only force stronger than video
games during their ascension in the 70’s
and 80’s was the Pinball table, famous in
story and song. Mostly the Tommy soundtrack.
Anyway, why plunk quarters into a machine
when you could just buy Pinball for that shiny
new NES! There’s all of… one table, and
you can take turns with two players! At least
here, we have some interesting things to hit,
and it makes noise! There are seals, and penguins!
It’s like going to the zoo, right here in…
… alright, I can’t fake it anymore. Yes,
it’s Pinball, and it’s a mere step on
our way toward later sensations like Kirby’s
Pinball Land, Metroid Pinball, The Pinball
of the Dead, and that space pinball game that
was bundled with Windows 95 and everyone – I
mean everyone – has played while trying to
look busy. I realize that it takes skill and
effort to truly understand a pinball table
and how to milk points out of it as optimally
as possible… but let’s not kid ourselves.
This is a mere representation of Pinball.
The ball itself is an illusion, a guess at
best, and the physics… well, this is an
NES cart, after all. Sometimes things happen
in a way that would leave even Bill Nye guessing,
as if the Hubble suddenly fell out of space.
Still, there are plenty of things to do on
this table, either lighting up this royal
flush on the lower screen here, or clearing
these seven targets on the left that open
up a path on the right. There’s a slot machine
on the top screen, along with a progressive
target, a ramp on the left that triggers a
bonus from the seals, and…
This weird Mario-kinda-breakout-save-Pauline-thing.
My, that’s a lot of hyphens. For only being
a couple years old, Mario sure got around
back in the day. Line judge, Pinball accoutrement,
boxing referee… face it, no matter what
the age of the game, that is the hardest-working
moustache in game business.