I’ve Been Playing Pinball Wrong

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Today we’re talking about Pinball. Kinda weird, but just roll with it.

Plants vs. Zombies Table
Plants vs. Zombies Table

Did you know that in various pinball games you are actually supposed to aim the ball at specific lanes and targets in order to complete specialized missions? There is actually a way to win pinball games aside from just trying to get a high score.  Seriously, this blew my mind; I was completely unaware of the depth of pinball. I can imagine most people already know this and it’s likely about as earth-shatteringly informative as announcing to the world that ketchup comes in squeeze bottles now, but yeah… Pinball, man.

Back when I was a boogery little kid in the 90’s Keen and I used to go to the arcade every now and then. We usually stuck to the flashier stuff or anything Ninja Turtle related but every now and then we played pinball, which usually drew us in with the neat table themes. As far as I knew, and even up until a few days ago, I thought the only point of pinball was just trying to keep your ball alive and get a high score. Mash the bumpers, see the neat lights flash, hear the cool sound effects, repeat. I had no idea to the complexity of these machines and I really wonder now how anybody knew anything. Was there a chart or rulebook tucked in the side somewhere? Anyway, arcades kinda died, or at least our interest did, and ever since my only encounters with pinball have been in Windows 3D Pinball – Space Cadet, which was an amusing distraction if the internet ever went out.

Epic Quest Table
Epic Quest Table

Just this past Thursday Zen Pinball 2 released on the Wii U eShop and caught my interest. I’ve been looking for some games to play that can also be played on just the game pad, which is a surprisingly absent feature in a lot of games, and this fit the bill. I played through the trial version of about half of their tables and I was just so surprised and confused at what was going on. For example, in one table called Epic Quest you can actually level up your character, find loot, travel around, fight monsters, etc. It’s a freakin’ RPG in a pinball table. I can’t even find the words to describe how awestruck it made me. So from there I picked up a few tables and find my nights completely dominated by pinball.

So that is pretty much the end of my pinball story. Well, the end of my accounting of it, at least. I have no plans to stop playing any time soon. I’m actually really hoping that the Star Wars tables make it into Zen Pinball 2 on Wii U and it would be pretty freaking awesome if we could get some Nintendo Themed tables. Mario? Zelda? Yes please.

  • Space Cadet was this shit and it is all I’ll ever need in terms of pinball. Sunk dozens of hours into it and still haven’t gotten anywhere near to a respectable rank. It has a surprising amount of depth and I’ve just never been able to get into any other pinball game. It’s like trying to play non-Summoner’s Rift league of legends- it just doesn’t sit right.

  • Check out Pinball Arcade on PS3, Xbox, Mac, or iOS. It recreates real-world pinball tables complete with ROM emulation and probably includes some tables that you played before, from Attack From Mars to Star Trek. My personal favorite is Medieval Madness with its Monty Python humor.

    If you want to see a high-level player walk you through the tables, check out the tutorials at http://pinball.org/videos/tutorials/ There are also tournament videos on that site with commentary. The level of play in pro pinball is amazing.

  • Yeah, I always knew pinball machines had a progression and were beatable. It blew my mind when I saw someone beat a soccer themed machine at a campground. Usually all I can focus on is trying to keep from going into the gutters.

  • Your article was a fun read Graev.

    Myself I always liked pinball machines.
    All of a sudden they went away.. just like that.

  • 9 times out of 10 when I read Graev’s postings, I have to sit on my hands, hard, to fight the temptation to rush out and buy a console for whatever he is reviewing

    must…resist…must…resist…damit i like pinball…must…resist

  • Did you guys see, at last week’s PAX East, the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) held a panel specifically about this, talking about how to do the pro-grade moves and ball control techniques. Most of it is online, here:


    Even though I’m aware of these techniques, I have to say, I don’t always follow them. When I get into multiball, I just love the joy of the chaos of it. I don’t hoard the balls on my flippers like you are “supposed to”. 🙂