Retro-futuristic reinvention of pinball
Price: Free (unlock checkpoints for $1.99/£1.49)
Size: 118 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
Developer: Mediocre AB
Mediocre is fast becoming one of our favorite mobile game studios, responsible for the brilliant time-travel driving sim Does Not Commute, the frantic arcade swipe-fest Beyondium, and the futuristic glass-shattering smash hit, erm, Smash Hit. We’re pleased to report that the developer’s latest release, PinOut!, brings Mediocre’s slick polish and addictive action to a classic but often-overlooked gaming genre: Pinball.
Think of pinball and you’ll probably imagine a single table full to bursting with complicated bells and whistles. When you’re limited by the physical world, it makes sense to cram so much into a small space – but PinOut! takes a different approach, rethinking pinball for the digital world. Instead of playing a single static table, you’re traveling constantly onwards through a series of ever changing tables. It feels almost like an endless runner as you blast through screens upon screens of flippers, bumpers, lights and runways. Starting with 60 seconds on the clock, your task is to progress as far as possible before time runs out, collecting white dots wherever you can to add to the timer.
At first you’d be forgiven for thinking this was an infinite, randomly-generated sequence of challenges, but after playing for a while it becomes apparent that the levels here are finite, and hand-crafted. This keeps the quality high throughout the eight distinct sections of the game. For fans of endless high-score chasing games, there’s a final “overtime” mode in which you use any remaining time after finishing the last level to blast through the game all over again. High scores are based on the total distance traveled and the Game Center boards are very competitive.
The full content of the game is available completely free – but for a one-off fee ($1.99/£1.49), you can enable checkpoints, which save your best times and allow you to start from any level you like. If you’re serious about those high scores, or are just getting sick of replaying the first stage, this is an essential purchase. Though some App Store reviewers have taken umbrage at the IAP, we think it’s a very fair payment system. Two bucks for a game of this quality is a steal, while those who can’t afford it still get access to every level without having to endure ads. And there are no freemium gimmicks to squeeze extra pennies out of players.
The game’s levels run seamlessly on from one another, and after some practice it’s possible to “complete” the game in a single sitting if you have the reflexes and the inclination. The controls are as simple as tapping either side of the screen to operate the flippers, and though it lacks the hands-on tactility of real life pinball, the feeling of catching a ball, pausing to take aim and then launching it skyward is pretty spot on. It can take a while to get used to the slightly unusual physics, but once you master the timing necessary to shoot the ball accurately the game becomes incredibly fun. The levels are superbly crafted and varied enough to keep you coming back for more, although some segments border on the frustrating.
Every now and again you’ll find collectible power-ups, which can do anything from slowing time to skipping parts of a level. Likewise, there are occasional mini-games to be found hidden throughout the levels, which are simple pixelated homages to 80s arcade games. They’re a fun breather from the pinball action and give considerable time bonuses if you get good enough at them. One concern is that the mini-games take place entirely in the top segment of the screen and are completely obscured by incoming notifications – meaning that receiving a text message while playing can completely ruin a good run!
The game’s designers have gone all in on a Tron-esque retro-futuristic vibe, combining pulsating neon lights and slick effects with an original “retro-wave” soundtrack that at times evokes Daft Punk or Kavinsky. It looks and sounds gorgeous, and more importantly it’s a lot of fun. There’s plenty of replayability here for those who like to hone each level to perfection, following the quickest route upwards through the boards. PinOut! is superb; a must-have for pinball enthusiasts, high score chasers, and fans of the 1980s.