Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection ReviewBy Paul Semel - Posted Sep 22, 2009
The Williams Collection, which features thirteen of the titular company's vintage pinball machines from the '70s, '80s, and '90s, comes the closest that any pinball video game ever has to replicating the experience of playing a real pinball machine.
- Great controls.
- Realistic physics.
- Almost feels like real pinball.
- Viewpoint resets at every table.
- Not all tables unlocked to start.
- No online tournaments.
There is a truism about all pinball video games, good and bad: they’re not really pinball. They don’t really make you feel like you’re really playing pinball any more than Batman: Arkham Asylum makes you feel like you’re really wearing spandex and beating the crap out of some clown.
But The Williams Collection — which features thirteen of the titular company’s vintage pinball machines from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s — comes the closest that any pinball video game ever has to replicating the experience of playing a real pinball machine.
The Williams Collection was originally released on PlayStation 2, Wii, and PSP more than a year ago. But the leap to next-gen systems hasn’t just added the usual graphical upgrade, impressive though it may be. These new editions also include three machines that weren’t in those other versions: 1997’s Medieval Madness, 1996’s Arabian Nights, and 1997’s No Good Gophers. In addition, it also brings back two tables, 1970’s Jive Time and 1985’s Sorcerer, that were on the PSP and Wii versions, but not the PS2.
What makes this such a good pinball sim, though, are the controls, which are both responsive and realistic. Not only do the triggers on the controller feel like they’re flipping the flippers, but you even pull back the right thumbstick and release it the way you do the plunger that launches the ball into play, and can nudge the table with a flick of the left thumbstick.
The balls also have a nice heft to them and move the way real pinball balls move, slowing and speeding up as they do, and bouncing how they should.
In fact, the game has such an attention to detail that you half expect there to be a mechanic where you put quarters into the machine before each game. Not only do you walk around the arcade to pick what machine you’re going to play, but as the ugly carpet indicates, this is definitely an old arcade. The machines also have that post-game mini-game where you match two numbers to win a free game, as well as the option to put your three initials up when you get the high score. Just don’t get any ideas, Ms. Abigail Stephanie Sanders. If that is indeed your real name.
Besides a hefty amount of realism and attention to details, this also has a decent amount of variety to it.
Take the viewpoint. You can either use the Smart Cam option that follows the ball around, or you can use the Full View Cam, which gives you a full view of the table top. Except there isn’t just one Full View Cam, there are five, as if you were getting shorter or taller with the press of a button. There are also five Smart Cam options, three Plunger Cam options for when you’re going to launch the ball, and two Multiball Cams from when you’ve got more than one ball on the table at the same time.
What’s annoying about having all these view options, though, is that the game resets to Smart View 1 every time you step up to a new table, switch between modes, or turn on your console. In fact, the only time it doesn’t switch is when, in the free play mode, you replay a table you just finished playing.
You can also only switch the viewpoint while in the middle of playing a game, and not while the game is paused or you’re in the options menu. Which is fine if you like Smart View 1, but if you want to see the table like you’d see it at a bar, changing it…okay it only takes a button press or three to get it to the Full View Cam of your choice, but that momentary distraction could cost you.
The game also gives you three different ways to play. In The Williams Challenge, you play on ten machines in succession, but have to get a certain number of points on one before you can progress to the next one. Don’t get enough points and you can retry that machine, but only twice; after that, you have to start the whole series over.
There’s also a Tournament mode which, not surprisingly, follows the rules of real pinball tournaments. Players get a point every time they score a certain amount of points, or a multiple of them, and the player who wins the most points across all the tables wins the match. What’s cool is that you actually use one controller you pass around, much the way you’d have to step away from the machine in a tournament. Still, even with this turn-taking mechanic, an online option for this mode would have been nice.
Finally, Arcade lets you play the machines on your own or against some friends, again with you passing around the controller to whomever’s turn it might be. Except that when you start, only a handful of the tables are available for free. The rest either cost you a credit or are locked. And while you do start with twenty credits, and can earn more credits, unlock machines, or make some pay-to-play machines into free ones by playing the other modes, it’s still annoying that they’re all not all free from the get-go.
There is one conceit to modern gaming in Williams, though it’s one that doesn’t conflict or ruin the game’s accuracy. Every machine comes with unique “Table Goals” -- special things you have to do on each machine. These including hitting all the targets to light up the machine’s name, getting balls up a ramp enough times to raise the multiplier, and hitting a certain point goal, one that’s much higher than the target point goal in Williams Challenge. Completing any of them, in any mode, rewards you with those aforementioned credits; completing all five — which you don’t have to do in the same game, by the way — and you hit the jackpot. And you have to do it all over with far tougher objectives to complete the “Wizard Goals.”
Even without this new school challenge, though, The Williams Collection would still be a world class pinball sim. Largely, of course, because it eschews the new school. It doesn’t bother with some of the ways people have tried, and usually failed, to bring pinball into the modern age. Instead it sticks with the classics, only utilizing modernism where it counts: in the tactile controls and player rewards in the forms of Achievements and Trophies. This is the rare pinball video game that almost feels like real pinball.