Monday, October 22, 2007

Star Trek: The Next Generation pinball review

This week I'm going to try something a little different, as this will be my first pinball table review. The categories will mostly be the same, although they are in a different context. Presentation takes the places of the Graphics and Sound & Music categories and includes the imagery on the PinLED display, the artwork on the table itself and the sound and music samples. The layout of the table is considered in Game Mechanics and also to a certain extent in Innovation & Cleverness. Value and Replayability will consider how much the machine would likely cost you today and whether you're likely to get bored, or if the table is packed with things to discover and do. The first game I'm going to cover in this little experiment is Star Trek: The Next Generation, part of the widebody SuperPin series by Williams and released in 1993.

Format: Pinball ("SuperPin" Widebody)
Manufacturer: Williams
Year Released: 1993
Estimated Price: £750-£1000

Presentation: 9 out of 10
Star Trek: The Next Generation is a very attractive table to look at. As well as the artwork which is based on the actual likenesses of the actors from the program (see the image of the back glass above) the computer style readouts feature across the table, and there are also very authentic replicas of a Romulan Warbird, a Klingon fighter and a Borg ship which come to play in various modes. The PinLED screen is also used to very good effect for the many different missions and events that can take place - for example you will see the Borg and their ship appear on the view screen, or the Ferengi begging for Duranium spheres. Where quick reactions are needed (steering the shuttle through caverns for example) the game doesn't let the player down and the screen remains in sync with your flipper control.

What really makes ST:TNG the authentic experience it is though, is the audio. All of the principal actors from the television series as well as some supporting characters (such as Q) make an appearance and they are all played by the proper actors. Neat little touches such as Picard saying "Prepare for multiball" or being able to cut of that annoying android with "Thank you Mr Data" by pressing a flipper button when he's pointing out how crap you are really draw you into the game. All in all, Star Trek fans won't be disappointed, and to be honest neither will pinball fans.

Here you can see detail from the lower playfield, including two guns that can be used to launch a probe or shoot targets in the Battle Simulation mission.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
What really makes ST:TNG smarter than your average pinball table are the missions. There are seven standard missions which can be triggered either by choosing to do so when you launch a ball, getting the ball in the Launch Mission hole, or the Command Decision hole when lit. These vary from shooting down asteroids, going through time rifts and rescuing people in the shuttle. Success in the missions gives you an artifact, which come into play in the final mission, only available when you've finished (but not necessarily completed) all the others. In the Final Frontier, six balls are launched at once, and each artifact you've managed to collect increases the value of every shot in this mode. The most I've managed so far is three artifacts, which means each shot was worth 100 million. Now, imagine how crazy it must get when you have six ball pinging around all over the table - your score will very quickly shoot into the billions!

Supporting the standard missions are various other modes, including the Holodeck video modes and numerous multiball modes, including Romulan, Cardassian, Ferengi and the Borg. Romulans and Cardassians are two ball multiballs, Ferengi is up to four and the Borg is three. As you lock each ball, you will get little updates on the Borg, from there being a strange shape on the view screen to there being a full scale attack. If you have a ball locked in the right place when Borg multiball begins, then the Borg ship will fire one of the balls straight at your flippers. In this mode, you have to fire shots into the central Launch Mission hole to destroy parts of the Borg ship before your shields are taken down - if they are, you have to get them back up by going through the spinner.

ST:TNG is also one of the few tables I've seen which lets you continue, up to three times. It also has multiple scoreboards, and which one you end up on depends on various factors. If you use more than one continue, you are limited to the Officers Club, if you use one or none at all and score under 10 Billion, you are on the Honor Roll, and if you score over 10 Billion without continuing, you will be on the Q Continuum. I haven't managed it yet, but if you somehow manage to get to the Final Frontier with the maximum 10 artifacts I can imagine it would be more than possible.

Here you can see the model of the Romulan Warbird, along with the Advance in Rank hole which when lit you can use to progress from Ensign through to Captain and beyond.

Innovation and Cleverness:
9 out of 10
While ST:TNG probably wasn't the first table to have missions, continues, 6 ball multiballs or have a wide body, all of these things together combined with the sound, music and design make for a very smart table indeed. You will be playing for quite some time before you see everything the table has to offer, and it will take longer still before you start getting good enough to get a score on the Q Continuum board. While my knowledge of pinball tables is quite limited, I can still tell this is one of the finest tables you can find, at least without spending several thousand pounds.

Value and Replayability:
9 out of 10
When I was checking ebay prior to writing this review, I managed to find an ST:TNG table for £750, which may sound like a lot of money, but is actually very reasonable for a table of this stature. Of course, it does depend of the condition of the table, so I do recommend that you try and see and play the table you're going to purchase without just buying blind, or you could end up with technical problems that will cost you considerable amounts of money, especially as the electronics in a table like this are very sophisticated.

As for the replayability, the missions and all the other hidden events mean you will keep coming back to the game time and time again.

Overall: 9 out of 10
While there may just be better tables out there, ST: TNG is one of the best you can buy for under £1000. Star Trek fans will be in heaven as they here the characters saying various catchphrases, and pinball fans will enjoy the deep and varied gameplay that the missions and modes offer. If you have a love of pinball and Star Trek and you've always wanted your own machine, then go ahead - make it so!

1 comment:

ZAD-Man said...

Excellent review, and I couldn't agree with you more. I'm lucky enough to have one of these at my college with *free* play! We're pretty small, so there's only 3 or 4 of us that actually play regularly, so I get lots of time on it :) Keep up the good work!