Game Over Online ~ Porta Pinball

GameOver Game Reviews - Porta Pinball (c) Timothy Hartley, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Porta Pinball (c) Timothy Hartley
System Requirements Pocket PC, Windows CE 2.x+
Overall Rating 88%
Date Published Friday, October 5th, 2001 at 07:00 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

When you look at the shape and contour of a handheld, it is almost always arranged so that the vertical is lengthier than the horizontal. Such a portrait configuration has hampered a lot of applications and entertainment software transferred over to the "small screen". Some popular workarounds have been to turn the PDA sideways to create a landscape display like with the recent Rayman Pocket and countless other titles. There is even a program called JS Landscape for the Pocket PC that explicitly does this to maximize screen size potential.

Until the day we get to tablet-style PCs or eye-mounted displays, this problem will undoubtedly re-emerge except perhaps in one genre alone. Pinball seems to be an ideal fit to the PDA platform. Its simple nature gives the flexibility for people to put the game down whenever they wish. Its controls are easy to pick up and demand very little of the PDA itself. Porta Pinball was designed with exactly these goals in mind. In truth, it aims to emulate the pinball games of old. The developers profess that this game aims not to dazzle or revolutionize pinball but encapsulates the zeitgeist of pinball back when, excuse my cliché, the game was pure. Modern pinball games have to compete with increasingly attractive arcade boxes. Now with major arcade developers like Midway abstaining from the coin-op market altogether, it seems that pinball's future is even bleaker. To compete, pinball games have incorporated mini-games not only on the boards themselves but also on LED readouts. On the PC, there are attempts to innovate like having balls travel to completely different boards, or have a multi-layered pinball game.

In essence, Porta Pinball is the complete antithesis to the modern attempts (and I stress strongly on the word attempt) to resurrect the pinball phenomenon. A parallel seems to exist with wargames. Previously, professional commercial developers like Jane's or SSI had not been meeting as much critical success as independent ones. Often, wargamers are now flocking to simplistic graphics but excellent gameplay of wargame developers who cannot even afford retail space. Porta Pinball has the advantage that it is completely free.

Porta Pinball is born from the EasyCE developer set advocated by the developer of a previous (free) game that I covered, Lemmings. Using that set, developers can easily port their application to all three major Pocket PC platforms (SH3, MIPS, ARM). In fact, Porta Pinball has such a low footprint size, both in storage used and actual gameplay that even older Windows CE 2.11 devices are supported. Gameplay is completely configurable. You can set the keys to different buttons on your PDA or you can opt to use virtual keys (tapping on various quadrants on the screen). This is a great innovation in configuration and I wish other developers would adopt a similar approach. It also gets around the inherent simultaneous button issues with the iPaq when you mix and match virtual keys with real keys.

What you get is a no-frills pinball game and a single board that should be familiar to everyone, including pinball novices. There are no hard to discern rules, no mini-games, and no complicated functions. In this sense, Porta Pinball exceeds at what it does. There is no music soundtrack but the presence of some authentic pinball sounds more than makes up for it. Porta Pinball is expandable in the sense that different designs and layouts can be applied. As I write now, there is already a monochrome version to adapt to colorless PDAs and one with an Egyptian theme.

For such a game and such a simple treatment of it, you would immediately think that there would be no audience. Porta Pinball manages to defy that and still remain free. With continuing efforts like these, I can foresee a burgeoning return to independent or single author development houses producing A-class quality titles. In the day and age when the established companies started putting 3D into their wargames and releasing endless amounts of repetitive expansion packs, it was the independent developer who brought the magic back into the genre. Porta Pinball surely has some of this.

[09/10] Addictiveness
[17/20] Gameplay
[12/15] Graphics
[10/10] Interface/controls
[10/10] Program Size
[03/05] Sound
[05/05] Discreetness
[13/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer


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