Pinball (Famicom/NES, 1984) – #0011






RELEASE DATE: 02/02/1984 (JP), 10/18/1985 (US), 09/01/1986 (EU)

ALSO ON: Arcade (Vs. Pinball – 10/1984 – US, 1984 – JP), Famicom Disk System (05/30/1989), e-Reader (Pinball-e – 09/16/2002 – US), Virtual Console (Wii [11-12/2006 – WW] and Wii U [10/24/13 – WW]), Nintendo Switch (Arcade Archives: Vs. Pinball – 08/30/2019 – WW)

FEATURED IN: Animal Crossing (Gamecube, 2002)


Pinball used to be great. Or, at least, I used to think it was great back in the early ’90s, back before I played every pinball game on the NES (Pinball Quest forever). The top half of the board had seals that would bounce balls on their nose (if you collected all eight lights in the upper right hand corner) and penguins doing gymnastics. You could hang your ball on the 100 point bumper and make it go through the 1000-point target dozens of times, if you were lucky. With this technique, I could get 200,000 points in a single playthrough easily.




The bottom half had baby chicks in eggs (crack ’em all to get stoppers), playing cards that could be uncovered for points, good glory, so many bumpers, and seven numbered targets that, once hit, could send your ball back to the plunger. Neither the top half nor the bottom half of the board were all that exciting, frankly, but together, they made for a serious time sink for my younger self.


And, of course, there’s the bonus stage. Mario lives here, for some reason. As with all early Famicom outings pre-Super Mario Bros, Nintendo’s putting him to work. Here, Mario tries desperately to keep the pinball up in the air, a la Breakout, and knock out the floor where Pauline is held prisoner. So many questions: who trapped Pauline in what looks to be the vents of this pinball machine? Why can’t Mario just jump up there like the baller that he is and rescue her? Why does he need a pinball?


I demand answers, Mario.


I never asked these questions as a child. I didn’t care. Pinball, Mario, bonus stages, exercising penguins, energetic seals, balls, bumpers and points everywhere. I embraced the madness, as we do when we’re young.


Today, Pinball isn’t great. Your ball tends to sink like a stone and/or be attracted to places where you don’t want it to go. Neither the top screen nor the bottom screen are particularly engaging (Mario’s Breakout moment, on the other hand, has aged pretty well). Unless you love collecting points or watching adorable penguins do calisthenics, the whole affair grows tiresome quickly.


One royal flush, coming up.


In 1984, though? Pinball was the ultimate home pinball video game. Two screens with a bonus third screen? Talk about features. Your other options in 1984 were: Video Pinball for the Atari 2600 and Sega Flipper for the SG-1000, neither of which replicated pinball nearly as well as Nintendo’s attempt (I’m sure there are probably more – please let me know in the comments below).


Point is, Pinball got the job done for awhile. Today’s relic is yesterday’s moderate accomplishment.


1984: B+

Today: C

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