Ever since I was a young boy
I've played the silver ball
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played them all
Sorry, I was channeling Pete Townshend.
Pinball is one of my favorite video game genres (and I love playing the real thing, too). That lifelong love affair with the silver ball started with Video Pinball thirty years ago. Unfortunately, playing it again now, it's clear that time had not been kind to the first major pinball video game.
Anyone used to modern tables with separate playfields and dot-matrix video displays will be very put-off by the simple table provided in Video Pinball. It does have the bells and whistles that were requisite of pinball tables circa the late 1970s. You have three huge bumpers and three drop targets that increase the bumper multiplier when they are all hit. You have two roller lanes, one that provides a bonus when your square ball drains and another that provides an extra ball if run over four times with one ball. You have the most annoying spinners in existence, a random flash target in the center to hit, and three spots where your ball drains (if both difficulty switches are turned on).
I hope you don't mind blocky graphics with only four colors, because that's all you're getting here. For a first-party Atari game, the visuals are pretty meh. The table is blue and black with white for the flippers and yellow for the numbers and icons. The only time another color comes in is when you tilt. Fortunately, the game moves quickly. Following the ball becomes the real challenge here (as it should be). The sound effects are very pleasing, much better than in many other Atari 2600 games.
The game controls quite well with the invincible 2600 joystick. Down on the stick pulls the plunger, the fire button launches the ball, and the other three cardinal directions on the stick control the flippers at the bottom. While the ball is in play, you can hold the fire button and use the stick to move the ball (bump the table). However, tilting is painfully easy to do in this game. The worst problem is that it's too easy to lose momentum with the ball, and good luck getting it back (especially if the two extra drains are turned on). If the ball is stuck hanging around the bottom of the table, you might as well let it drain; your flippers just can't get the ball back into the playfield.
Playing Video Pinball again after 30 years was like finding an old favorite hat that had since been chewed on by rats. Before writing this review, I spent two hours playing it and enjoying myself. However, when I had to take the rose-tinted nostalgia goggles off, I realized that there are a LOT of much-better pinball video games out there. Video Pinball was definitely not bad for the first pinball video game, but it just doesn't hold up to today's standards. Unless you're nostalgic (like me), it's best to let this one drain.