Even though there had been other consoles that came and went from 1977 to 1984, the only console during that era that gave the Atari 2600 any serious competition was the Mattel Intellivision. I always had a somewhat mixed opinion of the Intellivision. The cluttered and awkward controller was ill-suited for playing simple stuff like Frogger but worked well for the more elaborate stuff like Las Vegas Blackjack. However, even an Atari die-hard like me can't deny that Mattel's hardware ran circles around the Atari 2600, and the differences became all too clear when I jumped into Pinball hot on the heels of playing Video Pinball on the 2600.
First, couldn't Mattel have come up with a better title? I know that in the second generation there were generic titles all over the place (like Football, Basketball, and Video Pinball, all on the 2600), but come on! Fortunately, the painfully generic title is forgiven when you gaze upon the burst of color coming from the three-level virtual pinball table that Mattel had put together. Granted, the game runs a little slower, and the sound effects don't have the same satisfying punch that Atari's offering has. However, those nitpicks are minuscule when you see all the stuff to hit and run over on the table here.
There are a few bumpers that aren't so large that they eat up the screen, two sets of drop targets, TWO sets of flippers, a spinner that DOESN'T kill your ROUND ball's momentum, and even escape hatches that send the ball from one side of the table to the other, providing a kickback in the process. Best of all, all of that is just on the first playfield! If you get through the opening that pops up at the top, your ball gets sent to another playfield with even more doo-dads to play with. There is even a THIRD playfield that can be reached! The table in this game can easily hang with some of the best real and virtual tables ever designed from Black Hole to the tables in Pinball FX 2.
Even though I remarked about the Intellivision's convoluted controller being poor for simple games, it works great here. Ignore the numeric keypad (except for keying in the number of players). The only controls used are the fire buttons on both sides (for controlling the flippers) and the control disk (for the plunger and bumping the table). I like how hitting up on the disk actually "bumps" the table (rather than just moving the ball) and that it takes a lot more to tilt than in Atari's offering. The only major fault is with the flippers. I experienced a slight delayed reaction between when I hit the fire button and the corresponding bank of flippers moved. I am glad that the flippers have much more impact than in Atari's game, but reactions needed to be more precise.
Pinball is easily one of the best games on the Intellivision, and it could hang with some of the best pinball video games ever made. Luckily, like with River Raid, playing it doesn't require getting an Intellivision from eBay. Pinball is on the Intellivision Lives! disc for the Playstation 2, GameCube, and Xbox, and it's also available on Game Room for the Xbox 360. Grab it, and save your quarters for the laundromat.