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Galactic Pinball

In 1995, Gumpei Yokoi’s Virtual Boy launched with a smattering of unique titles designed to show off the system’s capabilities. So in keeping the new 3D display hardware in mind, R&D1 at NCL created Galactic Pinball, a space-themed pinball collection viewed at an angle off the horizontal.


visuals

With only a limited red palette to choose from, Galactic Pinball includes straightforward drawings of planets, spaceships, aliens, meteors, and other out-of-this-world objects, each seen from two slightly different angles. As players spend most of the time focusing on the puck flying throughout each of the 4 available pinball machines, depth perception of that critical object was imperative, and pulled off with panache. From the launching of each puck, it's hurtled into the space above the board, landing at a location appropriate to the amount of force. And when returning from a bonus round, the puck more often than not is slammed against the camera before landing back in the field.

Even more impressive are the larger moving objects that appear from time to time: a giant spinning UFO, a laughing skull and ribcage, and an alien head all make appearances for the purpose of demonstrating big sprites. In the background, ramps are interwoven throughout the layers of the board and guide the puck back down to the flippers. Some bonus stages (like firing at comets and picking off stars with the puck) rely on objects’ field depth in order to time collisions for point scores.


audio

Music in this title provides an appropriate sci-fi backdrop for the action on-screen. The tunes consistently keep the beat going while pulling the flippers to stay alive. But as in Metroid, a quiet beeping accompanies downtimes in-between plays and bonus rounds. Speaking of Metroid, Samus’ theme is done up in a great stereo MIDI that does the original justice, but more on that bonus round later.

Sound effects in Galactic Pinball are standard, unrealistic samples in-line with the game’s theme. But more important, a handful of compressed voice samples are used to announce the title and denote significant in-game events. Such applications of voice set the stage for more in-depth usage on N64 and GameCube.


gameplay

Herein is where pinball is done only as Nintendo could. Unlike the old Pinball for the NES, this game is rendered in 4 fun, highly-stylized machines: Cosmic, Alien, UFO, and Colony.

Cosmic could quite possibly be the best of the four with its inclusion of the Samus bonus round. This is reached by landing the puck in a target pocket in the upper-right corner of the board to activate Bumper Clash, then destroying the 3 standard pinball bumpers there as they shake. A voice calls out, "Roger, Samus!" and her ship appears at the bottom of the screen to shoot a group of aliens flying down towards her in what could just be the best mini-game on the Virtual Boy. Other notable targets in Cosmic include a hole in Jupiter, two eye-shaped pockets, and three panels on the right side. Being as it’s the first and perhaps most-rounded machine in the game, Cosmic gets quite a deal of play time.

Another favorite, UFO, is simple yet elegant: activate 4 lights above the three bumpers and then send the puck through the center bumper to bring the alien craft down and replace the bumpers with a giant skull. Hit the puck into either side of the ribcage for 300,000 points, but the real bounty is in stuffing the skull’s mouth for a whopping 2 million points. Three round meals within the bonus round’s time limit scores a massive jackpot of 9 million points, making UFO the most lucrative machine.

The other two machines, Alien and Colony, require players to land the puck in a target at the top of the board with a 2nd pair of flippers halfway up and hit consecutively more difficult combinations of targets around the machine, respectively. While these two machines are decidedly less involving, they still merit a few tries.


multiplayer

N/A


overall

Galactic Pinball, the first and last pinball title for the Virtual Boy, impressively demonstrated what the system could do while delivering one of the best experiences available for it. No Virtual Boy owner should go without the game that hooked this editor on the red-and-black unit years ago.


final score

8.5/10