The Sega Genesis Challenge – Virtual Pinball

Few things are as awesome to me as playing pinball and what could be better but playing pinball at home on your console. Well, not really in this case.

Virtual Pinball is an Electronic Arts title that is a successor to Pinball Construction Set released for the PC/Mac in the mid 80’s. There are no licensed properties to be found here, only generic designs. What Virtual Pinball lacks in recognition, it makes up for in quantity with almost 30 pre-made tables as well as the ability to build your own.

Before we dive into the table creation tools, let’s talk about the pre-made tables. Rather than the traditional rectangular pinball table that extends upwards from the player, these table designs lay flat. The player starts on either the right or left side and the play-field extends sideways, usually past a barrier, to continue in a different area. I really found this setup a bit confusing and difficult to get used to.

When starting a new game, the player can select a variety of options to tweak the pre-made table including number of players, theme of the parts, theme of the board, skill level, action, and background music. The game selection chooses the board layout. The parts determines what theme the parts on the table take on and is visual only. The same for the board setting which determines the visuals for the background. I couldn’t tell much difference for skill level, though I can say that action determined ball speed. Even on psychotic, the ball still felt a little slow and floaty to me.

The controls match other EA pinball games I’ve played with the d-pad controlling the left flipper, C controls the right flipper, B bumps the table, and A shoots the ball. These controls handle well and I never really had difficulty while playing.

The graphics and sound effects have a bit of variety, but no real character. Do you want a disgusting torture chamber theme with scream sound effects or perhaps a generic sci-fi scene with explosions? Every table I played gave the impression of just being a generic design with nothing really original happening.

Once you’ve played through the pre-made designs, you can try out the workshop mode. This lets the player modify one of the pre-made tables or start from scratch to build your own. Up to 10 tables can be saved in the memory slots and each table can include up to 250 parts on the field.

Workshop mode really allows quite a bit of creativity to your designs and I think this is really where the game shines. The one drawback is in controls as building your own pinball table feels like it would be more at home on a PC with a keyboard/mouse. That being said, the controls are serviceable and if you have patience you can create some really cool designs.

Overall Virtual Pinball is a fair game, if a bit bland. The workshop mode is the true star, but it’s shine is dulled a bit by the sluggishness of the controls. This is one that I might come back to in the future, but for now there are better pinball games on the Sega Genesis to spend your time with if you just want to play.