Game Review: 3D Pinball (Commodore 64, Mastertronic Plus)

3D Pinball, Commodore 64, Mastertronic Plus
  • 8/10
    Score - 8/10


3D Pinball is effectively what pinball machines used to be like in the early to mid-1980s, and does all of that very well.  The 3D effects run fast and smooth throughout, with excellent playability adding well to the pick up and play element.  It may not be the most advanced pinball game, but the simplicity also reveals its beauty.  It is a great little game to play, and the game’s author would go on to make other excellent games using the same 3D engine on the Commodore 64.


User Review
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3D Pinball (or as the game itself prefers to call it, Pinball Power) harks back to when pinball machines were more about the mechanics and less about the electronics.  As a self-confessed pinball fan, it is always good to remind myself of how the evolution of the machine came to be, so when playing all the latest Stern machines at the excellent Tilt in Birmingham (well worth a visit), it is nice to play the older machines there too and focus on hitting the targets, where less is more – less missions to complete, but more scope for attaining a score with some excellent skill too.  The Commodore 64 version is the original release, and loads relatively quickly with the pinball table in a nice 3D view on screen.

A Tour Around the Table

Full credit to Mastertronic should be given here also for printing a detailed guide to all the scoring in the instruction leaflet, so rather than you having to work out for yourself what all the targets are and what they do, a screen of the table itself is shown with a fully annotated detail of what the targets, bumpers and holes do, and what sequence of events you need to do to release certain bonuses or extra score.  This does mean that you get an idea of what you need to do to rack up those high scores before you play, giving you an excellent overview.  Number 11 of the annotation seems missing for some reason though, but that’s minor nit picking.  It also gives you the keys to press (Commodore key for left flipper, cursor right for right flipper, and F7 to launch the ball) – and yes, it is keyboard only, for a good reason.

Ever Since I Was a Young Boy, I Played the Silver Ball

Pressing F1 to start the game places the ball ready for play, and F7 releases the ball into the play area.  There are some nice sound effects as the ball hits the bumpers and zooms around the table, although the white noise effect on occasion can be a little off-putting to be honest.  You soon can get the ball heading towards the flippers from the inner rollover lanes, and can trap the ball there ready for release and heading for a target.  Already that feels realistic, as does the reactions you have to have as the ball whizzes towards the bottom centre of the table (and doom) with the pace being quick once it gets going.

The 3D effect here has been programmed very well, with a nice perspective given on the ball as it heads up the table and it shrinks and gets larger depending on table positioning to further enhance the effect  Often you can hit the ball into the black hole at the top, and on release it can sometimes bounce off the flipper back into the hole, meaning more points on the bonus dial. And to be fair, real machines also do this – so another positive here.  The bonus dial and keeping that topped up here is key, as when you do lose the ball, the bonus adds up to your score and that dial is reset.  It can take a little time to add that bonus in though, which is something a nice press of the flipper keys would have been good to bypass if needed.

From Soho Down to Brighton, I Must Have Played Them All

Once you get into the game, the one more go factor is really in play here to say the least.  Inevitably you would be drawn to the tombstone targets on the right-hand side, knocking those down and landing the ball in the hole behind for a fair number of points, and shooting the bonus spinner on the left to open the trap in the top right does require a good skill shot, but it is doable and you do feel very pleased once you get that.  There is also the extra ball to go for once the bonus dial has lit the special, and that does feel rewarding once you do so too, so even though it may not have masses of features, those that are there are very well implemented.

There is only one high score to chase, and that is displayed at the bottom right of the table along with your current score, so you can see what to aim for.  Maybe the background LED display colour for the score might have been nicer in grey instead of blue, but I could see what was being aimed for here.  Elsewhere it is easy to spot the ball as it heads around the table, and the controls are totally spot on responsive, which is just what you need for a fast-moving game like this.  There is also a real sense of panic that sets in when attempting to save the ball and more so when the hairpin wall of death in the middle of the table is hit at speed, your reactions do need to be lightning quick.

Final Thoughts

3D Pinball is a very well put together package, and is my favourite budget pinball game on the Commodore 64.  It trounces the likes of Advanced Pinball Simulator in its look and feel, with some well-defined and fast-moving 3D graphic representations on display, nice sound effects and very responsive controls, as well as detailing in full what the machine does in the instructions.  The pick up and play is immediate, and the urge to have another go is very strong here too.  It also loads very quickly indeed from cassette, meaning you will not have long to satisfy that pinball urge.  And later on Stephen Walters would use the 3D engine to excellent effect in other budget games, and a well-regarded programmer of some note in the later Commodore 64 games era.

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1 Comment

  1. Got to be honest and say that I’ve always preferred playing pinball games with keyboard – it just makes a lot more sense! Only other controls that I ever found that worked were ones on consoles where the controllers had shoulder buttons – at least that felt as if they were placed naturally like the flipper buttons.

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