games / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 Video Pinball Games – Sonic Spinball, Space Cadet Pinball, More

February 19, 2019 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Sonic Spinball

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! This week I’m here to talk about pinball but specifically pinball video games. I love me some pinball but with the average price of a pinball machine being around $3,000 (at least), the odds of me owning a machine are fairly slim. So, I turn to pinball video games to get the urge out most of the time. Some of the games listed below re-create actual pinball machines and others are wholly created tables for you to play on. The two omissions here are Odama (which I’ve never played) and Demon’s Tilt (which looks rad, but also never played). Let’s begin:



#8: Pinball FX2/3

I’ve always wanted to like the Zen Studios pinball games but they just never feel great. The flipper action is weak, the pinball itself has a real weightless feel to it and most of the designs are bad. Their earlier stuff, which was unlicensed, had the theoretical charm of being in a real pinball machine. But ever since they went all-licensed, all the time, their tables lost any kind of spark they once had. Their most recent tables have lost any semblance of being even possible, and that makes me really turn off from any of the stuff they’ve put out within the last 3 or 4 years.

#7: Metroid Prime Pinball

As a strict pinball game, Metroid is reasonably OK. It’s plenty fast and having two screens is pretty enjoyable. I guess I have one small problem and one big problem with it. The small problem is, it can occasionally be hard to line up shots from the lower playfield to the upper one, just because of how the game is designed. The much larger issue is the music is trash. The main track is this heavy rock song that is completely incongruous with usual Metroid music. If it was some of the more atmospheric music of say, Super Metroid, it would be much better.

#6: Pinball Quest

Pinball Quest is somewhat low on this list just because it’s so old. I mean, the game came out in 1990, which is almost 30 years old. Due to that, there are some…quirky things about it, like the ball mechanics being not entirely great, and how the flippers move up and down with how the screen is scrolling. Aside from a few small issues, this game was pretty killer back in the day. There were some decent objectives and locations, the music was good, and the idea of a more adventure-centric pinball game is still great, as you’ll see below. I wish someone would do a Wizorb-style reboot of this game on consoles or PC.

#5: Kirby’s Pinball Land

Kirby is still one of the most under-appreciated Nintendo franchises going today. He’s been in golf-style games, games requiring tilt controls, yarn-graphic games and more. One of the better outings was the pinball game. Kirby had to be the ball on three tables which were styled from classic Kirby bosses. There were enemies to hit, warp stars to use, and objectives to complete in order to get to the top of the machine and fight the boss character to beat it. It may seem a little simple now, but it was a great Game Boy game that really evoked the Kirby style at the time.

#4: Sonic Spinball

Sonic Spinball is the best of the “mascot” pinball games. It’s a good game because while it is a pinball game, you do have some pretty granular control over Sonic, in ball form, for when you need to make some specific hits. If you need to hit a specific target to drain the pool to get to a Chaos Emerald, you usually will have enough air control to actually do so. The only real problem with the game is that it has a pretty brutal difficulty curve. The first two levels are fairly easy but anything past that becomes extremely challenging with the complexity of some of the tables.

#3: Space Cadet Pinball

So, the fun story about Space Cadet Pinball is that it was part of a trio of tables in a game package called “Full Tilt Pinball”, developed by Cinematronics, published by Maxis. The other two tables were Dragon’s Keep (fantasy based) and Skullduggery (treasure hunter themed). But, let’s be real, Space Cadet is only really being known for being packed in with certain copies of Windows 95, then Win 98, ME and through XP. The table layout is pretty simple but it works really well. I’m not sure if anyone has tried, but like 99% of Space Cadet could be brought to life in a real pinball table, if someone wanted to. Also, the music was rad.

#2: Future Pinball

Future Pinball is an interesting split between a pinball emulator and a full-featured original pinball creator. There are loads of emulated tables from Addams Family, Jurassic Park, Wizard of Oz (minus the cool screen), and hundreds of other real tables that have been recreated using Future Pinball’s powerful toolset. The more interesting thing are wholly created tables for it. Two standouts are the Back to the Future table (wiping the floor with the Pinball FX3 version) and a Robocop table, featuring a killer dubstep remix of the movie theme. The best table is Three Angels, an insanely detailed and complex table that can bring a powerful computer to its knees with just how much crap is going on with it. If you want to play any pinball on the PC for free, semi-legally, Future Pinball is what you go for.

#1: The Pinball Arcade

This is still the gold standard for video pinball, even though it’s been gutted by the Williams/Bally split. The game originally had, before the split, like 90 or 95 tables, and after it, it has about 30-35. The only real manufacturer left is Stern, which…isn’t great. Still, I have this game on PS4 with all the removed tables and it’s a gem. The pinball emuation feels perfect, the tables are re-created perfectly and the leaderboard stuff is reason for you to get some PSN friends to challenge them to the tables. This package won’t be complete because Williams/Bally are now a part of Pinball FX3 with inferior emulation versions, and that is a real shame.


For comments, list your favorite video pinball games and why.

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The 8 Ball (Games), Marc Morrison