Where's the pins, anyway? Nintendo's Pinball:
50,000 Points For a Freebie.

Matt - 6.20.02 /// Previous ArticleX-ENext Article

Pinball was one of the earliest titles released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it's still one of the games I play the most - for any console. I can't put my finger on what's so great about it - the gameplay is incredibly basic, there's virtually no music, and certainly, if we're talking about pinball video games, there's been tons that've come out since that absolutely blow this one away. Still, to this day, I'm playing it constantly. Whether it's firing it up on the old NES or loading it on my totally legal emulator, Pinball has stuck with me through the years as a sort of happy thought time-waster, where all my troubles are conveniently whisked away and all I can think about is GETTING THOSE THREE DAMNED PENGUINS TO LINE UP GOD DAMMIT.

One of the strange things about doing this site is that I'm never quite sure who's reading - and by that, I mean that I really never know if you guys have any idea what I'm talking about. If you're substantially older or younger than I am, maybe you missed out on a game like Pinball. I always take it for granted that all of you lived lives similar to mine, which obviously isn't true, since few of you were raised by a pack of talking goats and I'm pretty sure none of you are 65 feet tall. I am. So today, in this Quickie, I'll assume none of you have ever played or heard of this alleged 'Pinball' game. With that in mind, I'm going to explain it to you in the same way a teacher explains to her star student not to eat paste. Real slow, and real thoroughly. Do not eat the paste. And here's what Pinball was all about . . .

As said, the game was simple. There's only three screens in the entire thing. So let's run through each one, in this wonderfully numbered list, and show you each element that paved the way for a high score or an early demise. I know, I know. Shit don't look like much. Believe me, it was loads of fun.


1) After shooting the ball, it either lands in one of two '500' point slots, or the impressive '1000' point slot. Points are everything in this game, since they garner you free lives and really, there's no terrific ending or boss characters to wait for. The 1000-point slot is the biggest point-racker in the game, since the ball often bounces on the bumper below, back through the slot, in excess of a dozen times. With luck, you can garner 10,000 points in just a few seconds, while it'll take several minutes on the other spots, and will be far riskier.

2) Flanked by two stupid seals, the 100-point bumper is interesting because, once that silver ball hits in, you're never quite sure where it's going to go. Since it usually paves the way to losing your ball to the much more dangerous lower level, it's a good idea to try avoiding the bumper for as long as possible. Of course, this in itself isn't easy, since skill and strategy are words that don't apply to Nintendo's Pinball. You just hit the ball. If you're lucky, it goes someplace nice. If you're not, YOU GO TO HELL.

3) Sending the ball around the green, uh, green thing, will cause the penguins shown in the middle of the screen to start spinning around, alternating between themselves, the number '3,' and the number '7.' Getting them all to match by hitting the little pink stick above 'em will grant you special power-ups, the best of which being a pit-blocker that sometimes keeps the ball from dropping below. I say 'sometimes' because pit-blockers have a pretty poor success rate, all things considered. They're terrific if you're the type of player who never touches any of the controller buttons, though.

4) Magic Warp Hole. The MWH has another purpose we'll get to later, but in this part of the game, it's a useless feature that only gives you ten points should you land inside it. 10 points in Pinball is next to nothing. It's a downright insult. When the ball flies in there, it'll shoot back out - again, this can be either a good or bad thing. If it hits one of the stupid obstructions in the wrong fashion, it could spell certain doom for aspiring pinball wizards. You'll get a little more enjoyment out of it if you pretend it's shooting cannon balls at the seals.

5) If you hit the four orange lines on the left side, something happens. What happens, you say? I can't remember for the life of me. Probably nothing. A lot of the things you went nuts to do in Pinball didn't exactly reward you heavily. It was more of a moral victory. Since the game has no enemy characters, you had to play pretend a bit and consider small pixel lines as the villains. So, screw you orange lines, screw you for your terrorist threats and for kidnapping Zelda. Bastards.

6) I already mentioned what happens with these penguins in item #3 above, so instead, here's the dictionary's definition of a penguin: a small plate of shining metal or plastic used for ornamentation especially on clothing. Hmmm. Shit, that's the definition for 'sequin.' Oh well, you know what a penguin is, anyway. A monacle-wearing crime monger.

7) Getting the ball up through the half-wheel of Pac-pellets causes the seals to go insane and the 100-point bumper to start freaking out Vegas-style. Best of all, since it sends the ball back up to the very top, you're granted another chance to land in the amazing 1000-point super-slot. The extra bonus is that sound the ball makes as it eats through the pellets, which is tough to transcribe, but I'll give it a shot: flouip-flouip-flouip-flouip-flouip! Fun, right?

8) Another small orange line. Noticing a trend? This one does absolutely nothing - hitting it only makes a weird noise go off, but that's it. The ball picks up slight speed from crashing into the thing, that's as far as the thrill goes. Let's not be too critical, it was only the early 80s. I remember trying to guide a small orange square through a large orange cube in Atari's Adventure back then, and I had tons of fun doing it. This was such a step up.

9) This evil shaft is a quick way to the lower level. Now, I know some of you don't know what goes on when you hit the lower level, and while we'll get to that soon enough, I'll tell you this right now: it's real easy to die down there. The key to doing well in this game is keeping the ball on this particular screen, because while it's much more interesting 'downstairs', it's much harder to stay afloat. You go down that shaft, and soon enough, you get the shaft. I love Pinball Puns.

10) If there is an enemy in Pinball, it's the small pink lever that floats above the three dancing penguins. This thing is so obstructive and devastating to the gameplay, that you'd swear it was a programming oversight. There's just no way the people who made this game wanted to annoy us that much. The gap between the two flippers isn't small, so when you shoot the ball up and it hits the bottom of the pestilent pink lever, nine times out of ten it just falls straight down the middle of the gap, leaving you a weeping, frustrated mess.

Now, we move on to the second stage of the game, the lower level. It's much busier than what we discussed above, but also much more difficult. Pinball's a weird game, in that it's so incredibly easy and hard at the same time. I admit, it's really annoying to continually lose lives because of oversights and minor glitches where the ball always goes down the pipes if it hits a certain spot, but on the whole, it's a terrific time-waster. Then again, so is fashioning soap carvings. In any event, here's the bottom floor...


1) The 'Nintendo Cards' flip over as you get the ball through each particular slot, and if you nail 'em all, you'll reveal a royal flush that puts another pit-blocker between the flippers. Now on this stage, that pit-blocker is real important. It also lasts a whole lot longer here than it does upstairs. It's pretty tough to get all the cards, especially since your lifespan down here typically won't last long enough to pull it off.

2) The triple bumpers are interesting because the ball often gets stuck in 'em for up to a minute, and when it shoots out, there's no telling where it's gonna go. Since there's many different areas this stage can lead to, (more on that soon) it's totally pot luck. Sometimes you'll die, other times you'll shout with glee when it shoots you directly into the amazing bonus stage. The best part? If you count in the three eggs below them, and cross your eyes when you look at everything, it sorta appears to be an expressionless clown. I like clowns who smile only on the inside.

3) 1, 3, 5, 6, 7...all good balls go to heaven. If you're able to hit all of the number flags, a slot will open where that pink bar is against the right side of the wall. If you're able to get the ball in there quick enough, you can start the whole deal over like new, only you won't lose a life. Of course, it's easier to turn the game cartridge into a cake than do this, but the thought was there.

4) Three eggs with a purpose. The first time you hit the ball into 'em, they turn into baby chicks. Hit them again, and the poor chickens perish horribly, vanishing into thin air. It's a cruel fate, but if you manage to get three live chickens on the screen at the same time, the two side death pockets with magically become graced with more pit-stoppers. It's pretty easy to do, but sadly, once the ball hits a pit-stopper and flies back out, it usually hits something that sends it right back in. The world of Pinball isn't always a kind one.

5) And there's the death pockets. Easiest way to die in the game. I wonder where the ball goes when it lands down there? It must be someplace great, considering how often it tries to fall through these things. Maybe the unseen basement level has an open bar.

6) The very same shaft of doom that derails you on the top floor can be used to shoot your ball right back up to heaven. It looks much tougher to pull of that it actually is, but you'll need to have played the game quite a bit to figure out which shot works for it. I'd tell you, but it's late and I want to get this done, and I'm considering writing that sentence out extraneous. Sorry guys. But I know how to do it. Honest!

7) Okay, here's where things get interesting, and thank the lord for that, because describing half-inch colored lines is getting real tedious. It's hard to do a great game justice when the best thing you can describe is the ripple effect of hitting a few bumper circles. My, you must be CURSING yourselves for ditching all that money out on Game Cubes and Playstations when the real coups could be had for a mere few bucks on eBay. Now then, if you can land the ball in the small circle, (upper-right corner) you'll end up in a magic land where you can rack up a quick 10,000 points, not to mention meet up with a real familiar face. With that, I present to you...the Pinball bonus stage:


Yes, Mario stars in Pinball. The guy's like Guiliani's son or Martha Stewart towel ad spots...you just can't escape him no matter how hard you try. He's everywhere. Here, he's not saving the princess, rather some other chick who's name escapes me. We'll call her Mira. Mario's job this time around is to save Mira from her Pinball Prison - if he succeeds, you get a shitload of points. If you fail, you still win, since you exit to the top floor, away from the dangers down below. But, if you fuck up and the girl splats against the concrete, you lose a life. It's Russian Roulette up here, and you've gotta be careful. Here's the rundown...

1) Mario curses himself for not bringing enough steel flooring to just create one big floor, instead having to run back and forth trying to make the ball open up Mira's prison. If he succeeds, she'll fall to the ground, and it's up to him to catch her. Of course, Mira's not the sharpest gal around, and she'll immediately start walking as soon as she hits Mario's platform. If you don't get her to either side of the board quickly enough, she'll plummet to the floor and manage to die from what amounts to a 3' drop. Ladies were so delicate back then. If that was Impa up there, she'd just burn through the steel chamber by firepissing all over it.

2) I don't know why Mario's even bothering with this chick, she's pretty damn ugly. It's no wonder he spent so many years rescuing Toadstool - look at his backup! Of course, the question remains: how did Mira get stuck inside a pinball game in the first place? I'll tell you how: blatant stupidity. The girl doesn't deserve saving. I say let her fall. You'll lose a life, but at least Mario won't have to vomit every time she's horny.

3) Her prison is held together by three steel sticks - if you make them disappear before the ball falls down the tubes, you'll have your shot to save her. If you don't, oh well, the girl's a frickin' hyena anyway.

4) To make the steel sticks go away, you've got to get the colors on the number board to match. There's no set way to do it - you just keep hitting the ball up there using Mario's platform until it happens. It's impossible to create some form of strategy - it's all luck. The numbers are flanked by two more bumpers, which can either help you by spitting the ball towards the numbers again, or hurt you by sending it right past you, down the shafts.

5) If you get Mira to the exit ramp, you'll gain 10,000 points. Oddly, Mira ends up right back in her prison after you do it. I guess Mario's more concerned with getting the points than screwing his girlfriend. And really, we can't blame him for that.

All right, all right, it's not much. There's no major goals, no great characters or action scenes, no fun music, nothing of the sort. But somehow, it's still big time fun. For a game so small in overall stature, it feels strangely 'complete,' and it's one you'll have a great time messing around with. I'd say if I could persuade just one of you to try it out, my mission in writing this article would be complete. I'd be lying though, since I only wrote this thing because I wanted to make fun of Mira. But it's all good, because I still completed my mission. By the way, two other Nintendo pinball titles worth checking out: Pinbot, for the NES, and another real great one, Revenge of the Gator, for Game Boy. That's all for now, g'nite.

- Matt
Instant Messager: xecharchar

Links: Fark - Retrocrush

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