Williams Hall of Fame Pinball had a rather, um, quiet release on Feburary 20. The actual release date seems to be Feburary 26, but that’s just another baffling bit of data about a game with zero publicity. Publisher Crave and developer Farsight Studios have a thick layer of dust on their websites.
Buzz? Well, two weeks after its alleged release, only the obscure Game Chronicles site has a review (85% for the PS2 version). So I’m claiming that this Qt3 post is the world premiere Williams HoF Wii version review. Well, outside of Amazon customers.
Williams HoF Pinball is a pinball simulator that just came out for Wii, PS2, and PSP. It includes 8 tables: Black Knight, Firepower, Funhouse, Gorgar, Pin*Bot, Space Shuttle, Taxi, and Whirlwind. Actually, the Wii version has 10 tables – Jive Time and Sorcerer are bonuses. Don’t confuse this with fantasy pinball that could only exist in a video game – Williams HoF is strictly a sim of real tables.
Gorgar (1979) Clearly, a Dungeons and Dragons inspired pin (RIP Gary). The artwork could have come from the old DM’s handbook (a slightly amateurish demon always brings the nostalgia). Gorgar was irresistable to my 14 year old self. First talking pin. The beating heart soundtrack was genius. Bit of a drain monster, and simpler than the other games in this collection. But Gorgar has an early use of magnets in the snake pit area. Upped the flashy bar for later pins. Not a triumph of table design, but if you were around in the glory days of the arcade, you remember Gorgar. It refused to be ignored.
Firepower (1980) Personal fave. Also simple, but a fast rhythm game. Innovations included lane change, where you could change the scoring lane with the right flipper. Also, the first with electronic multiball and animated displays. Satisfying multiball too – it wasn’t a giveaway, but was the key to scoring well. Fast, cool, great flow, and a terrific skill ramp shot on the back left side. Not overly difficult or complex. Everybody likes Firepower… it may be the Diablo of pins.
Black Knight (1980) The split playfield was a first. Even more unusual was the “magna save” feature – a 2nd set of buttons on the sides activated magnets that could save your ball from going down the outer lanes. Dropped targets in a set would pop back up if you didn’t knock down the set in time. Outstanding voice work as well. The cruel black knight would chuckle if the ball went in the outer lane despite your magna-save. Bastard. “Stand up and fight!” Tough and fast table that didn’t always play fair… sorta fit the theme.
Space Shuttle (1984) A precursor to the modern era with its shuttle “toy.” Maybe it was the first pin with an oversized toy? Not sure. The space shuttle is mostly decorative, but it is a nice table. Somehow, the constrained area in the playfield is still playable. One of the easier tables.
Pin*bot (1986) Visor toy opens to reveal eye sockets (ball kickouts). The phrase “Now I see you!” will still bring a smile to its many fans… after all, you contribute the eyes. Colorful, spacey robot theme, with the beginnings of more complex scoring systems. Unusual conical plunger skill shot. The flipperless bagatelle upper playfield is also worth noting. Has a little bit of everything, hits the sweet spot in challenge. So popular, they did a NES videogame of it back in the day.
Taxi (1988) Yeah, here’s your fares: Gorbachev, Dracula, Lola, and Santa need a taxi. Lola? Innovations include a catapult that lofts the ball through the air into a habitrail. There’s also a plunger lane skill shot that shoots the ball into the “Spin-Out” funnel. Cool taxi top with lights. This game also references Pin*bot for no discernable reason. A crazy hodgepodge.
Whirlwind (1990) After the success of the earthquake themed pin Earthshaker, sure enough, out came the tornado themed pin Whirlwind. Earthshaker’s vibrating table would lose too much in videogame form, but I prefer the substitute anyway. Whirlwind’s tricks included spinning discs to mess with the ball, plus a ramp that raises and lowers for different targets. Alas, the niftiest gimmick cannot be replicated in a video game – the real McCoy had an actual variable-speed fan atop the backbox blowing right in your face. Whirlwind’s my other fave in this group, it’s great table with interesting angles, and setting off the alarm was a trip.
Funhouse (1990) Dominating this extremely popular table is the toy, a freakshow puppet named Rudy who taunts you… His eyes follow the ball, he reacts to what you do, plus a clock event trigger, mirror stuff, all integrated into the creepy fun here. Rudy suffers when you do well, too. Of the games in this collection, the integrated theme in Funhouse is the bridge to modern era pins.
The Wii version has two extra tables. I’m not sure whether the other versions do, but the Game Chronicle review of the PS2 version omitted mention of them.
Sorcerer (1985) is sweet. The artwork with the flashing eyes was neat. Another pin inspired by D&D. Voice work isn’t great…it likes to taunt players like Black Knight. Probably the easiest pin in this group. Not as well known as most of the tables in this collection.
Jive Time (1970) is a bizarre inclusion. It was an undistinguished electro-magnetic table from the EM era. Very plain even for an EM machine of that time, amounting to little more than bumpers and two saucers that crank the backglass spinner. Boo.
PS2 Version: I’ve heard nothing about any special features on this one, unless you count a dirt cheap price: $15. The Game Chronicles critic found slight fault with the control buttons, said it’s too easy to nudge when you mean to hit a flipper.
PSP Version: You can “go vertical” with your PSP to get a better table view, a nice touch. Only $20.
Wii Version: Still a budget game, but twice the price of the PS2 version at $30. So do you get a bunch of extras on the Wii for the extra money? A little – two extra tables and unique controls.
The Wii controls do shine, though. Williams HoF uses the wiimote+nunchuk configuration. For flippers, the left is the Z button on the nunchuk and the right is the B button on the wiimote, so your hands are separate like the real thing. It’s just plain comfy as well… sitting in an overstuffed leather chair playing pinball this way is sweet. Move the nunchuk left to nudge left, the wiimote right to nudge right. Flick the nunchuk stick to pull the plunger. For magna-save on Black Knight, just press the A button on the wiimote and it’ll do either magna-save.
One issue with pin sims is a good viewing perspective. Williams HoF pinball provides a bunch of perspectives on the action. The default view, with an intelligent camera moving around, is fine by me. It keeps up with the action.
Spot-on physics are desirable in any pinball sim. According to one pinball fan in an Amazon customer review, Farsight Studios sent him an e-mail claiming they completely revamped their physics and collision detection system for this game. I don’t have their Gottlieb HoF collection, but the groupthink in pinball forums is that its physics were decent. One complaint for Gottlieb HoF was that the ball was too light and floaty. The Williams physics seem right to me, but I’m going by memory.
My son claims that one ball came down fast on the “joint” of a flipper as he flicked the flipper, and the ball ghosted right thru somehow. Haven’t been able to recreate that in hours of play. He’s “pretty sure” it happened.
They goosed the lighting, it’s more spectacular than real life. Imagine a dim arcade room and pinball machine lights with their brightness boosted 25 percent. Lots of shine and glow. Thumb’s up, though.
You can play any of the tables by spending credits, but you earn credits as you go. Eventually, you “unlock” the tables and credits aren’t necessary. By my reckoning, the tables aren’t really locked at all, and that’s probably a good thing.
There’s a tournament mode where you play a sequence of tables. It’s quite nice for taking on other players. There’s also a challenge mode with set goals.
I’m sure it’s obvious by now… love this game. I’ll reach for a metaphor – Williams HoF Pinball is like the original Dream Team in Olympic Basketball. It’s a landmark collection from a great era, it will stand the test of time.
The Dream Team was so cool, however, the flaws stood out. One problem was that Isiah Thomas was mysteriously missing. The game High Speed is the Isiah Thomas here. A great Williams pin right in the heart of this era (1986) – beloved table, sold lots of units, very well known. Police chase theme done right, one of the best multiball modes ever. Even on a “historical importance” basis, it was the first machine to have a multiball jackpot that held over to subsequent games. I’m just baffled at the omission of High Speed.
The other nit on the basketball Dream Team was the inclusion of surly Christian Laettner. Bad decision at the time, looks even worse in retrospect. Jive Time is the Christian Laettner of this game.
But make no mistake, Williams HoF is a pinball Dream Team. 94% A. 5 Stars. Whatever. Arguably the best era and company in the history of the game, and Farsight has a really strong pin sim framework. Now if they just go on to the late solid state era with post merger Bally/Williams… Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Theatre of Magic, Medieval Madness… Mmmm.