Pro Pinball Timeshock! Review

Pro Pinball: Timeshock! is okay. Originally a Kickstarter campaign, Timeshock attempts to revitalize one of the mid-90s’ most beloved virtual pinball series. Their saving grace was attention to detail and a slavish devotion to physics. If it’s supposed to mimic a real life pinball table, it’ll be something in Pro Pinball.

In short, the strengths and limitations of Timeshock are the same you’ll see in a Pinball machine. It’s straightforward and easy to pick up. It has a clear design language with a minimalist menu system. It doesn’t have opening cutscenes or frilly nonsense. You’re buying a virtual pinball table.

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Lots of crazy things go on in Timeshock!, so to say.

There’s nothing wrong with that. What Timeshock lacks in sheer board and feature number, it makes up in precision. Timeshock has a fixation with detail. The game is particular with its lighting. The models and textures are sharp and crisp. The sound (especially the music and mini-games) is strong, punchy, and responsive. You can also nudge in the game – it’s quite precise. I’ve yet to nudge by accident, and the direction of the nudging corresponds with swiping on the phone.

In short, everything looks great. It feels great. It’s liberal with its lighting, going from quite dark to quite bright. The vividness coming from the table provides a wide range of colours. Including the backlighting of phones today, this leads to blooming colours with considerable contrast. Compared to other titles like Zen Pinball and Pinball Arcade, Timeshock looks phenomenal. The models are smooth and well-crafted. On the 6 Plus, there isn’t any sign of aliasing.

If you buy the deluxe version, there’s a massive array of options you can choose: you can test paths by removing the glass from the table and access the utilities menu. This is particularly handy if you’re at all serious about the Pro Pinball community.

There are several (albeit minor) things the game lacks. It doesn’t have a landscape mode, meaning that the portrait mode of your phone will determine the clarity of the playfield. Keeping track of where your ball is on, say, an iPhone 5 is a different experience than a 6 Plus or an iPad. On smaller screens, the precision and vibrancy in the game’s playfield turns into clutter. The lack of a landscape mode to address these issues can be problematic.

Additionally, the playfield is on a high angle. Even worse, you can’t change it. This means that the lighting of the table – while impressive – can make it difficult to see the ball sometimes. When you have a multiball playfield, trying to keep track of everything can become exhausting.

You launch the ball with a button press. This makes sense given that Timeshock debuted on computers (and are thereby stuck with keyboard layouts). On phones, this doesn’t. Pulling the plunger allows you to change the force of its ejection. Not only is it kinaesthetically strange, but it also removes plunger skill shots. Of course, these are minor gripes. Everything else looks and feels good. It’s a single table polished to a mirror shine with little to criticise about the end product.

But the community, the tiers, the marketing, the fixation with detail, all of them reveal a very specific identity for Timeshock. If you’re a casual pinball player who infrequently yearns to bust out a table on your phone at the bus stop, this game isn’t meant for you. If you don’t care too much about the score of the table or if you don’t have anyone to compete with, this game isn’t meant for you. Sure, you can pick it up and enjoy it, but the experience you have may not be worth the money you’re paying for this game.

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Danger! Danger!! Danger!!!

This game is for people who’ve played the 1997 versions of Timeshock. This is for a niche community of people within an already niche community: the virtual pinball fanatics. Timeshock’s design focuses on a no-nonsense machine of a game to deliver a portable competitive pinball game. They aren’t competing with Zen Pinball or Pinball Arcade, and their features and price points reflect that. On one hand, this means that it’s a loved product. If you fall within Timeshock‘s target market, it’ll be a game you’ll enjoy. The 6 dollars or so you spend on the deluxe version (or the 3 dollars on the standard version) will be worth it.

But for most people who play pinball on an infrequent basis, there’s little noticeable extra utility. The benefit of virtual pinball is that you have several tables with varying themes for a low price. For most players, playing pinball isn’t the same social activity like a game such as Farmville or Flappy Bird. Virtual pinball is a cathartic, fun, easy to pick up activity with simple and understandable controls. Most people won’t notice the physics of the game. Instead, they’ll be drawn to the more tangible elements, such as the number of boards or unorthodox playfields.

Timeshock doesn’t have any of that. It’s a virtual pinball game for those passionate about virtual pinball. It taps a huge wellspring of nostalgia to garner momentum and support. The folks who read about virtual pinball and know what they’re talking about won’t care about this review. Instead, they’re far too busy already playing it.

But for everyone else, Timeshock may not be worth it. It’s still a great game, mind you. It’s got a ton of great features, it’s stable as all hell, and it’s visually fantastic. But the other virtual pinball games usually offer more boards and variety. It’s up to you to decide whether that trade off is worth your money via the game’s demo, now available in the App Store.

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