I never quite understood the allure of video game pinball. Granted, this is likely because I never played much actual pinball when I went to the various arcades in my youth. Now if video games didn’t exist, I’d probably be properly obsessed, and this site would be all about the classic tables and groaning about how Williams overused the triple-bumper setup again. But I think it’s fair to say that video games deliver the general reflex challenges, storytelling, and excitement that pinball thrived on in better and more creative ways. In which sense, a pinball video game is lost on me, and probably makes unqualified to talk about this one.
This is one of two pinball offerings on the Jaguar. Ruiner takes the interesting approach of using the digital medium to offer two totally improbable pinball tables – Ruiner and Tower. The Ruiner table adopts a 1960s nuclear defense style, and consists of two tables linked side-by-side by a ramp and wire chute. The ball simulates your directed missile attacks, the tables simulate friendly and enemy territory, and your goal is to accurately hit specific targets in order to reach DEFCON 1 and unlock multi-ball play.
The Tower table is made of three complete tables stacked vertically. Your ball is an adventurer trying to climb to the top and activate spells to crumble the tower for massive bonus points. There’s one spell per table, ensuring you’ll have to visit each section of the Tower and stack bonuses along the way. Both tables have standard layouts and challenges; bumpers, ramps, and traps, but also include flying enemies like bats and planes that the pinball can bounce off of and destroy for points. All tables also contain flippers at the bottom and middle of the table, which as you can imagine, becomes a lot of flippers to keep track of.
Graphically, all the tables are colorful and imaginative. Ruiner is decked out with lots of oranges, greens, and blues that invoke classic Cold War propaganda. A B-52 perches at the top of one table with appropriate bomber babes. A Dr. Strangelove sort of military command center makes up the bottom, and a nervous looking family under the caption “Watch for bombs” is the centerpiece of the second. Flippers are rockets, bumpers are gas masks. Tower is a little less farcical, heavy on the purple hues, and stylized with arcane/horror icons. A wizard princess marks the middle table, a stone chamber the top, and the self-proclaimed Pit at the bottom, complete with horrors like googly eyeballs for bumpers and bone flippers.
As detailed as the artwork is, hot spots and flashing lights aren’t separated enough from the tables’ background art. It’s not as easy to tell where you’re supposed to go as it would be on a mechanical table, partly because you only get a clear view of the entire table as the camera zooms out to tally scores when you lose a ball. You can activate a “Tiny Cam” option that sporadically shows a corner picture-in-picture window of your intended target. This can be very helpful when trying to learn the table, and the option to turn it off is equally welcome, as it can start to get distracting. You can also select to play with a textured or untextured ball. I see no benefit here, as both are equally easy to see. The textured ball does drop the framerate slightly, and makes the ball look like a mottled jelly bean. I think the hindrances outweigh the benefits here, but you at least have the choice.
The camera does a strictly adequate job of tracking the ball. It tries to keep it vertically centered, which is fine for all times that the ball is not hyperactively bouncing around the table. When it is, the camera moves about as fast as the ball and requires to you to take about a second to reorient yourself once things have settled. That second is plenty of time for the ball to slip through some flippers or down into the Pit.
The D-Pad and B button control the two flippers, which seems an odd choice. It is the variation that splits your hands the furthest apart from interfering with each other and I suppose that was the thinking. A launches your ball, and 1, 2, and 3 on the number pad control left, center, and right table nudges. This is accurate, but hard to jump down to in a pinch. Right on the D-Pad and C control right and left nudges as well, but are more likely to be triggered accidentally. If you’re used to expertly working the table to influence the ball’s direction, you may have some trouble taming these controls. A Pro controller lets you nudge with the shoulder buttons, and is doubly awesome.
The game sounds surprisingly good in many places. There’s a rolling noise like a marble on wood that is dead on. I don’t know how they did it, but I could hear the rolling ball move spatially as it rolled across the curve of the upper table – good use of stereo channel separation I guess – and all the rolling ball effects sound convincing. Flipper and bumper noises sound a little more digital than mechanical, but perfectly passable. Scant appearances of digital voices come off a little cheesy, but helpfully announce changes and advancements. Each table gets a set of music that matches the mood, none of which are very catchy. This is the kind of game you’ll want to bring your own music to anyway.
I admit I’m not the best choice for reviewing this kind of game. I don’t know enough about the tricks and nuances between pinball tables in general to speak as an equal to anyone knowledgeable. I can say with confidence that a significant portion of the experience is lost with reduced feedback and the inability to track the ball with your own eyes. But that’s a fault of video game pinball, not this title alone. The best part of Ruiner is how it sticks to established rules while offering up tables you wouldn’t see in reality. For that alone, it sets itself apart from its competition, and pinball wizards might dig it for a small amount of time. But it’s still a weak representation of the basic mechanical game that’s hard to get excited about.
Two unique tables made possible by the virtual space.
Not enough variety to justify a single release, uncertain physics.