Blast Off Pinball
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5  |  Blast Off? More Like Sitting On The Launch Pad
Darryl B. , 7/7/2005 11:59:54 PM
Hey, aren't surprises cool? Especially when they're VIDEO GAME-related? For instance, a few weeks ago, my dad (who I had to move back in with, whee) found some handheld electronic pinball game in his car; if it doesn't belong to the nephew, then I don't know where it came from. Finders keepers, pal!

Well, until I actually played it, that is...

The presentation is pretty neat with this one, at least: for starters, it's got a plastic arm that unfolds, containing two pairs of flashing lights at the top (which get to be annoying in no time flat, which I'll get to) and a tiny score display, and the unit itself has a plunger at the bottom center to launch the ball, a pause button, mute/lights off button (thankfully), on/off, reset, and buttons for the flippers.

I've no idea who made this, though; the only wording I could find anywhere proclaims "made in China" (gee, I could have guessed that much, at least), so I'm guessing this is one of those cheap toys (lord knows HOW many thousands of these things have been made since the Dawn of Cheap LCD Handhelds) you can find at Radio Shack, good for stocking stuffers that fall under the heading of "What Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time, But In Reality, Ends Up Sucking Major Donkey Butt AND The Sanity From Your Soul".

Also adding to (and rounding out) the attractive package is the space theme, since I love the current space programs of exploring Saturn's moons and Mars' surface (aside from spending $2 trillion on satellites and/or space telescopes that have mirrors that immediately crap out and take fuzzy pictures like an under $100 digital camera), sci-fi and Star Wars, since, if there's a row of pinball games to choose from to play somewhere, chances are pretty good I'm going to go for the space-themed one first (unless one of the tables to choose from has some babe on the backboard wearing a skimpy outfit and/or has an eyeful of nice cleavage showing).

Unfortunately, when you get to the game itself...to launch the ball, you pull back on the plunger, which an onscreen meter will rise and fall all by itself (to keep up with the space theme, I guess), indicating how strongly the ball will launch. Watch out grandma, it's alive, via some kind of Space Viagra or something! Worse, though -- and also in continuing with the space theme -- a "beep" sound is heard with EVERY SINGLE SPACE THE BALL MOVES -- galoop, buh-beep beep beep, galoop, buh-beep beep beep -- which will drive you and your normally docile (yeah, right), SUV driving soccer mom nuts in no time at all, making you want to attack the unit with a hammer (luckily, though, you can mute the thing, as I can just picture thousands of moms across the nation yelling "would you turn that thing OFF!" from the front seat as they're trying to drive while unknowingly running over innocent pedestrians). However, maybe this annoying sound effect actually helps kids with Attention Deficit Disorder still follow the action (maybe this should be proclaimed in the advertising for Blast Off Pinball, which a bunch of naive kids should buy into, since, if it's on tv, then It Must Be True!)...or maybe it could cause ADD, so maybe it IS a good idea after all to hunt down all these units across America with a hammer. (As a comparison of annoyance, if you've ever known anyone that had an irritating, constantly yapping little dog, just imagine if the dog's yaps were turned into high-pitched, electronic beeping noises, and you should get the idea as to what this sounds like.)

The physics work ok, I guess, although you can stop the ball in no time flat (even when it's hurtling towards the bottom of the screen) just by raising a flipper up, which is so unreal it's funny (on a real pinball game, with that kind of speed, the ball would probably hit your flipper, bounce back up, and then drop down through the drain). Unfortunately, the ball has no real effect of actually MOVING, really: on the flicker-fest that is Atari 2600 Pac-Man, where the ghosts were created onscreen one at a time (at the rate of 40 images a second, if I remember correctly), which caused the flicker, but they still appeared to move. Well, here, the "scrolling" (and I use that term very loosely) of the ball isn't smooth at all as it moves/flickers (like mad) about the playfield, it's obviously just a path of LCDs lighting up one at a time (simulating ball "movement"), which seems like it could be hazardous to kids who have seizures.

Speaking of which, the lights at the top of the unit flash on and off as well, which is also very annoying to those of us that have peripheral vision; this isn't the kind of thing like Vectrex newbies post on game forums, asking "I just bought a Vectrex, and it makes a loud hum, is this normal?", and we assure them that yes, it's normal (if you don't have the later-produced Milton Bradley model), and yes, you'll be able to tune it out as you play a game, but here, the lights bugged the hell out of me, but luckily you can turn those off along with the sound (or put the folding arm down as you play). Unfortunately, you can still feel some built-in vibrations as the ball bounces around, which I can only assume is normal, since I don't have the instructions, but I also consider it distracting, since I didn't want a blasted built-in rumble pack (that I can't turn off, to the best of my knowledge) as I try to concentrate on playing. (Why not just have someone's bratty kid continuously punch me in the arm while I'm trying to play, you know?)

At least the design of the table was fairly interesting for a handheld, as there's a lane on the left side of the table (don't know what it's called in pinball lingo) that you can shoot the ball through, a jet kicker on the right, and...well, I think they're bumpers on the top, but they don't *act* like bumpers, as most of the time they cause the ball to rotate around them, and, for some reason, at some point the ball will end up back on the right side of the table to be launched again after hitting the bumper/merry-go-round thingy several times (I assume this is explained in the instructions, which, again, I don't have). It's almost like young people who never played a real pinball game in their lives designed this without knowing what the hell a *real* bumper does (as Al once said in a Married...With Children episode, where video games were replacing pinballs in the arcades, "I want my steel balls, dammit!").

There's two games (which is selected by pressing the left flipper button when you're not playing), which Game A gives you a gutter on the bottom left side of the playfield to lose your ball with (although if you're able to shoot the ball through that upper left lane that I mentioned earlier, a barrier will then appear over the gutter), but B doesn't have it, making it the easier game of the two, obviously. Unfortunately, the game gets annoying real fast (even though, after a while, the ball will start speeding up, but it's hard enough to see as it is!), although, like I slammed the Star Wars Millennium Falcon PC game, I'm probably in the wrong age group to really review this correctly, as I assume Blast Off Pinball is aimed at the much younger crowd. In well under an hour of playing several games, I had had enough, and there's some computers out there that come with a pinball game upon purchase (along with Minesweeper, Solitaire, etc.), which is better than this handheld.

This was a nice try, but it's not going to hold any gamer's attention over the age of 8 (probably) for very long, as you're better off with a pinball game for any portable game system, like the Game Boy.

Oh well, it'll be nice to present to the nephew the next time he comes over, he'll probably be happy to get it back. What? It's not yours? Well, here's a present from your Uncle Darryl then! Don't say I don't do anything for you!

Just don't play the damn thing while you're sitting next to me, unless you use that mute button...thanks.

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