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    Multiball Pinball: Not your Dad's pinball, and maybe not yours either

    David Winograd

    Multiball Pinball (US$2.99 for devices using iPhone OS 2.2 or better), is billed by Matmi, publisher of three other pinball games, as their most extreme pinball yet. If extreme, means busy, chaotic and possibly headache inducing, I'd agree with them.

    Let's try a test. Look at the graphic on the right for a few seconds and try to figure out what's going on. This is a one table pinball game with no close-ups or camera movements to direct your eyes such as found in Wild West Pinball, a cheaper, and more nicely designed app. You can see that the screen is very busy, and seems to use every pinball component possible. But being the most feature laden pinball game out there is not necessarily a good thing. There are four flippers controlled by tapping on the left or right side of the screen, but one flipper is often obscured by overlay text, like the one under the big X BALL display.

    The app does come with a few pages of instructions, in type a bit too small to easily read, and any direction is quite useful, but what isn't welcome is the total chaos of gameplay. As I played, I found the right flippers have a hard time bouncing a ball to the top of the table since the path is obscured by objects. There is always a lot going on, like ramps, cannons and smoke, but their design leaves a lot to be desired. It's not very clear when a ball enters a ramp, exactly where it will come out. When a smoke effect appears, it often obscures your view of the ball.

    Gallery: Multiball Pinball | 5 Photos

    Multiballs appear seemingly at random and way too often. With all that's going on, trying to follow one ball can be rough, but following three at the same time is really difficult, and I often found myself just hitting the flippers and trying to keep all three in play without any strategy or thought.

    A large problem is that they put too much icing on a screen too small to hold all of it making it hard to follow the action, but miniaturization isn't the whole problem. I played it on an iPad in 2X mode and although it was bigger and somewhat easier to follow, it didn't solve the problem of the kitchen sink approach in the design of the app. The graphics scaled fine, but bigger didn't make the chaos any less and that didn't change after playing about a dozen games. Matmi is working on an iPad version that they expect to ship in May, and we'll have to wait and see how that works -- I don't think that simply better graphics are going to save this game without a major overhaul.

    The menu screen has a few problems of its own. Tapping on the MORE sign brings up a scrolling advertisement for Matmi's other pinball games. CHALLENGE tosses you out of the game and brings up a mail message showing your score, a graphic from the game and an implied request for the recipient to buy the game and kick your butt. That seems more like advertising than a feature. There is a SCOREBOARDS button, which I do consider a nicety, allowing you to compare your high scores with either local or world-wide players.

    In playing, I kept thinking of an old Apple ][ game called Pinball Construction Set which let you drop features on a pinball table building your own game. You could either design a nicely-themed and logical game, or just toss things onto the table at random creating the busiest table you could come up with. Of course today's technology is worlds better than that old 1983 game, but I really think that Multiball Pinball went for the latter option.

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