At a time when chaos reigns supreme, and every week brings another heartbreak (R.I.P. Eddie Van Halen), there’s something nice about playing a vintage pinball machine while sitting on your own couch. Which is exactly what you get from Williams Pinball Volume 6, the latest collection of classic pinball machines for both Pinball FX3 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch, PC) and the Williams Pinball app (iOS, Android). But while all three have their appeal, some of these virtual pinball machines are decidedly better than others.
For those who haven’t played the previous volumes, the three pinball machines included in Williams Pinball Volume 6 — 1990’s “Funhouse,” 1987’s “Space Station,” and 1990’s “Dr. Dude And His Excellent Ray” — are spot-on recreations of these classic pinball tables. Not only do they boast the real sound effects and visuals (as well as the option to see reality augmented, which we’ll get to in a moment), but they also have realistic physics. Which is why the ball flying across the Space Station table doesn’t just sound like a rolling metal sphere, it moves like one, too.
As for the aforementioned tables, let’s start with “Funhouse,” which is not to be confused with the table “Fun House“ that Williams released in 1956 (though wouldn’t including that have been a trip).
Inspired by carnivals, “Funhouse” (not surprisingly) has a bit of an old school flavor to it. It’s rather sparse at the bottom — save for the flippers and some bumpers of course — while the top part has a series of alleyways, including one that looks like The Love Tester from The Simpsons, and another that looks like a ventriloquist dummy’s head. There’s also a railway connecting the top and bottom, though little else prevents the ball from just rolling down. Which it does, often and quickly, making this is a challenging if somewhat predictable table.
That said, its simplicity is its undoing, as this isn’t as much fun as some more complicated tables we’ve played, but also doesn’t have the excuse of being a really, really old table…y’know, like “Fun House.”
Taking a similarly simplistic approach as “Funhouse,” but to better effect, “Space Station” is also complicated on the upper half and spartan on the lower. Inspired more by NASA than Starfleet, the table has numerous images of the space shuttle, as well as two long railways and a very long ramp. It also has a good number of bumpers and targets, and together, they really send the ball flying.
What makes this table work better than “Funhouse,” despite taking the similar approach, is that the upper half of “Space Station” is even more intricate, which means the ball’s return path is far less predictable. It’s a subtle difference, sure, but it’s the difference between playing the table for a couple hours and playing it for days.
“Dr. Dude And His Excellent Ray”
As with the other two, this third table is also like a mullet: party on the top, business on the bottom. Except that its top part is even more complicated, as it has a mix of alleyways and railways, as well as a section of bumpers that can catch the ball nicely for a while. It’s also the only one that has alleyways leading to the flippers. This, again, gives the ball plenty of opportunity to not only pick up speed, but to come at you from unexpected angles as well.
Unfortunately, this table does have one major weakness, one that requires a bit of explanation.
As I alluded to earlier, the tables in Williams Pinball series give you two visual options: classic and non-classic. (Which are not to be confused with the viewpoints you can play from, of which each table has many). In the former, the tables look like they did when they were in bars and arcades and the backs of bowling areas by the snack bar. But in the latter, the tables are visually augmented in ways you couldn’t have done back then, and probably couldn’t do now either, unless you had a ton of money and could bend the laws of physics.
In the case of “Space Station,” for instance, switching from classic to non-classic — which you can do with the touch of a button, just like the anniversary versions of Halo and Halo 2 in The Master Chief Collection — adds an astronaut, some space shuttles, a space station, and some asteroids floating above the table.
Unfortunately, this can backfire, as we see on the “Dr. Dude And His Excellent Ray” table. On its non-classic edition, it has a figure of the good doctor hanging out by the plunger. Though I have doubts about his medical credentials, and his street cred, given how he looks like Beavis if he grew up to be a used car salesman, makes goofy faces like Jim Carey from The Mask, and generally just goofs around, which makes more of a distraction than an augmentation.
That said, the visual augmentations in Williams Pinball Volume 6, like the previous five volumes, are just that: visual. They don’t change the way the table works in any way. So while Dr. Dude may be annoying when he’s goofing around his eponymous table, he’s easily dismissed, and with no impact on the actual table.
In the end, all three of the tables in Williams Pinball Volume 6 do provide the same kind of fun they did when they were in the back of a smoky pool hall, waiting for some kid with a pocketful of quarters. Granted, two of them won’t get as many of mine when I play this game again, but all three will get some the next time I need a break from the chaos of the day.