During the last Fantastic Arcade, I was talking with some friends about the difficult task of making a top-ten games list. As someone who has played, studied, made art with, and collected games for the NES, I have a lot of conflicting criteria by which to judge games. There are the technically impressive, those with great cleverness-to-ROM-size ratios, the nostalgia picks, and those games that are just plain fun. I decided to share my highly subjective, personal top-ten list of NES games based on how influential they were to me, one at a time and in no particular order. Number 4 on the list is Pinball.
Pinball (Nintendo, 1984) was a launch title in the US, and it has the distinction of being the first video game (that I know of, at least) credited to Nintendo legend Satoru Iwata. Pinball is a pinball simulation game with one top board and one bottom board. The sound and visual effects aren't particularly exciting, there's no in-game music, and there's no real win state. There is a bonus level featuring a looping Mario-rescues-the-princess minigame, but otherwise, Pinball is exceptionally plain.
It's also the first NES game I felt compelled to dissect, fully understand, and play over and over. Pinball was the first NES game that I got nerdy about and the first one I wanted to ROM-hack as a teenager. (I didn't pursue it after looking at the scrambled heap of tiles that made up the game's graphics.)
I played Pinball a lot in the summer before my last year of high school, at a time when I was feeling pretty lousy and lonely, unable to fall sleep until 7 or 8 the morning. There was something calming about its simplicity. I kept tabs on the game's highlights: the palette swap when the lower table's five cards are flipped over, the bonus ball at 50,000 points, having the flippers go invisible at 100,000 points, and the empty satisfaction of every other point milestone thereafter, all which do nothing in the game. Once I was able to acheive these milestones easily, I tried to kill-screen the game. As I recall, rolling over 999,999 points caused the score to display non-numeric characters but otherwise went on as normal. I later read on StrategyWiki that the game freezes at 1,334,900 points, though I haven't personally confirmed this.
When it was first released in the US, Pinball retailed for $49.99. Fifteen years later, I'd found it in a bargain bin at Funcoland for 49 cents. I realized that for this price, I could afford to buy many games. Pinball planted the initial seed in my mind that I might like to begin collecting NES games.
It's not a novel concept now, I suppose, but in the early 2000s, old console games just weren't that valuable, and the concept of "retrogaming" didn't really exist. I recall when a local grocery store that rented NES and SNES games just threw them all away to make room for the new big thing (DVDs). I wish I hadn't returned their copy of Super Mario World 2 a few days before.
For the comfort it provided and for leading to my eventual NES hobby, Pinball has earned a top spot among my favorite and most influential NES games.
Bonus: Did you know that there's a slightly different version of the game designed for the Nintendo Vs. "red-tent" head-to-head arcade system? More information is available at the International Arcade Museum website.
Posted December 4 at 1:25 AM while watching Home Movies.