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January 5, 2006 - The further the game industry progresses, the stranger playing pinball on modern consoles becomes. But it's as though technological wonders such as Half-Life 2 or Halo 2 take anything from a classic (read: real) game of pinball. This is especially true in the case of portable pinball.

One of the greatest things about pinball is physically carting yourself to a seedy bar or neighborhood arcade for a quick game on your favorite board. And for most people, playing pinball is as much about nostalgia as it is about plain entertainment. The latest entry in the genre, Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection, tries harder than most in recreating the pinball experience.

Developer FarSight Studios created a virtual arcade stocked with seven big-name pinball tables. Each table harkens from a different era. You can choose among Ace High from 1957 to the relatively modern Tee'd Off which hit arcades in 1993. FarSight Studios faithfully recreated each machine with the same set of challenges as their real-world counterparts.

What's more, each table comes with an original flyer advertisement and a brief, narrated biography recounting its history. Both these additions offer a little insight into the pinball universe, and since nostalgia is one of the game's selling points, The Gottlieb Collection would be less of an experience without them. And if you're confused about the goals of a specific table, or want hints to improve your game, the game offers narrated help as well.

Essentially, pinball is a game of timing and physics. And while the timing part is completely up to the skill of a player, the physics is up to mother nature, or in this case, the programmer. The physics driving The Gottlieb Collection feel a tiny bit floaty, but not too bad. That aside, pinball fans will find a lot to like, such as the analog-controlled ball launcher, multiplayer for up to four people and multiple viewing cameras to ensure you get the best view.

The Gottlieb Collection offers a decent number of tables (10 in all) and each offers a distinct experience. It just so happens that the coolest tables out in the real world remain the best examples of table design in the game as well. While each table offers the same obstacles, challenges and bonuses, you'll quickly find that Black Hole (1987) and Genie (1979) to be the best of the bunch. Genie, in particular, is hands-down one of the coolest wide-body tables you could play.

It features five flippers, with four dedicated to the lower half while the remaining two create a mini playfield on the upper right portion of the table. Genie is all about scoring huge bonuses. To do this, you need to concentrate on several chunks of the table, namely the rollovers found on the edges of the table and the red targets located at the top and on the left. It's fast, fun and challenging. Everything a pinball game should be. The same goes for Black Hole. Only Black Hole features a groovy lower-reversed playing surface in the center of the table

The tables themselves, although technically accurate, would benefit from a bit more graphical detail. Sharper textures would have brought out the visual nuances of each board and made them look like spinning images of their physical brethren. Having said that, the action is easy to follow and interface easy to read. The high score sits on the upper left side of the screen, accompanied by a table-specific logo. Remaining credits sit on the upper right hand of the screen.
Mastering each table requires precision timing and a thorough knowledge of the obstacles. The Gottlieb Collection offers a list of unlockable extras for those who can brave the challenges of each machine and rack up a ludicrously high score. You can unlock a Tournament Mode, good for groups of competitive pinball junkies. You can also customize the look of your ball using the Custom Ball option and watch a historic slideshow on the Gottlieb factory. These extras, while mildly cool, only serve to increase the nostalgia factor and don't really increase the time you spend with the game.
The only bonus you can spend time with is the unlockable Play-Boy table and accompanying Payout Mode. You can select one of two modes to play, either poker or blackjack. The goal in poker is to launch ten balls and attempt to make the best hand possible. In blackjack, you need to launch one ball at a time to try to get as close to 21 as possible. Both these games offer some amusement, but lack the appeal of the main pinball machines. Interestingly enough, some of the unlockables are "hidden" by the in-game menu (all you see is a series of questions marks but are clearly listed in the manual.
One of the cooler aspects of the game, however, is the fact you can share some of the tables with other PSP users by using Game Sharing. You can't share them all, but you can still send over Black Hole, Genie, EL Dorado and six others.
Closing CommentsPinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection offers a decent experience overall by providing 10 classic boards. The physics feel a little off, mainly due to the ball's lack of weight, but it gets the job done in the end. The game also packs a history lesson through authentic game flyers and factoids, so those looking for a bit of nostalgia will find it. Furthermore, it just plays well on the PSP. There's no doubt fans of real (or virtual) pinball will find a lot to like here. NOW CALL THE GAME GALLERY AND BUY THE REAL THING