Review: Ruiner Pinball (Jaguar)

RuinerPinballReview

When I think of video games, I rarely think of pinball. It’s not a genre I have much interest in. In fact, the only pinball game I’ve spent any real amount of time with is Kirby’s Pinball Land on the original Game Boy. That was 15 years ago. I’m no expert on the genre, nor could I tell you what makes a pinball game good versus bad. With Ruiner Pinball for the Atari Jaguar, I’m entering uncharted territory.

Ruiner Pinball was developed by High Voltage Software, who also developed absolute rubbish like White Men Can’t Jump (Atari Jaguar, 1995) and Star Trek Bridge Simulator (Sega 32x, 1995). That doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence. So how does this Atari Jaguar exclusive fair? Read on.

The action in Ruiner Pinball takes place from a directly above point of view. There are two tables to choose from. The Ruiner table is two (television) screens tall, and two screens wide. The left and right sides of the table are played separately, requiring a ramp to get from the left side to right. The theme for this table is a 50’s style cold war era nuclear strike. I love the retro touch.

The second table is called Tower. This is a 3 screen tall table with a gothic fantasy style. There are all sorts of creatures and dungeon inspired touches. The two tables are very different from each other, both in art style, and game mechanics. It very much feels like two games in one. Both do a great job of portraying the spirit of a pinball playfield.

Now not being well-versed in pinball, I’m not sure if these tables represent the finest pinball experience available, or are absolute tosh. I found them both very enjoyable.

Both table have goals. The Ruiner table is a battle of sorts and your goal is to reach DEFCON 1, and presumably blast USSR into smithereens. There are different goals as the game progresses, namely reaching specific ramps that the Score Board announces. A little picture also pops up in the lower left giving you a visual of the objective. Completing the objective awards you a massive amount of points. Other minor goals (hitting every letter in the word “RUINER”) award score multipliers and other score enhancing goodies.

In the Tower table, you goal is to cast 3 spells. Again, you follow the queues given by the Score Board to complete the objectives. It took me a few hours on both tables to really understand what the hell was going on. But after you figure out what each little target, rollover, ramp, and stopper does, you can start focusing on how to score points.

And that is why I like Ruiner Pinball. It’s old school through and through. It requires quick reflexes, repeat play throughs, and a little bit of luck to be successful. There aren’t dozens of levels to play through. There are no continues. It’s got that addicting quality to it that only games of this generation can provide.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not all that familiar with pinball and the video representations. I don’t know how the ball is supposed to feel and react. In my estimation, Ruiner Pinball probably leans more to the arcade side, rather than a strict simulation. Still, the ball movement was very predictable and rarely did something happen that I did not expect.

Graphically, Ruiner Pinball doesn’t really push the Atari Jaguar hardware at all. There are a few special effects though. When you get a multi-ball, the screen zooms out showing off some sprite scaling power; that is about it. Still, Ruiner Pinball is very colorful, detailed, the frame rate stays smooth, and everything looks great.

The sound is a mixed bag. The sound effects, particularly the ball rolling on the table, sound terrific. What is impressive are the voice samples, which blow away the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. The music on the other hand, is a bit muffled and compressed sounding. The composition is very nice, with some excellent bass, but the quality is a bit lacking. Considering this game likely uses mostly Motorola 68000 (the 16-bit processor) for the game, I was expecting more from the advanced processors.

Overall, this is a solid Atari Jaguar game. The 2D graphics are sharp and colorful, the music is decent, and the game play is addicting. While not impressive by 1995 standards, as a retro-game, Ruiner Pinball holds up quite well. If you looking for a good game for your beloved Atari Jaguar, you could do much worse than Ruiner Pinball. A complete copy can be found for around $15. Well worth it.

Game play 7/10 - Interesting pinball themes and consistent ball physics
Graphics 5/10 - Average, but not 64-bits
Sound 5/10 - Average, but disappointing for an Atari Jaguar game
Overall 6/10 - Solid game