Pinball Brain Damage logo AGA

He's no wizard but there's definitely a twist and yes, our Andy Smith has such a supple wrist...

There are two schools of thought when it comes to designing computer pinball games - use the 'virtual' environment of the computer to build a table that you wouldn't be able to build in the real world, or simply try to get as close to a real-life table as you possibly can through good design and programming.

Both of these schools of thought are right and Pinball Brain Damage is from the second. Fair enough.

Arguably the most important thing about a pinball simulation is the actual ball movement. Far too often we see pinball games that just don't have the right 'feel'. The balls are too light, they don't come off bumpers properly and they do crazy things for no apparent reason.

Ever since the Pinball Fantasies and Pinball Illusions games appeared, where the ball movement was spot on, this has become even more apparent.

Score two for Pinball Brain Damage then, because the programmers can't be faulted for their ball routines.

.Two tables should be enough, but in Pinball Brain Damage they're pretty dull...

The game designers need a couple of slaps on the wrist though. For a start there are only two tables, a car driving-type thing and some kind of wacky science lab affair.

Each table can be viewed in HiRes mode where half of the table is shown at any one time and the screen scrolls to follow the ball as it moves around, or in Super HiRes mode where the whole table is visible. Just. If you've got a magnifying glass.

Two tables should be enough, but in Pinball Brain Damage they're pretty dull affairs. Sure enough, there are ramps and tunnels to hit, but they don;t do a great deal when you do hit them. There aren't even that many targets around the main table to go for.

As for getting the multi-ball mode to activate, well you'll have to be a dedicated pinball fan with better than average skill on the flippers to ever see it.

PBD looks about as good as you'd expect, it sounds wonderful but it;s just not as much fun to play as some of the earlier pinball games that have been around for years. A good effort, but it's not taking anyone's crown.

Pinball Brain Damage logo AGA

Price: £19.99 Supplier: Epic Marketing 01793 432176

That deaf,dumb and blind kid Jason Compton goes on a flipping frenzy...

Computer games are funny things. They seem to serve two related yet opposite purposes. They can offer experiences we'd never come near in real life - taking aim at a hostile MiG, exploring far-off lands with only a sword at your side, or blasting off into outer space. Of they can offer experiences we could just as easily have if we walked around the block. Pinball sims fall solidly into the latter case.

Sure, it keeps you in the house more, but there are all sorts of good arguments for things like pinball sims. You can play all you want for no additional charge, there's nobody to be embarrassed by, and you can really tilt the machine without getting in trouble.

The Amiga has a fine tradition with pinball, and this latest Eastern European entry looks to add new tricks to the equation.

There are really two things that need to be evaluated when you're talking about pinball games: the quality of the pinball engine itself (does the game play reasonably like you might expect pinball to in the real world?) and the design of the tables (is this the sort of game you might shell out for and enjoy playing?)

The game engine itself brings a couple of newer notions to the fore. You can configure the ball action in a pre-game menu. On some of the settings, the ball is far livelier than you might expect. It's not as clear as the game suggests though, as to how this handicaps or assists you. It's really more a question of how you like playing than making the game easier or tougher.

More interesting is the "super high-res" mode. Most pinball games stretch themselves across several screens, meaning you typically see no more than 50% of the pinball table at any one time. PBD has the ability to give you nearly the entire table on the screen at one time, giving you a more realistic ability to plan your shots (The size of the now customary message board at the top of the screen remains unchanged).

This super-high res mode can be toggled on the fly and does have its drawbacks - it's flickery, and since the proportions are preserved it takes up a fairly narrow strip of the screen so you may feel cramped, particularly if you switch in the middle of a game.

It's a different way to play, that's for sure. I recommend you give it a real chance. Your initial reaction will probably be negative, especially if you've played a lot of computer pinball and are used to the "old way" of doing things. But you may discover the detail, despite flicker, is sharper and enhances your gameplay.

The flippers have a good kick to them. On the other hand, the bumpers aren't as wild as many real-world pinball machines can get. The bumpers don't play a huge role, so it's a minor point.

The pinball engine isn't as rudimentary as the one from, say, Pinball Dreams. But I found that in what claims to be the most real-world ball action mode, the ball did not behave as it should. On one of the tables there's a corkscrew ramp, and the ball can get stuck on it. Give it a tilt forward shove and it rockets up the ramp in a way totally unlike a real ball would. You might feel this is more of a design than an engine concern but it's a problem all the same.

What can I say about the design? First let me point out that there are only two tables in Pinball Brain Damage - at least two too few for the price, if previous pinball titles are to be our guide. The first, Hypervolution, is another piece of evidence in a long-standing suspicion of mine: pinball games, real or simulated, based around cars are never any fun. This one is plain, it's very difficult to do something interesting (and half the time when you do you're unrewarded), and the music is awful. The other, Magnetic Whirlpool, is substantially more interesting, better accompanied by music and FX, but is over-designed.

Party time
I offer as perhaps the ultimate pinball sim table 'Party Land' from Pinball Fantasies. That table is fun, whimsical, and has just enough things to do to build progressive rewards that you don't get bored.

Magnetic Whirlpool has so many layers and ramps and loops that it's nearly impossible to keep track of what you're supposed to be doing. Just because the digital media means we don't have to actually build the things doesn't mean the game is more fun if you throw tons of ramps into it. On top of all this, there are only the two bottom flippers - no extra action higher up on the table. This is weak, no two ways about it.

I'll probably play Magnetic Whirlpool again from time to time despite its shortcomings. Hypervolution will be ignored. I can't endorse Pinball Brain Damage, despite its "super high-res" innovation, when there are other, superior classics out there.