New team of coders, Effigy, get right back to basics with this addictive pinball escapade. Playability is king at Effigy's towers and looks, as I often remind Nick Veitch, aren't everything.
If, like me, you found the much-hyped Pinball Dreams, Fantasies and Mania good-looking, but ultimately drab, you'll love Prelude - it's the exact opposite in that it plays like a dream, but unfortunately looks less than glitzy.
So, you've got three tables - Past, Present and Future - but really you've only got two, because this otherwise top game loses the plot completely with the Future table, which is poorer than a very poor thing. In fact, if this is what the future is really like, I'm staying put. Let's take a look at each of those tables, shall we?
The Past is ages ago. Not yesterday or the last century, but back in some prehistoric time riddled with dinosaurs and, strangely, rabbits and rats. Allegedly, you can complete this table by transporting things to the correct time zone. I couldn't, although Veitch claims to have had some success while he was idling away a few hours, but I had immense fun trying and, ahem, got two scores on the all-time top five for my troubles.
This is the best of the three tables. It's all very straightforward; there are a few neat, yet simple touches, like the side lane waterfall, but it's difficult. Take, for example, the bonus multiplier which involves slinging the ball into the dinosaur jaws on the right of the table.
The best way to do this is as a backhand off the right flipper. The shot is a tricky little blighter, but once mastered, completing it is almost as satisfying as scoring at the far post with a diving header at Sensi.
Actually, I can only presume this to be the case because, despite devoting a fair part of my adult life to executing such a goal, I have yet to achieve it.
Other neat features include the multiball (achieved by completing a series of hellishly difficult shots past the top-left flipper) splatting the rat when the little fella pokes his head up, and the rubber ball. The whole thing is fast, yet simple, and extremely addictive.
Prelude is the exact opposite in that it plays like a dream, but looks less than glitzy.
The Present is the most complicated of the tables with loads of ramps, shoots and flashy things, including a mini football game, a curious car parking facility and a rather fetching Smiley ball feature.
Like the Past, it's fairly easy keeping the ball in play, but hitting the scoring shots takes some application and involves the full repertoire of backhands, switching the ball across the flippers and, of course, luck.
The shot up the ramp to the big circular thing in the middle that gets you your multi-ball and the Smiley ball is particularly tricky. Took me ages to get it right and, naturally, I couldn't do it again when the time came to do the grabs. The mini football bit is excellent in a bizarre and pleasingly pointless kind of way.
The Present is a good place to be.
The Future table is the table that lets the whole show down. Stop Press: Due to Effigy operating through mail order, they released it in an unfinished state with the promise of an upgrade as and when it was finished. We'll get Rich to look at it again next month.
The End Bit
Hurrah for Effigy. If it wasn't for the dreadful Future table, Prelude would have got a Format Gold.
But let's concentrate on the good things. After a glut of games that tried to emulate pinball tables, we now have one that involves a bit of lateral thinking.
It takes the basic premise of hitting a ball with flippers to create a game that requires skill and reactions and has a fairly steep learning curve.
It doesn't matter whether it's a pinball game, a footie game, a beat-'em-up, or a flight sim, but any game that has those qualities is going to be addictive and, let's face it people, it's good to get hooked. So, do it!