Balanced on a flipper's edge

Time Scanner logo

IF you think that bumpers are only to be found on cars, that tilt is a tropical soft drink and flipper is a dolphin, then this game may not be for you. If all this jargon means something to you, then you probably had - or are still having - a wasted childhood.

The first thing that really strikes you about Time scanner is that the ball is not silver, but green. Aside from that the table closely resembles the kind you may find in any decent arcade.

If you are wondering how it manages to fit a decent sized table into one screen, then wonder no more. It does not. Instead the screen flips between the top half and the bottom.

You may also notice a small hole near the top of the table labelled Time Tunnel. Activating this will send you to the next in a sequence of tables. Yes, not only is this a multiple-ball game but also a multiple-table game, a mechanical nightmare not even Klaus Kinski could have dreamt of.

The first level is called Volcano. The objective here is to spot - or light-up, for non-enthusiasts - all the letters in the word "volcano" by getting the ball to hit a target at the end of a glass tube. Every spotted letter treats you to a piece of animated trickery as the volcano in the background gobs out some lava.

The second level is Ruins, the object here being to fire all your balls down the collect hole for a multiple ball finale.

The third play area is called Pyramid and features some funky Egyptian-style background music. The aim is once again to spot the letters, but this time by hitting the relevant targets.

There is an undocumented table that can only be played once you have successfully spotted all the letters on the other three. I will say no more because it is secret.

A worrying thought is that Time scanner requires one megabyte, a fact which the packaging and adverts fail to mention. I can think of few things worse than spending cash on something only to find out you cannot use it. Perhaps this was an oversight on Activision's part. I hope it was nothing more sinister.

Graphically the game is quite pleasing and the theme tunes are pretty good. But there is something missing. I think it is the physical element. There is no room to vent your frustration on the machine, no room for latent telekinetic powers to manifest themselves. The real thrill of pinball is that it is physical. Computerising it can only detract from that. Nice try though.

Time Scanner logo


Activision's Time scanner is another addition to the already long line of computer pinball games. Such simulations have flooded the computer scene since the computer first developed SHIFT keys, way back in the distant age when babies were not brought up on a diet of glass.

Since the simple bagatelle machine of the 1890s, the pinballs have progressed from simple machines with electric flippers to multi-level monstrosities boasting all sorts of unusual additions.

The home micro version of the pinball machine has always had a bumpy ride. One of the finest features of any pinball game has to be the ability to leap from side to side as you tap the flipper with bionic reflexes. Naturally, it is impossible to achieve this dramatic effect with the keyboard of any ordinary home micro - without wrenching off the disk drive anyway.

Time scanner makes no new innovations in this area but it does offer one of the more realistic simulations of ball movement. Shift keys are used to control the left and right flippers with the main objective being, as always, to amass giant high-scores. Even a tilt feature is available.

Four tables are split into two so that if you miss one of the five balls then you face a second chance. You can get through to other levels by taking a trip through the 'Time Tunnel'.


Where the game fails is in its lack of illuminated displays each time the ball hits a plunger. Far more could have been done graphically in these areas. However, this has been well compensated with some impressive sound effects which materialise regularly enough to keep your fingers twitching over the keyboard and certainly bring to mind the real arcade environment.


The limitations of the game are those faced by any computer pinball sim. The keyboard just does not offer the right scene for serious addiction but that aside, it offers a realistic challenge even though ball movement is dubious at times.
It is not an original idea but is still the kind of game likely to appeal to anyone with more than a passing interest in pinball games. Whether it will satisfy the real pinball addict who drools at the mouth every time he sees an idle machine is doubtful.

Time Scanner logo

Price: £24.99

When a certain publication reviewed the Amiga version of this little known (to me) coin-op, and said it was an amazingly faithful conversion, well, I jumped at the chance to review it. An almost perfect conversion of a brilliant Sega coin-op. Wow! Listen, if Amiga Time Scanner is a perfect conversion, I think that the self-same bods who thought up the very clever sprite enlargement routines that Sega love using must have slipped up a little on the ball inertia. Either that or the ball is made of some strange magnetic material that can change speed at will, or perhaps we just are not playing on Earth. Either way, Time Scanner is not very good.

As you have probably guessed from the screenshots, Time Scanner is a computerised pinball machine. This is nothing new, remember Pinball Wizard? Anyway, like all great pinball machines, Time Scanner has a theme, and the theme for today is time (spot the clever, yet incredibly subtle pun there?). You actually play on a whole number of different pin tables, all connected via time tunnels, and each has a backdrop depicting a different area.

Each of the tables is split over two screens, and the idea is to as large a bonus as possible on the first screen before you inevitably fall through the gap between the bumpers and go through to the second screen, where the aim is also to direct the ball into any exits that just happen to be on screen.

Looking at a still shot of the coin op, and then looking at a still shot of the Amiga version, I have to say, yes, they do look identical. It is when the ball starts moving that the similarity ends. It has very strange inertia and braking powers. It can come off a bumper at high speed, and then slow down for no reason at all. Also, when you hit the ball off these, it never quite seems to go the way you would expect.

The music is a direct translation from the arcade, but the game no longer has the strong sound that was part of its appeal in the arcades. This now has a average soundtrack, average sound effects, average intro tune, which, I must add, does have some samples.

Not one to rush out for. Not a blinding conversion, and then again, not even a good pinball game.

Time Scanner logo

Activision, Amiga £24.99 disk

Time Scanner is a conversion of an obscure Sega coin-op, where you must clear four pinball tables to escape a mysterious time warp (great plot innit?!). Each table is split into two screens and in addition to the obvious flippers, you can also tilt the table as much as you want to affect the path of the ball. The first three tables are linked by 'time tunnels', so you can move between these tables as you want. The fourth table, however, is only accessed once you've completed the first three.

The tables are Volcano, Ruins, Saqqarah (Egyptian) and Special. Unsurprisingly each requires you bash the balls into various targets. Thankfully, the two screens which make up each table are fairly well separated with barriers, so you're not constantly flicking between them. When you've lost all your balls you can continue play indefinitely, but can't enter a high score in that case. There's also a two player option.

Phil King What I really like about Time Scanner are the double-screen tables - this technique allows for far more graphical detail than the usual single-screen tables which are fiddly to play on and a strain on the eyes. Also each of the tables plays differently and offer a substantial challenge. But after completing in a day, with the continue play option, I haven't honestly been tempted to have another go.
Robin Hogg Being pinball, Time Scanner is instantly playable, and the urge to see the final table is compelling - even with infinite lives it takes quite a lot of time to complete. It's a pity then, that there's no end screen and that the pinball movement is dodgy.