Appletell review – Mystery Mansion Pinball for iPod

Sections: Features, iPod, iPod classic, iPod nano, iTunes, Reviews

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Mystery Mansion PinballGenre: Pinball sim
Format: iPod game
Developer: Gameloft S.A.
Minimum Requirements: 3G iPod nano, iPod classic or 5G iPod (video), iPod Software v1.2, 42.9MB disk space
Retail Price: $4.99
Availability: Out now

Fact: In movies, whenever there’s a battle against the devil, the heroes will be Catholic, and a good portion of the confrontation will take place in a beautiful church or some sort of holy ground with all manner of decorative crosses and windows and a life-size corpus with bleeding eyes.

Another Fact: In video games, it’s okay if that same battle takes place in a mansion over a game of pinball, and your religion is irrelevant. Although, considering this game is constantly telling you, “I am the devil,” I wonder if Catholics aren’t maybe better equipped to hit multiple jackpots?

Regardless, pinball fans may get a kick out of Mystery Mansion Pinball, as may iPod owners looking for a quick way to kill some time with a game that fits quite well within the iPod’s capabilities and control scheme. Pinball games generally require only two buttons, after all, and the iPod has two buttons. Well, you need three, actually; although you can use the left and right flippers simultaneously with the iPod’s fast forward and rewind buttons, you can also do this by hitting the center button on the click wheel. The center button also comes into play in the video mode mini-games, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Mystery Mansion Pinball

The board itself is fairly well designed, featuring items that could very well be found on an actual pinball machine. Aside from some electrical effects on the bumpers, everything about the gameplay is fairly realistic. Of course, there’s no plunger on your iPod, so the center button puts the ball into play, with the force determined by a sliding power meter (as you’d find in a golf sim on the computer).

Game play itself is somewhat entertaining, with challenges are that aren’t too hard to reach. This is due in part to the decent board layout, but also to the easily identified targets, which make good use of lighting to call attention to them. Considering the iPod’s small screen, this is very important; a muddier layout with too much going on would’ve been unplayable.

Game play is also both helped and hindered by the scrolling camera, which moves up and down to follow the ball. This scheme is used pretty much across the board in video pinball sims, as widescreen (and even full frame) displays simply aren’t conducive to the portrait layout of pinball tables, but it’s not always done well. Here, the ball sometimes moves too quickly and disappears from view before the camera can catch up. Therefore, you’ll often be hitting the flippers blindly, hoping your ball is actually nearby. Even worse, the camera mostly keeps panning during multiball, making it extremely difficult to see all the balls and therefore hit most of the targets (especially considering there is a third flipper at the top of the screen).

Mystery Mansion Pinball

When the ball does get moving too quickly, a ghost trail appears to help you follow it. This bugged me at first, but without it the ball could get completely lost on the screen, so I’m glad it’s there. I wonder if it doesn’t screw up the ball physics, though, as there were times when my flippers seems to hit the ghost trail, not the ball. The physics aren’t that good throughout, for the most part, as the ball takes some impossible bounces off flippers and bumpers. It also seems to have a mind of its own when deciding which lane to drop down, although this usually works in your favor. I’ve played extended games without a single drain down an outlane; good for scores, bad for realism, especially when the ball visibly hops from an inevitable drain over to the inlane. There were also a couple of points where my flippers stopped working completely for a few seconds. I’m assuming this is a programming error, as there’s nothing in the game to indicate why this would happen on purpose.

As mentioned earlier, the gameplay is broken up by “video” games that play out as if on a pinball machine scoring screen. They’re well implemented and look cool, but a couple of the games are quite confusing. One in particular tells you to use the click wheel to position a beaker under the appropriately colored drop of fluid, but how do you use the click wheel? Spin it? Click in the direction you want to go? Click the button in the position of the beaker you want? I don’t know…I never got it to work.

Mystery Mansion Pinball

The final problem has to do with the audio. This “I am the devil” voice gets annoying very quickly, because it never quits saying it! After a couple minutes, I was just thinking, “Okay, I get it, you’re the devil. Now either shut up or go outside!” And the annoying laughter/cackling throughout the game is even worse. It comes in three or four variations, each of which is equally annoying (and loud). Pinball machines, by and large, always try to sound sexy in an effort to entice players to drop their coins. If this were a real pinball machine, not only would they keep their coins in their pockets, they would flee the arcade for protection.

And so, in Mystery Mansion pinball, we get a well-designed board with some fun mini-games that’s hampered by bad ball physics and some incredibly annoying audio. What’s worse is that the two work together to prolong your agony…the bad ball physics make each game last too long, forcing you to listen to the audio for much longer than the human brain can withstand. Maybe that’s the terror of the Mystery Mansion. There’s only one way to find out for sure…

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