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Pro Pinball: Fantastic Journey
Score: 87%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Take 2 Interactive
Developer: Empire Interactive
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Arcade/ Action/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:
Following the tradition of the Pro Pinball series, Fantastic Journey consists of high-resolution, mostly static-render backgrounds with ball or balls rolling willy-nilly around them. There are lights and mechanical doodads and whatsits that activate, but the screen stays in one position (be gone, evil Pinball Scrolling) and you can see all the action at once. The game itself is based on something of a “steam-punk” technology, using the railroad as a thematic guide. It ends up working quite well.

Once again, sound isn’t much of a consideration when you’re playing a pinball game. Sure, there are wizbangs and bleeps and bloops and the requisite thumping of the flippers and banging of the balls, but you’re not playing pinball to listen to music, are you?

Once again, Empire delivers. In Pro Pinball: Fantastic Journey, you’re off to save the world by collecting crystals and leading an assault on the Mysterious Island or some such. You go on adventures in different contraptions, like drilling to the center of the earth or diving into the ocean. They’re all steam-powered, of course (of course!), and you’ve got to keep the pressure up or the adventure is all over.

The ball ricochets around the board realistically, which is always a good thing. Unlike its predecessor, Big Race USA, Fantastic Journey only has two flippers. That’s plenty enough to keep track of, though. You can also jiggle the machine with your controller, which is a wonderful way of keeping a ball from slipping down the sides and going the way of the dodo. You have to build the Contraptions to go on the Adventures to collect the Crystals to win the game, but chances are you’re not going to succeed in that for a while. Just enjoy the pretty lights, okay?

All of the required components of a good pinball table are here, from the ramps to the sinks and the lovely Magnasave that keeps you from having to pump that tilt for all its worth. Of course, figuring out how everything works is an important part of the pinball experience, and luckily the game comes with a manual packed with details as to how to get the various bonuses and activate many of the different modes. There’s still plenty to be learned on your own, though.

Like the other Pro Pinball games, this is as close as it gets to a real pinball table. That being said, you’ve got to be good at pinball to be good at this. Don’t expect to jump in and immediately win the game. Practicing how to place your shots, how to time your shots, and often most importantly, how to jiggle the machine -just right- so that the ball doesn’t fall down the sides is an art. You can pick it up as you go along, but only concentrated play will get you the skill to keep it going. That having been said, there’s nothing on the Fantastic Journey board that makes it particularly easy or hard. No trite cheap deaths, but no real infinite-loop keep-the-ball-alive situations either. Of course, I’m not exactly the God of Pinball, so your results may vary.

Game Mechanics:
What do you expect, shoddy mechanics? If so, you’re not getting them. You’ve also never played any of the other Pro Pinball games. Fantastic Journey is configurable in all the ways that you expect from the series -- the tilt of the board, the wear, and whatnot. You can track your hours wasted if you really want to as well. As far as the simulation goes, I seriously doubt that you’ll ever find any video table as realistic as the Pro Pinball series, and this is no exception.

People who dislike pinball won’t be made believers by this game, but those of us who wish they had the room (and money) for a real table can’t go wrong with Fantastic Journey. Yes, there’s only one table, but for ten bucks, can you really complain? If you’re a pinball fan, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. If not, it’s certainly not going to break the bank if you try it out.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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