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KISS Pinball
Score: 55%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Take 2 Interactive
Developer: Tarantula Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:
Nobody could accuse me of not championing Take 2 Interactive's line of budget games, but there are limits to what I find acceptable. For me, a less developed game or one that looks dated and maybe doesn't have cutting-edge features is a given for 10 dollars. What doesn't make sense is a game like KISS Pinball. Pinball is, for me, second only to billiards as something that makes a bad transition to the videogame world because it depends more on the tactile experience and complete visuals to be fun and effective. But looking at the promo for this game, I was excited. Talk of (to quote the box) 'an outrageous arcade-style world where you get ahead by outsmarting the guards, stockpiling your weapon collection, and releasing tormented souls' had me pumped up for some crazy, cool action game. Well, apparently all that description means a 2D image of a pinball table, moving up and down with flashing lights. The graphics aren't bad, but they're not anything but pinball, either. This PC port just screams 'PC!' which also wouldn't be bad if there were anything to recommend playing KISS Pinball after the first 10 minutes on your PlayStation.

Since this is KISS Pinball, one would expect to hear lots of KISS music, but just as there are only 2 tables you play on, guess how many songs you'll hear? If you guessed 1, you're halfway there... But, by way of apology, KISS Pinball lets you take out the game CD and play with your own music CD inserted. This way, you can listen to all the KISS music you want, right? Right. Unfortunately, I found the music playback was hard to balance againt sound effects, so all the buzzers, bells and whistles end up distracting more than a little from listening to your favorite CD while playing. To the game's credit, it does a fine job modeling the physics of a steel ball, and each of the 2 table has some neat bonus features and nice lighting effects. Plus, the authentic LED readout that shows score and bonus is a nice touch.

Contrary to any promise of wild action (maybe that was in the PC version) KISS Pinball lets you play virtual pinball on 2 KISS-themed tables, in several different modes. The idea of a Mode is a little ambitious for this game, since what you really get are different difficulty levels, according to how many balls are in play and what bonuses or specials are available. The Novice setting gives you multiple balls, and access to all specials. Arcade Mode varies from the standard 5-ball setting of Novice and Regular Mode, by letting you earn balls based on score. Finally, Tournament creates a standard set of specials, and takes away most of the easy bonuses and earned balls. Scores in Tournament relate more to pure skill than scores in other modes.

Once a ball is launched, you have control of flippers and can even tilt the table. Too much tilting, as in real life, will result in voiding play and losing you a ball. But, there are plenty of ways to lose the ball that are built right into the table. You'll find a huge number of bouncers and buzzers scattered around the table, and many branching paths that either lead to bonus or bummer. When they talk about all this action, what they really mean is that hitting certain specials will result in a challenge, like hitting places on the table or getting your ball through a certain gate. These show up under the table in a LED display like they would in real pinball, and completing challenges earns big points and multipliers. Other specials are cumulative, and might mean earning the band a new vehicle to take on tour. I think Take 2 must have been seriously misled by whoever recommended that these in-game features be labeled as 'upgrade your transport,' or 'journey into the pit and rescue your own groupies from the clutches of evil.' To look at KISS Pinball and describe the gameplay as anything but 'lots of good pinball' is either an act of inspired genius or outright fraud. But, if you love KISS, this, along with Psycho Circus, will complete your collection until 'Typing of the KISS' comes out... ;)

My only comment here is that the manual included only makes matters worse for people trying to figure out what to do with the game. There actually are some neat specials you can open up on each table, which nothing in the manual would lead you to believe. If someone had actually taken the time to explain what some of the bobbles do on the tables, people would probably be much more motivated to actually play. As it is, the game is somewhat pointless, since all the pinball eye-candy in the world won't tell you what happens if you hit that red circle twice in a row... The LED display highlights specials after they happen, but since there's so much going on, you won't know half the time what you did to get the special. So, you keep playing or give up, and the smart money says the latter is much more likely.

Game Mechanics:
Playing KISS Pinball couldn't be more simple. A button launches the ball, and once it is in play, shoulder buttons control flippers and the D-pad nudges the table. Using the other 2 shoulder buttons, you can switch tracks on the CD that's playing, if you have one inserted. The method for switching CDs is simple, and works like a boot-disk. You pause the game, open the lid and are prompted to put in a CD. If the game needs to load something, which is only after you quit playing a table, you're asked to insert the game disk. This worked fine on a PS2 as well as the standard PlayStation, by the way. Graphics are simple and 2D enough that the smoothing feature of PS2 didn't have any noticeable effect. Loading is a non-issue once the table is up and running, so the Fast setting for PS2 doesn't do much either.

KISS Pinball is something I can't recommend, and but for the hardcore pinball wizards out there, it has almost zero appeal. Really, don't you think of pinball as being kind of the 'anti-videogame?' My memory of most arcades is that the pinball people and the videogame people didn't mix too easily, and forget about the skeet-ball people... ;) So, even looking at this as a 10 dollar game, I have to say that your money is better spent on some first-generation PS game like Tenka or Jumping Flash. Apart from the KISS name on the cover, I don't think KISS Pinball is worthy of the rock legends, even as a silly pinball game.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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