Review: Pinball 8.0, by baKno Games

Pinball 8.0, by baKno Games, brings arcade pinball to your computer or handheld device, and let’s you create and share your own pinball tables with it’s built-in editor.
Likes: Very entertaining; Lots of tables included; Easy to use table editor; Free trial version; Low price; Runs on Macs.
Dislikes: Some included tables are too simple; Trial version nearly useless; Distracting Multiball feature; Selection of pinball parts could be better; Minor editing glitches.
Platforms: Apple OS 10.6.6, Windows XP, iOS 4.2, Android 2.2, or higher.
Price: From $0.99 to $7.95, depending on platform, how you play, and number of licenses.
Pinball 8.0 is very entertaining for the casual player and pinball purist alike. Anyone wanting to design and share their own pinball tables, especially on Apple computers, will find the Editor alone is easily worth the price. However, if you only want to play pinball, or play tables as close to  authentic as possible, there are many and better pinball apps available for free or similar cost.

It’s safe to say I’m a big fan of pinball: I’ve been to lots of arcades, owned just about every pinball game made for Macs, participated in pinball competitions, and even have an arcade pinball machine sitting in my living room just in case the urge to play a game suddenly strikes me. In fact, I ‘d love to design pinball tables for a living; but, with only one full-fledged pinball company still in business today – Stern Pinball, Inc. of Chicago IL – and one newcomer on the block – Jersey Jack Pinball of Lakewood, NJ – the number of available job openings is virtually non-existent.

Recently I spent a little time with Pinball 8.0, by baKno Games (pronounced “bah-KAY-know”). Based in Florida, baKno Games caters to the casual gamer, and offers over twenty games covering a wide variety of interests. Originally known as “MacPinball”, version 8.0 has been “redesigned from scratch” and includes a pinball table editor, allowing you to create your own tables.

Pinball 8.0′s three screens allow you to play a table, edit a table, and adjust the play settings. In fact, in many ways it’s reminiscent of the classic 1986 Macintosh game “Pinball Construction Set” by Bill Budge I played on the Mac SE/30, and I was pleased to see baKno continue the long tradition of pinball games spawned by Bill Budge’s groundbreaking program.

Source: baKno Games

On the Apple MacBook Pro I used, playing the game was delightfully entertaining, with graphics, features, sounds and physics much closer to an authentic pinball table than to simpler, cartoonish pinball games:  It has a look and feel that’s great for handheld devices, and should appeal to “tweeners” and pinball enthusiasts alike. The game includes ten tables created by baKno plus access to over 30 user-created online games, with the designs ranging from simplistic to challenging – all accompanied by a large selection of upbeat and catchy electronic background music to keep the tempo elevated and the play fun.

The only downside to game play is the Multiball feature: When activated the view zooms in on the captive ball, the entire table slowly rotates horizontally 360 degrees, and the two pinballs ejected in mid-rotation, making it almost impossible to keep both balls in play as you’ve lost sight of the flippers. It would be better to either remove the visual effect or wait until the effect is completed before ejecting the pinballs.

The game’s Editor mode is quick to learn and easy to use: Just drag the pinball part  of your choice to the location on the table, rotate it to point in the direction you want, and select how it looks. And, an alignment grid plus the ability to rotate and magnify the table allows precise placement of any part. But be warned:  While you can build a complete, working pinball table in less than 30 minutes, building one that’s original, fun to play, and works smoothly can take much, much longer – just like designing a real arcade pinball table. The editor allows you to import you own custom artwork, and, once you’ve finished your design, share it with baKno at the push of a button. On the Apple OS, it’s possible to export your custom designs by accessing the folder “baKno Games” in the “Application Support” folder of your “Library” folder (although, you’ll need to use a program or Apple’s Terminal utility to make the Library folder visible first). Clearly, the Editor feature is the game’s strongest selling point, and if your idea of fun is to create and play lots of tables it’s worth the price of the game all by itself*.

One of my baKno pinball table designs.

"Your table is ready"

However, the Editor is not without some limitations. The playfield is wider than the 19″W x 41″L playfield of a standard pinball table, making the default flipper spacing too wide. While the available selection of pinball parts will satisfy nearly everyone, adding a one-way gate, a straight rail of adjustable length, and a post would permit a wider variety of designs. Placing tunnels or pop-ups right next to each other occasionally caused one of them to malfunction. Finally, placing a part on the table sometimes disabled the parts menu: It’s unclear if there’s a limit to the number of parts a table can use or it’s a software glitch, but in most cases saving your design and restarting the program fixed it.

Unfortunately, the game’s Trial mode is a major disappointment: Unlike other pinball apps, which let you download and play one table for free and then charge you to unlock more tables, features, or artwork, Pinball 8.0 only allows you 5 to 10 seconds of play before the game ends. It’s hardly enough time to appreciate the game, but fortunately there is a workaround, at least on Macs: Select the Editor, load a pinball table, and click the play button – you’ll be able to play one ball for as long as you can keep it in play. When you lose the ball, click the play button again to play another ball. If it’s possible, perhaps baKno should consider offering a fully-functional free table to persuade players to consider purchasing the full game.

Should you choose to purchase the game, baKno allows you to pay-as-you-play by buying “Game Coins” you use for each play – just like a real pinball machine. Or, you can purchase a license allowing unlimited play, multiple installations, or both. Their “Unlocker” software is claimed to make unlocking the software easy and quick; however, I can’t verify it as I didn’t purchase the game.

Kudos to bakno for reviving and modernizing the classic “Pinball Construction Set”. The look, feel, and play of Pinball 8.0 should satisfy baKno’s target market of pinball enthusiasts looking for casual play – I certainly was very satisfied. The Editor is easily the program’s strongest feature, and great for anyone wanting to create and share their own pinball tables quickly and easily. However, if you don’t use the Editor, or you want a more authentic pinball experience, then consider one of a number of other pinball apps available for free or at similar or lower cost.

*However, if you want to design a pinball table that’s as realistic as possible and aren’t intimidated by a steep learning curve, check out “Future Pinball” – it’s free, but only available on Windows.

Thanks for reading!

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