Why is it So Hard to Make a Fun Pinball Game, featuring Pac-Man

It’s been a bit of a trend for me these past few days weeks months (Wow, it’s been a while) to pick up my Game Boy Advance and play some virtual Pinball games. It started with Mario Pinball Land kinda sucking, and quickly transitioned into Pinball of the Dead being kinda awesome. There are a few other Pinball games on the GBA that I didn’t have in the collection, and I made it a mission to try to find them while at the Portland Retro Game Expo a few months back. I should really write about that entire experience as a whole, but nah, we’ve got pinball games to talk about, baby!

Sadly though, despite PRGE having seemingly millions of video games for sale, I never did find a copy of Sonic Pinball Party, and certainly didn’t find one complete in box. I did, however, for better and for worse, find a copy of Pac-Man Pinball Advance that a vendor made a nice deal on. How could I say no to a $5 game AND a pinball game in 2022?

While Mario Pinball Land was a Mario game first with pinball as and afterthought, Pac-Man Pinball Advance is clearly a Pinball game with a Pac-Man aesthetic thrown in because Pac-Man is ball shaped I guess? Pac-Man Pinball Advance is a pinball game that has you flipping the titular gaming icon across the table, collecting power pellets, beating ghosts, and avoiding falling into the void and losing a life. It’s your typical video-game-character-meets-pinball trope. But everything feels kind of slow and boring, something you definitely don’t want from a Pinball game.

A major complaint I have with the game is its poor ball physics. Or maybe it’s poor controls and input? Either way, if you play it you’ll know what I mean. One of the goals you’ll have in each of the game’s two boards (we’ll get to that atrocity later) is to collect all the power pellets, as you would in a traditional Pac-Man game. However, this will require you to flick Pac-Man through specific tubes and chutes, which quickly becomes way harder than it should be. No matter how much you aim and line your shot up, a majority of attempts will be met with failure, meaning you’ll ricochet to a part of the table you don’t want to be, only to have to get back to the proper flipper to line up your shot and try again. The game very quickly loses its appeal when you’re trying to get one or two final pellets before the next stage action can happen.

Speaking of stages, there simply are not enough of them. There are only two pinball tables to play on, and though they look different visually, they’re largely the same thing. And I know this is a pinball game and pinball is always going to be pinball, but looking at the other games mentioned above, Mario and House offer a lot of variety among their stages all while being pinball games. Pac-Man is kind of just pinball. And not even good pinball at that. It’s a shame, as the game has so much potential to pull all kinds of Pac-Man nostalgia into it’s boards. Maybe a board for each of the major arcade releases? What about some crossover stages with other Namco IPs? Maybe some varied board mechanics to set each stage apart from one another? It feels to me the game was rushed and put out just to be put out, and any love for the property or gamers was simply missing.

I didn’t think it was possible, but I think this game is actually worse than Mario Pinball Land. That game at least has some personality to it that made me want to play to see other levels and mechanics it had to offer. Pac-Man Pinball Advance shows off all it has to offer immediately after hitting start. The entire game can be “enjoyed” in one sitting, and without a high score board, literally the one thing you’d expect from a bare bones Pinball game, there’s really no reason to replay the game. It functions as a video game, but it is uninspired and boring. Play something else.

Sorry Pac-Man. You deserved better.


DownStab has been a personal endeavor of mine for many years. Please enjoy the content and let me know if you have questions, comments, or just want to connect. And as always, game on.

– Jason J

Original blue and red Nintendo Switch controllers
Game Boy  •  Game Boy Advance  •  Game Cube  •  Nintendo DS  •  Nintendo 3DS  •  Switch  •  Virtual Boy  •  Wii  •  Wii U

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