Dream Pinball 3D (PC), Review

In the old Amiga days, you couldn't beat a good bit of computer pinball. Now? Things have changed...

I love pinball. I’ve owned various virtual tables from the day that I played Pinball Dreams on a friend’s Amiga and became hooked. If I’m walking past an arcade I’ll generally find the table with the most ridiculous-looking construction and try my luck for a few minutes. And it will only be a few minutes, for I not only love it but am completely, categorically useless. It’s less ‘lost balls’ and more ‘lost marbles’. If there was some kind of award for making large ball-bearings disappear at speed, I would win hands-down.

Yet I keep returning to it. I’m probably a sucker for flashy lights and shiny things. Dream Pinball 3D (what a very mid-90s title) has them in abundance. Graphically it’s wonderful – you’ll be too busy at first trying to work out what the heck you should be doing and trying to keep the ball on the table, but after a while you’ll notice the little details, like the reflections off the glass and the lovely ‘flare’ effects when you hit certain targets. There are six tables, which become increasingly cluttered with obstacles and scenery until you’ve got a giant helicopter in the middle of one and a second table level on the last. It looks, for all the world, exactly like what you would find on the real thing.

The physics are pretty solid too, and the ball(s) whizz around like someone has applied engine oil. The game’s ‘gimmick’, as all pinball games must have, is that from time to time you get a different ball made out of a different material – namely gold, wood, ivory and marble. This affects the ball’s behaviour in various ways, although it’s not as marked as the developers would like you to think.

The themes are fairly standard stuff: there’s an aquatic-based table, a ‘monsters’ table and one based on a character called ‘Amber Moon’. Having no idea who this might be, I Googled her and was…um…surprised by the results. Anyway, as far as I’m aware she’s from the game Two Worlds and we are not getting an insight into what the programmers get up to in their spare time (search for it yourself to see what I mean). All the tables have a variety of sounds and voices which tell you what’s going on, and a little recreation of the score display in the left-hand corner. It’s pretty immersive and more than comparable to real pinball tables, and for once the music will not make you want to rip your own ears off.

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So far, then, so good. But wait. That’s it. There’s nothing else to tell you. Very realistic this might be, but this is a PC game after all, so what can it offer over and above? Nothing. There are no twisty quirks you couldn’t possibly have in reality, nothing else to do, no extra content. The opening of the game puts you in a club of some sort with a dartboard next to the pinball table, but you can’t interact with anything – this bit could have been like the very good Pool Paradise and is an unforgivably wasted opportunity.

There are also some niggles which niggle you more the more you play. The physics, while good, are not perfect, and sometimes a ball will fly off a flipper when you barely tapped the key. For me the graphics on the far left-hand side of the screen were a bit warped and once I’d noticed I couldn’t stop noticing it. But the worst thing is the ball launch itself – the ball isn’t actually there. You read that correctly: there is no ball. Pressing ‘enter’ to launch it will do so, but you won’t see it appear until it’s actually gone up and out of the chute. This is clearly nuts, and whoever thought it would be a good idea needs to be sat down and given a sharp talking-to.

My favourite ever pinball game is Psycho Pinball, with its clever little mini-games, linked tables (go down a hole on this table, end up on another!) and focus on player ability – if you didn’t bash that button hard enough, that ball was going nowhere. Dream Pinball 3D is almost too realistic for its own good, and yet falls down on a couple of strikingly obvious things.

I hope this company stick with pinball, as there’s obviously promise here. But the next release is going to have to be seriously thought-through as an overall product/experience for anyone who isn’t either a total pinball junkie or just wants something a bit different. What it does, it does well. Trouble is, it doesn’t do enough.


3 out of 5