The Pinball of the Dead
I don't know what it is about the House of the Dead series that makes Sega spin off all these weird tangent games, but it's perfect fodder for a pinball title. Zombie heads pop out of the table to take a few shots in the mouth, you get to fight all the bosses from HotD2, and the eerie ambience makes for some sweet table designs. But most importantly, it's got that can't-put-it-down gameplay that'll make your eyes go dry from starin' (in a good way). A few things bugged me, though: It's cool that you can save your game to the cartridge at any time--handy if your bus stop is approaching and you need to quit right away. But dare to finish that game and it gets totally obliterated from the cart. What if I want to go back and revisit the game of my life a second time? Well, I can, but I have to write down and enter a gigantic password. Hmm...how ridiculously inconvenient. Second, you have to spell out several words per table by reaching totally awkward holes for some pretty minor bonuses. Some of these words are six or eight letters long, and each time you lose a ball, they reset. I'll say this: It's damn-nigh impossible to spell out "NIGHTMARE" in one stinkin' turn, and an extra ball isn't much reward for finally pulling it off. The physics aren't fantastic, either--making setups and predicting your ball's speed off the flipper can be tough. But despite my small gripes, Dead is still a must-have in any to-go gamer's pocket.
At first, Dead seemed like a guaranteed slam dunk: three giant tables to choose from, each with plenty of chutes, holes, ramps, bosses and bonuses. But soon you learn it's more than a matter of the standard learning curve--this game is tough. Mastering stuff like nudging the board and juggling the ball, usually advanced techniques, are practically required to get anywhere here. And seasoned pinballers will be disappointed by annoying sound effects, no real multiball and a skill shot that takes no skill. Dark graphics and waiting through the start-up sequence after every game further limits Dead as an acquired taste for pinball pros only.
I've always had a soft spot for handheld pinball games; sadly, new ones come along about as often as El Nino. As the first major release since the excellent Pokemon Pinball, The Pinball of the Dead is a worthwhile, if slightly underwhelming addition to the GBA library. On the good side, you've got three tables that are nicely drawn and animated, with top-notch music and sound effects. Controls are tight, and the table physics are decent for video pinball. Unfortunately, the table layouts are pretty bland, which is a shame considering the game's ridiculous premise. Lost potential aside, PotD is still a fun game and worth checking out.