I like pinball. No, I love pinball. My deep affection for the silver ball spans both real tables (I own one) and virtual ones (I own many). So when I was given the opportunity to review a gizmo that could potentially bridge the gap between the two, I jumped at the chance.
Enter Discovery Bay Games latest addition to their “Duo” series with their Duo Pinball “appcessory” (their words, not mine) for iOS in partnership with Gameprom, creators of the Pinball HD series. Their product is pitched as a pinball controller designed to deliver a more tactile pinball experience. So let’s take a look.
First up we have the obligatory promo video, featuring a young man enjoying his Duo Pinball experience with gusto, accompanied by gasps of amazement and even an “air grab”. All this goes on under the watchful eye of an accompanying young woman. Her relationship with the young man is unclear. While she doesn’t get any hands on experience herself, it would appear that she shares his over-enthusiasm, and one can only guess at what magical things happened once the camera stopped rolling. Oh Marketing!
So let’s get down to it and see if my experience matches that of our lovely couple.
What’s in the box?
Inside the packaging is the Duo Pinball controller featuring a recess for an iPad, two flipper buttons and a plunger. Three AA batteries and an instruction manual are also included to get you started right out of the box.
A surprisingly simple process. Throw in the batteries and a small blue light indicates that the Duo Pinball is on and ready to go. It’s worth noting that the Duo Pinball has no On/Off button or switch. It powers down after 5 minutes of inactivity and can be awoken with the press of either flipper button or a tug on the plunger. Delving into my iPad settings I switched on the Bluetooth and paired the two together in less than a minute. If not already done so this is as good a time as any to download Pinball HD Collection from the App Store. This weighs in at 340MB and features 10 tables, which can be unlocked via in-app purchase.
According to the blurb in the manual the act of pairing the Duo Pinball via Bluetooth automatically unlocks five of the tables, Wild West, The Deep, Jungle Style, Snow Pinball and DaVinci, to play for free. I had already purchased these tables prior to reviewing this product so I can’t speak to how the magic happens. The process of attaching the iPad was equally painless, with adjustable tabs on the left and right side designed to hold your device securely in place. The Duo Pinball also pairs with the iPad mini, iPhone and iPod Touch, but lacks the ability to hold the devices in place. Maybe an adaptor could have been developed and included to accommodate the rest of the Apple family, but that’s just an observation and maybe wishful thinking on my part.
Build quality is decent, although a little plasticky compared to the luscious iPad it cradles. Once seated the iPad feels very secure and the rubber feet ensure that there’s little danger of the assembled franken-pinball table sliding about. It’s primarily designed for table-top use but can be seated comfortably in your lap or even held in your hands, although prolonged play may make the latter option uncomfortable at some point.
My first observation on launching my first ball of my first game is that there is an amount of input lag with the plunger. Not a deal breaker by any means but I was a little disappointed by this. I was far more impressed by the flipper response, with little or no input lag as the on screen flippers danced in time with my fingers. While the flipper buttons are not identical to real ones, they’re a good representation with enough travel on them to have you immersed in the experience in no time. Even a quick light tap would “feather” the flipper as it would on a real table, but the game’s engine doesn’t currently appear to be able to discern this when flinging your ball around the virtual table. Regardless this was a welcomed discovery and certainly scored an authenticity point.
The act of nudging is handled by an on-screen tap, which I felt was adequate enough, given that nudging is something that touch screen pinball games always seem to struggle to get right. I was even able to perform the controversial but immensely gratifying “Death Save” (bringing the ball back into play from an outlane drain) with far more control and frequency than I’ve experienced with Pinball HD before. I even found that I was surpassing my previous high scores on many tables with ease, although you could argue that I was just getting better acquainted with the tables. As I continued to play it occurred to me that the immersive experience promised appeared to be holding true. I won’t lie to you. I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun with the Duo Pinball as I did, but a fun and engaging time I had nonetheless.
Here it is. There are a few things that I’m struggling with where the Duo Pinball is concerned. Firstly, the price. With an RRP of £49.95 you’d be hard pushed to justify this kind of money on what boils down to a Bluetooth cradle with a few buttons that converts your iPad into something more like a mini pinball table, and even with that immersive step up, your mileage may vary depending on your expectations. If this was priced at £20 less, you’d have less of a hard time justifying a purchase, but as it stands it rests firmly in the “extravagance” space, as some would argue is the same position the iPad it is designed to work with sits.
What’s more bemusing is the fact that the Duo Pinball only works exclusively with one App with a handful of tables. And while Pinball HD is a decent virtual pinball game there are better pinball games on the App Store, such as The Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball. Looking at other products in the “Duo” series it’s clear that Discovery Bay Games follow a business model around app exclusivity. The reason for this is only known to them. Maybe Apple have some say in the matter. Who knows? One thing is clear though. Marketing and selling a premium priced product, for a single App in an already niche genre is going to be an uphill struggle for any company.
With these factors considered I find it hard to recommend the Duo Pinball to anybody but die-hard pinball fanatics with a desire for a more authentic experience, who are willing to pay the premium and accept the incomprehensible compatibility limitations. For everyone else? Enjoy your broader catalogue of perfectly acceptable and in some cases superior pinball games with a touch screen as intended, and keep an eye on the bargain bins for your chance to pick up your very own “air grab” moment.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Platform: iOS Release Date: 21/11/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a Duo Pinball for review purposes by the promoter. The product was reviewed over the course of one week using a 3rd Gen iPad. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.