For the arcade game fan who plays arcade games at home,Jess Ragan's "MAMExpose" presents you with the many joys - andpitfalls - of emulation, specifically those found while using our favoriteprogram in the universe: MAME.
|Video games aren't the only thing you'll find in most arcades. There are all kinds of ways to have fun there, from punching bags to crane games to pinball machines. Of these diversions, pinball is perhaps the most entertaining. Bally must have agreed, because they brought both video games and pinball together in the hopes of creating an addicting new experience. It didn't work quite as well as they had hoped... Bally stopped making video game/pinball hybrids after just two attempts. However, these two games are still worth playing, even if it's only for their novelty value. Thanks to a specially designed version of MAME, coupled with a program called Visual Pinball, now you can. Read on to find out how, and which of Bally's two games are the best. |
Pac-Man and pinball... two great tastes that taste great together? Not when you're using low quality ingredients. Baby Pac-Man could have been a great merger of two different hobbies, but it's pretty clear that Bally was only interested in capitalizing on another Pac-Man game.
To understand just what went wrong with Baby Pac-Man, you've got to examine both the video game and the pinball table. The video game stinks because Namco had nothing to do with it. The designers of the original Pac-Man weren't even given a chance to offer creative input or approve the game's release, and it really shows. The game's resemblence to previous Pac-Man titles is largely superficial... both the hardware and programming are well below Namco's high standards. The graphics lack color, and the few colors that are used aren't nearly as vibrant as they should be. There's even flicker when the monsters start to cluster together, which is a little surprising because Pac-Man isn't an especially demanding game. One can only come to the conclusion that Bally used the cheapest parts on hand when creating Baby Pac-Man.
That's only a mild annoyance in comparison to the artificial intelligence of the monsters. They move at random, often backtracking on their own paths and cornering the hapless player. You can't predict what they'll do next, and you can't defend yourself against them because the mazes are devoid of energizers. The only way you can get them- and the only way you'll be safe for more than a minute- is to take a quick detour into the pinball table built into the machine.
Here's where you'll find the rest of the game's flaws. Baby Pac-Man has what could possibly be the most barren playfield you'll find in a pinball game released in the 80's. There are no bumpers and no ramps... just a captive ball trapped in a loop and a whole lot of lights. Knocking the captive ball into the other side of the loop or spelling "PAC-MAN" earns you a desperately needed energizer, and two targets on either side of the playfield will increase the value of the fruit and your speed through the warp tunnels. This both adds to and detracts from the enjoyment of the video game. On one hand, you can potentially earn more than four energizers per maze and find all the fruits much earlier than you could in the other Pac-Man games. On the other, it's possible to increase Baby Pac-Man's warp tunnel speed so much that it's almost impossible to guide her through the tunnels safely. Essentially, you're punished for doing well in the pinball game. You could try to avoid hitting the speed up targets, but thanks to the design of the table, you don't have much control over the ball.
Eventually, the ball will drop past your flippers and into the drain, locking Baby Pac-Man into the maze and leaving her at the mercy of the monsters. If you haven't built up a sufficient number of energizers, your survival is doubtful at best. This makes Baby Pac-Man the toughest, most frustrating game in the Pac-Man series. It's also one of the most disappointing, which is why I give this game a five.
Shortly after the release of Baby Pac-Man, Bally tried their luck with another video game/pinball hybrid, but took it in an entirely different direction. Rather than relying on a popular license or a familiar style of gameplay, the designers of Granny and the Gators whipped up a completely new title unlike anything that was released before.
So what makes this unique even for a video game with a pinball table built into it? Well, the title character's a pretty good place to start. You play as Granny, a geriatric jungle explorer hunting for treasure while paddling a raft down a dangerous river teeming with alligators. You'll also find angry natives chucking spears at you (of course, you'd be angry too if you were drawn with enormous red lips that barely fit on your face). Luckily, Granny's got a gun, and she can even use her raft paddle to defend herself if she's running low on ammo... simply swing the paddle in the direction of the nearest gator to stun it.
After a few screens, you'll find a sign on the river bank reading "Pin". Follow the sign and you'll be transported from the dangers of the rainforest to the less threatening confines of a pinball table. You can earn more ammo, temporary invincibility, and even extra lives here... that is, until the ball slips past your paddles and you're dropped back into the Amazon.
Granny and the Gators runs from the same hardware as Baby Pac-Man, so logic dictates that the graphics and sound aren't that much more impressive. It's a lot more colorful and slightly more detailed, but nevertheless, there's nothing in Granny and the Gators would push the ColecoVision past its limits. The sound effects, particularly when playing the pinball game, add a sense of menace that seems out of place.
Luckily, the gameplay puts Granny and the Gators over the top. It's a little awkward, but strangely addictive... so much so that Atari Games took everything but the pinball and the ancient main character and released it years later as Toobin'. Granted, Toobin' was a big improvement over its ancestor, but fans of that game should nevertheless take a look at Granny and the Gators, just to see where it all started. I give Granny a seven, although the pinball portion of the game isn't fantastic... that deserves a five at best.
MAME TIP: Sadly, MAME isn't enough to run either of these games. You'll need a software package called Visual Pinball, along with VPinMAME, a specialized emulator designed to run ROMs written for the dot matrix displays of pinball machines. You can download Visual Pinball from http://www.randydavis.com/vp. VPinMAME can be found at http://www.pinmame.com. Finally, you can download additional software for Visual Pinball and VPinMAME at either http://www.shivasite.com or http://irpinball.ztnet.com.
In the next edition of MAMExpose, we'll shed some light on the forgotten sequels to immensely popular arcade games. You'll be amazed to hear that some of these games even HAVE sequels.
A new "MAMExpose" can be found herearound the 10th of every month!
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