Developer: ESPN Inc.
Price: $1.99 Download on the App Store
ESPN is a popular sports network. Pinball is that fun table game you play at bars and arcades. What do they have in common? Admittedly, it's not a whole lot, but that hasn't stopped the creation of ESPN Pinball, a colorful and fast-paced game for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
ESPN Pinball offers users eye candy in the form of showy, retina display enhanced graphics. Even the main menu is covered in carbon fiber like textures and glistening chrome. In play, the look isn't so different. The developer has eschewed realism in favor of something that is a bit more fun to look at. Unlike a real pinball game, sparks and debris fly when the ball collides with an object from the table. Other times, the ball will become charged with fire or will shoot bolts of lightening. Even calling the pinball table a "table" seems a little inaccurate, since it has been 3D rendered to look like a stadium full of screaming fans.
ESPN Pinball comes with three tables: Basketball, Soccer, and World Cup, the last one only accessible if the player earns more than 100,000 points at the soccer table. All of the tables are gorgeous, and considerably more elaborate than most other pinball games, real or virtual. In the basketball table, the greatest number of points is earned when the player makes a basket by knocking the ball up a ramp and through the hoop at the top. The soccer table is actually a double-decker pinball machine, with a separate set of paddles at the top. Above those paddles is the goal, protected by a goalie most players will recognize from a Fussball table. Like in Fussball, he slides back and forth in an effort to keep the ball out of the goal. Get past him, and you will earn a lot of points.
The controls should be familiar to anyone who has played a pinball game on an iDevice: the left side of the screen controls the left paddle, and the right side controls the right paddle. To launch the ball and begin the game, just drag down the spring on the right side of the table. There are few other bells and whistles worth mentioning. For example, every table contains a "turbine" that can catch the ball. If the player taps repeatedly on the turbine it will spin faster and faster, eventually charging the ball into a glowing mass of energy, or electricity, or whatever they were going for. Whatever it is, it is bright and kinetic and will earn you more points. With a concept like ESPN Pinball, one shouldn't ask too many questions.
The game comes with a pretty wide assortment of options. Players can play alone or enjoy the "pass and play" mode, which is a clever way to turn traditionally single-player pinball into a multi-player game. Players are also invited to set up a profile within the game, so that they can enter in their favorite teams or link the game to their Facebook accounts to compare scores.
ESPN Pinball is a good game with a good design. My only complaint is that the fixed, overhead view of the camera doesn't do justice to all the hard work and artistry that must have gone into designing the 3D pinball tables. With a retina display on the iPhone 4, the details shine through well enough, but more dynamic camera movements during play would help the experience on any platform. Perhaps it will show up in a future version. Regardless, ESPN Pinball is challenging and fun, enjoyable for sports fans and pinball fans alike.
If you're a true pinball fan, then check out our list of the best pinball apps for iOS devices.