Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pinball Week Episode 1 - Necronomicon

The Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown is this weekend, and I've been cooking up some pinball articles this week. Holding back the plunger on some pinball articles, with the threat of imminently launching them straight towards the gaudy and animated-gif-infested playfield that is the internet? I'm not liking these pinball metaphors as much as I expected to.
Anyway, I've uploaded a few videos of Digital Pinball - Necronomicon, a Japanese Sega Saturn game which mixes the aesthetics of all things related to wailing guitars with pinball. It's an awesome game! I wrote a little article about it back when I had a blog on the web site of my humble college newspaper, but everyone blogging for that place got laid off after the editor-in-chief got a little too brusque in the editorial section. That said, here's the original article that I wrote about the game, with youtube videos of the game's three tables after the jump. Enjoy!

Necronomicon is a video pinball game developed by now-defunct KaZe Co. Ltd. and released for the Japanese Sega Saturn back in 1996. Ridiculously, ridiculously obscure. Of course, it only takes one guy to get the word out, and that guy was Lawrence Wright of NFG Games and his review of Necronomicon. I disagree with some of the points made in the review now, but it made me aware of the game in the first place, and that's what counts, y'know?

Compared to the real thing, Necronomicon's simulation of pinball physics is fairly unrealistic. You can effortlessly make the same shot from the same flipper over and over and over again, and the ball often travels across the play field in what almost appear to be preset arcs. Shots that would normally be incredibly easy to make on a real table, like shooting the ball towards the near-center of the play field, are strangely difficult to do in Necronomicon. Pinball is about dealing with the little, random nuances of real-world physics and their terrifying implications for the suicidal silver ball in play. Necronomicon fails to capture this, but that's ok! It's a charmer.
Take, for example, the game's announcer. Actually, he's less of an announcer and more of an omnipresent, borderline incomprehensible poet. "Far away a temple stands," he mutters. "Far away... in the dreamlands." His emphasis, not mine! He doesn't actually comment on the state of the game, but he will often trail off on wild tangents while you're trying to manage a wild six-ball multiball. The resulting aesthetic effect is one of endearing insanity.

The game's soundtrack (with intro and ending music provided by John Petrucci of famous progressive rock group Dream Theater), is marked by its wildly over-the-top production values. It's also gloriously cheesy - starting multiball on any of the tables means bombastic, wailing guitars and screeching vocals. Williams' pinball division in the mid-90s was famous for its excellent sound design on games like Medieval Madness, and Necronomicon captures the energy and enthusiasm of those games in a way that no other video pinball game I've ever played has managed to do.

Even the table designs, which are kind of simplistic when compared to real pinball tables, have a hard-edged, creepy feel to them. There's a grainy, photo-realistic eye staring out from the center of the Arkham Asylum table. A fake instruction card present on all the tables' bottom-right corners states that the game is "For mortals only." There are lots of little details like that, adding up to a strangely personable and endearing experience.

That, really, is what's so great about Necronomicon - it simulates the mechanics of real pinball imperfectly, but it gets the intangibles just right.

Youtube videos: Arkham Asylum demonstration, Cult of the Bloody Tongue demonstration, Dreamlands multiball (above).


nabbercow said...

I liked this post both times I read it!

So is this game kitsch or camp?

Jason Moses said...

It's a frothy blend of the two!

nabbercow said...

Oh sweet I didn't know you could do that

nabbercow said...

They don't tell you that at when you're looking up what those words mean