No, I’m not writing about the song by The Who this week. I’m writing about a roguelike dungeon-crawling pinball game. I have to admit, I would never have thought to put that particular combination together in a game, but let me tell you now, it’s something I didn’t know I needed.
The point of The Pinball Wizard is obviously to dungeon-crawl via pinball, but there is actually a plot. You play the titular Pinball Wizard, a creature with a truly massive head, and your task is to replace the “Eye” that guarded the realm against chaos. Apparently, the Eye has fallen, so it’s up to your Pinball Wizard to restore order.
You must climb a tower and defeat monsters in order to find the necessary key to unlock the door to the next room. Defeating monsters requires deft use of your magical abilities, chief among them Dash, and thoughtful strategy where monsters may evade your more traditional attacks. Flying bats with bombs, I’m looking at you here.
The way you accomplish your incredibly important task is by, well, becoming the pinball. Each room will give you a basic pinball set up in the sense that you have obstacles, bumpers, and flippers. You ostensibly use the flippers to direct your flight around the room, but I don’t think the Switch version of this game has quite ironed out the kinks. However, before I get too far into this review, you need to know that I love to play pinball. I grew up with a pinball machine in the house; it happened to be Charlie’s Angels themed, and no, that’s not because I’m old enough to remember the original show. While I was never quite as adept at it as my father or brother, I still got to be good enough to win a fair number of friendly wagers as to whom would be able to get the high score. I might therefore be a touch biased, so bear that in mind as you read further.
That said, this history puts me in a unique position to evaluate the use of physics in this particular Switch port, and as I mentioned above, there are some issues with the game. Though the flippers feel very responsive, it’s much harder to pinpoint where your giant head has it, so if you, like me, prefer to pause and hold the ball on the flipper to aim your shot, that’s really not going to happen in the game. You also don’t have control over how fast your character moves. Between these two issues, your wizard infrequently goes where you want him to go, which can become frustrating. However, once you let go of the expectation that this title will function like a real pinball machine, you can accept the chaos and simply keep your wizard in motion, which is fairly rewarding. Just expect that you’ll fall out of the room more often than you like.
The tower you need to climb has 23 floors in the actual story, but the game does offer a daily dungeon and an endless survival mode. However, once you complete the story, there’s no restarting it without deleting your save file. This isn’t as much of an issue as you might think because, frankly, the story doesn’t have a great deal of replayability given that the story floors remain the same for each run. I just didn’t see any real reason to go back through the same floors again.
Aesthetically, The Pinball Wizard rocks a cute minimalism that works for the overall premise, though the soundtrack isn’t going to wow you. It does offer a leveling up mechanism as well as twelve skills to develop, and once you max out your level, your rewards shift to the monetary variety. You’ll complete a floor and find yourself showered in truly ridiculous amounts of money.
The Pinball Wizard’s chief draws lie in the title’s overall cuteness and the interesting twist it puts on pinball. However, it does require a grind through 23 repetitive levels, and the Switch port features just enough bugginess to make The Pinball Wizard less about skill and more about patience. It’s a great game to play in short bursts, and the endless dungeon level has great potential for folks to play while sitting on a couch with friends.
Total gameplay time should be five hours or so, which again, I do not recommend you do all in one sitting unless you like grinds. In that case, you’ll only regret that this title is as brief in duration as it is.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- I kind of want to play the iOS version of The Pinball Wizard now to see how it handles as opposed to the Switch version.
- The sheer novelty of the approach alone makes it worth a play-through.
- The bats are the worst. You have to bounce the bombs back at the bat, and that can take forever, especially given the flipper issues.