The Pinball Rocks franchise sometimes looks suspiciously like a playable music advert that you pay for. And it hasn't been a particularly cheap advert up to now - both Slayer Pinball Rocks HD and AC/DC Pinball Rocks HD cost £1.99 / $2.99.
With the release of Pinball Rocks HD, you can now at least play the game for free, and if you like it you can buy the Slayer and AC/DC editions from within the app, along with the brand-new Alice in Chains and Bullet for My Valentine editions.
If you're still reading, that means you're willing to give Sony a chance. And you'll be glad you did.
Pinball Rocks HD is solid. The ball physics are convincing, the graphics - for the most part - are crisp and authentic, and the flippers have a gratifying, rattling heft to them whenever you make them swivel by tapping on either side of the screen.
You can even shake your device to nudge the table, letting you rescue the ball from the gutter if you're quick enough. After a while you'll start nudging the table as a reflex every time the ball hits the bottom of the table, just as you would in real life.On the rebound
The free table, themed around a club, blasts out a selection of rock songs as you play, all of which you can buy from the in-app store. It's a good-looking table with an advertised 20+ missions - which is just a pinball way of saying you can earn huge numbers of points for getting the ball up a ramp or into a little trapdoor or over a series of sensors or in among a cluster of jangling bumpers.
The Alice in Chains table is disappointing ugly, owing to some oddly low-resolution artwork. It's also quite basic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as some players may appreciate the relatively simple layout.
The Bullet for My Valentine table is better-looking, and slightly more elaborate, but otherwise fairly similar. The AC/DC table is better-looking still, and smaller than the others (you can read a more detailed review of the AC/DC Pinball Rocks HD table here.) And finally there's the Slayer table, which is the largest and most elaborate.
Each table comes with its own selection of missions and mini-games, which you activate by hitting certain bumpers, getting through certain sequences of gates, and so on. You often have to complete these missions within a set time, adding tension and depth to a game that might be mistaken by less informed onlookers for a random series of blind ricochets.
The tables all provide a fairly comparable experience with the exception of Slayer, which is far too easy, meaning that turns drag on interminably. The quality of the tables isn't likely to be the deciding factor in most purchasing decisions, however: the tables are aimed at fans of the associated musicians (so it's tough luck if you happen to like Slayer.)Money on the table
The tables aren't the only IAPs you can make. There are also cheats - Ball Savers, Extra Balls, and Multiballs - that you can buy in bundles for 69p / 99c. Annoyingly, the game asks you whether you want to use a cheat at the end of every turn. Pinball Rocks HD never hesitates to let you know that it wants your money.
But ignore all that. Because, taken purely as a pinball simulation, it's actually very good. Not only is it authentic to play but it provides an unnecessarily abundant range of camera options, and even a stereoscopic mode for anybody lucky enough to have a pair of 3D glasses. You can zoom in or out while playing by swiping the screen with two fingers.
Oddly, given that it's basically an advert, Pinball Rocks HD's greatest flaw is that it's just not exuberant enough. Whereas real pinball clangs and chimes and pumps you full of endorphins with skyrocketing scores and flashing LED displays, Pinball Rocks HD is more reserved, quietly keeping score in muted tones at the top of the screen.
There are Game Center leaderboards, but you have to go and find them in the main menu. It's just not very pinball.
If you're prepared to supply your own enthusiasm, and you don't mind salesmen, and you're able to tolerate rock music, then there's a lot to like in Pinball Rocks HD. It's not perfect, but it is at least strongest on the table, where it really matters.