Review: “3D Pinball Space Cadet” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Space cadet pinball Review sketch

One afternoon, I was feeling a fascinating mixture of boredom and curiosity. I’d planned to look for some “Doom II” levels to review, since I haven’t reviewed one in a while and I was beginning to worry that playing nothing but “Red Faction II” recently had dulled my “Doom II” skills. But, not daring to see how many IQ points this more modern FPS game had leeched from me, I ended up playing… the free pinball game that comes with Windows XP… instead.

I got this game quite a while ago, when I got Windows XP. Versions for other good incarnations of Windows, such as Windows 98, also exist too.

A quick Google search shows that users of modern parody versions of Windows can furtively download copies of this game from *ahem* less than legitimate sources. Given the steep cost of this game (well over £100… albeit with a free copy of Windows XP and/or a free PC), I can see why people might be tempted into space piracy. But, beware, Starfleet Academy *ahem* I mean, the Space Cadet Academy is watching you…

Yes, this is probably going to be a silly review.

Game over? High score? Ooops! I SHOULD have added a spoiler warning!

Game over? High score? Ooops! I SHOULD have added a spoiler warning!

As you may have guessed, this is a pinball game . In fact, from some quick online research, I learnt that it was actually a cut-down version of a game from 1995 called “Full Tilt! Pinball”. Whilst the original game contained three tables, this one only contains the eponymous “space cadet” table. This table is, quite fittingly, accompanied by an illustration which never ceases to amuse me.

LOL! I don't know why, but his expression is just hilarious. And is that the flying car from "Blade Runner"?

LOL! I don’t know why, but his expression is just hilarious. And is that the flying car from “Blade Runner”?

The controls for this game can take a bit of getting used to since, like many great games from the 1990s, the controls are strictly keyboard-only. You’ll be using the function keys for various game functions (eg: “F3” pauses the game and “F2” starts a new game), the spacebar to launch a new pinball and the “Z” and “/” keys control the left and right flippers respectively. You can also use other keys to tilt and bump the table, if you’re a filthy cheater.

In terms of the gameplay, it’s actually fairly solid. The physics in the game feel surprisingly solid and everything that the ball hits will react with an impactful animation and a sci-fi sound effect that could have been taken from only the finest toy laser guns that the 1990s had to offer. Joking aside, the sound design is actually fairly awesome and, if you grew up in the 1990s, you’ll feel a pang of nostalgia as soon as you hear the game’s many stylised sound effects.

Although you can just hammer the flipper keys wildly and hope for the best (like I did with pinball games when I was a kid), this game rewards you for playing strategically. Not only is the board littered with wormholes, hyperspace and all manner of other cool things that you can hit if you aim carefully but- once your score reaches a certain point – you’ll actually be given missions. I’ve only found one of these so far (where you have to hit the bumpers near the top of the screen eight times), but it added some variation to the game.

I've accepted a mission? I'm pretty sure that giving space cadets missions is against Starfleet protocol !

I’ve accepted a mission? I’m pretty sure that giving space cadets missions is against Starfleet protocol !

Still, as missions go, this one is ridiculously easy, given that you've probably already hit these bumpers accidentally about fifty times before you are given the mission.

Still, as missions go, this one is ridiculously easy, given that you’ve probably already hit these bumpers accidentally about fifty times before you are given the mission.

This gameplay also has that wonderfully addictive quality that all good casual games do. In fact, it was a casual game before casual games were even a thing. So, yes, it’s also ahead of it’s time. In fact, it’s almost as if it’s from the future….

The graphics in this game are actually fairly good for 1995. Although everything on the board is quite clearly a pre-rendered sprite, this actually looks fairly good – especially considering that it’s a small pinball game that was released before “Quake” was. Not only that, some elements of the board’s visual design (eg: the lens flare stars around the edges of the board) reminded me of the (already-quite-old) “Blade Runner” fan sites that I loved to visit in 2005.

Yay! Lens flare! From back when it was cool, BEFORE J.J.Abrams ruined it through overuse!

Yay! Lens flare! From back when it was cool, BEFORE J.J.Abrams ruined it through overuse!

One strange feature of this game is that the music is turned off by default. This is a real shame because the music is… actually surprisingly good. It’s the kind of cheesy, fast-paced “futuristic” music that will quickly and permanently bore itself into your brain like the creature from “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan”.

Seriously, this music really sounds like it’s from 1995 – a more innocent time when games could be cheesier. It is an absolute joy to listen to, fun distilled into MIDI (or vaguely MIDI-like) form.

You’ll notice that I’ve been mentioning “Star Trek” quite a bit here. This is because it’s fairly clear where this game gets it’s inspiration from and, by god, do I miss 1990s Star Trek! This game was made between the time that Picard gave his last order and Janeway took an unexpected detour via the Delta Quadrant on her way back to Earth. So, it’s wonderful to see some extremely vague “Star Trek” references in this game. In fact, on my first attempt at this game in several years, I was soon promoted to the rank of ensign!

Unfortunately, I took the screenshot a fraction of a second too late! I'll never make captain at this rate!

Unfortunately, I took the screenshot a fraction of a second too late! I’ll never make captain at this rate!

All in all, this game is a brilliant piece of addictive 1990s sci-fi nostalgia that, like an unexpected wormhole to the Delta Quadrant, will steal years of your life if you aren’t careful. It’s the kind of game that you’ll decide to play once out of curiosity and then end up playing multiple times. The sound effects, visual design and animation are hilariously awesome but, since they’re paired with surprisingly solid gameplay, they’re endearingly nostalgic rather than annoying.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four. It’s random, silly… and extremely fun. And, yes, it’s better than “Red Faction II”.

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