This is classic Pinball at its finest; Elite Pinball HD serves up a big portion of fun and addictive gameplay that will bring back fond memories of yesteryear. Explore the table through challenging and rewarding missions to prepare for an encounter with one of the strongest foes of the game, the Elite Boss. Save top scores, gain bonus balls, and warp into a new era of HD pinball!!
Most websites review indie games on a curve, sometimes foregoing ratings or being more genteel in their criticism of games due to bootstrap nature of independent game development. I don't personally subscribe to that mindset, believing that using kid gloves and glossing over omissions puts Xbox Indie Games on the short bus for video game releases. A game need not all the bells and whistles of a retail, big company release to be of worth, and many games have shown that indie houses can put together some truly wonderful pieces of software. Unfortunately, some games miss the bar, and while I can see a title such as Elite Pinball HD getting respect for its seemingly decent take on pinball and with people saying it's a nice effort for an indie game, I can't help but hold it up to its contemporaries, games such as the Pinball Hall of Fame and Pinball FX series, both of which absolutely trounce Elite Pinball HD's sole table. While I can certainly understand that an indie developer won't have the resources to replicate those classics or license elements and teams of people to build fantastic new ones, but Elite Pinball HD's weaknesses lie deeper than those criticisms.
There are two questions one should ask when playing a pinball video game: how well does it play, and how good are the tables? Elite Pinball HD plays a very floaty game of pinball. The ball tends to glide around the table with little variance in velocity, stuck on cruise control whether it's rolling down a ramp or getting struck by a flipper. Bumper hits can quicken the ball's speed, but then the ball runs the risk of IDCLIP-ing straight through the bumpers and flippers on the table. The flippers feel stuck, dragging across the table when triggered, lacking the pop of good pinball flippers. The flippers have no weight to them, best evidenced by the way a caught ball continuously puts enough pressure on the flippers to wiggle it around on the board. There is no way to bump the machine, and lost balls are dispensed immediately via the bottom row of portals, meaning players must be ready to knock the new released ball into play the moment the previous ball has sunk down the drain. While I can live without a plunger, I suspect this oversight will be the most annoying to players as it is very annoying to have one lost ball become two or more lost balls since the player was too busy tracking and trying to save the former only the lose the latter.
The ball itself seems to be extraordinarily tiny on the table, a pea sailing across a sea of blue, moving from flipper to flipper, sporadically hitting drop targets and whatnot in the way. The game is on Ritalin, no excitement to be had across a board free from interesting rounds, low on scoring opportunities, and devoid of multi-ball. Elite Pinball HD's table has all the wide open spaces of the earliest of pinball tables, and though the three stage layout and portals try to put some modern flair in play, their implementation feels stale. The portals on the board, used to launch the ball in play or transport the ball to other locations on the table, feel like wasted opportunities as the pinball is never taken anywhere it would not have normally reached during normal play as the portals are positioned along the bottom half of the field. The portals have no accounting for momentum, simply dropping the ball wherever the table decides to do so. The truly bored can simply park the ball at the top of the screen and wail on the targets up top for 2,000 points a hit without ever risking losing the ball as the area is so cramped that it truly feels like a safe house, though such a term would imply there's danger below.
Hating on the table layout and ball physics aside, the game does look nice if boring, offering simple but clean table graphics and a well done perspective viewpoint. I may find little if anything to praise about the table layout, but the table itself looks sharp on screen, and the ball is never lost to the graphics during play. The music deserves mention as well, even if it'll have people pressing the Y-button to turn it off. Where would Xbox Indies be without Kevin MacLeod, the unsung hero of so many games' soundtracks. Elite Pinball HD uses his "Spazzmatica Polka" which MacLeod himself describes as "boisterous and nearly obnoxious," a song which feels overly hyper compared to the action on screen. To be fair, Elite Pinball HD is the best Xbox Indie pinball game, though it's competition, Avatar Pinball, isn't much to write home about. Still, Avatar Pinball, despite being a worse pinball game than Elite Pinball HD, managed some praise for being a better than average avatar game. No pinball fan will look to Avatar Pinball for a good simulation of the game, but when a title comes in and pronounces itself "Elite Pinball HD," expectations rise.
Elite Pinball HD isn't going to appeal to those consumers who supported Avatar Pinball just to watch their avatars get smacked around a pinball machine. Elite Pinball HD is going after pinball fans, and the nice screenshots should be enough to get them to check it out. Unfortunately, despite the apparent bargain to be had here, being an average game with a dull table isn't going to be enough to pry people away from the fantastic Williams Collection, and fair or not the comparison is, that's the reality. With no personality or innovation of its own, Elite Pinball HD is a welcomed genre to see on Microsoft's indie channel but lacks the polish to truly be a game worth spending some time with after the demo has expired.