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/// Usenet Review:  Pinball Fantasies
    ---------------------------------
    By Steven Van Egmo
    (svanegmo@undergrad.math.uwaterloo.ca)



PRODUCT NAME

        Pinball Fantasies


BRIEF DESCRIPTION

        Sophisticated pinball game simulator with 4 tables included.  Pinball
Fantasies is the successor to Pinball Dreams, by the same company.


COMPANY INFORMATION

        Name:           21st Century Entertainment
        Address:        P.O. Box 415
                        Webster, NY  14580
                        USA


PRICES (U.S. dollars)

        $39.95 list price.
        $24.95 street price.

        The above is for the 3-floppy version.
        A hard-drive-installable version is $10 extra.


SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS

        HARDWARE

                The documentation does not provide any information on this,
                recommending instead that all peripherals be disconnected.
                On a completely stripped 512K A500, the game intro would
                load, but no tables would.  On the same 500 with 1 meg of
                Chip RAM, the game worked fine.

                The hard drive version reportedly requires "about 4
                megabytes of [hard disk] space".

                The game will work with one floppy drive, but you need two
                to avoid disk swapping.

                The game works very well with a 68000.  With a 68030, the
                performance was identical, though the pause between the end
                of disk access and the start of a game was transformed into
                a BRIEF pause.


        SOFTWARE

                None observed.  The documentation provides no information.


COPY PROTECTION

        Disk-based.  High scores are recorded to the table disks, which must
therefore be write-enabled.  This may cause some problems (see BUGS, below).


TEST MACHINE

        Amiga 500, kludged to 1-meg Chip RAM.
        GVP A500-HD+ with 2 MB of Fast RAM installed; Quantum 52 Mb Drive.
        CSA Derringer 68030/68881 @ 25 MHz with 4 MB of 32-bit RAM..
        WorkBench 1.3 and 2.04.

REVIEW

        After becoming addicted to Pinball Dreams, I couldn't wait until
Pinball Fantasies was released.  21st Century Entertainment deserves
considerable praise for releasing a freely-distributable playable demo.  It
certainly convinced me to buy the game.

        The game consists of one boot disk and two table disks, each
containing two pinball games.  Included games are Speed Devils, Billion
Dollar Game Show, Stones 'n' Bones, and Partyland.  Unlike Pinball Dreams,
Pinball Fantasies allows one to purchase extra table disks and expand the
game indefinitely, though none are currently available.  This may even open
up the possibility of a table editor...

        The intro to the game is really slick.  It's not abortable, but it's
not annoyingly long either.  The music at first sounds vaguely creepy, but
eventually settles into a neatly sophisticated beat.

        The games themselves are extremely well-executed, and demonstrate a
higher level of sophistication than Pinball Dreams.  There are now 3
flippers on some tables.  The score panel, rather than simulating an LED
display, is now a dot matrix display that provides some really interesting
effects.  The tables are larger, and a ball that goes down the left gutter
can be saved by a "kickback" that lurks there on some tables.

        The simulation of the pinball action is excellent and feels as
accurate as ever.  No quirks at all appear in the ball behaviour, even after
long periods of play (this occasionally happened in Pinball Dreams).  Unlike
other pinball simulators I've encountered, Pinball Fantasies has implemented
the concept of ball spin.

        The design of the pinball tables is excellent.  Pinball purists will
complain that no simple, uncomplicated tables are present, as Ignition is in
Pinball Dreams.  Every table has a raised ball track; the one in Stones 'n'
Bones is more like a platform, where the ball can take different paths.
Every table is well-done, and I like them all.  Stones 'n' Bones is my
personal favourite.

        The graphics throughout the game are first-rate.  The dot matrix
display is fun to watch, and the detail on the board backgrounds is improved
over that of Pinball Dreams.  The graphics are, in some cases, too loud and
lend the board a cluttered look.  Billion Dollar Game Show is the greatest
sufferer from this -- when the ball is moving quickly, it's difficult to
tell where walls are as opposed to background graphics.  You get used to it,
though.

        The music is really good.  It's difficult to compare it to the first
version's music; my opinion of it improved the more I played the game.  It
still outclasses every other game I've seen for its sophistication.


DOCUMENTATION

        The package comes with a brief, unillustrated manual with about a
page and a half dedicated to each table.  The detail is impeccable, the text
is logical, and nothing is left out.  It's wise to have the pinball table in
front of you when looking at the manual, since some of the references to
objects are ambiguous.  Illustrations really would have helped.


LIKES AND DISLIKES

        I like the graphics.  I like the sound.  I like the table designs.
I like the ability to purchase new table disks.  I really like the dot
matrix display, although one person who played the game said the size was
oppressive on the NTSC screen.

        I don't like the disk-swapping necessary for a one-drive setup.  On
bootup, it claims to make use of extra RAM, but I didn't notice any
difference in behaviour.  Also, it would be nice if the disks indicated
which games were on them.  Some people won't be happy about the $10
additional cost for a hard drive version, but I don't mind.


COMPARISON TO SIMILAR PRODUCTS

        This is a nice step up from Pinball Dreams.  The graphics are
improved, and the tables can do more.  The music and sound effects are just
as good, and will make anyone unfamiliar with the Amiga drool.


BUGS

        The disks, to AmigaDOS, aren't non-DOS.  If you leave them in when
you reboot, AmigaDOS tries to validate them, and gives up after 20 seconds
with an error requester.  I suspect this is what caused the high score
system to become defective on my disks -- all high scores were unchangeable
and unreadable.

        I requested, under warranty, a replacement set.  They fixed the
problem, but only temporarily.  One of the 2 game disks seems to have gone
bad again and refuses to save high scores.  Very annoying.

        I recommend you make sure to remove your disks from the drive when
you reset, or write-enable them only when the high scores need to be
re-written.


VENDOR SUPPORT

        When my disks went bad, I contacted 21st Century Entertainment by
mail for a replacement set, which arrived about 10 days later.  I was
surprised they didn't ask for the return of my old set, which I have since
formatted.  I was pleased with the support.

        The warranty covers disk defects and lasts 90 days.  Make sure you
write down the number that's printed on your warranty card before you mail
it.

CONCLUSIONS

        This game is an excellent pinball simulator and a whole lot of fun.
It's a first-rate Amiga game all around.  I'm glad I got it.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE

        This review is freely distributable.  Permission is granted to
translate it into any language, so long as I am credited as the original
author.  I can be reached at:

        Stephen Van Egmond
        360 Front Road
        LaSalle, Ontario, Canada, N9J 1Z5

        E-mail:  svanegmo@undergrad.math.uwaterloo.ca