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Last Gladiators Digital Pinball - Time Warner Int.

by Matt Boersma (matt@netmanage.com)


Lowdown:
    Pinball junkies will consider this detailed arcade pinball simulator a must have. Non-wizards may also welcome the change of pace. Last Gladiators is of a higher quality overall than most of the Saturn releases out there this Christmas 1995, but also like most, it doesn't compete with the flash of Virtua Fighter 2 or Sega Rally Championship.

If you've played "Crystal Caliburn" or "Loony Labyrinth" for Macintosh, then consider Last Gladiators very similar, but a step up in graphics and sound. It aims to be a complete pinball simulator and includes four tables. The table layouts and themes are different, although the basic components and scoring methods are the same. Each includes bumpers, gutters, and flippers, as well as ramps, metal tunnel guides, pockets, hidden paths, a miniature coliseum, and more.

As a pinball simulator, Last Gladiators is very complete. The art is the airbrushed fantasy and clashing swords stuff that dominates the genre. (Is "Last Gladiators" a real arcade pinball series? I wouldn't be surprised.) Time Warner Interactive has even included the "Goodyear Blimp"-type yellow and black screen animations that are shown on a panel in the pinball table's headboard. You can nudge the table from either side to get some ball english, but it will tilt if you are too enthusiastic about this.

The headboard of each machine is shown before gameplay starts, then the screen is fully occupied by the table. The table is rendered in 3-d, sloping away from the user, not flat top-down like early pinball simulations. To make up for the lack of screen height, bonuses, animations, and special events are displayed when needed at the center of the screen, obscuring the table momentarily. Hints on scoring and bonuses are also superimposed on parts of the table from time to time, such that there is rarely an unadorned view. While this does not impair gameplay, I found it distracting and definitely the most annoying aspect of the game.

You can configure the controller to use any buttons for the four functions (left flipper, right flipper, nudge left, nudge right), although I found the default configuration fine. The game is quick to start up and there are no delays or pauses once it is running. I'm not a pinball fanatic, but I enjoyed this game enough to consider it a keeper.

Graphics: 7

  • + Tables are pretty, rendered from the player's perspective.
  • + The artwork is polished and professional.
  • - Not using the highest resolution available to the Saturn.
  • - Flashing hints and bonus animations often obscure the table.
  • + Full Motion Video is splashy and well-produced, although it doesn't add much to the game.
Sound: 9
  • + Sound effects are realistic and clear.
  • + Music is decent studio techno and hard rock, like the noise blasting from most coin-op pinball games. It isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it can be shut off in the Options.
  • + Lots of sounds, voices, and pulsing music all firing at once contribute to an exciting arcade feeling.
Game Play: 8
  • +/- Pinball is a simple game of reflexes.
  • +/- This is a straight-up simulator of arcade pinball and doesn't attempt anything beyond that.
  • + It definitely "feels" like a real table.
  • + On-screen help from the Options screen is excellent and should be imitated by other developers.
Replay Value: 8
  • + There are four very distinct tables with different bonuses and different configurations of flippers, gutters, multi-ball play, etc.
  • - There are Few user options to change the gameplay, only basic items such as background music on or off and controller setup.
  • - Apparently only saves a single high score per table--a top ten would be better.
Overall: 8

-Matt



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