29 September 2019 | ThePopulist
90% -- Microsoft Pinball, the premier Microsoft game for Windows operating systems
What do you do when you turn on Windows and the Internet is down? You play an old Microsoft game, of course! What would your first pick be? I have to admit it, but quite honestly, it would probably be Microsoft Solitaire or Minesweeper, but if you want an unexhaustive sense of adrenaline, then 3D Pinball: Space Cadet is almost certainly your choice. It is a Cinematronics computer game licensed to Microsoft that most people who have ever used a Windows 95, 98, or XP computer remember playing, but what a few know is that it was a demonstration for a later commercialized title called "Full Tilt! Pinball", also by Cinematronics. That game featured enhancements such as improved graphics and three tables, including the famous Space Cadet.
I am not much in the way of a pinball enthusiast, but I can tell you that 3D Pinball: Space Cadet is perhaps the most famous digital pinball machine ever. Even if it is not, it certainly has a cult status, and for good reasons. We know it for the table that is viewed from a fixed and perspective angle. We know it for the space theme, and we know it as a game of skill. Armed with three balls, you have two places to launch the ball to: the top and the middle of the table. If you choose the latter, try to light up the right number of lights for the most points. In play, you are often too focused on attacking anything anywhere on the table that looks (and is) beatable for the sake of points, but when you are not, you can think about where you would like your ball to travel, as well as the ball and flipper mechanics. Consider the ball velocity and the arcs formed by the rotating flippers, because if you do not, your ball could travel anywhere on the table, including the out lanes. Fortunately, those out lanes can launch the ball back into play, but only once, after which they need to be reactivated to save the ball again. You can also send your ball to "wormholes", compartments that when activated will send it to other wormholes, but you are more likely to focus on upgrading anything conceivable, from ranks to the multiplier field to weapons to fuel. These upgrades always lead to more points. You may earn an additional ball along the way, especially if you manage to improve your upgrades in a timely manner. All the while, it feels like boxing on the table, just as any pinball machine should.
If you want to give yourself a task for gaining more points, 3D Pinball: Space Cadet does just that. Again, controls are mainly using the simple flippers to control the movement of the ball, but you can select which one of the three available missions to complete before entering. You have arrows and mission instructions on the bottom right to help you know what to do. Missions consist of simple tasks or a sequence thereof, depending on the player's rank, and completing them moves the player up in rank and multiplies future points. Be sure to maintain your fuel or keep your ball out of the drain, which will inhibit mission completion. I said earlier that the controls were mainly using the flippers. Perhaps the most dramatic feature is the tilting mechanics. Just like the real world, you can actually nudge the table to subtly change the movements of the ball to get it where you want it to travel and avoid hazards. It is a difficult process that requires an understanding of real-world pinball physics (basically the ball traveling to the side of the table being bumped), but if you master the nudging physics, you can save the balls and earn a fortune. Otherwise, you will risk overtilting the table, locking it down and losing the ball.
And when you feel like goofing around or taking a look at the mechanics, you have cheat codes ready in your favor. They are not essential to the game and will therefore not in this review. Some of them are cheat codes that lead to extra points or balls or promote the player to a higher rank, but my personal favorite is dragging the ball with the mouse anywhere I wish on the table, which is incredibly useful for studying the game rules.
The only thing left 3D Pinball could use is having more tham just one table or at least support multiple tables. There does not appear to be a way to mod the game, although its sound assets can be changed. It would have made coming back seem less repetitive, but fortunately, we are too busy trying to get points and keep the ball out of the drain. Another thing is that I like to play it in fullscreen, and it suffers from the unfortunate effect of pixelation when the screen is scaled from the original 640x480 resolution. Nevertheless, it would not be fair to use today's superior standards to criticize an old 1995 game. It worked flawlessly on those old computers, and even on 64-bit computers, it still works without significant bugs.
CONCLUSION: 3D Pinball: Space Cadet may feature only one table, but it is a replayable quality table, and both that and the tilting mechanics make this Microsoft classic a collector's item.