Over the years, there have been a few really bizarre hybrids of RPGs with other genres. Zero 4 Champ for SFC, TG-16, and PS combines RPG elements with Drag Racing of all things. Mini Yonkyu Lets & GO! for SFC and PS actually fuses RPG elements with toy car racing. Perhaps even more bizarre than those two is Bakusou Dekotora Densetsu – a series of games for PS, WS, and GBC that mix RPG elements with the customization and racing of semi-trucks. Of course there are many others as well, but the most bewildering of all very well may be a forgotten NES game from 1989 called Pinball Quest, which combines RPG elements with… well, that should be obvious.
As odd as it is for such a game to even exist, Jaleco, its developer, was actually crazy enough to localize it in America. Normally this kind of weirdness guarantees that a game gets left in Japan, or at least severely altered in its localization, but Pinball Quest made it overseas with nothing more than a English translation.
Besides its very original RPG mode, it’s also a pretty good game with nicely designed tables. However, don’t expect ball physics comparable to most modern pinball games or anything. Most NES pinball games have less than ideal ball physics, and Pinball Quest is no exception. Does this keep the game from being enjoyable? Not at all, but you will definitely notice imperfections – especially in the kind of odd way that the ball enters lanes. Accurate shots can still be made, and certain things might actually be easier because of its physics, but predicting how the ball will bounce off of objects and executing more advanced techniques will be more difficult that would be preferable – a problem that will be especially noticeable for expert pinball players. So yeah, it’s a far cry from the real thing, but the sheer strangeness of the RPG/pinball hybrid concept makes this worth taking a look at for any pinball video game fan.p> Besides its RPG mode, Pinball Quest also has three more conventional pinball tables.
Pop!Pop! is a bowling/dance hall/Americana themed table with bowling pins on the table that can be knocked over for points. You can move your flippers up to the higher portion of the table by pushing Up and can move them back down by pushing Down. In the upper portion, there are four bumpers that take up a huge amount of the room, two targets to the left, and two holes that will make the ball exit the other hole. Above the lower of the two holes are three bowling pins. Knocking each pin over will enable a target at the end of the lane to the left and shooting the lower of the holes will fire the ball up this lane. The overall layout of this portion of the table is a bit angular, but it works well.
The lower portion is about as basic as a pinball table could possibly get, but it’s definitely the most interesting part. In the middle, there’s an image of a dancer leaping over a jukebox, and to the right of that there are six bowling pins. Knocking down each pin will make a hole appear in the middle of the jukebox. Shooting the ball into this hole will activate a billiards inspired mini-game that is played in the upper left of the screen. In this mini-game you have a “cue ball” that is position below four “billiard balls”. You choose the angle at which to launch the ball with the directional pad, and then launch the ball by pushing A or B on the control pad. There are four holes on this “pool table”, with a hole in each corner. After the cue ball is shot, it may or may not knock the billiard balls into the holes and you will be rewarded points if it does. After this, you go back to the main area of the table. Definitely bizarre, but it’s great for variation and it’s likely to make you play the table longer and more often. Pop!Pop! also rewards the most points of the three standard tables.
Viva!Golf is a golf themed table with a third flipper permanently fixed at the higher portion of the table. Rather than a plunger, there’s a golfer who hits the ball onto the table – a nice graphical touch. In the higher portion of the table, there are four very oddly placed bumpers and three holes that launch the ball out of another hole. The best way to accumulate points is to shoot any of the four gophers (I couldn’t come up with a Caddy Shack joke, sorry) that are popping out of holes in the lower portion of the table. Each time a gopher is hit, a flag will replace them. After all four gophers are hit, shoot the ball back up to the higher portion and try to knock it into the golfing hole with the flag. This will make a giant gopher appear and reward you with big points. However, this is easier said than done. The gophers are actually not too difficult to hit, but it is REALLY easy to have the ball drain here, and everything resets after each ball, so you have to do all of this during the same ball. So Viva!Golf is definitely the most difficult of the three standard tables. The lower portion also has a water hazard that launches the ball out of a hole below it.
Circus is a circus themed table, of course. You can move the left flipper, and the left flipper only, up to the higher portion of the table and back down again by the same method as moving the two flippers in Pop!Pop!. There is a stopper between the two flippers and the ball will often take pretty big bounces off of it back onto the playing field. Whether this stopper is supposed to be a bumper of sorts, or if this is merely a result of the poor game physics, I could only guess. But it makes the table easier, regardless, so it’s good to have there. There are five oddly placed bumpers on the table, with four in the upper portion and one in the lower portion. There are also two sets of two targets to shoot in the upper portion, and a ramp that is entered from the left of the lower portion.
The most important part of this table is the slot machine to the upper right of the lower portion, which is activated when the ball enters a hole to its right. If the slot machine shows three of the same thing (this is pretty easy to get) then it will activate any of several possible things. Three plums will make the bumpers flash, which probably makes them worth more points. Three gold items will make the mini game available, which is accessed by shooting the ball up the ramp. Three seals will get you an extra ball. Three bunches of fruit will open an entrance back to the plunger. Three clowns will activate everything that the others do. As you have infinite nudge in Pinball Quest, the easiest way to get the ball to the slot machine is to rapidly tap the B button when the ball is approaching it. This should keep the ball to the right side of the table, which will lead it to the slot machine.
The mini game for the Circus table is totally different from pinball. You control a guy who has to stop a bunch of lions from chasing a lady around. He can only move back and forth, and pushing a button will make him toss a pinball up in the air. Your goal is to hit each of the lions, but there are other animals that get in the way and hitting any animal will make them go into a cage at the bottom of the screen. However, these cages take up space and the more cages there are, the less room that you have to maneuver. If the guy gets hit by any of the animals, then you will go back to the pinball table.
RPG Mode is a pinball/RPG hybrid, and the real meat and bones of Pinball Quest. It takes several elements from RPGs. It follows a linear progression across multiple tables with monsters roaming around and boss fights at the end. There are even shops between each table where you can buy stoppers or more powerful flippers that cause more damage to enemies with each hit. You have infinite balls, but if a ball is lost after the first table, then it will fall back to the prior table. This is definitely the worst thing about RPG mode, because it is WAY to easy to lose the ball in a few of these tables, and you are going to have to replay certain tables WAY to many times.
RPG Mode’s RPG elements go beyond fantasy thematics, linear progression, and item purchasing. A few elements to the basic gameplay that have been inspired by RPGs. It’s possible to sort of “level up” the ball by destroying monsters, which powers up a meter at the bottom of the screen that says “AT”. The higher the AT meter is, the more damage that each hit will do. However, if the ball falls to the previous table, this meter will be cleaved in half. Given that most RPGs do not force you to “level down” if you are playing poorly, I have no clue why it was decided that this was a good idea. It makes boss fights take practically forever, and the absurd amount of time that finishing RPG Mode takes is definitely the worst thing about it, so this is simply a horrible idea. You even get an inventory in RPG Mode, which is brought up by pushing Select, from which you can equip any items that you have purchased from shops.
A word about shops: There are four kinds of stoppers to purchase. “Single” can be hit once, “Floor” can be hit a few times, “Permanent” is invulnerable and will remain in your inventory after finishing a table, and “Center” will go between the flippers and can be hit a few times. Permanent is WAY more expensive than the other three, but it is also much, much more beneficial, so you should skip the others and save your money for this. As far as flippers, there is “Strong”, which is twice as powerful as your default flippers, and “Devil”, which is four times as powerful as your default flippers, but can randomly freeze up. Needless to say, you should go with the Strong flippers instead, as the risk involved with the Devil flippers is just too great. You can also choose the “Steal” option while in a shop. This is nothing more than a gamble. You might get a few items from the shop, but you will most likely just lose half of your gold, so it is probably best to avoid this option.
As is to be expected from a fusion with the RPG genre, it has a plot, however simple it may be. The princess of Pinball Land (or wherever) is kidnapped. The king calls for his best knight to rescue her. That knight is the ball and you have to guide him through Pinball Land as he defeats fairly generic fantasy monsters and saves the princess. Not exactly Coen Brothers level plot complexity, but I dig simplicity and anything more would probably be out of place in a pinball game, so it’ll do just fine.
The first table in RPG Mode is a forest with a path leading to the upper left. There are four tombstones in the upper middle that can be shot once each for points, two trees that act as bumpers, and a fifth tombstone to the upper left. Shooting this last tombstone will make a ghost come out of it who will tell you that he was formerly a knight in the king’s army, make a horrible joke (“You look like you’re really on the ball”), and then inform you of your quest. You need to save the princess by making your way to the castle in the north where she is being held captive and defeat the monsters that you encounter along the way.
After he leaves, shoot the wall that blocks the path that leads to the upper left and then shoot the path again to enter to upper portion of the table. After accomplishing this, quickly push Up on the control pad to move your flippers to the upper portion before the ball falls back down. There are a couple holes that will launch the ball back out, two trees for bumpers, a couple rocks for targets, and a few skeletons with low HP that are pacing around. After they are beaten, a huge skeleton with a shield will appear. After he is defeated, he will explode into skeleton bits and leave behind a key. Shoot the key to make it to the second table. If you come back to this table, then you can move on by shooting the key again.
The second table begins with the ball being launched way up to the upper portion of the table. Your flippers begin way down at the lower portion, so you have to push Up on the control pad IMMEDIATELY after this table begins or the ball will fall to the lower portion of the table. This table is essentially a big boss fight. There are skulls that act as bumpers, a few holes that will shoot the ball back out, and a witch that releases cats and serves as this table’s boss. She can also shoot bubbles that will destroy your flippers if they are hit, which will cause the ball to fall back to the first table. She’ll often recharge her health with a statue in the upper right of the table, so your first objective should be to destroy that statue. After the statue is destroyed, shoot the witch a few times to defeat her and then shoot the door to move on to the next table. If you come back to this table, then you can move on by shooting the door again.
The third table begins with an area that has two bumpers, a hole to the upper left, and a lane to the left of that. There are also two goblins pacing around. Hitting either of them will cause them to move the ball to a mine cart to the right which will then take the ball to the upper portion of this table. From there you will see two rows of knights. After shooting them a few times, they will disappear and be replaced by a huge knight. After defeating him, the ball will automatically move up through the door to the fourth table. If you lose the ball to the right in the upper portion of the table, it will fall back into the mine cart and be brought back up. That makes this table much easier than the second, but you can still lose it between the flippers.
The fourth table is quite complex. The lower portion of the table has three turtles walking around that will rebound your shots. Your goal here is to get the ball to the higher of the two holes to the left. The ball will then be shot through a series of holes and eventually land in a roulette-like machine that is guarded by a turtle that can knock the ball back to the beginning. It will most likely take three tries for it to do so, but if the ball lands in the right hole, it will be taken to wait for a boat. Move the ball onto the boat and it will take it up a river to the boss. There is also a chance that you will get a dilapidated boat that will collapse and cause the ball to go back to the beginning. If you make it safely past the river, then you will fight a series of suits of armor that each have progressively slightly higher HP. The boss will occasionally walk over to your flippers and attack them with its sword – if they’re hit, they will be destroyed. This can be avoided by moving the flippers back down, and then quickly moving them back up before the ball is lost. After each suit of armor is defeated the ball will move to the fifth table.
The fifth table does not really have much of anything going on in its lower portion, so just hit the ball to the right to have it launched up to the upper portion From here you will see four monsters guarding the princess. After destroying them, you have to shoot the princess so that she’ll wake up. After she does, it’s revealed that she’s actually a fake, and will reveal herself to be a vampire. With each hit, she”ll change forms from a winged vampire to the princess. While in vampire form, it will just fly around, but in princess form ,it will start walking toward the flippers and if it reaches them they will be destroyed. Even worse, if she reaches the area where the flippers would have been while the ball is at the lower portion of the table it will also destroy your flippers. An easy way to hit the princess while in vampire form is to hold the ball with either of the flippers. When the princess flies past the ball, she will be hit and change to her princess from. However, this means that she will be right in front of the flippers and you will have very little time to hit her. After destroying this vampire princess hit the throne to move to the final table.
The sixth and final table is pretty simplistic. It begins in an area with three candles above the two flippers. Shooting any of these three candles will launch the ball up to the upper portion of the table where a huge monster has the princess captive. He will shoot skulls at your flippers, which will destroy them if they are hit, so move the flippers back down to avoid these, but make certain to move them back up very quickly or you will lose the ball. This boss is much tougher than any opponent you have faced up to this point. Luckily there are several candles along both walls of the upper portion of the table that will raise your attack meter . You NEED to shoot as many of these as possible or this boss fight will take longer than you are likely to have the patience for. Keep hitting the final boss and he will eventually be defeated and the princess will be rescued. You even get a VERY brief ending that is almost as simplistic as the intro. After the princess is rescued, the ball begins pacing around and is then joined by the princess. I have no clue if this is supposed to be some kind of dance or something, but they are shortly there after drawn into a hole by a giant magnet (!?). The magnet explodes after they make contact with it (!?, again) and they fall back to Pinball Land, or wherever they are from. Then they are shown talking to a bunch of pinballs. Then it goes to the credits. Strange, indeed.
Pinball Quest is definitely among the most bizarre genre hybrids in the history of video games. There are other fantasy themed pinball tables, but Pinball Quest is the only table with a RPG mode that is progressed through in a fashion similar to an actual RPG. Even if you are not into pinball, its originality and the pure weirdness of the concept should be enough motivation to give Pinball Quest a chance. If you are looking for other pinball games for NES try High Speed, Pin*Bot, and Rock ‘n’ Ball. The latter of which is also very original and is mostly based around two player head-to-head pinball tables.