Christmas Tree Pinball by WildSnake
Review by Kevin Steele
The holidays are here — I hadn't planned on cranking out any more reviews this year, but a little gem of a game (with a Christmas theme no less), reached out and asked, no, demanded to be reviewed.
The game? Christmas Tree Pinball, by WildSnake. It's a high-tech creation that lovingly delivers an original table design that harkens back to the early EM (Electro-Mechanical) days of pinball, where chimes were the sole sound effects and your score was kept on spinning reels.
Christmas Tree Pinball is a throwback, design-wise, to the pinball machines of earlier years. There's no fancy DMD (dot-matrix display), no elaborate playfield "toys", no magna-save, and no ramps. If I had to place the playfield design in an appropriate pinball era, I'd say mid-to-late 60's. The playfield has an amazing nine pop bumpers, a few rollovers, a gate or two, and that's about it.
It includes features not normally found in EM pinballs, such as multiball, support for multiple players, and rollover lights you can move between lanes by flipping the flippers. This makes it a unique "hybrid" design in some ways, equally at home in the modern pinball arena as the simpler days of pinball.
The sum is greater than the parts, as they say, and all the little touches on Wildsnake's software creation definitely adds up to a fun experience. If you've played pinball sims before, you'll immediately notice a strong resemblence between Christmas Tree pinball and the excellent Microsoft Pinball Arcade. There's a good reason for this: WildSnake was involved in the development of Microsoft Pinball Arcade.
Details like the "pop-up" plunger close up graphic and the overall "feel" definitely bring back memories of Microsoft's package. It even exhibits some of the same "quirks" as Pinball Arcade, such as the rare but weird bug that seems to pull the pinball right through the tip of your flipper if you hit it just right.
The graphics and gameplay of this game are top-notch. The graphics are just this side of photo-realistic, and the physics seem dead-on accurate. The ball movement feels correct overall, just a bit slow. It could just be that I'm getting more used to playing real pinballs — I've noticed that the ball in nearly every computer pinball sim moves much slower than a real pinball would.
The game includes a host of nice touches, such as the Christmas music in the background (yes, it may get a bit annoying after a while, but you can lower or turn off the music if you wish). I also loved the pinball, with its "etched" snowflake patterns on the ball (which also helps to show the direction the ball is rolling, a handy visual cue).
This game is particularly "MAME-cab" friendly, if you're curious. It supports three resolutions: 640x480 (critical for MAME cabs with arcade monitors), 800x600, and 1024x768. The controls are fully configurable, as well, so you can easily map them to the pinball buttons on your custom control panel.
One especially neat feature of this game is the Internet high score feature. Christmas Tree Pinball saves the top ten high scores. Whenever you achieve the highest score, it offers to upload the score to WildSnake's web site. There you can compare your highest score with other people's highest scores (WildSnake only saves your highest score to the web site, keeping the "winner's list" refreshingly uncluttered).
It's hard to find fault with this game: the graphics are great, the game works on nearly any computer system, and (most importantly) it's fun and addictive. The game sells for $19.95, a good price for the amount of fun I've gotten out of it. It's not an overly complicated or sophisticated game, but if you're looking for a simple, fun pinball game to kill some time with during the holidays, Christmas Tree Pinball is a great choice.
Note: WildSnake is currently having a "20% off sale" on their site until Christmas, making this an even better buy!