This is an entry for the A to Z Challenge (see the sidebar for more information).  These are just some of my initial impressions on the Steam, GOG, and other online games throughout the month.  It is not as much of a review as it is a summary of my feelings on the game.

I’ve never really cared for Pinball games.  I don’t know why, but the bright, flashy lights, loud noises, and physical device manipulation made the games feel too “Carny” for me.  For some, this was more than a metaphor; they actually had recordings of carnival barkers shouting “Hurry, hurry, hurry!  Step right up!” or “Wheel’em in!”

I did come across one amazing game in the late 1990s, however, called Tales of the Arabian Nights.  I think the thing that drew me into the game was the fact that it actually had a storyline, and that storyline had an Arabian theme.  This was at a time when I was still interested in playing the Al Qadim world of the Dungeons and Dragons game, and I was working on completing a full Arabian Nights set of Magic: the Gathering cards.

In Tales of the Arabian Nights, you must rescue a beautiful princess imprisoned by an evil genie.  You work through stories, battle the genie, and gather jewels; once you have collected seven jewels, you can rescue the princess.

I came across a copy of the game in horrible disrepair at a local arcade.  part of me would have loved to purchase the game and restore it.  The reality of the situation, though, is that I never would have had enough time to give it the attention it deserves.  I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover that this game was released as an XBLA title in the form of Pinball Arcade.

NOTE:  WOW that was a lot of writing before even getting to the title.

I almost never buy a game on the first playthrough of the Demo.  I usually prefer to play the demo a few times to see if I feel drawn to come back to it.

With Pinball Arcade, however, my experience was a marketing professional’s dream.  I played through a few games and lost before reaching any limit to the demo.  Thinking that the demo might just include Tales of the Arabian Nights (the only title in the game that I wanted anyway), this worked fine for me.  I then got into a game where I was performing very well.  I had two gems, I had struck the genie with a few fireballs, and I had just unlocked multiball.  I took a deep breath as the game finished the multiball animation.  As I kept the three balls flying across the table, I could feel the mounting tension that I often feel with Geometry Wars.

Just when I thought I was blowing the game away, a screen came up telling me that I had reached the point limit for the demo, and asking if I would like to buy the game.  I actually responded aloud, “YES!”  I knew from that moment on that this would be the game for me.

To those of you out there who make game demos for a living, take this advice: use performance-based limits on your demos, and set the limits high.  The time to get the consumer is when the consumer is about to reach that blissful, “in the zone” state of mental flow that comes with performing well.  It is at that moment that you want to stop the session and ask them to buy it, and not a moment sooner.  if someone sucks at the demo, then let them suck at the demo, but don’t stop them too early, lest you lose a potential customer.

Obviously, I recommend this game.  If you have an XBox360 and like pinball, get onto XBLA right now and give the demo a try.