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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Pinball Arcade: Star Trek TNG

by Ken Newquist / December 29, 2012
A screenshot of Star Trek: The Next Generation Pinball. Credit: Farsight Studios
  • Pinball Arcade: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Platforms: iOS, Android, Macintosh, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PS Vita
  • MSRP: (iOS) $.99. Star Trek: The Next Generation table: $4.99
  • Web Site: www.pinballarcade.com/

When it comes to pinball, there are two tables that I love. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Indiana Jones. I easily spent hundreds of dollars in quarters on those two games in college, and they're the two games I'd most like to own.

Unfortunately, time, money, and space have prevented me from pursuing that geeky quest, but I can now play at least one of these tables virtually. Pinball Arcade, the pinball emulator for iOS, Android, Xbox 360, Macintosh, and PlayStation 3, just delivered Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The table was funded through a Kickstarter, though I didn't know about it or the new design until it showed up on my iPad as an in-app purchase.

I'm glad it did. The Next Generation was designed by Steve Ritchie, and features a variety of multi-balls, cannons that let you fire pinballs around the table, and a host of selectable missions. It's the pinnacle of 1990s pinball design, and developer FarSight Studios has faithfully recreated it in digital form.

The game begins with a choice of five options:

  • Star Mission: The game begins a random mission.
  • Light Lock: This lights the lock for the first ball in the Borg multiball and causes the first ball you launch to become locked.
  • Flipper Skill Shot: Hit a target somewhere on the board.
  • Launch Probe: Hit a target and start a mission
  • Warp Factor 4: Increase your scoring potential

Pulling the trigger on the ball launcher selects one of the options, and you're off to explore the galaxy. This approach all but guarantees that you'll be able to get a Borg multi ball if you wan it, which is one of the things that always appealed to me about the game. Pinball's all about two things: skillful shots and well-managed multi balls. The Next Generation gives you plenty of opportunity for both.

Once the game's underway you've got too many options to chronicle. There a bunch of missions, including searching the galaxy for alien artifacts, exploring a time loop, helping crew members escape to a shuttlecraft, a battle of skill with the omnipotent Q, and more.

The game has two guns that can be loaded with a pinball, aimed, and then fired. It's a great mechanic that was unlike anything I'd ever seen before when I played the game in the real world, and it's just as challenging to master in the simulated game.

The Next Generation table sounds just like the original; when Counselor Troi says "it's as though we've gone back in time", I felt a thrill. When Captain Picard proclaims "Inform Starfleet Command ... we have engaged the Borg" I got chills.

If you buy the pro version (and how could I refuse?) you gain the ability to tweak the advanced settings. These include the ability to open the "coin door", which lets you play with the operator-only settings. It's perfect for geeky pinball enthusiasts, but casual players can bypass it. There's also the ability to tour the board, allowing you to zoom in on areas of interest (very helpful for figuring out how to make a particular shot). It also has a ball control mode that lets you move the ball wherever you want. It can be difficult to control, but it's another tool for learning the board.

I've played the table on my iPhone and iPad 2, and I prefer it on the tablet. The greater surface area lets you see the board more clearly, and it I found it easier to control the ball. The game itself is as challenging as it ever was; you need to complete a number of different missions to unlike the "Final Frontier" mode. I never reached it on the real machine, and I haven't reached it on the virtual one either ... though at least now I have an infinite supply of quarters.

On iOS the base app -- Pinball Arcade -- costs $.99. The basic Next Generation table costs $4.99; the pro version is $7.99. It's a universal app that works on both the iPhone and iPad at no extra charge. Availability of the table varies on other platforms; from what I understand they will release it to all of them eventually.