It's a while since we've had a Spectrum pinball variant, and this is quite an enjoyable one. Unlike most of the others that have surfaced in the past, this Electric Dreams version exploits all aspects of pinballing and much more.
There are four different machines to play on, based vaguely around some historical theme (I assume that's why it's called Time Scanner). For the two people in the universe who've never played a pinball machine and don't know what its about, the basic idea is that you fire a small ball into an enclosed area. By using specially placed flippers, you can bash the ball about so as to hit certain obstacles which score points or get bonuses.
On the first level, Volcano, you've to shoot the balls through transparent volcano lanes and light up the letters VOLCANO. When all the letters are lit, the volcano erupts, and you gel an extra two balls! Second level is the Saqqarah (don't ask me) stage, with lots of Egyptian sphinges (yes, that's how you spell it, Oli) and pyramids around. Light the letters PYRAMID and then drop the balls into the triple ball hole. On the third stage, Ruins, you have to drop the balls into the centre hole. Get two down, light all the targets and you're given a special lire ball, which has to be tired into the hole. Then you go onto the Special section, and guess what the blocks spell out this time? S...P...E...
Time Scanner is an excellent variation on an ancient theme. Thankfully there's enough content in it to make it addictive, though for ten quid you might be tempted to wait for it to come out on budget. It's not the sort of game that grows old quickly. The idea behind it is simple and unoriginal, but it's a tried and tested formula and it works well.
'Take four pinball games and a bit of Breakout, add tricky layouts and special effects and what have you got? Time Scanner! I have never enjoyed playing a pinball simulation so much. It is very similar to the Code Masters' Pinball Simulator but this one actually allows you to complete a table now and then. The four layouts in the game are all as good as each other with plenty of buzzers, flippers and surprises in store for the player. One minute the ball can be bobbing along nicely and the next it can have turned into three balls and mayhem breaks out. Talking of break out, the Special level includes a Breakout style bit (oops, that's spoiled it!). I would recommend Time Scanner to anyone, it's loads of ball-bashing fun!'
So you didn't win the fabby full size pintable in our compo last month, eh? Never mind, 'cos here's the next best thing!! it's Time Scanner from Activision. A rather brill computer pinball game.
What we've got here is a colourful, noisy viewed-from-overhead pinball simulation in which you get to play on four different, but equally fabby, pintables. One gripe (but it's only a little one) is that each of the four levels is a multiload. Yawn. Still, when you get onto a new level, if you then lose the game, you do get several 'credits' to keep playing on that particular table. So length of play isn't too much of a problem.
Each table top is made up of two screens, and as you go from the top half of the table to the bottom, the screen freezes and scrolls down, and vice versa. There are all the usual features seen on the best pinball machines, with ramps, those spinning gate things, the traps that hold your balls, ooh, and loads of boingy bits. The ball and flippers move very quickly and the animation has a lovely realistic 'feel'. At certain points in the game, you win yourself bonus balls. But with three balls in play the ball and flipper movement becomes considerably slowed. This doesn't detract too much from the playability of the game however.
Time Scanner has a nice line in sound, with the dear old Speccy doing a good impression of the extra ball, match replay and all the other funky pinball noises. It also plays a different tune for each level. Level Three gives a fab rendition of that formative 70's hit from Eruption. 'Choo Choo Train, A Chuggin' Down The Track!'. (Shut up! Ed)
The graphics could perhaps have been clearer. But they are colourful and have some nice touches. On some screens, especially the second level, they almost give the impression of being unfinished. The actual area around both flippers is devoid of colour and when the ball travels down at speed it is hard to see what's going on. However, as you progress into the table, lighting more and more features, part of the main table diagram starts to appear in colour. On the last level, there are even some Arkanoid-type bricks for you to clear!
The main drawback with Time Scanner is the number of levels... four. Yes, that's right, four. Shame really. But it still warrants the coveted Megagame status in my books!
In essence then, what we have here is an excellent pinball simulation that is marred by its small number of levels. It isn't just because of the Speccy's memory either - the 16 bit versions only have four levels too. Despite this, I can see it being one of those games that you could quite happily keep coming back to. It is eminently playable, even though the controls are so basic - left and right flippers and nudge. But it certainly had me hooked, just like the real thing, but not as heavy!
Ever since I was a young boy, I've played the silver ball. Actually, when you come to think of it, from Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all.
TimeScanner is certainly a mean pinball.
Activision have been tweaking and interfering with the code for T. Scanner for years and years. We previewed it for the first time almost a year ago to the month and in between now and then, I confess, I was a little unsure as to whether it was going to be worth the wait. The law of averages and past experience suggest that games which have been trundling about for more than 6 months "in development" turn out pretty iffy.
However, I'm happy to say that TimeScanner is absolutely fab.
in case you didn't get to play the coin-op, I'll fill you in. Smack. Right, now you'll play the coin-op in future, won't you?
TimeScanner is a Pinball game based on three levels. Each level has an upper and lower deck, and there's a set of flippers for each. Each deck is one screen long, and when the ball moves from one to the other, a smooth scrolls follows its movement.
Now, while I think pinball games are great, I'm absolutely crap at all of them, so was pretty mortified that in order to get to the later levels, you need to hit specific items on the table. It's actually a very precise business.
The first of the levels (all of which, incidentally, take place in different eras - 2 & 3 being Ancient Egypt and Anglo-Saxon ruins - hence the name) involves a huge volcano as its centrepiece. While scattered around the screen are numerous bonus bouncers and targets, all rewarding you with stacks of points (why do pinball machines always have such outrageous scoring systems - 10,000 for each target etc?) your mission on this stage is to make the ball shoot up the chute in the middle of the screen, round and back again. Each time you perform this feat correctly the volcano erupts in a most exciting way and one of the letters ("V.o.l.c.a.n.o.") lights up. You have to light ALL SEVEN letters, AND then send the ball up the screen onto the upper level and into one of the Time Tunnels hidden in the top right corner. Needless to say, this is nigh-on impossible without lots of practice and patience. In the end, though...
Graphically, TimeScanner is bordering on a masterpiece. Lots of detailed backgrounds and smooth animation.
But, everyone knows, the finest pictures in the world don't make the game. And it's even more vital that the gameplay and "feel" of this sort of program is absolutely spot on. It's nearly 100% in this case. While the ball maybe moves a little too quickly in some situations, it's got about as close to the ideal inertia effect as you could reasonably expect.
Table design is good, and while I'd say that sometimes life simply becomes too frustrating when you're trying to hit specific targets, there's plenty to keep you busy. Part of the fun of Pinball, after all, is simply trying out new angles with the flippers and trying to produce fab trick shots. Each level is sufficiently varied from the last to require new strategies. The angles that the balls come out of the tubes and bonus holders continually baffled me.
My only niggle with the whole process of playing is that it take far too long after you've lost a ball (fyok) before you can send the next one of the table. Actually it's only about three seconds, but when you're desperately trying to knock down the final target out of a set of twelve, it can seem like an eternity.
Although the nature of a computer game simulating a pinball machine may seem a little strange, there are lots of features included here that wouldn't be possible to include on "the real thing". When the volcano erupts, for example, molten lava spurts into the air, and you can practise your nudging technique (wink wink) to perfection. I was especially gratified to discover that it's possible to trap the ball in the curve between flipper and slide, allowing you to release it and perfectly time you next upswing in order to send the bail scuttling in exactly the right direction.
Reviewer: Jim Douglas
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