"Pinball tables/ Gold and Silver/ Altars to the Master's plan!" -- "TV Studio", The Who
Metroid Prime Pinball is best enjoyed like good chocolate: savored frequently, but in small doses. The more you play less of it, the better the game becomes. Eventually, you will play it so often and for such short bursts that you will strike a sweet, magical balance (around the seven minute mark) where you achieve a perfect increment of maximum exhilaration. Honestly, this is an awesome game. Just don't play too much of it at once.
As the title suggests, Metroid Prime Pinball is Metroid Prime as a pinball game. Samus acts as a copper-colored ball, bounced about by your flippers. You hit her, and she goes places, and, well, that's essentially the game. There is no plot--except that which you can infer from Metroid Prime--nor cutscenes, dialogue, or additional characters. While there are missions, such as shooting beetles, collecting artifacts, and blasting Metroids, they aren't the point of the game. Like any pinball title, Metroid Prime Pinball is an exercise in Zen, with the point being not to win but to experience.
There are two single-player modes to the game: multi and single. In multi mode, you start on one pinball table, but depending on the missions you complete or unlock, you can progress to others. In single mode, however, you are confined to a single table with the purpose of reaching some pre-set mission goal: achieve the high score; beat the boss in the shortest time; etc. As you defeat bosses in multi mode, additional tables are unlocked in single mode. This is a good thing too, since throughout the game, multi mode offers only two playable tables, the Tallon Overworld and the Pirate Frigate; to access exotic locales like the Phazon Mines, you have to play in multi mode without "˜dying' until you unlock a warp. Single mode offers you table variety without the worry of surviving until that warp appears.
Additionally, there is a wireless multiplayer mode, set in the Magmoor Caverns. The goal is simple: first person to 100,000 points wins. In terms of gameplay, the multiplayer mode is nothing exceptional, but it is here in versus mode that one of my life-long dreams has finally been achieved: finally, you can sic Metroids on people. I cannot express how gratifying this is; English lacks the proper adjectives. It's just that cool.
Just like in arcade pinball, individual matches are short; when you run out of balls, it's game over. No continues, no saves--just a mechanical, feminine voice informing you that your "Mission Failed". The multi mode game is short too, comprising of only five tables, three of which are boss fights. In any other type of game, the brief gameplay and the lack of save states would be fatal flaws, but in Metroid Prime Pinball, it's just part of the frenetic package.
Metroid Prime Pinball is a beautiful game, arguably the best looking and best sounding on the DS to date. The tables are dynamic works of art, interlaced with twisting pipes and crawling with colorful enemies. In the Tallon Overworld, thunder rumbles and rain falls; in the Magmoor Caverns, lava burbles to the surface. These seem like minor irrelevancies, but when present on a screen as tall as my thumb, these simple details mimic an entire world of atmosphere. Even the music is top-notch; the songs are rock/metal remixes of the Metroid Prime score, and even though I heard the same five songs for hours, I never tired of them.
This is a game that could only have appeared on the DS, but not because of the touch feature. Since the action spans two screens, the game essentially recreates the length and feel of a real pinball table. One annoyance, though, was that the gap between the screens appeared to block out a substantial chunk of the pinball table, which hurt my eyes at first. Although I eventually adapted to the disconnect, I did develop a splitting headache the first few times I played for more than ten minutes.
There are other drawbacks to the gameplay and design worth mentioning. The tilt feature is, plainly put, worthless; moving the touch screen with your thumb does not tilt the table but rather nudges it gently--even apologetically--and in the end, does very little good. Also, you are unable to pull back your own pinball plunger, removing a certain amount of strategy from the game. However, the greatest irritation by far is the Rumble Pak feature, activated whenever Samus strikes an object; when triggered, the Rumble Pak does not rumble so much as shudder. Accompanying this eerie pulsation is a buzzing, plunking sound, reminiscent of a beetle flying repeatedly into a gong. Occasionally you will trip a ball lock, which activates a horrible palpitation in your palms, and with all the sound and fury, you will think the DS is trying to shatter your soul. Really, the only good thing about the Rumble Pak feature is that it can be turned off.
These objections aside, Metroid Prime Pinball is about as good a pinball experience as you're going to get outside of an arcade. Unfortunately, this works against the game to some extent. In an arcade, you almost never tire of a particular pinball table, because rarely do you have enough quarters to thoroughly tax the game. On the DS, however, with infinite opportunities to play, the gameplay can grow grating and repetitive. The best cure for this is to take frequent breaks: if you play the game only in short bursts, you'll continue to find it fresh and engaging.
Ultimately, the title tells you everything: it's Metroid, it's pinball, and so what else do you need to know? That it's a beautiful and enjoyable game? That's understood when Samus is involved. That it can be repetitive? That's understood when pinball is involved. Metroid Prime Pinball offers no more and no less than its title promises, but if you enjoy the game simply for what it is, you might be surprised with just how much fun you have. For ten minutes.