The Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars virtual pinball table offers a lot of tables and smaller size requirements, but it’s not ideal for everyone.
For quite some time now, I’ve wanted to add a pinball table (or preferably a couple) to my games collection. No, I don’t have the largest collection in the world… nor would I want to, because I really only want to own games I’m actually going to play. But I could diverge into a rant about the whole “million dollar” video game collecting scene right there, and that would be very much beside the point.
There are problems with pinball machine ownership in Australia, starting from the fact that it’s a very expensive side of gaming no matter which way you play it.
Even a very basic, not terribly desirable machine is going to run you north of $2,500, and that’s most likely for a simple or badly maintained electro-mechanical table. If you want something modern, you’re looking at $5,000+ for a second-hand unit, and way more for a desirable table or a genuinely new one.
Which means, as much as I might want a Stern Godzilla, my bank balance and the reality of freelance journalist life means I can’t afford one. If there’s any mystery benefactors who want to gift me one, drop me a line…
Then there’s the world of virtual pinball, using LCD screens to display a “pinball-like” experience, which brings me to the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars table. Featuring 10 classic Williams tables, it promises the experience of “real” pinball without quite the price point of a real machine, let alone 10 of them.
So, I bit the bullet and bought one a couple of weeks back. Having given it time for the new paint smell to wear off (and take the edge off the potential, here’s my quick review. Or you could watch the video above and subscribe to my YouTube channel. Video or words, your call:
Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars: The Good Stuff
- You get a lot of tables: 10 in all, specifically Attack from Mars, Fish Tales, The Getaway: High Speed II, Junk Yard, Medieval Madness, White Water, Red & Ted’s Road Show, Hurricane, Tales of the Arabian Nights and No Good Gofers. That gives you a nice range of table designs and ideas, but also just a whole lot of variety, which I wouldn’t get with just the one table.
- Low maintenance: OK, so I haven’t owned a table myself, but one of the better known issues with pinball ownership is that of maintenance. The physical wear and tear of pinging around heavy metal balls into plastic and rubber components takes its toll, you know? Over the years I’ve played on some tables in terrible condition, and they’re no fun at all. Because the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars table is mostly virtual, wear and tear should be minimal. I guess over time I might have to replace a few standard arcade buttons with other standard arcade buttons?
- It’s surprisingly immersive: Does hitting actual flippers to control digital flippers and balls equate to the exact same thing?
Spoiler: No, it doesn’t… but it’s surprisingly close. Some years back I recorded a special ep of Vertical Hold with Tim Arnold from the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame, and he commented that there’s nothing quite like actual, physical pinball. You can listen to it below (and go subscribe; it’s good for you… and me.)
Tim was right, but at the same time, while I’ve played a lot of “digital” pinball tables over the years, it is fascinating how quickly you adapt to using a digital screen and mostly feeling like it’s a “real” table. The kickers thump in just when you’d expect them to, the ball movement is just about right, and you do still get those agonising moments when a bumper throws your ball into the outlanes despite your best efforts. It’s all part of the fun of pinball, basically!
- You can play quietly: One of the other challenges of pinball ownership is that they’re not exactly quiet machines. Yes, part of that is the whole attract mode, because in a dingy bowling alley or arcade setting, you want to stand out, and you do that with loud noises and lots of flashing lights (like this video I shot of Silverball Planet in Osaka)
The Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars table can get plenty loud, but it doesn’t have to. There’s a master volume switch at the front, but also seperate volume sliders in the settings for ingame music, effects and even pinball action sounds. Slide those right down and disable the solenoid kickers, and you’ve got a very quiet machine indeed. Why would you want that, I hear you ask? For playing at night, especially if you have to place your machine in a spot in the house where others who might not appreciate the silver ball quite as much as you do.
- Easy to build: If you can build IKEA furniture, you can put together the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars table. The process isn’t much harder than building the back assembly, attaching that to the body and screwing in the four legs. They’re solidly build, and stabilise well onto most surfaces so you get an “even” pinball play field.
Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars: The Bad Stuff
- It might stop working: OK, this one may just be specific to me… but I don’t think so, at least not entirely. When I first got my Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars, I set it up, and started playing some Medieval Madness, because that table is insanely good. I hit the plunger to launch the ball, and instead plunged the whole main screen into darkness. The score display went blue, and nothing else responded.I tried rebooting, in the classic tech fix style.
Didn’t work.I’ll admit I was annoyed at this point. The machine wasn’t as expensive as a “real” table, but it’s not cheap either, and given its bulk I didn’t fancy the prospect of working out a pickup and refund in the middle of a pandemic.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to; some quick research revealed one particular fix to do with rear video cables that I tried.. that didn’t work.
However, it did lead me to opening up the table (which comes pre-assembled as a single unit), only to find a connector lead that very obviously had bounced free with my plunger hit. Plugging that back in solved my problem, and all that was lost was a little time. It’s nice that I could fix it, but I should not have had to.
- Only a 720p display: This one is weird, because again online research suggests that the display panel is in fact 1080p capable, and the underlying Zen Pinball engine that it runs on could totally handle 1080p for crisper visuals. But it’s 720p only, presumably so that Arcade1UP could save a few cents on GPU costs when building it. I guess one day I could get into hacking it and using it for other projects, but this seems like a missed opportunity.
- It’s not (legally) extensible: We live in a connected world, and virtual pinball like this isn’t the 100% exclusive invention of Arcade1UP. It’s using Zen Pinball, and while I do love me some Zen, it’s not as though they’ve only ever offered 10 tables all up. That’s very clear when you consider that I could have purchased the same virtual table with Marvel or Star Wars branding, each with their own array of 10 Zen Pinball tables on board.
As yet, nothing that looks like this, however
I prefer the classics, but the point here is that Zen Pinball on other platforms makes it very easy to add new tables — some good, some not-so-good — for money. I’d love that in this form factor, but despite the fact that adding Wi-Fi (or even an Ethernet port) wouldn’t have added much to the cost, it’s not a legal feature of the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars table.
Yes, I’m aware that slightly-less-than-legit types have worked out hacking the Star Wars and Marvel tables onto this unit (or vice versa), but a true “shop” interface would have made for a better unit overall. The competing ATGames virtual table (which, as far as I can gather, doesn’t officially sell anywhere in Australia just yet) does this kind of thing, albeit with a selection of tables I genuinely do find less compelling.
- It’s just Zen Pinball: That might sound damning, but the reality here is that Zen Pinball is great, and I knew that before I hit a single flipper button on the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars table. How did I know that?
Because it’s available for so many competing platforms, from PCs to consoles to tablets to smartphones. These exact tables and code in fact, so if all you want are the sights and sounds of Fish Tales, you can play those anywhere from your Nintendo Switch through to your iPad Pro for a markedly smaller sum than the cost of the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars pinball table.
That’s a problem from a value perspective, because while in a whole host of ways I do think this is the best way to play these tables virtually, given how closely you get the feel of “real” pinball, it’s not as though they’re exclusive to this system alone.
Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars: The Verdict
There’s little doubt that owning a pinball table is a luxury proposition, no matter how you slice it.
Owning a virtual pinball table (or even 10 of them) is still a luxury proposition, albeit a more affordable one. I’m having a lot of fun with the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars tables, and in a way that I wasn’t with just their digital Zen counterparts, but I can’t deny that this isn’t a choice or option that’s best for everyone.
For me, it’s something of a dipping-my-toes-in-the-water position, because I could from here consider saving up a lot of my pennies and considering those classic Doctor Who or Star Trek: The Next Generation tables I’ve wanted forever. Or the Godzilla table I’ve wanted since Stern announced it last month.
Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars: Pricing
Depending on who you buy from, the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars table will run you between $1,100-$1,599. If you wanted to be nice to me (or help fund that Godzilla table) you could pick one up via eBay at this link (affiliate link, obviously).