PinOut is Pinball with an Endless Twist

Mediocre AB

Recreating pinball in a digital space can be a funny thing. There have been attempts to perfect this going all the way back to the early 80's, but in all this time, there's one problem each and every faux pinball experience has had to overcome: physics.

No matter how bright of an idea you might have had, if you didn't recreate the physics of pinball perfectly, your virtual pinball table was going to feel like garbage. For every example of good pinball physics on the App Store (Pinball HD, Zen Pinball), there are a dozen bad ones. In fact, terrible physics are so rampant on the App Store that we've had to temper our excitement every time there's a new virtual pinball game is announced because it's almost always ruined by poor physics.

We are very happy to report that PinOut has no such problems. This is a pinball game with spectacular physics.

More Than Just Good Pinball?

Video games that simulate pinball can go in two very different directions. There are those that try to recreate the experience of real-world pinball tables (and in some cases, like Pinball Hall of Fame, even license existing classics), and there are those that are comfortable leaning into their virtual nature, creating pinball experiences that could never have existed in a physical space. Games like the combat-driven Metroid Prime Pinball or the RPG Rollers of the Realm are a great showcase for the kind of outside-the-box thinking that you can apply when you turn pinball into a video game.

PinOut falls squarely in the latter camp. The idea isn't to play a standard pinball table but to instead continually move forward on an upwards journey. You'll use your flippers not to rack up a high score, but to advance through the screen to the next set of flippers.

In a nutshell, PinOut is endless pinball.

Leaving Digital Breadcrumbs

Despite what you've just read, what you'll actually play when you first boot up PinOut isn't endless. It just feels that way until you get really good. Eventually, you'll complete the game, unlocking a true endless mode in the process.

You'll be able to reach that end sooner than you think thanks to a checkpoint system that marks your progress, allowing you to return to past points in the game whenever you start a fresh session. The catch, though, is that PinOut is largely about managing your countdown timer (the game ends when it reaches zero), and your checkpoints factor in how much time was remaining when you crossed them. So if you made it to the third checkpoint and only had 12 seconds left, that's how much time you'll have if you try to continue from there. Thankfully, PinOut allows you to return to earlier checkpoints, which gives you the opportunity to improve your performance and reach a later checkpoint with a better time.

On paper, this need to impro might sound frustrating, but it adds a great deal of replayability to PinOut -- and your time (or lack thereof) never feels like the game's responsibility to manage. If you come up short, you'll know that's on you. That's because your time loss is solely the result of your missed shots, and PinOut gives you plenty of opportunities to put more seconds on your timer. There are white pellets to collect that add time to your clock, and some pretty great minigames that will reward you with time, too.

Minigame Goodness

While PinOut might not go the traditional route with its table design, there's plenty in here that feels like a clear homage to pinball's glory days. If you found yourself in an arcade in the early 90's, you no doubt remember the bright orange LED-powered rectangle on the marquee. That rectangle showed you the score, and if you were really lucky, you might have hit just the right sequence of targets on the table to unlock a little digital minigame. Pinball fanatics call this video mode.

Video mode games were always simple experiences that were usually controlled by a table's flippers. In the Doctor Who pinball table, for example, you would see the Doctor running away from Daleks, and control his jumps by tapping the flippers. In the Guns 'n' Roses table, you'd control a motorcycle that was trying to dodge traffic by switching lanes.

PinOut takes this idea and recreates it faithfully, and lets you trigger video mode far more frequently than real tables ever did. There are four minigames in total, and each turns your score into added seconds on the clock. So in PinOut's own traffic dodging minigame, for example, each car you pass adds a second to your timer.

These moments might not trigger a sense of nostalgia for those who grew up in the years after pinball's reign in the arcades, but for those who remember those days fondly, it will be hard to hold back a smile the first time one of these pops up.

An Increasing Challenge

Managing time and checkpoints is an important part of the gameplay, but nothing matters quite as much as the table experience. Because this isn't a traditional table, PinOut is able to focus its design on paths and opportunities that will help you rather than hinder. PinOut's table presents fairly limited options, meaning you'll always have a sense of where you need to aim that next ball. And while the physics are top notch, you can't help but get the feeling there's an invisible hand that's trying to nudge things just a little to help you avoid those nasty near misses.

But this user-friendliness doesn't mean that PinOut is a walk in the park.

As you progress through the game's different areas, you'll encounter all sorts of elements that will refine the experience while increasing the challenge. Early on, for example, you'll gain access to turrets that let you shoot the ball in a few directions -- but aiming the wrong way can often set you back, costing you precious seconds.

In fact, much of what happens as you advance is about routing you back further down the table, with cleverly designed layouts that can cost you if you're not careful about each and every shot.

What Else?

It's hard to talk about PinOut without mentioning how fantastic the game looks and sounds. The whole experience is dripping with an edgy, early 80's vibe. There's a neon hue to each table, making the experience look like a mix between a dangerous Miami nightclub and a fully immersive trip to the world of TRON.

The music, too, has a deliberately dark synthesizer style. If you've ever caught yourself humming the theme from Stranger Things or put the soundtrack to Drive on repeat, you're really going to dig the tunes here -- enough so that we should tell you the PinOut soundtrack is available on Spotify and vinyl.

It's also important to note that the checkpoint system we've referred to, which is an essential part of the PinOut experience, is available only as an in-app purchase. If that's off-putting to you, try to look at it this way: the developers are offering you as much of the PinOut experience as you can play before asking for a small, one-time purchase. The free download acts as a fantastic, immersive demo that proves the game's value -- and once you see that value, this single IAP is an entirely painless purchase to make.

If you're a fan of pinball, PinOut is a fantastic portable alternative to the real thing. PinOut flexes its strengths of being a virtual alternative while at the same time paying enough homage to real pinball to keep traditional table fans smiling throughout. Combine that with a thumping soundtrack and spot-on physics, and you've got a winning formula that no pinball fan should miss.

PinOut is available as a free download from the App Store and Google Play, supported by in-app purchases.