Sinclair User2nd April 1989
Published in Sinclair User #88
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.
Superb coin-op conv. Lots of action, lots of finesse. Super.