The game follows the progress of \Meatball Joe as he travels around the world in search of his girlfriend. Each location in the world takes the form of a pinball table.
Crazy theming and story aside, any pinball game lives or dies by two things; the quality of the tables and the realism of the ball physics. Meatball Joe actually does fairly well on both counts, although there are a lot of rough edges that need working on.
The tables are all based around food and cooking, with each having a theme related to the city its based on. The tables are generally fast, with a lot going on and tend to have a lot of bumpers and things to bounce off of, but a disappointing lack of ramps and slides.
Getting to a certain score or hitting different object can make enemies that drain your score appear, and its when things like this happen when the game is at it’s most interesting. Dodging things that are chasing your ball while trying to keep your score going is enjoyably manic, as are the excellent bonus stages that are reached through special items. The bonus stages are something that I really liked about this title. They add variety and interest to the tables they have been added to.
Overall, the tables are quite well designed. A couple of duds, such as one where the ball can become trapped between sections of bumpers for far too long, don’t quite ruin the generally decent selection on offer. More ramps needed though!
So, the physics, and as with the tables the developer does a pretty good job here. The ball does just what it should do, so no crazy moments of unrealism, and is generally solid in its movements, and also responds well to the flippers. The only problem with the ball physics is that they are slightly too floaty for my taste.
The game has plenty of tables included to keep you occupied, as well as a full story mode and nice cooking hints throughout to add to the atmosphere. Graphics are nice and sharp and have plenty of character, but I do have one big problem with them. The ball is obviously a meatball with a face, and the facial expression reacts nicely to being thrown around, but the issue is that the ball doesn’t spin. The face just keeps to the same position no matter the angle or direction.
If the ball could spin relative to what its doing, then the whole look of the game would be so much better. Even a canned spinning animation would be better than to just see the face hanging there. It removes the ball from the game world to make it look like its just doesn’t belong.
It might seem as if I’m being overly critical of Meatball Joe, picking on small things, and thats because I actually really liked the game, and I feel its very close to being an excellent pinball title. Give the physics a little more weight, make the ball spin, add some ramps and get rid of some of the clutter on some tables and I would happily add another ten percent to the score below.
As it is, your getting a very good pinball game with original ideas, excellent theming and some great bonus tables.
Meatball Joe is a hearty meal of a pinball game.