Written By Will Oetting
After waiting months trying to get a hold of an Attack From Mars Digital Pinball from Arcade1Up, I finally got one. I had watched videos, read the TWIP Last Week In (Digital) Pinball article by Chris Friebus where he compares the digital cabinets, and I had thought through the digital cabinet options. I believed that I was making a good choice with the Arcade1Up cab and loved the games available on it from Zen Studios. Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long to realize that the real thing didn’t live up to my hopes of what AFM Digital Pinball could be.
There are actually three different versions of the Arcade1Up Digital Pinball cabinets: Marvel, Star Wars, and the Williams Attack From Mars (AFM) version that I purchased. They all are ¾ scale models of an original pinball machine with an 23.8” LCD playfield display, haptic feedback, full working plunger, and a nudge system. There are 10 games from Zen Studio’s collection in each of the versions that match the themes. The AFM version has Attack from Mars, Fish Tales, The Getaway: High Speed II, Junk Yard, Medieval Madness, White Water, Red & Ted’s Road Show, Hurricane, No Good Gophers, and Tales of the Arabian Nights. These are some of the best games from the Bally/Williams 90’s era of pinball. Many of which are now very expensive as full size pinball machines on the second hand market.
There are definitely some good things about the AFM Digital Pinball. The price tag of $600 USD for the “A” and “B” level games available is a great value. I own all of the available games on The Pinball Arcade on my phone and enjoy playing them often. I’ve also played them on the Zen Studios Williams app as well. Yes, it isn’t the same as playing real pinball, but I still enjoy it and it gives me some great practice on games that I don’t own. With haptic feedback, a real feeling plunger, and nudging, it seems like the AFM Digital cabinet should just be the next step closer to the real thing.
The artwork on the cabinet looks pretty good. The colors pop and definition is passable for the size of the machine. Unfortunately, the backglass is exactly the opposite. The artwork is washed out and pixelated and when the LED lights shine through it it looks even worse. The backglass really distracts from the look of the whole machine.
The last couple of positives are the sound system that provides good sound quality for the size, as well as a plunger that works as expected. The plunger sensitivity is decent. I am able to vary the strength of the plunger pretty reliably. Also, the menu system is very easy to navigate and it is convenient to view high scores while scrolling through games, not that I have been able to get many high scores with the issues described below.
And Then The Bad
There are quite a few bad aspects that keep the AFM Digital Pinball from being what I would want in a digital pinball cabinet. Granted, there are some really good digital pinball cabinets out there, but their cost makes it hard to justify buying one over a real machine. I’ve considered trying to make my own, but that takes effort, knowledge, and time.
The most important aspect of any pinball machine, real or digital, is how well the flippers work. Without good strong flippers, the pinball machine can’t be played as intended. That is why when I purchase a second hand machine one of the first things I do is check (and possibly rebuild) the flippers. Well, the flippers on the Arcade1Up machine have issues and there aren’t any rebuild kits from Marco Specialties. There is significant lag in flipping on several of the games, especially White Water, which makes it very difficult to hit shots. Some of the lag feels like it is coming from the button mechanism itself where there is some play in the travel of the button. Yet, some of the games play fairly well, like Medieval Madness, leading me to believe that the lag is actually in the software. That could mean that Arcade1Up might eventually fix the problem since they have put out updates to their other games in the past, but there is no guarantee if and when that might happen.
Then there is the nudging which is supposed to feel like the real thing. However, it is useless as it is implemented. The machine is so light that I can easily push it across the room and I’m sure that makes figuring out nudge sensitivity extremely difficult for Arcade1Up. When I do try nudging the response time in the ball lags quite a bit behind the movement. Even more annoying, about the third game into playing after turning on the machine, the nudging sound effect seems to trigger continually during play. I don’t notice much of an effect in ball movement and it doesn’t seem to tilt out, but the sound is very noticeable and overlays all other sound effects. There doesn’t seem to be any way in the settings to turn off nudging in order to get rid of it.
The playfield display resolution makes it hard to read inserts and it doesn’t seem to be adjusted for the best balance of brightness and color. The whole screen seems washed out, leaving the blacks looking more dark gray. The DMD screen is also lacking. They have shrunk the size of the DMD dots to only use maybe half of the actual screen size. There are some weird empty lines on the DMD where there should be background dots and the whole thing isn’t centered. Why in the world would they not center the DMD dots!?
The last issue that makes gameplay less enjoyable is the weak haptic feedback. You can barely feel the tiny little solenoids. It looks like quite a few owners have started adjusting the solenoid location in order to get a better experience, but it really feels like a design issue with the casing that surrounds each one.
The AFM Digital Pinball by Arcade1Up doesn’t live up to its potential. Without a software update or some pretty extensive modding, the gameplay is lackluster and extremely frustrating. Some of the games perform well enough to enjoy, but you don’t really get all that is advertised. At the moment, even at $600 the value just isn’t there yet. Wait it out before you decide to buy and see if improvements are made.