How to Play Video Pinball

We know how it is — when we investigate retro games today we don’t always have the luxury of a manual to teach us exactly how to play. And sometimes that can be a real problem! Our How to Play column explains how to get the best out of some of the more complex retro games out there. Let us know if there are any specific titles you’d like us to cover!


Video Pinball for Atari 2600 is a relatively simple game, but without the instructions by your side, you may well find yourself wondering exactly what all the on-screen elements are trying to tell you.

Well, fear not, dear retro gamer, because we’re here to tell you exactly how to play Video Pinball! Not how to win, mind; that side of things is up to your own skill. But after reading our guide you should have a solid understanding of how to play Video Pinball.

If you’re lucky enough to have an Evercade, nab yourself a copy of the Atari Collection 1 cartridge to give this game a go for yourself.

Quick control guide

Down on the controller pulls back the plunger.

Fire on the controller (“A” on Evercade) launches the ball.

Left on the controller flips the left flipper.

Right on the controller flips the right flipper.

Up on the controller flips both flippers.

Holding the fire button and moving the controller “nudges” the table, effectively allowing you direct control of the ball for a brief moment. Do not do this for too long, otherwise you will get a Tilt!

Game variations

Press Game Select (“Select” on Evercade) to choose one of the four game variations:

Game 1 is for one player. Bumper values persist between balls.

Game 2 is for two players. Bumper values persist between balls.

Game 3 is for one player. Bumper values reset with every drained ball.

Game 4 is for two players. Bumper values reset with every drained ball.

Press Game Reset (“Start” on Evercade) to begin the game.

How to play Video Pinball

How to play Video Pinball: screen diagram

This is your battlefield. Learn it, because you’ll be seeing a lot of it. And, in the process of learning how to play Video Pinball, you’ll get to grips with each and every one of these elements. So let’s go through them one at a time.

Player number

This number indicates who is currently playing. In single-player games, this will always show “1”.

Ball number

This number indicates which of your three balls you’re on. When ball number 3 drains, your game is over!

Score

This is what it’s all about. Make this as big as possible to win! After 999,999 points, your score will “roll over”, so mentally add a million to your final displayed score after this happens.

Plunger

This is where it all begins! Pull back the plunger by pushing Down on your controller, then press the fire button (“A” on the Evercade version) to launch the ball.

The further back the plunger is when you press the button, the more powerfully the ball will be shot into the table.

Experiment with different amounts of pulling the plunger back to aim the ball at specific parts of the table.

If the ball falls back down the plunger’s hole during play, just pull back and fire it off again.

Every time you drain a ball, you’ll need to use the plunger again to shoot your next ball.

Flippers

These are how you get things done. Push Left on your controller to flip the left one, Right to flip the right one, and Up to flip them both simultaneously. The nearer the tip of the flipper when you flip the ball, the more powerfully you will flip it.

Slingshot

These cheeky boys are on either side of the playfield, just above where your flippers are. They’re not worth any points to hit, but if the ball hits them it will typically fly off at high speed and sometimes unpredictable angles.

Be careful when the ball is near the slingshots!

Drain hole

It’s fairly unlikely your ball will end up down here, but if it does — bad luck. That’s a ball lost for you, just the same as if you’d drained it between the flippers!

If you want to give yourself an additional challenge, flip the left difficulty switch (right for player 2) to the “A” or “Advanced” position. Two additional drain holes will appear either side of the flippers! Flip it back to “B” to fill them in again.

If you’re playing the Evercade version on an Evercade VS, you can flip the difficulty switches with the shoulder buttons on your controller. L1 sets left difficulty to “A”, L2 sets it to “B”.

Spinner

These things spin round rapidly and give you a whopping 1 point if you hit them. They mostly get in the way and are certainly not a reliable source of points.

Bumper

These are where the majority of your points will likely come from. Hit one with the ball and you’ll receive 100 points multiplied by the number in the middle of the bumper.

To increase the number in the middle of the bumper, you need to knock down all three drop targets.

In Games 1 and 2, bumper values persist even if you drain the ball. In 3 and 4, they reset every time you drain the ball, making for a harder game.

Drop targets

Hit one of these to make it disappear and score 100 points. Hit all three to increase the bumper values by 1 and respawn them.

Left rollover

Roll the ball over the numerical indicator to increase it and earn 100 points.

When the ball drains, you’ll receive a bonus of 1,000 points for each rollover, up to a maximum of 4,000 points.

Atari rollover

Roll the ball over the Atari logo to light one of the Atari lights above the flippers, earn 100 points and increase the bonus multiplier when the ball drains.

Complete this four times in total in one ball (light all three Atari lights, then rollover once more) to earn a Shoot Again.

Atari lights/Shoot Again

These lights appear above the flippers to show how many times you’ve hit the Atari rollover. When the middle light shows an “X”, you’ve got a Shoot Again; next time the ball drains, you’ll stay on the same ball number.

Drain the ball without a Shoot Again and all the Atari lights you’ve lit will go out.

Centre target

This tricky little beast only appears for four seconds at a time, but if you can hit it while it’s visible, that’s a cool 1,000 points for you, no questions asked.

Scoring summary

1 point every time you hit a spinner

100 x current value every time you hit a bumper

100 points every time you hit a drop target

100 points every time you hit the Atari rollover

100 points every time you hit the left rollover

1,000 points for hitting the centre target

Bonus of up to 4,000 points for the number of times you hit the left rollover when the ball drains

Nudge and tilt

Hold the fire button (“A” on Evercade) and move the controller in any direction to “nudge” the table, allowing you to take momentary direct control of the ball.

By doing this, you can position the ball wherever you like — but note when you release the fire button, the momentum the ball originally had will be re-applied!

If you nudge for too long or too often, you will get a “Tilt”: the score display will turn red, the current ball will stop scoring points, you’ll lose a Shoot Again if you had it and your flippers will stop responding. Naughty! Do better on your next ball.


Now you know how to play Video Pinball. Be sure to check out our other How to Play guides for a bit of a helping hand with some of the more obtuse retro titles out there!

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