I'm a bit of a sucker for
games that give me a glimpse into Japanese society. I
got this because I wanted to see what pachinko is all
about - and also because it was going for next to
nothing on eBay.
Pachinko is a Japanese arcade game that seems to be
related to the old game bagatelle. I had a bagatelle
board when I was a kid in the early 70s. Bagatelle is
itself clearly an ancient ancestor of pinball in which
you use a plunger to shoot a ball bearing into a scoring
area made up of little areas marked out using nails in
the board. Each area has a score allocated to it;
designating the points scored if the ball comes to rest
There wasn't much skill involved - the only control you
had was how far you pulled the plunger back and you
might have been able to guide the ball some by nudging
the board - but these were the days before Pong remember
- a much simpler time when mechanical games like this
(and the classic Crossfire) were de rigeur.
Anyhow, pachinko appears to have the same element of
skill that bagetelle has - you basically fire ball
bearings into a board - with much more elaborate layouts
than my bagatelle board - and you score depending on how
the balls fall. The main difference with pachinko is
that you fire lots of balls into the board in quick
succession. Players buy buckets of balls and they are
fed into the machine instead of being fired in one at a
time. In Japan this is a gambling game and points scored
get you tokens which are officially exchanged for prizes
but are unofficially exchanged for money too.
Pachinko boards stand up vertically instead of laying on
a slope the way pinball and bagetelle machines do, and
ball bearings are fired into the scoring area by a
control that you twist like the temperature controller
on an oven. The balls are automatically fired in by the
machine at a rate of slightly faster than 1 per second
and the controller position dictates how hard they are
propelled - so there is some control. The layouts are
quite complex and parts of the board in some machines
have rollover targets - some of which activate
electronic displays embedded into the board.
Some machines just keep spitting balls into the play
area until you run out while some seem to send them in
batches of 16 with a short pause before the next batch.
With these machines there are 16 slots at the bottom
that light up if a ball hits them. They reset after each
batch - you would be fortunate to hit all 16 in one
Pachinko Collection for Saturn emulates a set of
pachinko machines - but there seem to be a couple of
different ways to play.
This game is by far the most import unfriendly I have
ever come across -there is no way you can figure out
what is going on from the manual. There is the odd word
of English in the menus but it really is hit and miss
trying to navigate through the game. Though the
mechanics of the simple pachinko play are easy to figure
out, I haven't a clue what is going on and what the
significance of certain targets are. Its all wonderfully
confusing. I actually scanned the manual and sent it off
to some kind soul who was running a Japanese import
gaming forum a long time ago. He was kind enough to send
me back some in-game menu translations.
You can basically play a pachinko machine in isolation
much the same way a slot machine is offered up in casino
sims , or what I call a companion piece to this game ,a
pachislo sim (see the Universal Museum review). You buy
balls with an infinite stock of credits to put into the
machine and play away. With this mode you can set the
difficulty level and there is another option with 3
settings - I have no idea as to it's effect on gameplay.
There is a "Nifty server" mode. With this you select an
event (defined by a 2 character code giving 256
combinations) which involves playing 1 or a selection of
machines. You start with limited credits and you can
save your status in one of 4 save slots. Your status is
also saved with a password that is displayed on the save
screen - the purpose for which I have no idea - maybe
there was a website to submit these to for competitive
There also seems to be some sort of adventure or story
mode which involves hanging around pachinko parlours
speaking to bored staff and trying to build up enough
money to achieve goals. Its pretty hard to make any
sense of this mode as it is all in Japanese but you can
certainly play it and stumble your way through it -
which may frustrate some people - but there is some
entertainment to be had.
When in a pachinko parlour (both in Advenure and Nifty
modes) you can select not only the type of machine
(there are 6 different machines) but actually which
machine in the row of that type of machine you want to
play at. My understanding is that machines are set
differently so its a case of trying to find the ones
that are easier to get money from.
In the Adventure mode there are statistics kept for each
machine in the whole parlour for you to study. These are
also avalable in Nifty mode for the single machine you
are playing. These statistics are displayed as graphs.
In the adventure mode there is also a mah-jong game
hidden among the game's menu options. This is a tile
matching game played not unlike Gin Rummy for 4 players
with the Saturn providing 3 opponents for you. It
appears to have little features like allowing you to
select tile back colours etc. Again, it is all in
Japanese and without any rules for this game its pretty
hard going to figure out what to do.
Graphics are clear and do the job but it's hardly ground
breaking stuff. Given the limited interactivity there's
hardly a need for slick control but it works well. You
can zoom right in on the machines' boards usign the
shoulder buttons if you like but things get quite
pixellated when you do this. I'm guessing that the
ability to zoom in and out is there for a good reason
though - maybe to study the way the balls bounce around?
Sounds are just plinky plonk spot effects but the music
has some hilarious vocals that sound as if they were
recorded after 1 too many saki. You can play in silence
or with just the limited sound effects.
I honestly can't see anyone getting a great deal of
entertainment out of this but there's something there
for the curious.