Platform: Playstation 2
Developed by: KAZe
Players: 1-2 (local)
Akira has actually received more videogame adaptations than expected, but this is most well known, since the visual novel for the Famicom never left Japan, the Super Nintendo/Genesis/Jaguar version ended up cancelled and only the Amiga (and Amiga CD 32) version eventually came out in 1994.
Hell, even this game is kinda baffling in itself, not just for the choice of genre, but for the reason it was made: to coincide with the 2002 japanese remastered DVD release of the movie. Not exactly a labour of love made to celebrate the movie in grand fashion, but then again, it’s a game about of a (then) 14 year old movie, it’s quite odd anyway.
And it wasn’t even released on American soil, wish doesn’t matter much to me, so i didn’t have much of a problem to find a copy here in Europe, as Infogrames (AKA Atari under a different name) handled distribution duties.
Don’t expect a digital rerelease of this one, just don’t.
Well, apart from this game giving me the opportunity to tenuosly link Akira and Austin Powers together, i gotta say i wasn’t exactly disappointed at the notion of an Akira pinball game. (i already reviewed this one years ago in my italian blog, if you’re interested, i wrote this one from scratch)
I love pinball, i love pinball videogames because of the commodity of not needing to find an arcade that still has pinball machines (outside of popular ones or recent ones themed around popular IPs), and because it’s a videogame, you can do things that would be impossible on a physical pinball machine. And no, despite what can be seen on the ads for Akira Psycho Ball, Akira never had a physical pinball table made, sadly.
And having it based around one of the most stunning and influential animated movie ever is definitely a plus.
Gameplay wise, there isn’t much to say, it’s pinball, so you know the drill. Actually – as the cover specifies – it’s “digital pinball”, so don’t exactly expect a true-to-life pinball experience, or don’t expect the quality of modern pinball titles like Zen Pinball or Pinball Arcade in regards to physics. Which aren’t bad, but they feel not much different from old SNES pinball games, they have the same issue where you can get stuck on hitting a ramp or a target, getting a slow shot instead of a fast one (sometimes regardless of momentum), and never exactly get the feel until you play enough to adapt yourself, and master the shake function, to be sure.
It’s not unplayable, at all, but it’s a hurdle never the less, since it’s an objective/mission based pinball game (with the usual multiplier and all that jazz that you expect from pinball tables), and physics – just remembering in case you forgot – are an essential part of digital pinball, so you might spend more time than bargained replaying the table from scratch because you ran out of lives trying to complete the missions, which often make the table itself transform, stuff like the upper or lower half being swapped for a different layout, and involve hitting enemies or items, and boss battles. Nothing new as far as pinball videogames go (besides the transforming tables), but still well done and fun, despite the physics not being great.
The game has 4 tables, which aren’t many, but are all well made, and are based around scenes from the movie, like the bike chase between the Pills and Clowns gangs, the A-Room mayhem, the Laboratory and the final confrontation at the Stadium, with brief clips from the movie playing after you complete a mission/progress in the table, get a multiplier or just finish the stage.
You can play all stages in a row directly via the Story Mode (which lets you continue from the last stage, no need to rush them all in row), or via Free Play, that doesn’t let you do the first stage (that adapts the bike chase scene), because that is setup to work for local multiplayer (you vs another player, or against the CPU), with two set of flipper and a big table split in 2, with you launching balls at your opponent on the other side (and here you can hold down a flipper to charge and send an electrical powered projectile back at your opponent), basically racing to fill a bar on the side faster, and winning the match/table. Quite cool.
Other than that, there isn’t much to talk about content-wise, but if you’re confused there are tutorials and explanations for each table and its’ missions/objective, and how to unlock/activate them. After you beat all stage in Story Mode, you play again, for fun and a high score, since there aren’t any unlockables. Not that i expected much in terms of game modes, but a series of specific micro-challenges for players wishing to be tested would have been nice, i gotta admit.
From a technical standpoint, it’s a more than decent PS2 title from the era, it’s what you might expect from a game clearly not breaking the bank in production values, but also not being born as a budget title. The graphics are nice, the presentation is simple but effective, and the soundtrack (besides the obvious Akira theme) also features some cool original tracks that really fit the atmosphere of Akira. The movie clips – dubbed in english – are obviously not in high quality (and compressed to fit a small window on screen), but are nice to see anyway, even if nowadays you can the see the whole movie on Youtube and in better quality. Different times.
Akira Psycho Ball is a good pinball game that could benefit from a remaster or update, because playing today just makes you wish you were playing it as DLC for Zen Pinball or similar modern pinball games with better physics, but it’s bound to never happen because it’s a licensed game, and a licensed pinball videogame, so only a very small, small niche will even care at all.
If you happen to both be into Akira (or anime, in general) AND pinball (physical and digital), well, you can look forward to a pinball game with cool things like transforming fields, along the usual good stuff found in pinball videogames, one that is let down by a dated physics engine (one that was arguably not that great even back in the day) that will make you replay stages more than expected, as you’ll need to get used to the way the ball reacts – more than often with absurd rebounds not in your favour – and to use the shake function to correct a ball that somehow lost momentum anyway.
If you live in the “Americas”, you will need to import this, and if you like the conceit of the game itself (a licensed Akira pinball videogame), i’d say go for it, just expect a decent pinball game that didn’t age perfectly. And not spend too much on it, while it didn’t need to be extra long for the sake of it, it’s not exactly packed with tons of extra stuff to do besides beating the story mode and playing local multiplayer.
Despite this, it’s oddly the best Akira videogame we’ve ever got.