The definitive peripheral for iOS pinball fans is here.
When I first heard about Duo’s Pinball peripheral for iOS devices, it came as a surprise. I’m very familiar with Gameprom’s fantastic pinball tables, as War Pinball received a 5-star rating from yours truly, and earlier tables like Deep Sea and Wild West Pinball scored high marks as well. The thing is, while playing these virtual tables, I never thought to myself, “Boy, I sure wish I had actual buttons to press instead of tapping the screen!” That says something about Gameprom’s excellent pinball table apps; that I could be perfectly satisfied tapping away to make flippers flip and plungers plunge. I can’t say the same thing about pretty much any FPS game on iOS, as I’m constantly craving a physical controller throughout the experience, even if the game plays well. (Duo happens to also make a controller peripheral that we will review soon.)
All that said, the Duo Pinball makes me ashamed that I allowed myself to enjoy a tapping pinball experience on my iPad, sacrificing a cheap substitution for the feel of real flipper buttons beneath my fingers. Playing pinball as it was meant to be played – with two buttons and a plunger – just feels right. It takes me back to the days was I was kid playing the Adam’s Family and Simpson’s tables at the local Mountain Mike’s pizza parlor. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s as close as you’re going to get to that experience without dropping hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on your own full-size pinball table. (Although if you have the funds to do so, I highly recommend you do… also send me one while you’re at it.)
The Duo Pinball is fairly light, but doesn’t feel at all cheap. It comes in all black plastic with two blue flipper buttons on either side and a plunger to simulate launching the ball onto the table. Let’s be honest, shooting that metallic sphere out from it’s resting place was always a great way of releasing your anger at the table for gulping up your last ball. The plunger pulls back with some resistance, and releases with an extremely satisfying “thunk” sound as it “hits” the virtual ball into play. The buttons are clicky and responsive, but sadly don’t offer the feeling that a real pinball table offers. While pinball table buttons don’t push the flippers manually, there was always a pleasing sensation that came from feeling the flippers thud into action at your simple button push. Perhaps some sort of slight rumble pack inside the Duo would have helped simulate that feeling, but all in all the hardware felt good in my hands without any tactile flipper feedback.
By far my favorite part of the Duo Pinball is the way it latches firmly onto your iPad while you play. One of the complaints in my review of the iCade was the way my iPad rested in the dock. Picking up the iCade to move it around meant holding onto the iPad to keep it from sliding around. The Dua Pinball remedies this with four rubber bumpers that keep the
underside of the iPad from sliding. In addition, there are two clasps that click into place to the left and right of the iPad along with bottom dock. Once in place, the iPad won’t go anywhere. Tilt your worst! I also noticed some convenient rubber feet on the bottom to keep the Duo from sliding around. The overall design was really well-thought-out on the Duo Pinball. A cheap, shoddily-made peripheral this is not.
As with most game peripherals, the Dua Pinball connects via Bluetooth (requires 3 AA batteries). Pairing and setup was extremely easy, and a helpful blue indicator light will give you the status of the device. As with other peripherals, the upside of Bluetooth is the ability to use the Duo with practically any iOS device. I can’t imagine playing pinball on an iPhone using this, as it’s not designed to hold not-iPad devices, but hey, it’s an option. The downside is the little bit of lag I experienced from time to time. This happened less with the flippers, and more with the plunger. As satisfying as the physical plunger is to pull back and release, it’s often difficult to determine how it will effect the ball in the game. The plunger pulls out about half as far as a real pinball table, and with the slight Bluetooth lag it’s tough to judge how much power you need to use for delicate pinball plays. It’s a mild complaint, but should be noted for hardcore pinball fans.
Another complaint I had with the iCade was the poor software support it received at launch. As of now, there are plenty of apps that work with it, but the lack of solid game support really hurt it’s score when it first came out. The Duo Pinball only supports one app at launch (as far as I know), but it’s definitely one of the best. As mentioned above, the Duo Pinball works with all the tables offered in the Pinball HD Collection, which is pretty much the best collection of pinball tables on the App Store. The app is free, with a good variety of tables being offered for $.99-$2,99 via in-app purchase. However, when you connect the Duo Pinball to your device and download the app, five tables are automatically unlocked for your enjoyment. They aren’t any of the licensed premium tables, mind you, but are some of the excellent older tables like Wild West Pinball and Deep Sea Pinball that impressed years ago when they were first released as standalone apps.
For hardcore pinball fans who happen to own an iPad, the Duo Pinball is a no-brainer. For $59.99 it gives the feel of playing a miniature pinball table, from the clickiness of the buttons to the satisfying thud of the plunger. If you’re not someone who plays a lot of pinball, the price of admission may seem a bit steep considering the device can’t really be used for anything else and doesn’t support other pinball apps at the moment. Still, the build quality is good, and the addition of five free tables from the best iOS pinball collection on the App Store should put the Duo Pinball in more than a few letters to Santa this year.