Updated: May 13
A traditional pinball machine is a box of roughly five bajillion moving parts. If you've ever owned one, you know they can be a maintenance nightmare. Virtual pinball came into its own with the advent of wide-screen LCD displays which can mimic a pinball playfield. As graphical processing power increased over time, virtual pinball became more attractive as a low-hassle alternative to the "real thing." (While playing, your brain doesn't know the difference.)
I'm not being compensated by AtGames for this review. In fact, I long fought the desire to write a time-consuming article about the Legends Pinball! But I couldn't shake it, so here we are. I've had the Legends Pinball in my home arcade for long enough to be objective. It's become the most played of the fifteen machines, the others being classic video games. Maybe the novelty will wear off, but with so much variety available in one unit, it'll be a while.
At just under $700, the AtGames Legends Pinball brings the once technically-imposing and/or expensive virtual pinball to the masses, boasting twenty-two preinstalled Gottleib tables ranging from the fifties to the nineties:
Al's Garage Band Goes on a World Tour
Bone Busters, Inc.
Class of 1812
Cue Ball Wizard
El Dorado: City of Gold
Lights... Camera... Action!
Pop in a user-supplied flash drive to one of the two top-mounted USB ports and download a litany of real and fantasy tables, including ones based on Taito arcade licenses, from third-party developer Magic Pixel. Other virtual pinball applications such as Pinball FX3 work on the Legends Pinball through an optional PC adapter.
The Legends Pinball's haptic feedback lets you feel every pop bumper and slingshot impact, and an accelerometer allows you to physically nudge the machine for ball control. An additional set of side buttons allows for nudging without getting as aggressive. Surprisingly powerful speakers deliver the ear candy, including subtle sounds like the pinball rolling. This machine outputs video at sixty frames per second, with no input lag.
AtGames promotes the machine as being "the world's first connected pinball," but an Internet connection isn't required to enjoy the included tables. Worldwide high scores for every virtual machine are posted in real time. Players can take turns and chat with the worldwide competition via scheduled online parties. Legends Pinball owners also have access to traditional arcade titles via an app called ArcadeNet, which requires a separate controller: I don't get craning your neck down at horizontal video games letterboxed on a vertical monitor, but your mileage may vary. I purchased my AtGames Legends Pinball from Sam's Club, which included an additional five tables from legendary Italian manufacturer Zaccaria, rendered by Magic Pixel. Also included was a three-month subscription to ArcadeNet, which will probably go unused.
Weighing in at 109 pounds, the AtGames Legends Pinball is a monster and is almost the length of a dedicated table. Arcade veterans would refer to the Legends Pinball as cabaret sized. It's shipped in a single box and takes about ten minutes to set up. The Legends Pinball comes stock with plate glass (not plastic) over the 32" HD playfield display, which looks much better in real life than it does here. The monitor has eight inches on price-point competitor Arcade1Up's virtual pinball machines, and is recessed under the glass to further sell the illusion of a physical playfield.
I had some initial OCD questions after unboxing, and AtGames' customer service (email only) was always responsive and helpful.
The playfield area is surrounded with real powder-coated metal, and the table is supported by adjustable metal legs which accommodate adult players. The Legends Pinball sideart is a montage of the pre-installed games and has a glossy overlay, so the oils from your hands won't wear off the printing. Scarf down those Ding Dongs!
Pinball gameplay is fast and smooth, even in the heat of multiball, and the machine's award-winning physics are spot on.
While the Legend Pinball's playfield display dimensions are perfect, the backbox contains a 15.6" widescreen LCD, so none of the square backbox artwork of the original machines look quite right. Some displays are rendered better than others with the stretched-out treatment, but you're always trying to fit a square box in a rectangular hole. There's an option to size the artwork to square, at the cost of making it crazy small. The hardware doesn't pose these period-accuracy issues with the custom tables, such as the Taito-themed games.
In spite of the sizing woes, this secondary LCD does a remarkable job emulating the dot matrix displays (DMDs), LED displays and even the scoring reels of classic pinball backboxes:
I like the placement of the table's start and menu buttons, placed where the coin slots would be, but I wish they were illuminated. The Pinball Legend's coin door is a non-opening fake.
My first encounter with AtGames was in 2019 with this review of their Legends Flashback console. AtGames, an industry player since 2001, has upped their game with the Pinball Legends machine, which looks at home with vintage coin-op cabinets.
The AtGames Legends Pinball was described by a YouTube commenter as "the holy grail of low-maintentance pinball." I couldn't agree more, having grappled with NASA-level technical problems on more than one vintage table. I love playing this machine, and my ADD appreciates the variety of pinball available through the virtual format. The Legends Pinball doesn't feel like an Arcade1Up toy, and I'm happy to have it in my lineup. When you see "PeterVenkman" on those leaderboards, you'll know who it is.
Virtual pinball has come a long way! Read our review of Team17's Addiction Pinball, a PC CD-ROM from 1998.