Pinball machines are wonderful and a ton of fun, but they’re also huge, electromechanical beasts that require constant maintenance. Virtual pinball– playing pinball video games on a monitor propped at an angle– seems to offer some benefits, even if it’s not the same, but those are also big and not cheap, either. So as an apartment dweller, seeing a company launch a virtual pinball table for under $500 surprised me. Let’s see how it goes!

The Toyshock 21C Digital Haunted House & Black Hole 12-in-1 3D Pinball Machine

First off: I’m not a marketer, but I feel like you should give your product a shorter name.

The pinball machine set up

The Toyshock is a “3/4 scale” arcade machine; this makes it comparable to the standup cabs sold by Arcade1up (I’ve taken a look at their cocktail table cabinet before), at least on paper. The monitor is 24”, surrounded by a grey bezel that is ugly at best, and the backbox has only alphanumeric panels; no DMD, and the game on the backglass is always Haunted House.

I find these acceptable compromises for the size; the bezel seems awful in pictures, but in person it’s not too bad. The machine’s build quality feels very good, and I can lean on it without moving, even though it’s clearly built for children. My suspicion is that the bezel was made silver as a misguided attempt to make it look like a lockdown bar and siderails. It doesn’t work.

The button height at 31 inches above the ground

I’m not going to lie to you– this machine is lower than a real pinball machine. Nevertheless, I had a lot more fun playing it standing up. My hope is that some sort of enthusiast community (or Toyshock themselves?) will make longer legs available; but I recognize that as an adult, I’m not the target demographic for this.

The front of the machine

I love the Haunted House art. But that 21C Digital logo is really not good looking; of course, I feel the same way about Arcade1up’s logo, so maybe I’m just a grumpy old lady. Get off of my lawn!

Looking at the games

The 24” monitor has pretty good viewing angles; playing while sitting or standing are both possible. The software is clearly based off of the Android version of Farsight Studios’ The Pinball Arcade, and though I’ve only played the PC version on a much beefier machine, the graphics and everything render well. One key exception is the sound; whether it’s the board or the speakers, the sound quality is just terrible. I hope it’s the speakers; at least they can be replaced.

Bonebusters Inc. gameplay, showing off the lack of 3D

I have no idea who decided to brand this device as “3D”, though. There is no 3D effect; certainly Nintendo 3DS-style glasses-free 3D wouldn’t work at this size anyway. And as you can see in the Bonebusters, Inc. gameplay shot above, it can actually be pretty hard to tell what’s solid and what’s playfield level on some of the more graphically intense games. This is mostly only an issue with Bonebusters, Inc. and El Dorado: City of Gold.

Playing the games

The Pinball Arcade is a solid piece of software. But this is a virtual digital pinball machine, and a cheap one at that. That means that if you’re expecting instant response when hitting a button, you might be disappointed, as many people who I’ve seen review this machine have been.

Personally, I’m fine playing Alien Crush (my personal favorite console pinball game) on a flatscreen, and in similarly, I don’t really have any lag issues that prevent me from playing these games. I’d rather play on this than TPA on my gaming PC. But for some people who are more lag sensitive, you’re going to want something beefier, or just spring for a real machine.

Input lag aside, the games are mostly lag-free (which some exceptions in Goin’ Nuts), and the physics are fine, though ball-ball collisions during multi-ball feel a bit off. All of the games are enjoyable for me to play, at least. The plunger is alright, it’s not great, but it does notice how far you’ve pulled and I can do some skill shots now and again.

Centigrade 37 on the Toyshock

One thing I really like is the inclusion of electromechanical games. These look and sound great, and don’t require the extra glitz that this machine probably doesn’t have the power for. You can hear the ball rolling around on wood, solenoids buzzing when you hold a flipper, and it sounds great even on the terrible speakers.

Class of 1812 displaying on the Haunted House LED displays

The backglass displays do operate in all games, to varying degrees of success. As you can see above, Class of 1812 works alright. In other cases, like Lights, Camera, Action!, the game resorts to a HUD that floats over the playfield. (And there is no equivalent to the light-up gunfight; why include that game if you can’t do the gunfight?)

They do try to show at least some of the display on the backglass, but it mostly just looks broken.

The Lights, Camera, Action gunfight sequence on the Toyshock

My verdict on the individual titles: Haunted House, Black Hole, Victory, Class of 1812, TX Sector, and all of the electromechanical games (Big Shot, Centigrade 37, and Jacks Open) play great. Goin’ Nuts has performance issues, and Lights, Camera, Action plays well except for the gunfight. The final two, El Dorado: City of Gold and Bonebusters, Inc. play well but suffer from poor visual distinction.

The Verdict

The verdict here is that the Toyshock is a fun toy. That’s what it’s aimed at, so I suppose that works out. Kids who are really into pinball will probably enjoy it. But can it enjoy “periphery demographic” success like the Arcade1ups seem to?

As far as nostalgic adults go, I have to say; though I love the Gottliebs, they certainly aren’t nearly as popular as Bally/Williams’ boards are. (Though that’s likely just a factor of Farsight having lost the licenses to those) I love Victory, sure, but imagine getting High Speed.

True pinball enthusiasts won’t be happy with anything less than a real machine; but even virtual pinball enthusiasts would probably rather build a mini pinball themselves to get Pinball FX3 style higher-end tables, or at least a screen for the backglass and to play dot-matrix display games.

Really it feels like they decided to make a product for me in particular; someone who likes the Gottlieb 80’s and EM titles, is happy with The Pinball Arcade’s emulation, lives in a small apartment, and really likes clicky buttons. So that was very nice of Toyshock to do.