Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#113 – High Speed

High Speed, high stakes, and high scoring.

Featuring voice samples!

To Beat: Board the rocket to beat the system
To Complete: Beat the game and get the high score
What I Did: Beat the game with a score of 62,356,760
Played: 1/14/19 – 2/2/19
Difficulty: 10/10
My Difficulty: 10/10
My Video: High Speed Longplay

It’s another milestone here at Take On The NES Library. Game #113 is the first NES pinball game. There are a grand total of six NES pinball games, so I’m not that surprised the first one took some time to show up. Pinball machines are always a good time, even though I tend to fail out after only a few minutes. I have only been a casual player but I’ll play every time I see a machine. I know I would have to dedicate myself to playing a pinball game for a long time to get good at it. That’s what I had to do here to play High Speed. I don’t know if it’s due to my lack of experience, but this was a very challenging game to beat and another 10/10 in difficulty.

The High Speed pinball machine was released by Williams in 1986. Designer Steve Ritchie was inspired to make the game by his own police chase in California where he was supposedly driving at 146 mph. High Speed was a popular machine with a production run of 17,080 machines, which is well above the average of 2500 machines per run. The NES game was developed by Rare and published by Tradewest in North America in July 1991. PAL regions received the game in 1994. This was the final NES pinball game released by date.

The controls are simple. Any direction of the D-pad flips the left flipper, while the A button triggers the right flipper. There is an upper flipper on the right side of the playfield that also is triggered by the A button. The Select button nudges the table from the right while B nudges it from the left. In my experience, Select directs the ball slightly to the left and B nudges it to the right. The Start button pauses the game but you have to hold it down for a little bit before pausing kicks in.

It only looks like standard pinball.

Begin your game by launching the ball from the plunger on the bottom-right. Hold the A button to pull the plunger down and release the button to launch the ball. You can control the strength by how long you hold the button down. I like to launch at a little greater than half-strength so that I have better reaction time for hitting the ball with the upper-right flipper.

The bottom of the screen displays the text that would normally appear at the top of the actual machine. You can see your score on the left and miscellaneous text on the right for different events during game play. The score display only contains seven digits but the game maintains score up to one hundred million. A neat feature of this game is the split-screen effect. The playfield is too tall to see the whole screen at once. There is a screen split at the bottom of the screen so that the flippers are always visible. The top part of the view scrolls upward enough so that you always see the lowest ball.

High Speed also contains voice samples. These are like the ones on the actual pinball machine. The downside is that playing the samples freezes the board entirely during its duration. They are short clips, but in a long game you will hear them all the time. Fortunately, you can disable them if you want. On the Pause screen, there are two boxes you can toggle with the A button. The left one toggles the music and the right one toggles the voices.

The playfield contains a long lane on both sides that the game calls highways. They connect at the top and you can loop the ball all the way around. There is a smaller lane left of the right ramp that contains an eject hole. The ball is held briefly before being sent down the right lane in front of the upper flipper. There is a ramp in the middle of the playfield. It is best hit from the upper flipper. The top of the ramp connects to two return lanes, one on either side of the playfield, that drop the ball above the corresponding flipper. The ramp also exits by the upper flipper again, creating another loop. There is a set of three pop bumpers below the ramp as well as some targets indicated by stoplights. At the bottom by the flippers, each side has a slingshot and two lanes. One leads the ball to the flipper and the other leads the ball down the drain.

You’ll see the ball go up the ramp a lot in this game.

As you play the game, the stoplights will go from green to yellow to red. You can advance the stoplights by hitting the targets or more commonly by taking the ramp. When the light is red, take the ramp to start the police chase. This triggers two voice samples along the ramp loop. During the police chase, hit the ramp again to initiate multi-ball. The ball is locked and you get two more to launch from the plunger for up to three-ball multi-ball. This also triggers the jackpot. It starts out at 250,000 points and increases as you score points on the board. The jackpot maxes out at two million points. Hit the ramp one more time during multi-ball to claim the jackpot. This also locks the ball until all other balls are either locked in the same way or lost down the drain. Going back to one ball stops this sequence and the lights go back to green.

The inner lanes near the flippers light up the two outer lanes at the top of the playfield. These are only lit for a little while. Take the lane to get the highway bonus. The highway bonus points increase the more you take those lanes. Once those points max out, you can then trigger the hold bonus feature which maintains your main bonus score to the next ball after you lose one. Advance one more time to trigger the extra ball. You then have to shoot the ball into the eject hole to collect the extra ball. It is best to maintain both multi-ball and the extra ball for as long as you can.

The NES version takes the standard game play up a notch. There are items appearing on the board that you collect by hitting them with the ball. Money bags give you points and subsequent money bags give you progressively higher amounts. There are also safes and helicopters that eventually trigger a couple of mini-games. Those are fine, but in an evil twist, there are also several enemies on the board you have to deal with that mess with your ball or flippers in various ways. Enemies stay away while you have multi-ball enabled, which is another fine incentive. You can also fight back.

Bombs and other enemies make your life difficult.

Here are each of the enemies. Water puddles just slow your ball down. You can destroy it by hitting a ball over it quickly. Tumbleweed will grab your ball and drop it directly down the drain in the middle. You can destroy it with a fast ball or by shaking the table as it descends. Rust balls attach to your flipper mountings and destroy the flipper completely. Supposedly you can shake them off the flipper but I never got that to happen. A simple touch of the ball removes them from play. Should you lose a flipper, you will automatically trade a previously collected safe or helicopter to recover your lost flipper after a short time. Heli-bombs float toward your flipper and blow them off when they detonate. You can touch the bomb with the ball to destroy it. To foil the bomb, you can flip them up briefly with the flippers. If it explodes while not touching your flipper, it does no damage. Acid patches grab your ball and try to dissolve it. You can shake the playfield when held to remove the acid. The manic mechanic chases your ball and slows it down, eventually destroying it if contacted too many times. You can damage the mechanic with a fast ball and eventually drive it away. Barriers block the two upper lanes. You can destroy the barrier by hitting it twice from the front or once from behind. Finally, the magnetic helicopter pulls your ball toward the middle of the playfield. Eventually it will collect the ball and try to carry it away. When held, shake the table quickly to destroy it. All enemies are defeated when you start up multi-ball.

There are two mini-games that take place on separate screens. These appear by collecting either three safes or three helicopters. Collecting three of each will interrupt whatever mode you are currently on except for active multi-ball. Three safes create one large safe in the center. Hit a ball inside when it opens to take that ball to the pachinko mini-game. If multi-ball is in effect, you can send multiple balls to the game. The mini-game starts once all balls either enter the safe or are lost. Similarly, three helicopters send in a big helicopter with a dangling rope ladder. Send a ball up the ladder to board the helicopter for a racing mini-game.

Let’s start with the racing mini-game. It takes place on a miniature pinball table. There are four cars and you are the red car. The idea is to win the race by hitting the red car to speed it up or hitting an opposing car to slow it down. Every ball you bring in is included for the duration of the race. Losing a ball down the drain sends it back up to the playfield for free after a brief delay. There is a 59-second timer. The race ends when either time expires or one car has completed nine laps. There is a lap counter at the bottom and the cars are ordered by their place in the race. There are some objects on the field like rocks or trees. You can destroy them and sometimes they drop a powerup. You can get a timer increase or a bomb that spins out all opposing cars. There are also nitro boosts that appear at random and you get a big speed burst by collecting that. To beat the race, you need to place either first or second. You earn some points based on how well you completed the race. You only play one race at a time. Beating three separate races triggers a nice fireworks sequence.

Racing in a pinball game? Well Rare did make RC Pro-Am.

The other mini-game is pachinko. Instead of flippers, you control a mini-cannon at the bottom of the table. Use Left or Right to aim the cannon and press A to shoot a ball upward. There are pegs and cups on the board and to beat the table you have to collect a ball in each cup. There is a drain at the bottom that collects the balls and puts them back into the cannon. You get either 59, 79, or 99 seconds to complete the board depending on how many balls you brought into the mini-game. There’s a ball meter at the bottom and I don’t fully understand how it works. You can’t run out of balls but when it is low you can’t shoot as many at once. The meter slowly fills back up all the time. Sometimes, a clock will appear that adds time if you collect it. Every two pachinko boards completed starts up a fireworks sequence. You also get points for how well you played the mini-game.

The fireworks sequences from either game unlocks some special bonuses features. You collect these special bonuses by getting the ball into the eject hole. In total, there are eight pachinko boards and six races for a total of six sets of fireworks and six bonuses. The bonuses are, in order, Kickback, Ball Return, Saucer, Drive Again, Lightning Bombs, and Rocket. Kickback lights the two outer flipper lanes to kick up and recover a ball heading down the drain. Ball Return acts like an extra ball by sending the lost ball back into play right away. The Saucer bonus sends a UFO onto the playfield and you can send a ball into it. This takes you to a screen where it claims you “beat the system so far” and gives you a cool one million points. Drive Again is an extra ball. Lightning Bombs are really powerful. You get three of them and you can activate them by pressing A, B, and any D-pad direction. It sprays lightning across the screen that both collects powerups and defeats any enemy on the playfield. Too bad you get them so late in the game. The Rocket is a lot like the saucer. Board the rocket and you get a screen claiming “you’ve beaten the system this time” and earn two million points. After all that, the sequence starts over again.

I have played a little bit of High Speed in the past. It was a Nintendo Age weekly contest game back in 2014. That week I struggled with the game and scored about 3.4M on my best attempt. The winning score that week was over 18M. I like playing pinball, but on actual machines and not so much video game versions. This game sat for several years until I beat it now. High Speed is a relatively common game that sells at around $8 or so for a loose cart.

I have three main sources of information I use to determine when to consider a game beaten: The NES Ending FAQ, NA’s “Can NA Beat Every NES Game” yearly thread, and TheMexicanRunner’s website. In this case, all three sources had different ideas for considering High Speed beaten. The NES Ending FAQ says there is no ending and to max out the score at 99,999,999. The NA thread says to get first place on the game’s high score chart, which is surpassing 51,627,910 points. TMR’s goal was to beat the system twice by completing every mini-game. My take is that TMR got this one right. Beating the system twice ensures you have gotten all possible bonuses and beaten all distinct mini-games, plus you get a screen saying you “beat the system this time” which is pretty clearly an ending to me. Certainly, it’s possible to max out the score without beating all the mini-games, but I think you have to see and clear all the unique content to consider the game beaten.

Without extra balls, I would still be playing this game.

TMR had High Speed as one of his ten toughest NES games, and I would have to agree with that. This is certainly worthy of the coveted 10/10 difficulty rating. I would guess I spent about 20 or so attempts where I scored under 4M points. I had some sudden improvement and then went another 20 attempts hovering between 7M and 16M for most tries. I needed around 10 more attempts to put me over the edge. It seems to me that if a game takes me around 50 tries or more to beat, then it is probably going to be a 10/10. This is now my 3rd 10/10 game along with Ikari Warriors and Q*bert. I would slot High Speed below both the other two in difficulty comparatively.

This is a challenging game for a few reasons. For pinball in general, you have to be good at making shots you want while also keeping the ball from situations where you are likely to lose it. In real life, I will have balls come right down the middle through the flippers. I found that didn’t happen all that often in High Speed, at least with a single ball in play. I was more likely to lose balls down the side, particularly the left side. (Left side kick back is often enabled when the right side is not, meaning balls may favor falling to the left if caught in between.) You have to constantly nudge the table to your advantage, for example, when that kick back is missing. There were two shots I had issues with when hitting the ball with the very edge of either flipper. Hitting the edge of the left flipper sends the ball off the right side, off the left side, and then right down the center. The edge-of-right-flipper shot goes off the left side, off the right side, and directly down the outside drain. I had to recognize those shots right away and start shaking the table to try and recover early. The left flipper shot can be saved with some Select button shaking, but the right flipper shot will sometimes go down the drain no matter what you do. Multi-ball causes complications too, since ricochets go down immediately or I don’t notice balls falling down the side drains. You also need to be careful not to shake the table too quickly or frequently so that you don’t cause a tilt condition and the table stops working. Just like a real machine! It is a necessity at times when the ball gets caught by an enemy. You just have to be aware of when you get in danger that you try and ease up on shaking for a while. These were specific issues I needed to grasp to beat this game.

The pinball part is hard enough to learn, but the pachinko boards are on a whole other level. They seem harmless at first but soon they start to feel impossible. There seems to be some randomness, but even after beating the game I am not so sure. I can fire a string of balls in a row that all fall down the same way. There is a trick to this that is not mentioned in the manual or anywhere written that I saw. You can speed up a ball by holding down the A button. You can visually see smoke behind the ball when it is going really fast. This will allow you to change up some of the ricochet angles and make some cups possible to reach. Even knowing that, often it is hard to tell how to reach certain cups on the board. I know for one shot I first had to tap A to clear a peg, then hold A to send it to a distant cup. Another issue is that some of the lower pegs are put in places where they end up blocking most of your shots. You would think that would help narrow down possibilities, but that wasn’t the case for me. If you fail, you have to collect three safes and try again. You can do this as often as necessary. It just puts more risk on you keeping things up on the pinball side.

These later pachinko tables are a huge test of patience.

My winning run was something magical. Before that, I mustered a 26M run and a 44M run. The 44M game was particularly infuriating in that I was one pachinko game away from getting the rocket. In fact, I was one cup away that I just could not figure out how to reach. I had four tries at that last board and always came up short. The winning run was as close to perfect on the pinball side as I could have possibly hoped. I needed the help of several extra balls for sure. I just happened to counter and save nearly every bad shot. I also found the timing for the left-hand lane. I had started avoiding it because if I missed to the left the ball would find the drain way too often. I couldn’t believe how many times I hit that lane this time. I ended up beating all the mini-game boards and scored 55M all on Ball 1. At least two pachinko games were won after time ran out on my last ball or two. I spent over two hours playing on a Saturday morning, and I had to lose intentionally just to appease my family and get on with our weekend. I finally ran out at over 62M points but I think I could have maxed out the score on that attempt if I wanted to and had more time.

One thing that helps is that when you really get good at the game, you’ll find that extra balls are plentiful. The extra ball you get from the eject hole can only be collected one at a time, but you can get it again after losing a ball. There are some other ways to earn extra balls that stack on top. Collecting Drive Again from the bonus features gives you an extra ball. The Ball Return bonus feature is like a hidden extra ball since it comes into play immediately instead of awarding bonus first. There is also a sun-shaped powerup that bestows an extra ball. The enemies’ appearances are scheduled by a lengthy sequence and the extra ball shows up at the very end of that sequence. Any time you lose a ball, you get the right to earn it back from the eject hole, no matter how many other balls you have saved up. I was able to stack up a bunch of extra balls and keep them going for a long time. It’s too bad that getting that far requires a lot of time, patience, and learning.

I believe that High Speed is a really good NES pinball game. The graphics are nicely drawn. The music is pretty good even though you will hear the same couple of tunes a lot while playing. If you don’t like it you can just turn it off. The voice samples sound a bit muffled, but it’s the type of sound quality you would expect to hear from a police radio, so in that way it fits perfectly. Unfortunately, the samples interrupt game play so often that I know it used up several minutes of a two-hour run. The gameplay is good and varied with the mini-games. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the enemies on the table, seeing as they caused me much hardship that I could have done without. However, it’s something you don’t see often in a pinball video game, and it makes for an interesting feature that you can employ only in a video game. One problem I have with the game is that the balls move very slowly if two or more are at the flippers at the same time. Perhaps the game was not programmed for handling multiple calculations with the angles. What happens is you will hit one ball and then the other ball goes full speed, meaning it goes through the flippers unless you react instantly. Multi-ball is so important that I feel cheated if I lose it due to technical issues. This is a very difficult game to beat and a big one checked off my list. For casual play or even longer sessions like I had, it is a competent pinball game with some unique features. It’s worth checking out.

#113 – High Speed

#113 – High Speed (Final Score)

Posted In: Finished

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