Pinball Wizard, a new pinball game for Apple Arcade starring an actual wizard, has all the elements of a great subway game: It’s easy to learn, challenging as you keep going, and it doesn’t always need all of your attention.
Pinball Wizard is basically pinball, but with spells. Your wizard is the ball, and you tab the bottom corners of the screen to activate the bumpers and send them flying. By hitting enemies, you damage them, and you can also hit barrels that will give you more health, or coins, which you use to upgrade your skills, or energy, which you need to use your skills. There’s a bunch of passive skills, like ones that reduce the amount of damage you take when you fall off a level. There’s also two offensive skills—a dash attack that allows you to change the direction of your wizard mid-flight, and another than summons an extra ball.
The greatest boon to Pinball Wizard is that the levels go quickly, and there’s only so much you can do to control the wizard careening around them. A lot of the game is hovering your thumbs over the bumpers, waiting for the wizard to come around again. This is punctuated by using your skills, but they deplete your energy. You can’t just spam the dash attack until everything’s dead, and the glidey physics of the game make the ball harder to accurately control. Sometimes when I think I’m aiming my wizard dead at an enemy or an item I need, it’ll hit the wall right next to it and then shoot off in a random direction.
The ultimate lack of control makes this perfect for the subway. I can still have an ear out for when I’m hitting my stop because I don’t need to be fully engaged all the time. Still, when I pull off a tricky move or bump into some torches and trigger a secret in the level, the game has my full attention. It’s a pleasant ebb and flow for my admittedly short attention span.
What I especially like about Pinball Wizard is what the game does when I lock my phone. When I do reach my stop on the subway, getting off the train before the doors close on me really should have my full attention. Often I only have enough time to lock my phone and shove it in my pocket before disembarking. When I reopen Pinball Wizard, the game is already paused, with my wizard frozen in place until I need to kill another 20 minutes underground.