In a new series of articles on Pinside.com we take a look at the rarest of pinball machines... The prototypes, the custom-builds, the ones that were only produced in very limited quantities, the ones that have this 'mysterious' wave of smoke around them. Let's start with a machine that might loose this status soon...
Big Bang Bar
A few days ago, Pinballnews reported
the interesting news that Gene Cunningham
of Illinois Pin Ball Co. has again spoken of plans to re-produce the legendary Capcom machine "Big Bang Bar". This is actually not totally news for some of us as mr. Cunningham revealed these plans a couple of times earlier in this millenium. But according to the Pinballnews article, the plans are in a 'much more serious' stadium and even orders are now being taken in!
So should we all pull out the chequebooks and put ourselves down for this extravagant pinball machine? Let's take a look at what Big Bang Bar is all about...
The End of Capcom Pinball
It starts in early 1997. Two machines, "Big Bang Bar" and "Kingpin", were the last machines ever to see the light of day in the Capcom Pinball Factory. In prototype stage
that is. Originally planned to have been produced in Capcoms usual production run of around 1000 machines, only 14 Big Bang Bars and 9 Kingpin prototypes were actually made. And then the Capcom pinball division went out of business.
Now, most people who have played one of the Big Bang Bar prototypes seem to agree that this machine could have turned the tide for Capcom Pinball. Supposedly the machine has all that a pinball fan could wish for: an excellent theme, beautiful and extravagant graphics, a great set of sounds and fantastic gameplay. The legendary status alone should make this machine the perfect candidate for a production re-run. Or shouldn't it?
An alien late-night cocktailbar
When you approach the machine, its wonderfull cabinet art immediately draws attention.
The theme of the machine is "Big Bang Bar", an alien late-night cocktailbar. We see interesting (wo)men and creatures: a cowboy in a spacesuit, a diva with a curious looking one-eyed pet, a guy with a strange outfit carying his drink on his head, a punk alien who has had one too many and a giant monster that resembles Arnold Schwarzenegger just a bit.
The cabinet artwork quality is comparable to that of the other capcom machines
. It is silkscreened on the wood and has an excellent detail. Unfortunately, Cunninghams remake of the machine won't have the silkscreened artwork. Instead, decals will be used.
Spacey playfield atmosphere
When we look at the playfield, it has that same spacey atmosphere.
There's more funny looking creatures on the playfield artwork, and here we see the same style and colors as we saw on the cabinet sides. Joined by brilliant glow-in-the-dark tints of purple and yellow, all of the playfield artwork has very heavy and extraordinary tints. And these colours have been used with a purpose: at times, a blacklight tube at the back of the playfield is turned on and the whole machine seems to glow.
There are some eye catchers that immediatly grab the attention. A female dancer in a tube and two aliens with their backs turned towards us. On the right is a quadruple-captive-ball assembly called "Ray's Ball Busters". All of the wire-ramps are in beautiful purple and green, and on the left is a transparent tubey ramp with very cool neon colored plastic. There's also a 'regular' transparent ramp, but this one has some very unusual blueish "running light" effect behind it, that adds to the sci-fi theme.
On page three we'll take a look at the special features!
Let's start with the tube dancer girl. This is one of the coolest gimmicks in the game. Most prototypes seem to have her colored in green, without much detail, but with very cool springy hair (a la the troll in Rollercoaster Tycoon). When idle, it looks like she's a dull solid piece of plastic on a stick. But wait 'till she comes to live! The plastic is not as solid as it looked, and some kind of mechanism inside of her body makes her jigle from left to right. Wow! This is what Elvis should have looked like in Sterns latest effort, what an elastic body! Click here
for a video of the tube dancer.
Looped in space!
This very original assembly in the upper right hand side of the playfield features two aliens who initially have their backs towards us. They remind me a bit of sesame street, but a bit cooler. They are the "Loopy Martians", the ball locks for the Looped in Space multiball. Balls fed by the main (left) ramp can be diverted into their mouths. After locking two balls, looped in space multiball will start and the two aliens will turn around and 'barf' the balls onto a mini wire-ramp, which in place will feed the balls onto the big wire-ramps and onto the playfield. Click here
to see the two aliens in action.
Rays ball busters
Just above the upper right flipper is this odd-looking device which looks more daunting than it actually is.
Hitting the left stack of balls will sent the ball on the top of the stack to the right stack and vice-versa. The purpose is to get all four balls to one side to collect one of the "drink awards". Captive ball hits also spell a letter in the word b-r-a-w-l. When this is done, you can lock one of the three balls needed for multibrawl multiball. Yet again, a very original plan that reminds a bit of captive ball assemblies in Indiana Jones or Pinball Magic.
In the middle of the playfield are the nine modes, they have fun name like "Mosh A Go-Go", "Cosmic Dartz", "Babescanner", "Lunapalooza", "Tour the Bar" and "Chase the Waitress". Completing all these modes (and the four features mentioned earlier) will start the end-game: "Big Bang". This is a timed 4-ball multiball where you need to score as much points possible in a set time, while constantly plunging balls manually into play.
Music, Sound and the Family mode
The main theme played in the bar is a freaky Techno tune. It sounds pretty bassy as do all capcom machines but for this machine, this perfectly suits the theme of a bar. The quotes are said to be very fun although some of them are, what most people would describe as "sexually loaded". At points in the game, the tube dancer will moan some pretty heavy "oooohs" and "aaaahs"! But the machine has a family mode for all those concerned with this, so these quotes can be turned off.
Rumors has it that there were also plans for a "properness plastic" for the tube dancer. This would effectively give her a top (an idea similar to the "cleavage plastic", found on Scared Stiff), and make the machine more suitable for public places.
Can you review a machine which you never even played? Yes and no. Most of us wouldn't buy a machine they never played, but based on the looks and sounds of this machine, and on the stories of pinheads who did get a change to play it, the machine must be a winner!
However, as good as my own experience with other Capcoms is (I have owned Pinball Magic and Airborne in the past and they were built to survive eartquakes) it is unsure to me if the quality of the remake will be quite as good. Sceptics say that Cunningham will never pull it off to build good quality machines with a team of only 3 persons (in stark contrast to a company like Stern Pinball, that employs a workforce of around 60). But at least all designing, composing and programming is already done by another team, some years ago!
Personally, I don't share this view completely. After all, many collectors can strip a machine bare in and out and then put it back together flawlessly. But it will
take a skilled and enthusiast mechanic to do this trick, and to do it over a 100 times!
But we will see! If Gene Cunningham gets his way, there will soon no longer be 13 Big Bang Bars in the world, but 124. And at only $4500, they come as a bargain compared to the $20k payed for this machine
This story is based solely on photographic and video footage
, conversations on RGP
and other info
on the web. I have (unfortunately) never had the change to actually play this machine. The videos and most of the photos have been made by Steve Ellenhoff, taken of Lloyd Olson's machine at SS Billiards