Lawlor_and_Order's ratings

Pinsider Lawlor_and_Order has rated 112 machines.

This page shows all all these ratings, and forms Lawlor_and_Order's personal top 112.

Rating comments

Lawlor_and_Order has written 111 rating comments:

4 months ago
TS4 was a good movie, and TS4 the pinball is a good machine. Neither is as great as Toy Story 3 was a movie, or Toy Story (1) was innovative and groundbreaking, but like the fact they couldn't afford to license the first three movies and thus skipped over all the possible modes and story building from those flicks is not a reason to dislike the machine. It's an excellent player, with a nice variety of shots, great lighting, very good scene integration, and a deep, progressive rules set like those we've come to expect from JJP. I'd love to own one if time, space, and money were no object, and have been lucky enough that there's one on location nearby I can play. (I have become intimate with some of the points of mechanical failure, however, which would make me think just a wee bit before adding it to a home collection).

The TIMA (thematically integrated mechanical artifacts, aka toys) are nice -- the Duke Kaboom ramp and the Gabby pop up are actually sort of old-school callbacks to previous generations of machines (thinking of the Kordek designs with the pop up bumpers and Ted Zale's moving ramps). And I like the chaos of having both shots a little unpredictable - this seems like classic Pat Lawlor to me, along the lines of the magnet on Addams Family and the hidden shots in Twilight Zone and many other similar quirks built in to Lawlor designs as "randomizers". Like most JJPs there's a ton of multiballs and so many stops and modes you may never get through all of them. It has the classic third flipper side shot (again, very reminiscent of the angle on TAF and Ripley's and to an extent Dialed In) and the addition of a video mode (which I normally loathe) of the pinball-game-within-the-movie-within-the-pinball game in the mini screen, which is not only really clever, it's a callback to The Power in Twilight Zone. The scoring is mostly balanced, and as with many Lawlors, getting through the modes and steps is more important in the long run than any one multiball. (Dialed In may be the apotheosis of this particular aspect of Lawlorlism, but Toy Story 4 is a close second.)

My major nit with this machine is there's very little hazard to the pop bumpers; they don't introduce danger of draining, and when the ball gets up there, it rattles around. You can play a very dull, long, and lucrative game by hitting the ball up there, by the side spinner to the saucer, and to the Buzz saucer, with very little chance of draining. (I have successfully used this dull strategy in tournament play.) Conversely the skill shot is quite hard, and I don't think lucrative enough to really risk the short plunge and long drop to the right flipper that undershooting brings about - a similar criticism to the one I have of the skill shot on Dialed In, where the payoff of a risky undershot just isn't worth the safety value of plunging hard and having the ball delivered via the ramp to the left flipper.

But these are relatively minor issues in the overall mojo of the machine. Home arcade owners will be trying to complete the modes and stories anyway, not endlessly plunging up into the bumpers for cheap points. And I kind of get why they may have intended this to be less hazardous -- so the newbies can see a lot of lights and action and not instantly drain as a result.

GOAT? No. But it's got durability, is fun, and is inviting to newbies with lots of things going on.
4 months ago
Hoo boy. Disappointed is the word that comes to mind first. The rules set on this machine was not well-developed -- as witnessed by the attribution of the design to a pseudonym, it was a strange committee -- and one of the original "pinball people" prominently on the Spooky payroll completely disassociated himself with the game. The PF layout had some serious promise to it, with the three-level ascending mini playfields and the hidden shots on the right side, but it really could have used a bumper (maybe under that hidden zone) and the shot rebounds were not well tested at all. There's a lot of dead bounces and back and forth right up the middle, and as such the game sort of plays like all the shots are in a trough.

I can make no comment on theme integration for "Halloween" but I was an Ultraman fan and I really like the whole Kaiju-battle/Science Patrol theme, plus the vintage shots. So I won't be a hater on that count. But I did find the sequence for the animations and "story line" a bit odd -- there's no real rhythm to it and there's a lot of repetition of the same screens. There's other bits here that show a lack of polish from the design team; things like awkward fonts and text layout.

None of the machines I've played have had more recent code releases on them, but Spooky's willingness to release machines with only half the software developed is another nit that is becoming a whole nest of lice in my pinball hair. It's a bad trend and they don't have a big enough staff or harness to get away with it. With the Scott Danesi machines, they benefited from, well, Scott Danesi. Ultraman just felt like "oh hell, that's good enough, we're only making 500 of them."

I had one friend who got an early shipping collector's edition, a really big Ultraman fan, and he was so down on the machine I canceled my own order (and after I'd played at public shows and just been left cold after being really excited after Rick and Morty) -- and could not find a buyer, even at a discount, for my deposit, nor would Spooky make good. Spooky is thus pretty much dead to me forever more. That was a bad move, Spooky, on your part, for building long term customer mojo. I might have looked past this release as an aberration but now I'm remembering all the issues with other releases that have overshadowed successes like Total Nuclear Annihilation and Rick and Morty.
4 months ago
So, having played an original Cactus Canyon a fair number of times (just luck of the draw) upon its original "release" I can say the remake is an unqualified success. They completed the code, fixed the odd mechanical issues, and took what was sort of half a game and made it into a complete game, and since this is the last run of the classic golden era Williams/Bally DMDs, that in and of itself is a great achievement.

But...the higher ratings on this machine just show recency bias. As far as game rules, layout, and the whacky good fun of animations that was the great run of 90's DMDs, Cactus Canyon is just middle of the road. It's got a slightly deeper rules set (although I'm not clear as to whether they extended the intended original rules set a bit or not, but some of the end stage Williams machines were developing next-level rules in the wizard modes, so it would be logical if this was just a progression) but in terms of shots and cleverness, meh. You hit the mineshaft, you hit the draw, and there's the pop ups for the gunfights. They're not boring but they're not essential, either, especially with a two flipper layout and a sort of boring, repetitious center ramp shot.

I am also a little at a loss as to the story this machine purports to to tell. The really top notch Williams Bally machines of the era had an implicit story -- Mars Attacks the battle to fend off, then conquer, the Martians, city by city; Medieval Madness, laying siege to a series of whacky castles and their lords to battle the evil warlord; even something relatively incomplete like Junkyard had a story which was explained in the on-screen credits. Heck, Whodunit practically had a whole noir script driving the gameplay. I just don't see it with Cactus Canyon. That's not a deep knock on the game, it's just why I can't rate it up with the very best of the era, just because it was the great, and for a long time, "lost" finale. (Not counting Pinball 2000, which is its own footnote.)
2 years ago
Rarely have I wanted to like a machine quite so much based on its theme, been satisfied with the theme integration, but left so completely flat by a machine as with Stranger Things.

Everything is in place to make this a classic: available video clips, opportunities for creepy lighting and "scare" moments in play, ample weirdo toys or 80s nostalgia, funny sayings from the kids. And the rules are decent and deep, covering relatively logical progressions based on the initial set of episodes and the resolution of same in the first couple of seasons.

But...the It's a really vanilla fan layout without much flow above simple returning shots off the habitrails. The ramp up the middle is nice enough's a bash toy up the middle with a target. The thing from the Upside Down toy, which appears so frequently as to actually get a bit boring halfway into a game, looks more like Seymour the carnivorous plant from Little Shop of Horrors than some beastly inter-dimensional menace.

I'm just flabbergasted there isn't more to do in this game. Yes, you can repeat the same shots over and over and over again in a variety of modes and multiballs. Yawn.

I've only played the Pro so am curious as to whether Premium and the project adds a wow factor, but I have my doubts, since it's the tedium of the shots that is the real villain here.
2 years ago
Oh my gosh, American titles play so well -- up until you hit the one thing that drives you crazy. So far on every American title this basically seems to come down to a need to tune the machine well so the machine's particular quirk is managed.

I have only gotten to play Hot Wheels twice for extended sessions, so haven't really gotten into the rules set very deeply, so take all this with that giant caveat. The reason I found this incredibly appealing is the playfield design.

Now let's be frank here and posit that the racing theme has been done to death over the years. There have been some good concepts and tricks thrown in, but cars going fast isn't exactly new ground. And I was a little lost on the modern Hot Wheels theme -- oldschool turbo charging and so forth I understand, but the plot of the animated show is lost on me. so I felt quite lost in figuring out what things were supposed to connect with what. This is always the blessing/curse of a licensed theme -- in order to feel how well the rules set matches the theme, you have to not only know the license pretty well, you have to like it. So I missed a lot of this part of the features of the game.

Even so, playing Hot Wheels for me recalled the absolute best of the classic Popadiuk off-set ovals design, a concept that really needs reviving in the Stern era of fan-designs (with a few prominent exceptions). The overlapping ovals, with the underrated slight rise ramps, also had the feel of the few good Gottlieb "Street Level" designs, notably Hoops. The shots aren't gimmes -- having some hard shots is one of the things I like about American titles -- but the instant flow this game has is unique among the American titles thus far with the possible exception of a couple of sequences of shots in Houdini. I really like the curved target banks that are becoming an American signature (the only other semi-recent example I can think of is WoZ) and there are lots of touches here that hearken back to some late 70s/early 80s designs, like the open post double right inlane with the cute little ball return down the side. It also has a bit of the feel of Heighway's Full Throttle (which I liked and, yes, had a racing theme with some interesting ovals, so I mean that in a good way.)

As others have noted, the use of toys in the design iss a little disappointing; the car spinning is a somewhat lesser version of Mario Andretti's spinning car and as an old school Hot Wheel guy I really wanted to see a turbo charger (I know Getaway used this, but they stole the idea from Hot Wheels!) The design is not toy-driven, though, so take that for what it's worth to you.

I also think the light show is particularly good here. Hot Wheels is all about bright primary and secondary colors, and while I don't have them memorized, the sequence of colors to a naive player appeared very obvious. Sound is excellent, but I grew up on terrible sound and I think pretty much all modern machines have excellent sound. I do believe American might consider investing in some more interesting music. Sound design is one thing, but having some really good original music really makes a game. (I have no idea whether this is license music from the cartoon, because i've never seen it and have no plans to.)

I'm still pondering whether American's tiny video screen is a good thing or not. I sort of like the offset location on Hot Wheels, though; for some reason I found it easier to read while playing, which I had to do to pick up the callouts.

So I foreshadowed my big disappointment with Hot Wheels, that was present in the first one I played and was glaringly more present with the one I played this past weekend (and I played it a lot, relatively) -- the tendency of balls his cleanly into an oval shot to then drain straight down the middle. I can't possibly believe this was intentional in design or play testing, so my conclusion is the leveling or pitch was slightly off on this game, or something, because *every* game I played on this, I'd have at least one ball where I was really into a nice flow of shots, getting the sequence I needed to move into a mode or multiball -- only to have a perfectly clean shot just woosh down the middle off the return. It wasn't consistent, in that making particular shots didn't *always* drain SDTM, but it wasn't because the shot or flow was flawed, and the aggravating thing is that there was no obvious way to adjust one's play.

So I'd like to try this on a home machine at some point and really give it a workout with somebody who has made the tuning adjustments and who might be willing to let me experiment a little.

Honestly, if the theme were a little more appealing to me, I'd even consider trying to pick one up, if I could resolve that particular SDTM issue, just because as ever American's just got some fantastic playfield design ideas working here that are better than most of what Stern produces. Spooky sort of does this, too, but the implementation is very erratic (and I also can't really get into their themes, although Ultraman may turn my head -- I digress).

The bottom line though was despite my frustration I did not get bored with this, and I'm left wanting to play more.
2 years ago
I got a chance to play this at the Strong Museum in Rochester, and was happy to find it was in excellent playing/working condition.

I have read about this machine and always thought it sounded like a dumb gimmick. The visuals from still pictures didn't make it look much more appealing.

How wrong I turned out to be -- this game is a BLAST! We were surrounded by classic Williams, a few brand new games and a whole aisle of recent Sterns, and the three of us basically spent most of our time playing Challenger in a perpetual round robin.

The table tilting is very cool, and then you have to do a few mental backflips to get used to the idea half the time you're playing pure defense just trying to get the ball to "drain" on your opponents' side, using 4 flippers -- 2 " on your "defensive" side and 3" pair in the typical place. The top flippers though, can be used usefully in both directions -- doing a very old school inverted flipper-style back bump to thwart your opponent trying to flip the ball up for points at targets and bumpers.

The whole thing makes for a unique test of pinball skill and creates an excellent two-player game. The concept didn't take off not because this wasn't fun, but likely for practical reasons -- I'm sure the need to have a second player to play at all plus the extra floor space it takes up cut into revenues, so it wasn't good for operators' bottom lines. But bajeezus, if I had any confidence I could tune this and maintain it, and had a spot, it would be an excellent addition to a collection for a player who wants a variety of skill challenges over the eras. Definitely sui generis.
2 years ago
Ah, I finally got a chance to play a working Hercules at the Strong Museum in Rochester, crossing another one off my list. played just like everybody else said it plays. It's sort of amusing for a couple of balls and then the novelty has completely worn off by Ball 3 and it's like you're playing a computer game that suddenly slows down because the refresh rate required on your screen isn't matched by your processor.

I will say though that in terms of thematic reach, having the mighty Hercules as the theme for a REALLY BIG machine was a decent idea, and honestly the playfield layout isn't that bad considering. What they probably need to do to make this sucker work better was to juice up the flippers and the bumpers, and instead of using the cueball provide a special steel pinball that is the same size but with a slightly hollowed out core to provide just the right weight.

My 14 year old played a remarkably good game on this just feeling out the flipper action -- he's better at playing the flippers as they are without muscle memory intruding, and essentially working the machine up the slot from bottom right flipper to the bumpers, and around the right "orbit" from the left flipper worked quite well for him.

I do have a use for this: this should be the tiebreaker machine at a big tournament sometime. I mean, it's an unusual test of skill, it's different from any other machine, and the very fact it's a bit of a stinker for gameplay would be its own test. Meh, yeah, OK, maybe not.
2 years ago
I have finally gotten a chance to play this game in extended sessions, and I'm going to call it a great miss.

There's a lot to like here. The fun wire forms, the incredible array of shots, the solid feel to the whole thing, the unusual original theme, the variety of things to go for.

But there's a couple of fatal flaws here that keep it from being an actual want-to-own machine and a few that make me want to limit my playing time, despite the fact I kind of like the whole thing as a package.

The first is the insane side ramp, discussed much elsewhere. I have never, not once, managed to get the ball up this thing. I don't mind hard shots; absolutely physically impossible shots, they look like cigarette burns in the Mona Lisa. I mean, great picture, but there's a burning hole in the middle of it, and it gets distracting and finally takes over your whole experience of the thing.

Related but equally tragic: the Rollergames like magnet/stop at the spinner just above the side flipper, perhaps put in to help make the impossible shot possible? I don't know, since it doesn't help. But what it does do is kill flow all too often.

Then the mode choice - it's great that you can pick any mode, including doing more than one at once, but OTOH not having this auto-picked is also a flow killer. You have to page through the list of modes and select one, and there's no enforced diversity here, and this is also at the cost of tempo and flow.

I still have a sneaking admiration for American here in trying to break the typical design mold, and the clever mechanicals and things like the unusually nice curved standup banks on the lower playfield (which add elegant arcs to balls I haven't see anywhere outside of early 80s widebodies, which were too slow) create a really nice array of shots and pleasing ball play.

Until you get to the point of the stop and go magnet and the impossible hill and taking five minutes to pick a mode, and it just gets a little depressing.

A- for concept; B for effort; C for playtesting feedback loop.
2 years ago
The Shadow retains its playability (if it's a clean, well-maintained table) remarkably well, considering the bad movie remade from the radio show even your grandparents thought was hackneyed that inspired it. (I would go so far as to say the plot and pacing of the pinball machine are much better than that of the movie.) It definitely has flow, and has a variety of short and long shots. Throw in The Battlefield, a mini-playfield not quite as cool as The Power on Twilight Zone but still unusual in that you use a sort of paddle like you would with the BrickOut or Pong video games. It's an extra pinball skill and unlike the dumb video modes of the 90's era it's a real, visceral thrill to play. It's not quite at the utter classic level of the best of the 90s Williams/Bally titles but it's in that very strong second tier.
2 years ago
Possibly the worst pinball machine ever made in quantity. The game play is basically pachinko, except you hit it back up top on the left orbit side only all day. It's possible there's more skill involved in pachinko. The artwork looks like it was cut and pasted from stock art; the backglass proclaiming "El Toro" in quotation marks makes me think I should put quotes around the words "pinball" "machine". I actually had to play this in competition once and I was tempted to walk away from my game, it was so boring.

This is an example of one of the few machines I would not take if it were given to me. It's not even useful for a reskin.
3 years ago
I hesitated for a long time to write a review of Thunderbirds, because really really really really wanted to like this machine. The maker is a solid guy, the concept of a simplified DMD-era machine with a kid-friendly theme is great, and while I didn't grow up on the classic show it's a pretty funny cross-over theme that appeals to both kids for what it is and adults looking for MST3K-style irony (I say that with affection).

And the machines (four different ones) I've played have been rock solid -- as far as I can tell from limited play the intended build-for-reliability and quality goals were met.

I will also add the toys -- the screw drill in particular -- while not breaking any ground are neat for what they are.

But the playfield design is simply awful. The center ramp is too low, dominates the middle of the playfield, and combined with a very underpowered software and rules set (I've never been more bored by both a multiball and modes), the play doesn't even hold kids' attention, much less a pinhead who is willing to play almost anything.

I'm hoping the next title -- Chinese Zombies or what have you -- eventually gets past the rules design deficits. Homepin really needs a better software and rules design - there are some things you can't do all by yourself - and much better playtesting, whether or not it's intended for a different market than most of the other pins, it *has* to be more fun. I'm pulling for the company and Mike.
3 years ago
What the hell is going on here? They're shooting a movie, but it's Sinbad or some Sword and Sandals middle eastern themed story? Arabian Nights? And what does that have to do with "Triple Action", the tripartite scoring tiers one must climb for a top score in this game? I have no idea.

Yet this game is so much more fun than the disjointed theme (and typically crazy Christian Marché pointy-person-style artwork) might suggest. (No I don't really like the art at all.) It's a nerve-wracking tournament game, where you have to try to max out the bonus multipliers before wailing away on the nifty spinner-with-posts in the middle of the field (which presents a unique challenge to hit at the right angle to spin a lot but not send the ball on an unhappy trajectory). The only real drawback here is when you max out on a ball --- a common problem with Kordek designs, especially in the 70's -- and there's not a lot to shoot at.

So I *really* enjoy playing this, it is far more addictive and better than the sum of its parts, despite the obvious limitations of aesthetic appeal. I don't think it's a first machine and certainly not an only machine, but for the spinner and accumulating game play, it's a great one to have in a broader lineup.
4 years ago
A true piece of pinball history on several fronts:

- The original version, 'Spirit of '76' was the last of the great run of Wayne Neyens designs, and his most successful machines ever, with over 10,000 made and several thousand of the two-player version 'Pioneer', this machine was just about everywhere in 1975-76 because of the bicentennial theme.

- this version 'New York' was issued in celebration of the famous/infamous Roger Sharpe in-chambers demonstration that pinball was indeed a skill, and pinball finally being made legal in the state was celebrated by slapping the words 'New York' on the machine and modifying it for two-player add-a-ball, making it highly incongruous (what does New York have to do with astronauts, rockets, and pioneers? Not a lot).

The change however makes it a much better home machine, as add-a-ball is a nicer feature for free play than a replay knocker, and you get all the incredible backglass artwork of 'Spirit' with the low-machine run of 'New York'.

For longer gameplay notes, see the reviews for 'Spirit' and 'Pioneer'. It's a shooter's game, subtle in its way, focusing on drop target collection of 1776 / 1976 banks and collection at the saucer, and plays a little slow by modern standards (no slingshots! it's almost a bump and return game hearkening back to Neyens' earliest games), but it requires real tenacity to build a great score, and the add-a-ball feature provides rewards as a result that make it a neat addition to the home stable.
4 years ago
Oh, Space Jam. It's a fantastic kids' game, and not a bad basketball theme, with Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan it's hard to go wrong. As with most Segas of the era, it's both a pretty simple rules set (with an easy 'wizard' mode) and a bit of a flying ball / maintenance headache, particularly in that it's hard to find some parts (my basketball is just hopelessly shattered).

But they also did a really good job with the Looney Tunes characters, with the "actual" animated character voices, and it reflects the goofy movie theme really nicely. You have a sequence of modes that correspond roughly to the story arc of the movie. And I really dig the signature toy -- the "jump" ball kicker that can go two different ways.

This isn't a good single machine for a collection, but it may be one of the cheapest really good simple DMDs you can find, and if it's in better than player's shape so much the better.
4 years ago
The famously difficult multiball, requiring tiered locking and two fairly difficult sequences to even get to the three ball start, as well as the incredible ease of draining if the gates aren't opened after going down to the lower playfield, turns off a lot of casual players, but working a monster score on this machine is one of the most satisfying achievements in pinball. It requires shooting long shots high, holding off on the lower playfield, and then working it for the bonus with all the multipliers going during multiball. It ate a ton of quarters in twos -- the first fifty-cent machine in wide deployment -- but its appeal was in many ways as one of the first mavens' games.

As for that lower level playfield -- while there's been a few dozen later below-level playfields, none have really been done better since. Full two inch flippers with really good action and the unique perspective of playing them "backwards" with the playfield sloping away.

What doesn't work as well is the usual widebody-problem; shots can be slow to return, and not all of the long shot angles work really well since the lower main playfield area had to be set completely open to reveal the below level playfield.

So not to bury the lede, Black Hole's backglass may be the best animated mechanical backbox ever. The infinite spiral effect works really well in lower light environments, and with modern LEDs, the eerie blue space light from the general illumination makes this one of the most outstanding lowlight pins.

It may be a difficulty machine to move, maintain, and master, but as a wizard's machine, I've found few of the era more appealing.
4 years ago
The last of the DMDs, in its way, Ghostbusters also was the 'last' of the unfinished machines, waiting nearly four years for "complete" code, and in true Stern fashion, was built on a then-35-year-old theme. If it was the last of the breed, it isn't quite the greatest, but the machine's eccentricities and bombouts early on have proven to be glitches more than fundamental flaws.

Let's start out with what works on this. There's a ton of cross shots on this machine, including a stop and start ramp with a diverter, pop up toys, a swing down toy (Slimer the ghost) and a variety of movie-callout toys from the public library to a ghost storage container. I *like* the flipper gap, it's unusual to have much variation on this these days. It seems odd not to have an upper flipper on this layout, given the number of shots available especially on the left side. The Are You a God wizard mode, now accessible by operator setting directly with the new code at startup if so configured, it an extremely satisfying tiered wizard mode. There's a good variety of multiballs and things to build throughout the game.

The animations are modern direct capture video with some admirable original work by the Stern team, although they're still somewhat lackluster in the end on the DMD. The resolution doesn't quite do them justice and there's a, shall we say, lack of flow in the way they're put together. The lack of Sigourney Weaver is a real downside. But they did manage to capture the manic comic flow. It still feels like something from the original film is missing.

Parts of the design are classic Stern flubs, though; the lack of visibility in the bumper areas, clunky return shots from the library and captive balls, erratic outlanes and slingshots.

I've occasionally praised some machines as being better than the sum of their parts, and Ghostbusters is the opposite: I really like individual parts of this machine in isolation, but somehow they never seem to come together.

Parenthetically, I think Stern missed an opportunity here: since this machine came out along the time of the all-woman reboot, they could have included alternate startup code to allow the modern characters to show up in the animations (and maybe an alternate translite) with an operator setting or a user sequence at the start. That would have made it more unique instead of just a throwback.
4 years ago
It's an astonishingly good playfield layout that manages to become tedious awfully fast. I've found no true jeopardy in this machine, despite the quite impressive variety of shots, and it has to hold a record of some sort (for me at least) of being a very long player right out of the box.

It's not exactly the rules set per se, which I understand and appreciate, so much as it doesn't strike much in the way of innovation. I haven't found tensions between timed modes and difficult shots or combos and targeted single shots and all the kinds of rules permutations that make different choices so interesting in machines with deep rules sets.

All this wouldn't make a big difference for enjoyability if the theme integration was killer. This is where JP strangely suffers from comparison to previous JPs, notably the Data East incarnation. Sure, it's a color LCD screen with computer graphics. But it's like parallel universe Jurassic Park where there are no characters from any of the movies, no familiar scenes or classic chases. Then you cycle through three identical modes when the inlane post comes up and the flow is killed temporarily while you wait 20 seconds for the screen choices to be made. It's go no verve. And the toys, modern enough, just can't quite capture the cheesy glory of the original DE JP's T Rex chomping on a ball as a voice screamed in pain and terror as T Rex eats. I'm not sure whether this was intended as an "original" departure or they were just too cheap to license the actors' likenesses or movie footage or what, but it comes off strangely as a sort of unauthorized knockoff.

I'll keep giving it a try, because I'm sure there are more challenges to it, and a killer playfield layout like this can always be fixed in software and perhaps with a couple of playfield adjustments to make it more challenging, but at some point the ennui may get the best of me.
4 years ago
Taxi is bizarre in that it really by every count should not be as $U@)P@Ping fun to play as it actually is.

First off there's the hideous taxi driver dominating the backglass and the strangely unrelated 'celebrity' passengers of Lola/Marilyn, Gorby, Santa, Dracula, and Pinbot. (It makes the contemporary "Diner" customers with their stereotypes positively cohesive.)

Then there's a fairly simple sort of horseshoe set of shots where you can really end up just endlessly shooting around in circles, literally.

Then there's the rather asymmetrical point totals of the three big sources of points, with the jackpot being arbitrary based on previous plays (although that's one of my favorite tournament aspects, they often just turn that off for tournaments), the easily achievable multiball with sadly low payoffs, and the shallow JOYRIDE awards that belie the ability of late 80's machines to accommodate more complexity.

This ought to be a boring machine to play.


I think the answer lies in the rhythm. All the little things you have to do to chip away at the high score, while building up that bonus based on the time you're playing (actually the number of switches, since the bonus stops accumulating if you hold the ball), and the frustration of having to go back and hit LOLA again if you miss the Jackpot, and then the frustration of having a high Jackpot stolen by another player in a multiplayer game, adds a strange tension. Eventually this machine performs a Stockholm syndrome on you and you find yourself welcoming Santa, Drac, and Gorby by name, saying it's time to go visit Pinbot to get that hole lit again, or being as happy as a real cabbie you've got an airport fare and looping back downtown for another pickup to the airport. It's the occasional Crossover award in multiball when you're hitting balls in sequence and when you land that last ball over in Drac. Simple rules, simple rewards, but extremely amenable to groove that's not quite 100% flow but is close enough.

Taxi is by no means the best of the 80's Williams classics but it really does have oddly pleasing staying power.
4 years ago
A little bit of everything is on this busy playfield: ramps, habitrails, horseshoes, upper playfields, drop targets, standups, sequences, on field playfield lock, and reversed-orientation upper playfield flippers, this game has a whacky kitchen sink feel to it that embodies both the heyday of early 80's solid state designs while taking advantage of the state of the art of very late solid state display era design. Some have poo-pooed this as having little to go for except multiball, which I think is missing the point. Since multiball has layered playfield multipliers, multiball is the start, just the entry point for building up insane scores.

While the sounds and soundtrack for this are impressive -- really only Rollergames, at the very end of the pre-DMD era, exceeds it -- that's not really something I enjoy about the machine. I'm really left cold by the Swords and Sorcerers era of art and theme, but given how little interest the artwork and theme have for me and the sort of lack of any actual integration of yet another random version of a pretty tired theme arc, the fact I still adore this machine says something about how well done the rest of the design is. I don't mind having to ignore all that to focus on the gameplay.
4 years ago
The greatest of the early solid state games for reasons it's a little hard to put my finger on, but the reality is I have played this for 40+ years now and still enjoy it as much, if not more, as I did when it first came out. It doesn't make any sense in some ways because there's nothing 100% original here and the combinations may not seem that unique, either, but somehow the total is greater than the sum of the parts. I'll try to tease out the main reasons.

* Theme.

On the one hand, there's virtually no actual theme integration here, since there's no basketball-ish shots, and no "tricky ball handling" which is, you know, the Trotters trademark. There's no jokes in the artwork. But hell, it's the Globetrotters! They were a huge bridge in cultural history and they reached a cultural peak in the 70's just before this machine came out. One bar of the primitive sound chip playing "Sweet George Brown" and your whole brain just activates the FUN receptors. The Trotters were sort of a cheesy Dad joke ("I got your nose!" level, too) on top of a long cultural heritage of the outsider in America, and the fact they were proud, unashamed of repeating the same schtick over and over, and that they MADE IT TO A PINBALL MACHINE still makes me happy.

* There are no safe shots.

Really, there aren't. You can go repeatedly for a few low-scoring things at relatively low risk, but there's no way to "lay up" on this game. With the scissor flippers, for the most part you can't trap and aim, so much as you have to cajole the flippers into setting the ball up for you for the shots. And yeah, there are house balls waiting for you, so you will get paranoid about almost every ball from the get go. The same reason half the players out there stalk away from this machine saying "I HATE GLOBETROTTERS" is the reason it's great -- and when you put up a monster score it's among the most satisfying accomplishments in pinball. Because you really earned it, and you had to have gotten just a bit lucky, too.

* It's got both short and long strategies.

This is why it has become a terrific tournament game -- you can play the game's risks against what your opponents are up to. Sure, you can left orbit up top all day and take your chances with the saucer and return, but at some point if somebody's running up a total on you you're going to have to get the standups, the multipliers, and the spinners. The nudges are vital but the bonus is often so critical to doing well you have to weigh every decision to make a tap carefully. A really well-tuned Trotters puts those short vs. long risk-reward decisions on their edge almost every ball.
4 years ago
I'm not going to join the hate about the playfield layout here, because in the three versions (Can Crusher, Primus) I've played of this machine, it's actually been a pretty decent challenge and fun to play repeatedly. Obviously it doesn't have the depth of modern machines but as a retro incarnation of the classic EM, they did a really decent job.

But the theme here? Unbelievable. What a dumb idea to take the worst brotastic part of pinball culture and general sexism and elevate it here. Oh, right, it's a "joke". Hardy har har. I'll boycott this version forever.
4 years ago
Rock and roll and monsters. They go together like Elvis and pomade, UFOs and mad scientists, and fries and ketchup at 2 AM at the diner. There are a ton of rock and roll themes, almost as many monster theme machines, and even a couple of others than combine the two, but none quite captured the goofiness and fun of making a complete rock and roll band out of the classic monsters.

The reason this machine is still so grand is it's the epitome of the classic Bally/Williams era, as deep a rule set as the original DMD generation got without being overhwelmingly complex, with a simple to understand wizard mode that is just as much fun to get the 100th time as it is the first. The shots aren't horribly innovative, but they're a reasonable combination of ramp-happiness of the era, a little bit of fan, and some odd short shots necessary to get the whole band together.

I've only played the remake once so can't comment with a depth of experience as to how it compares to original era machines, but the one I played felt much closer to the original Monster Bashes than the MM or AFM remakes have (both of which feel a bit off to me). That said as the grand triumvirate of late golden era games, it's quite a set, and Monster Bash plays quite a it differently than AFM does from MM or vice versa.
4 years ago
Genie is sort of a gloriously eccentric table, quite imperfect and yet still somehow addictive. Possibly one of the greatest of the wide body era.

The widebody layout is almost like having one machine on the right side -- with an open playfield and fairly straightforward features -- and a half a machine on the left, with the upper mini-playfield and hazardous bumper-rollover combo on the left almost a throwback to woodrail or at least early drop target designs.

The shots aren't as well designed as they could be; there are lots of angled posts and weird rolls that play differently from other widebodies or standard widths, and the shots are almost all crossovers of various sorts. There isn't really a straight shot on the whole table.

But this, has the odd benefit that you have to do a lot more planning for rebound and bounce shots -- especially given the sequence between shooting on the "main" field and the mini playfield. It's not classical in terms of the shot aiming but the result is a strangely unnerving tension when playing that actually adds to its lastability.

Basically you can go for the bonus by alternating the right, lower drop targets to get them lit, work your way up to 5X, then rip the spinner to try to max out bonus and then collect it at the outhole. That's a fairly straightforward game, albeit one that is hard to control because of the rolls.

Then there's the extra ball game, more of a long player strategy, of getting the A-B-C-D rollovers -- with two places, kitty-corner to one another -- and getting the two sets of drop targets in the mini left upper playfield, playing like an old 2 inch flipper game, and collecting the extra balls. With a max of one per ball, though, it's worth noting on five-ball play you can still get as many as ten balls -- practically an add-a-ball game in that regard.

In this mix is the way the ball flings from one side to the other; you have two spinner shots from trapped flippers, or a short shot at the drop targets, on the right, open side, but a successful spinner shot is liable to kick the ball either over to the mini playfield (where you can work that for a while) or to the more dangerous drop off slopes of coming off the upper bumpers on the far right, where there are some ugly drains (some SDTM on an angle) waiting for you.

It's inelegant but as a package somehow works. There are no curved shots in this game, only thudding line drives, and on a well-tuned game it can play faster than you might think (for slower ones at too low a pitch, it can be plodding waiting for the ball to return).

I will add that this is a game where it's especially important to have the tilt tuned just right; without the ability to artfully nudge on balls running down the half-playfield on the left side, or to escape the double outlanes on the right, it can be a real drag, but having the tilt too far down makes escaping these danger zones too easy. It does not play fun if too tight or too losse.

The bright yellow art package is a little unusual for the era, and while there's not much of a coherent story to the theme -- is it 1001 Arabian Nights, or I Dream of Jeannie? -- ou can't figure it out from the art -- it's not distracting to game play either. It's beautifully executed.

I'm not sure this is the first machine you'd want in your collection but it's a good extra if you want an example of a good to look at and interesting to play widebody, and as a tournament game it works surprisingly well (although, I might add, somewhat less mercurial if set to five-ball play.)
4 years ago
I have been waiting until I get to Reactor 9 to rate TNA, and because there isn't one anywhere near me, I'm still five reactors away. So what the hey, might as well rate it.

The thing about TNA is it seems so familiar at first, and the shots so simple and limited, that the innovations are sneaky. It's not just the basic premise of a retro-layout, active lower playfield, enclosed upper playfield, no-ramp, relatively easy multiball with visible locks and a pretty basic tiered rules set. There are many little things, from the ability to earn ball save to an extra tilt warning, that make it a game truly designed for the pinball maven, not for the quarter-hungry operator. Games can go fast or go on forever, and the mojo to do the latter is a perfect combination of being quite skillful and requiring some luck.

Throw in the (completely) original soundtrack and the simple but also original theme, it's both a great individual game and a really good tournament game. It's so far ahead of the fun factor of most themed Sterns I'm amazed the ideas haven't been emulated.

I will also say I have had my personal share of bad experiences with Spooky builds breaking; but of the half dozen TNAs I've played, I haven't really encountered a major malfunction. This may be a random effect but part of having an iteratively developed playfield tuned prior to a manufacturing build, over a number of years, is clearly the number of potential breakdowns is worked out in advance. And because the mechs are all pretty simple, no doubt that helps with the reliability. Just speculation on my part.

It is an odd thing to say this feels like both a must-have machine but not the kind to be the only one in your collection or the start of it. It's simple and advanced at the same time. It's fun but also an object of obsession. Unusual.

I'm not sure the rating here is going to be up to the overall impression I have of TNA (The factors are what they are), but it's sui generis among games of the last couple of decades, and that's just a fantastic thing.
5 years ago
I recently had the opportunity to play Sea Witch and the Beatles a number of times in the same general location, so this review is done with an understanding it's a remake of sorts, as far as the pinball games go (not like Chicago Gaming's remakes, more like Hollywood's, where they update things from a successful original while following the same essential plot). The Sea Witch layout was a classic, a nice mixture of unusual shots and separate playfield areas, while not perfect -- it had some dead spots -- was and is still quite playable. So what has the Beatles done better? First off, everything feels more solid (ironic for a Stern game, I know), and the addition of a magnet at the top and the Zale-like Fireball spinner in the middle to randomize some shots adds more interesting playfield game points. I wish the spinning disk actually was a target for some modes, but as a gimmick/toy, it's still cute.

The mistake here is to compare it to "modern" games with ramps and overlapping modes and the like. It was designed to be simple, and it's clearly got a lot more going on than Sea Witch. It's a perfectly good game that has some surprising depth to it as a "remake".

As far as the theme integration: I'm not sure whether to quibble or not about things like the selection of songs (odd, maybe they were cheaper to license?) or the limited number, or missing out on things like a "Jukebox mode" (come to think of it, most music licenses should have this) to dial up a song without playing a game, or the sort of all-over-the-place artwork that looks like somebody's Beatles collage on the wall (which is like most pinball artwork these days, heavy on details and light on cohesive look). My ideas for how to do this kind of theme may not test in focus-groups, after all. And I can't diss the price point, since I'm obviously not the market.

So I will just say, it's pleasant, and I will gladly play it when available, and if you really like the Beatles and have the scratch, it's not a terrible use of that luxury good money. If viewed as a Sea Witch reboot, it's a unique machine with great classic pinball roots and modern machinery. On that latter point, I say, good job, which is not something I frequently say about modern Sterns.
5 years ago
It was a serious blow to be a pinhead in the late 90's, when after a spectacular run of games by Williams/Bally, and a few decent ones by their competitors, even Williams went boots up. Yes, technically they stayed around, and while Pinball 2000 didn't save anything, neither at the time did the now-respected Revenge from Mars seem like anything but a step backward, like the hybrid video game units of the early 80's. Then that too died a quick death and we had virtually nothing but s few Sterns every now and then. It sucked.

Why am I yammering on, codger-like, about the bad old days of the bust? Because Cactus Canyon became a grail machine. Low production, barely distributed, not quite finished, it promised to be another in the line from Addams Family to Tales of the Arabian Nights via Attack from Mars and everything else wonderful that flowered in the most fruitful half decade in pinball design. It had been announced, people knew it was out there, but damned if you could find one to play. It was like a ghost. The legend grew.

And fast forward a dozen plus years, I finally got to play one, at the same place most people can play a Cactus Canyon, at a show. And that's the only place I've ever played one. Never seen one in the wild.

And it was...dang, pardner, I have to say it was a bit of a disappointment. The retro theme didn't seem to have its own weird mind, like Medieval Madness, or synthetic retro flare, like Attack from Mars. The original theme wasn't quite so original -- western themes are as old as pinball, and it wasn't even copping off a popular theme. And what there was on the playfield, seemed derivative of the 90's Bally/Williams run, not the next (or last) great step up. I'm sure a lot of that, as documented elsewhere, had to do with it not getting the TLC it needed while Williams geared up for the Pinball 2000 project.

Now, be that as it may, it's still clearly a decent machine of the ilk of that era; it's no stinker. But that said I've still been left a bit cold playing it when I've been able to. Maybe I need a hundred plays instead of the ten or so I've had to appreciate it. But as far as grail machines go, its interesting qualities aren't responsible for its price, only its rarity. And it's strangely way too valuable to ever put out on location now, so I suspect it will always remain the kind of oddity that, say, Hercules is - a machine you must try to play once, at least, but you can safely move on without having it in your collection or having put $500 of quarters into it (HELLO, High Speed).
5 years ago
The theme incorporation is great here, and there are lots of varied ways to score points and overlapping modes.'s the thing. If you can bash the center 'toy' (garage, hardly the most Simpsons-like thing to use for a toy, come to think of it), and hop up to the upper playfield/couch, and can just keep doing that, you can accumulate a ton of points. The high-danger shots, like Itch and Scratchy, are relatively low payoff. And the upper playfield is a tad boring compared to the universe of upper playfields -- just a little bash area, albeit with two flippers, and you get the TV mode *and* the multiball lock for couch multiball. Sure, completing the modes requires a full set of playfield shots; but you don't really have to complete the modes. Throw in the usual depravity of a bumper farm right near an exit that produces SDTM bounce outs, a high risk zone to avoid, you basically have the center shot and if you really want to go wild, you can bash the right ramp for a while. All in all, while I very much like the overall feel of the machine, it's quite unbalanced as far as the overall play and as such isn't as much fun as it really could have been.

In general, this is the Stern way for the last 20 years - bash toy in the center, easy multiball, layered scoring that you can dial up if you really want to try but which is not a competitive goal so much as a way for HUO owners to avoid boredom with microchallenges. It has its place but it's not my cuppa.

All that said, I will give TSPP a plus plus for getting the elements of the theme done nicely, although there could be more Lisa and Marge, to be sure.
5 years ago
I'm quite fond of Classic Stern, and while this machine is clearly a super-early stab at a solid state concept which plays like an EM that's been hot-wired to a chip, it still has quite a bit of EM-like charm to carry it through. There's something about the layout that with popping fresh rubber sets makes it harder than average; having to climb that right lane exactly in order to get the bonus up, and not quite being able to execute reliable post passes makes it more than just hit-the-spinner-up-top, especially since the returns are a little unpredictable off the bumpers. A hot machine that's been played a while can start sending balls STDM out of the top saucer kickout to post, and I've had more than a few sling-drains on this. Some of the settings are eccentric, like the saucer score of 55,000 (what? what an odd number) that if you can keep hitting it will throw off the scoring balance.

It's a game with a number of flaws like this that still turns out to be more pleasant as a sum of the whole. It's hard to explain completely rationally. Better than it seems?
5 years ago
I am not fond of symmetrical games as a rule, but this one manages to get some extra mileage in part because of the 1-10 advance-value schtick. It's a throwback, or maybe a late version of, the non-Italian layouts with short flippers and house-ball-happy outlanes, but instead of just rewarding UTAD there's a balance between making the skill shot to light the green or yellow bumpers (or both if you magically get the ball back up there, which is hard) and taking your points in bigger droves by hitting the lit standups in the lower playfield. Yes, nudging is a necessity, but the flipper pattern you have to employ is quite different from a modern game and you can get very good scores with some practice if you practice the tap-over pass-to-post necessary to get controlled shots, in lieu of being able to do catches most of the time. It's sort of hypnotic when you get it going.

That said, I prefer the add-a-ball version, Hurdy Gurdy, which for a home use machine has more rewards by being able to extend the game indefinitely (a replay on a free play machine isn't as much fun as it used to be in the arcade). For that reason it gets a slightly lower rating than Hurdy Gurdy.
5 years ago
The short-flippered, split layout at the bottom is a bit of a throwback and may be off-putting to some, but Hurdy Gurdy is among the better-designed iterations of this style despite the frustration you'll have with the house balls. It rewards carom shots to send back balls to the upper playfield, and the center skill shot to light the green or yellow bumpers is essential to racking up a high score ball. You have to take the calculated risk sometimes of hitting the lit center box post in the lower playfield, so it's not merely an UTAD (return to the very top is quite difficult anyway). As an add a ball -- with up to 10 balls -- it allows for a "comeback" with a good ball. And what the hell -- there is a MONKEY RINGING A BELL WITH A HAMMER in the backbox. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

I had the pleasure of playing a completely restored one recently and it reminded me that those non-Italian-layout games can be a hoot and a holler and a real test of skill.
5 years ago
The first couple of times I saw and played Houdini it left me a little cold, possibly because it was under the usual "line of people trying it out" circumstances at big shows. It felt like a Theatre of Magic remake.

But I've changed my mind after finally getting to play it for a (relatively) extended period of time, albeit still in a show setting, on two recent occasions. The shots are Popadiuk-like, yes; but they're unusual, and the crowded mess of stuff in the middle is actually rather clever when you get through all the different ways they're used. I am still on the fence about the ramp layouts, but it may be I just wasn't up to the task of really hitting them.

OTOH the theming is magnificent. It's "original" in the sense that it's a biographical machine, obviously, but one where there's no plot or sequence per se to copy from. But the manner in which Houdini's stunts and little biographical tidbits are incorporated into the modes is extremely well done. I obviously haven't exhausted the rule set yet so I can't give it a definitive rating for lastability as yet, but it's fun, and surprises like the reverse flippers are a very cute way of getting the 'trickery' theme in.

I also like the lighting right out of the box; the ball is easy to see and illuminated on all sides at all times. It's much better than comparable modern Sterns in this regard.

What I'm not sure about yet is the durability - the ball-flinging toy is super cool but I can see (from failures on a new machine) where it might degrade. It's not like the Trunk in ToM, though, where a malfunction kills the game play, since the flinging isn't essential to the lock/gameplay, or like Aerosmith where a ball toss failure means the locks don't register properly. And in general as machine #1 from a new company a little cautious waiting and watching is required.

But for a two-flipper game, at a marginally lower price point than JJP, it seems the superior of any Stern in recent memory. I'd reserve the comparison to Iron Maiden for now, since I like the playfield layout a lot on the latter but am not really into the theme or sound.

Give Houdini a bullet right now on the charts and I'll revisit it when I get a chance to play it more.
5 years ago
Cue Ball Wizard certainly has a long lineage of a gazillion pool-pinball themed games; other than cards and bowling, billiards is probably the most popular theme of all time. So what does CBW bring to the table, as it were?

First is the toy, of course - the real cue ball and eight ball are fun, and the cueball adds random pinball trajectories and the need to shoot around a rolling ball. In some modes this can be quite lucrative and as a shooter's game, it really is a nice change of pace from the ramp-ramp-ramp games of the era.

Second is rotating a number of pool-like shots around the playfield. As an emulation of real pool, it does a decent job - and incorporating a theme so literally makes the theme pretty relevant. There were a few EM pool games that tried to do this, not equally as successful.

This is not a multiball-happy game; there are only two multiballs, one a two-ball mode multiball and the other a frenzy mode upon completion of all the modes, Pinball Mania, which can result in a player racking up (no pun intended) lots of points with a controlled hold multiball that could go on forever. If you're in competition and are good at the Elwin pose, just light and drain the modes, start Pinball Mania, and shoot one ball into the upper playfield forever.

The biggest criticisms I have of CBW are pretty much the same as I have for other 90's Gottlieb DMDs. The basic shots to start modes -- in this case, the long ramp with the short approach that can be hit from either flipper -- are just too easy. And the early programming on the DMD is more than a bit simplistic (this game probably features the two worst video modes ever invented; if there are worse video modes, name them). And: Gottlieb flippers. They're high, don't allow easy bounce passing but are just a bit too easy to trap, and as such there's little incentive for doing drop-catches or fast flips. There's also less tip action. (I suspect this was a deliberate design choice by Gottlieb to make the games more beginner-friendly, but the classic Williams/Bally flipper action of the 80s and 90s is as big a reason as the more complex game designs, IMHO, as to why the latter have retained their popularity so strongly.)

But CBW sort of makes up for this by having a reasonable set of three mini-wizard-mode like goals to go for -- the relatively easy to achieve Pinball Mania, the difficult and challenging 1/2 billion 9 ball shot (which can be doubled), and spelling WIZARD (like WILLIAMS in Rollergames) in a non-frenzy 10M a shot mode. It's simple, and allows multiple approaches for getting high scores.

There are some balance problems in the scoring. The bonus is cute - racks times multipliers times a base bonus -- but they're not really worth it to actually go for the hazardous short bonus X advance shot in the corner pocket on the lower left. The bank shots are relatively easy to start getting extra balls and 20 M shots, although it does require the risk of a bad recovery out of the top. And if a player wants to avoid the center shots with the cue ball/eight ball/side pocket toy, they can and still can get a high score. (As a low-risk option in competition, I recommend that.)

I do like the callbacks to previous generations of machines in CBW. High drop target banks, a horseshoe, and accretive non-multiball goals, plus of course the theme in general.

The callouts are super clear and funny, and while you may go insane with the repetition (like any machine with talky callouts) there's a benefit here that it's good for beginners, especially kids, to have something to go for. The C&W music theme is pleasant although late-solid-state-era repetitious. As far as the artwork: I really like the basic design of the playfield layout, although good secondary lighting (or PinStadium, something I'm considering for this machine at home) is a necessity. The side cabinet artwork isn't exceptional but is fine. The translite/backglass though - good heavens, it's a kind of Urban Cowboy shot to go along with the western saloon vibe of the machine, and it's annoying. I'm considering getting a custom translite to replace it. I'm not sure what the appeal was supposed to be here.

Ultimately, I think Break Shot (a later DMD pool game from CapCom) is more fun, albeit as a pseudo-EM throwback with no ramps and a baby upper flipper, but CBW is the only game this side of Cabaret Voltaire that has the moving spherical target incorporated into the play (and CV it's just an annoying obstacle, not an actual target) and has an interesting variety of shots. Yes, this was developed while Williams was coming out with Addams Family, so it's really hard to compare to that level of state of the art. But it's fine. Very decent DMD that can usually be had for a bargain price. I doubt anybody would have this as a centerpiece for their collection but as a complimentary machine it's a great break from other machines.
5 years ago
There are two ways to incorporate a basketball theme into pinball Gameplay (OK, three ways, if you count ignoring basketball, a la Globetrotters -- which I do love, but not for the basketballness):

1. You can stick a hoop on the playfield (or backbox) someplace and try to shoot baskets. (Fastbreak, Space Jam, Shaq Attaq, et alia)

That's the approach all the other BB-themed games in the universe take, in the Gimmick and Toy era.


2. Emulate the "moves" in a basketball game with analogous pinball "moves".

This latter is the approach "Hoops" takes, and it makes it one of the most unusual playfield and rules combination designs of its era.

This is firmly at the end of the solid state / pre-DMD era, so without having to worry about display programming, much, all the action is in the sequencing on the playfield. There's a throwback element to this, with long alleys harkening back to the early 1960's (Ted Zale designs in particular) and the business of mixed saucers at the top. I don't doubt that between the kind of horrible artwork and the lack of ramps or other gizmos (Gottlieb's so-called "Street Level" designs, of which Deadly Weapon is probably the most famous), this was probably a real stinker of a seller, which may account for why I've only ever seen two of these machines, ever. But the pin connoisseur will find much delight if you scratch the surface and play. There's the "Alley Oop", like its basketball analog, a long shot for the pass followed by a short stuff; the "Tip In", a shot requiring a short carom to make a saucer; the "SLAM DUNK" which requires "going deep" on the targets; 'Hang Time' or a continuing bonus for hitting a lot of switches. The game keeps a basketball score and a pinball score, and has two and three ball multiballs ("Fast Break"). Because there are no ramps, there's a huge variety of shots, including a couple of really long ones. The lower playfield may be a bit wasted but that's the price for those long shots.

It's a really unusual game and I wish I could get more of a chance to play it. (Take my relatively low overall rating with a grain of salt because my extreme dislike of the artwork brings down the overall Pinside rating.)
5 years ago
Meteor is one of the best machines in the short design career of Steve Kirk, who was a pioneer in pinball tournament play. Meteor is quite possibly the first machine ever designed specifically with multiplayer balance -- "tournament mode" -- in mind as a result. While similar thematically and in terms of layout to the equally excellent "Stars" Kirk designed just before this, Meteor's got a cleverness factor to it that takes it just a step beyond, with the subtle control of the M E T E O R targets in what is essentially an upper playfield, but with the targets controlled from three different locations -- drop downs, standups, and rollovers. Yes, a lot of the shots are basically left flipper to the right spinner - but there's actual ball control required with the single upper flipper. You can build bonus instead by going for the drop targets, and the scoring is a bit balanced between the occasionally frustrating and ever-changing spinner values, based on all the METEOR resets and how well you've set up the scoring there, but the drop targets don't return the ball as reliably and a smart-money game tends to avoid them.

The theme is based on a kind of lovably cheesy late 70s science fiction movie of the same name, although you wouldn't know it from looking at the artwork, which shows none of the characters. It's just missiles getting launched to blow the Meteor up. (Wouldn't an Asteroid pinball be a great idea? If they didn't get sued. Who cares about a meteor hitting the earth? Astronomy and exogeology wasn't exactly a long suit of 1970's screenwriters. I digress.) It's a nice touch having the fiery path of the meteor end at the jet bumper, where the streaking missiles of the three lit bonus banks are heading to meet it -- but the bumper cap is just a star, not some hulking rock or explosion, which sort of mutes the effect, and in turn the bumper is pretty minor in scoring, so the big shot isn't the "big shot" of the movie theme. A lost opportunity. Still, I think this game was one really great gimmick or shot away from being among the all-time greats of the 70s, and it's still just an excellent player's game. The look of this machine, I have to say, is really improved with glaring LEDs, and I don't say that about every game.

As for the allegedly annoying sound...this was very, very early in chip sounds, and having the pitch increase steadily as the urgency of the scoring/shot levels is effectively a call-out. You may go insane, but it's a decent use of the technology they had at the time to make the sound useful to the player. So give them props for that, if you are still sane.
5 years ago
A Grand Prix race ought to have more twists and turns in this, which plays out more like an oval track. That said, this is very late in Steve Kordek's design career, and it may be his last great "long shot" playfield. As noted in other reviews, gameplay involves alternating between the two lanes on either side - orbit shots, more or less, with a half orbit, in order to trigger the spinner - and doing it in the right sequence requires that you master the art of the post pass. Yet, because of the open ended inlane guides, it's very dangerous to trap balls, so game play requires fairly adept fast flipper management and judgment. It may have been a drain fest in some ways when it first came out, but it has aged well; it's a good player's game, emphasizing skill and sequencing, and that's pretty good for a very late EM game.

As a follow-up to Space Mission/Odyssey, the theme here is a bit flat, but you can't have everything on all machines. The artwork here is typically excellent Christian Marché, with detailed Grand Prix-like city race courses depicted in backglass and plastics. The main playfield, though, could have used a little jazzing up, given the theme.

I think in the end this machine is one clever twisty shot away from being a great one, but as a pretty good one, it should have some staying power.
5 years ago
Here's the thing about Top Score...the playfield design is remarkably similar to Ted Zale's Mad World, from 1964. The double-bonus lane down the right in Top Score was only a single lane in Mad World, and Mad World had mushroom bumpers lower down, but otherwise it's a very close match.

Ed Krynski designed over 200 machines, which is phenomenal, and there's only so many ideas to be had when you're cranking out up to ten a year, but this one seems to go over the line from hommage to copying. Who knows? Zale was out of the business by this time so as far as I know nobody ever raised a stink about it, or possibly even noticed it.

It is a *great* layout, particularly with the addition of the backglass animation / bagatelle and the two saucer layout to the left side. It makes building bonus vs. collecting it a pretty decent quest, and for the tired-but-true (yes, I did that on purpose) bowling theme, while it doesn't have much of a connection thematically, it's refreshing. (Although why would you score bowling *balls* for bonus? Answer: it's very hard to make bowling pins roll properly across your bagatelle box).

I'm not a huge fan of the artwork here, which is the usual girl-watches-boy do something, but it's fine.

In any event, it plays pretty well repeatedly and offers good challenges; it's a good tournament game, too.
6 years ago
One of the few pins that was themed to capitalize on the tennis craze of the 70's (which was a huge, huge thing that's hard to describe properly if you weren't there at the time), that also manages to have an unusual playing gimmick that mirrors the theme. While the rules set may seem simple, it's one of the most clever incorporations of theme into game play of the era.

The "Volley" of the title comes into play when you lower the drop targets on the right and left sides of the lower playfield; the slinghots will "volley" the ball back and forth (scoring nothing!) just like a real tennis rally.

The tricky part of scoring is knowing when *not* to shoot. If you drop the targets before lighting the corresponding bumper and drop target bank, they're only worth 500 points; if you wait, the value soars up to 5K. Balancing the skill shots, return shots (difficult but possible) up to the top, and then taking out the drop target banks requires both good shooting and a multi-ball strategy. That the yellow bank has the higher value up the middle - but is the more dangerous bank to shoot off - makes the use of the "volley" side banks a crucial and fun skill test.

All in all, one of the best designs of the late EM era.
6 years ago
Possibly the worst Williams title of the 70's. There's almost nothing going on in a vast, empty playfield. To get the big points rolling up, you have to hit standup targets between posts to light A-B C-D or A-B-C-D for an extra ball. Then the orbit shots over rollovers will start to be worth something; until then there's almost no point. But the problem is you really can't hit those standups without getting random post bounces; it's not a matter of a high skill game so much as a no skill game. You're much better off waiting for random glancing hits of the targets on downward arcs of balls coming back to the flippers instead of making the shots.

The straight-across targets can be hit from either lower or upper flippers, the latter with difficulty, but the scoring is nothing compared to the bonus building and the necessity of hitting them in order -- combined with their thin, weird design that make it difficult to hit them in sequence -- make it wholly uninteresting to go for any of them. The upper flippers feel like tiny T-Rex arms; useless and an evolutionary dead end.

There's a sort of Toreador theme going on, and while it's not racist like Amigos it's not even as clear as Toro. Just a bandalero and a woman, maybe doing the Flamenco. And almost no playfield artwork to underscore the theme.

This may be one of the few pins I'd pass on if I were given one, free, in working condition.
6 years ago
King Pin - the Pre-Make!

No, not *that* Kingpin, the infamous low production DMD machine that is now rumored to be in the process of a remake/rerelease. And not the occasionally rumored home brew based on the Woody Harrelson movie. And not the eponymous Williams game from a decade earlier. Nope, another bowling-themed game from Gottlieb.

I am occasionally mystified why there were so many bowling titles issued over the heydey years of pinball, given that half the time the games were in the bowling alley to begin with. "Hey, when we're done with bowling, let's go play a pinball version of bowling" - did people do that?

Yes, it's tempting to try to get the single silver ball and use it to knock over ten targets, but this particular King Pin shows the dangers in taking that too literally. There are two outhold bonuses from the plunger lane that can be shot with sort of bank-orbit shots, but it's almost pure luck/nudge when the ball goes in on top, particularly if you've got a tight tilt. Otherwise there's a lot of shooting across an open playfield at the drop down targets/pins, and you'll be left with one in the middle which if you hit it head on, you're sure to drain SDTM.

While the angles are unusual in this game as a result of that flat layout, I can't say this works particularly well for the type of Newtonian arcs pinballs tend to take (see also the dreadful Toledo). The flat center target bank has been done OK on occasion, but this isn't one of them.
6 years ago
The theme "Old Chicago" is a bit of a subtle pinball pun. Yes, the streamlined artwork has 20's art deco flare and a snazzy backglass (featuring an anachronistically busty pair of ladies -- that was not the idealized form of the 20's -- but see also the poses from the 1978 Bally 'Playboy' for exactly where this imagery was coming from) and despite there being no blazing Tommy guns, there's a vague whiff of jazz age Chicago gangsterism about the whole thing. Check out that zeppelin! One might note the subtle shape and colors of the playfield are a bit more Georgia O'Keefe than Marsden Hartley, though.

No, the hidden "Old Chicago" is the throwback design to the early golden age of electric pinball in the 30's and 40's -- Chicago being the hub of pinball then and still, albeit greatly reduced, now. The lower playfield is riotously difficult to control, with bumpers and straight rubbers (no slingshots) forcing nudging and rolling and very quick reactions on the flippers. The flippers aren't retro 2 inchers, at least, so with difficulty the ball can be controlled. It has the feel of a very early flipper game without the eccentricities like reversed flippers or no center drain.

There are basically only three shots in the game, though. To the left is a somewhat harder than usual spinner to build bonus that will only then send the ball over to the center trio of bumpers (two at 100 points, one incongruously at a useless 10 points). In the center is a collect bonus saucer with two side rails - hit the post and you're in peril, hit the saucer it returns to the right flipper. On the right you can glance off the dropdowns to spell OLD CHICAGO for bonus or skim up to the right saucer to score five G's and some bonus. The skillshot is nothing; it's a binary of hitting the lit lane at the top and there's virtually no way to return the ball. While there's points to be had with lit inlanes -- which are extremely dangerous -- the smart play on this machine is to go for the bonus.

It's a challenging game, despite the simple rule set, because of the chaos in the lower playfield and the lack of safe returns from the upper part. I think a bit of the potential playield space was wasted by the choice of the top playfield from the ball launch, which might have been used to add a true third tier to the game. But it's fun enough. That said, it's sure to be frustrating because of the very fact that it does recapitulate the gambling-game-era bottom wiggle-and-drain.
6 years ago
I have always really enjoyed Junk Yard, but it did seem to have a lot of problems staying in operation during its run on location. If you find one that's in good shape, it's an unusual play and a fun theme, if only medium-difficulty and a little repetitious (you better like the first two bars of the song 'Money' or you'll go insane).

The goofy make-Rube-Goldberg-contraptions by collecting junk part is fun, and the several multiballs offer some nice variation, but the main game here is the unusual side and long shots. The marquee shot is through a center tunnel guarded by the swinging wrecking ball; this shot was new with Junkyard and having the obstacle obey the same kind of newtonian laws of parabolas, is still unique as far as I know (obstacles going back and forth on tracks aren't nearly the same kind of challenge). Because the shooting playfield is basically an oval, there's a combination of tricky side shots and ramp shots.

The toys and the animations are pretty kid friendly (toilet humor notwithstanding), but the modes are a little out of balance. The wizard mode is fairly easy to get to, as these things go, if you've got basic ball control for the layout down (including the sewer shot). Animations are fun, and I'm still a fan of the time machine with its callbacks to earlier Williams / Bally games.

It's not a wizards or mavens game in the end, but it's extremely amusing, especially if you take a break to come back to it. Not the centerpiece of a collector's or player's stable but recommended particularly if you have kids.
6 years ago
I've changed my opinion a bit on Demolition Man now I've finally found one in the wild that isn't broken or misleveled. (Every machine I've played previously on location in the last 20+ years had something wrong with it.) As a flow game with a heavy emphasis on combos, it has to be precisely tuned, and any little variation in leveling or flipper power throws off the fun by a significant factor. That said, it's got a lovely cross-pattern worthy of a Ritchie game, and some difficult angled shots that reward quick precision shot-making. The playfield is just a touch too busy; the left side is a mess, with the drain-magnet car target never really being worth going for, and you can get to some very high point totals without necessarily completing every last thing in modes or multiballs. As with Johnny Mnemonic and the Eddy games, a rollover/bonus area mostly obscured by playfield ramps reduces the fun factor there, and parking balls up there through the center shot during multiball makes it a little too easy to manage shots.

The triggers aren't completely necessary for most play (only the auxiliary buttons add a few things in modes and multiballs, and you can reach for them from the flippers), but they do add an extra fun factor if you want to try to remaster the game.

I'm not sure it's on my must-have list but I now enjoy playing this -- again, when it's tuned.
6 years ago
I won't repeat the complaints here about the Stern same-y-ness and lack of innovation and boring superhero/ancient white rock and roller themes, or the cheap feel.

Nope, those are all true here, and then some. I'll complain about the use of LE v "Pro" designations. From my experience with playing with "Pro" versions, they often feel like the LE version is the "full" version and there's just an excuse to gouge the customer for another grand. Why not make one half-decent version of the game? If there's that much of a difference in how they play...why not just make another game?

In any event, this machine is kind of a perfect storm of below average, combining an uninspiring over the top movie franchise with a big nothing in design.
6 years ago
Yawn. I could write a program to design a Stern music group game, and it wouldn't have that many lines of code.

With my indifference to AC/DC aside, the game gets a few extra points for having good stacked mode scoring and a few clever backhanded shots. But it's more of the same, right down to the recent edition where Stern decided going backwards to sexist babes spilling out of bathing suits was the right look for the game (apparently fat Austrlalian seputagenarians in school boy clothes isn't a good marketing image for a game, however apt and accurate it is for the game.)

Stern formula:

(1) license a band prominent in the 70's, or the 80's if you're really modern, or a super hero move
(2) clone the fan-out playfield
(3) put a cheap toy in the middle (in *two different locations* I've seen this game, somebody has put in for their high score name "FIX THE BELL")
(4) add seemingly layered rules that come down to basically bash the hell out of the toy until you get to multiball, which lasts forever with add-a-ball

Family Guy (and its clone, Shrek), Ripley's, Simpsons, and to some extent Star Trek '13 are the main exceptions; even Ripley's (Lawlor) and ST (Ritchie) are throwback designs similar to their designers' milestone pins from the 80's and 90's.
6 years ago
I will say some nice things about Haunted House before I trash it. (Can you trash a haunted house? I mean, it's already infested with ghosts, right?)

First off, of course the triple playfield has to be noted. Everybody should place this game a few times just to feel the experimentation. Gottlieb had a hit with two levels with Black Hole, why not try three? Give them credit for trying here.

In addition to Black Hole, the obvious point of comparison is Black Knight, from which Haunted House took no small inspiration for the upper playfield, right down to the impossibly steep and short ramp.

Implicit in a lot of negative reviews, I think, are machines that took the "spooky house" theme and did it much better later -- Elvira, Scared Stiff, Monster Bash, and perhaps the two Dracula machines (one before, one after). So maybe an unfair comparison in some ways, but one I bet a lot of people make unconsciously.

The basic artwork is actually pretty decent and clean - you get the three levels, looking like a downward architectural rendition of sorts, and a nice simple Psycho-like glowing green house in the backglass with match cabinet artwork.

The main problem with the theme was -- it's an empty house. There are no ghouls or freaks to pop out at you, as it were, so it's almost as if they never quite finished the concept.

And, the great pleasure of popping between levels notwithstanding, as one other reviewer put it, there's a lot to shoot at but not a lot of reasons to shoot at anything in particular.

Throw in some problems: the extraneous lower pair of flippers (which are pointless), the off center lower bumper (an odd Gottlieb trademark of the era, but one just adding pain, not fun, to a game on the left side), a really impossible far upper left reach shot, and target banks that don't have a lot of natural bounce patterns.

My sense is they built the triple playfield but then got exhausted and didn't do as much play testing as they should have, in the end. It just plays a lot duller than it really ought to in the end, given the three dimensionality of the machine.
6 years ago
Time to finally rate this game, after 718 Pinsiders preceded me. So I'm sure this will be the make or break comment to finally make a critical consensus on this game.

This is a moderately timely review in its way though, because I'm writing this up the day after it was announced Brian Eddy has been hired by Stern. I'm ambivalent in a sense; as much as I have loved the open playfields of MM and AFM, the plodding lack of creativity in Stern machines with the fan-out of shots and the toy up the middle almost certainly owes its existence to the success of MM and AFM. I'd certainly rather play the originals than any of the less humorous and dully-licensed spawn of the last 20 years.

When this game first hit the slopes, as it were, I played it constantly, and other than perhaps High Speed there's no game I feel like I've had greater mastery on. So obvs, I like it; but where does it stand in the pantheon?

I'll note a few things that may seem like criticisms, but they're mainly meant as observations.

First, this is basically Attack from Mars. It's got the same spray-chart set of shots with shot-four-of ramps and orbits lighting a multiball opportunity, pop-up toys (trolls a variation on wiggling martians), a whack-it-till-it-opens progressive center shot with a SDTM drain danger, and an off-center to the left multiball lock. Yes, it adds stacked multiballs and has a few little variations, but, it is basically the same machine. The massive scoring inflation was endemic around this era of machine as well, Not a Feature IMHO.

Which leaves us with toys, themes, and callouts as the main differentiators. The wiggling castle is still amusing after all these years, and as far as functioning toys, its malfunctions aren't nearly as annoying as, say, a broken trunk on Theatre of Magic. The misalignment of the drawbridge, though, and problems with the gate can make this machine a pain to play in a way that Attack from Mars' saucer really hasn't been a problem; but there's a lot more hilarity in sending a ball scurrying into a castle than hitting plastic stand up targets in AFM.

The callouts are still pretty funny with only moderate sexism (akin to AFM's). The first time I saw this machine in the wild, the guy I was playing with and I both said to one another, "oh, it's a Monty Python machine, but they couldn't get the license fee." It only occurred to me later there's a little bit of pinball self-parody, with reference to Black Knight, as well, but it's the Pythonesque humor (right down to silly fake French accents) that's dominant. As with the tongue in cheek AFM retro callouts and angry aliens, just some goofy fun with an hommage, not quite a licensed theme, to a genre.

Excluding the CGC remake issues -- which have different cosmetic and aesthetic considerations from the originals -- I am left with the question, between MM and AFM, if I had to pick one to own or play, which would I pick? I'd end up picking AFM, because the wizard mode has some sort of logic to it -- conquering the world, defeating aliens, etc. -- and I prefer the space theme. Just a personal preference.
6 years ago
A widebody classic, one of the better machines of the widebody genre, with decent flow and a wide variety of shots. The shots aren't all well-tuned - the return and fail points are fairly obvious, and there's too many STDM drains on plunges -- but there are a big number of them and at least four different playfield zones. That plus the secret sauce shot -- the Keith Elwin special -- of lifting the lower left flipper and shoot back up the outlane, if you dare, as many times as you can, make it a fun play.

I'm not sure the upper flipper works, in that there aren't any shots that *require* the upper flipper, none of them are better made from it than from a controlled lower flipper shot, and it's not lined up for a natural set of loops. It's interesting to see this in the evolution of pinball, though, in that you can see forward to the great looping games with upper flippers -- classic Steve Ritchie and Pat Lawlor playfields -- in the spinner loop off the upper flipper here. It's just misaligned by an inch, or you'd have that frantic repeating high-speed tight orbit shot of later games.

I'm not exactly sure what's going on in the theme but the artwork isn't over busy. Cheetah-like or not, there's some slink and a few fast gallops in the machine, so, fine. Not a great theme but the decade wasn't really known for having a lot of well-thought-out themes.
6 years ago
A rare dud in the Williams '90's run of excellence. I remain mystified as to why this came is so well thought of. Like its predecessor, it's dominated on one side by the pachinko upper "playfield" and return ramp. Unlike its predecessor, which had the gizmo of the body to shoot with the grid of lights, there's basically only one real shot in this game. Hit the left ramp, over and over and over and over again, you'll get lots of points and a multiball every now and then. Yes, there's the robot-turns-into-a-face gimmick, and the beating heart in the backglass, but those aren't really toys that are going to provide lasting entertainment value. The theme's obviously a retread so I can't give them a lot of credit for this either.

Score a billion, then futz around getting chump change for the tiebreaker.

6 years ago
I am a fan of the band, which is probably why I find this marginally more tolerable than its nearly identical Stern brethren. That said, on location it's hella hard to hear the songs so, meh, what's the point?

Stern formula:

(1) license a band prominent in the 70's, or the 80's if you're really modern, or a super hero move
(2) clone the fan-out playfield
(3) put a cheap toy in the middle
(4) add seemingly layered rules that come down to basically bash the hell out of the toy until you get to multiball, which lasts forever with add-a-ball

Family Guy (and its clone, Shrek), Ripley's, Simpsons, and to some extent Star Trek '13 are the main exceptions; even Ripley's (Lawlor) and ST (Ritchie) are throwback designs similar to their designers' milestone pins from the 80's and 90's.
6 years ago
My theory on the theme of this machine is that it was meant to piggyback off the popularity of the movie The Great Waldo Pepper, which came out earlier the same year this machine was released and which starred Robert Redford (check out the artwork of our air ace for the similarity).

I am also guessing that the design center of this game was a hybrid between pinball and the classic shooting arcade games, since pretty much the whole game is sniping at the targets in the upper playfield. There is a sequence here that can be used to roll up points which has a certain satisfaction, if that's what you're focusing on.'s not really pinball. The layout is dull and the play action mostly a matter of catch-or-flip-randomly any caroms off the top targets. The bumpers are sadly misused at the top.

Where the major fail here is -- if the theme is aviation, why are there no flight or plane-like shots?

In any event, it is the sort of machine that's probably best used as eye candy for the occasional play and not for the hardcore player, except as a break in the routine if you have the space.
6 years ago
God knows I pumped enough quarters into this back in the day, and it's still true the machine has a lot of basic appeal. The asymmetrical bank of flippers wasn't quite unique but it was still very unusual, but the main design flaw in the game is there aren't shots you have to use the upper left and side right flippers for -- every shot in the game can be made from the bottom two flippers. So it's a management problem to use the left side flippers (no trapping, you can't post pass obviously) and a controlled, managed game ends up being largely shot from the lower right flipper.

So this ends up being the odd game that I'll criticize and see the flaws in, but will still play pretty much every chance I get.
6 years ago
I know many people are very fond of this game, but I honestly don't remember playing it much at all back in the days when it was out on location, and my reaction to it as a player's EM game based entirely on recent plays is much more muted (and perhaps less nostalgic).

The theme is old-timey movies, with a variety of stars depicted. I find the backglass to be a bit weird, just the characters splashed across, with a start of dark marquee-like concept. The playfield is a little more successful, with the feel of the lights of a marquee laid out. Also I think the slang term "Flicker" was not only obscure in the 70's, it was obscure by the 20's! (Replaced by "flicks"; the "flickers" were the first generation of hand-operated movie projectors causing the characteristic staccato, slightly irregular flickering.)

That said, although there are a lot of shots required in this game and a bonus goal to work to, I find the top playfield to be too closed and the bottom playfield merely a rebound ground. The two captive balls on either side are definitely skill shots, but the recovery from a successful or an unsuccessful hit is equally random. And the inner orbit loop is so hard that it's virtually out of play for any game of length. So one is left picking out safe shots and working very gradually. I'm just a little bit flat on the game play - it plays more like a carnival game than a flow.

Question: was this a licensed theme game -- were the estates of the actors depicted compensated? I have always kind of wondered about this.
6 years ago
Popadiuk had quite a string in the 90's, from World Cup Soccer to Cabaret Voltaire, but I think this is the machine that really established him as an auteur -- a designer whose work you could recognize just by playing the game, without knowing for sure he'd designed it. Arabian Nights is "themed but not licensed" - inspired by the classic work of literature, but also clearly drawing inspiration from the arabesque Hollywood movies of the 30's and 40's and maybe a few Warner Brothers or Scooby-Doo cartoons. (I consider World Cup Soccer to be of similar ilk -- licensed by FIFA perhaps, but almost creating a new back story for Stryker. I digress.)

My quibbles with "Tales" are mostly in the areas where Popadiuk games tend to fail -- their toys break, and when the machine isn't tuned or the magic lamp spinner or magic trunk or goal keeper isn't working, the games tend to be a chore to play. I'm also not a huge fan of his skill shots, which tend to be short and trinary.

But finely tuned and maintained, this game is tops: medium-depth rules-set, an achievable but not too easy wizard mode, balanced scoring, sequential goals, and a sort of whimsical interpretation of the theme, all in a two-flipper game.

Add on to that one of the best pieces of backglass art of the modern era, it's a lovely and fun machine.

I have a magic wish to make: that the ROM set to this game be expanded using modern capacity and programming, to incorporate more tales; we've got another 990 or so to work with.
6 years ago
I will start out with the disclaimer that Fish Tales is a sentimental favorite for me because it was the machine I won my first (and thus far only) major title on in a finals, back in the whacky 90's when this was brand new. (I completely owned the Fish Finder that game).

It may tie with "Creature from the Black Lagoon" for the title of "best machine with a completely over the top busy playfield" award, which I just made up. It makes the pace of the game a bit more frenetic -- in addition to all the cool crossing over (perhaps a Ritchie family trait?) the ball makes, because the player has so little time visually to track balls coming down from the upper playfield, it's almost like playing in "Tommy" (blind) mode sometimes. It's an acquired taste, and I'm glad not every game is like this, but it can make for some excellent challenges. Multiball locking may be a touch too easy here, but the scoring is pretty balanced and you can either work one part of the machine or another for points or try to work on progressive goals, so there's some very good lastability here.

As far as the flopping fish? It's awesome. I'd never turn mine off, even in attract mode, if I had one, at the risk of literally wearing it out. My only regret is the fish doesn't say stuff to you, like Billy Bass, its obvious inspiration. And as far as the theme -- it's not exactly classic pinball theming, but it's pretty funny, and one of the things I liked about the non-licensed themes of the 80s and 90s Williams machines was their creativity and charm. The machine was its own theme!
6 years ago
I'm going ahead and reviewing "Lunar Shot" separately from Blast Off and Apollo, cognizant that they're all basically the same game. Lunar Shot has a couple of things that would rank it below Blast Off and Apollo, though. The main thing is the art. The cabinet art on Blast Off and Apollo is outstanding rocket-themed outlines; the cabinet art for the Lunar Shot, for reasons utterly unclear, is a sort of generic pattern with no space theme at all. Secondly, the cabinet backglass has a different, almost purpleish color scheme. I thought at first this might be differential fade of the one I have in my collection, but every example I've seen of Lunar Shot has a sort of purplish ocean while Blast Off and Apollo have a blue ocean.

On the plus side, as an Italian export machine it has stars for the "special" counter, which I think are a bit snazzier than the Blast Off version's number count. Minor uptick there.

Now, the basic machine: basically one of the most outstanding EMs of the 1960's. The fantastic theme is well-incorporated into the playfield and rules in a variety of ways. First is the "Countdown" to zero for the rocket, which then causes the mini-ball in the back box to "blast off" when you drain, giving you a one in five shot at a special. (The ball in play counter also counts down, 5-4-3-2-1.) The machine is symmetrical, and the whole layout looks like the outline of a rocket as a result. Then there are the two orbit shots -- literal orbit shots! With the rollover at the top causing the left and right orbit lights to alternate, with the lit orbit being 300 points. This gives real incentive to make both orbit shots. Then there are "stages", stand up targets that score points progressively higher each time you hit them that also advance the "countdown". The playfield plastics are also subtly cool: they show the stages of a 60's era rocket launch, from top to bottom, corresponding to the altitude at which they take place (top graphics are orbital, then shows descent, and finally recovery at ocean level) -- with the "re entry" gate to the right returning the ball to the plunger lane if you open it (get it? re-entry!). If you combine the points goal with the quest to get up to five specials (and you can substitute your own version of what the gambling payoff was, back in the day), there's three or four distinct goals to shoot for in this game (Countdown, orbit shots, incremental standups, and specials count). Throw in the cute back box toy, it's a winner. Playable, clever, and a great artifact of "Go fever!"
6 years ago
Meh. Add this to the pile of "themes I wish they would remake before they did another Pirates of the Caribbean, Kiss, or Batman remake". In full disclaimer mode, I was an ardent fan of the original show for its first four seasons, roughly the time period before this pinball was made, and have been yawning as and then ignoring it ever since. But that said, it seems to me there are so many more avenues of South Park theming they could have pursued in building a rules set, including maybe going full Basic Cable level of language, etc. (notwithstanding that there is a giant piece of poop in the artwork - lovely Mr Hankey.)

But the killer here is the flow and rules just aren't that great. Find a working one, I'd play it, but not for long if there's something else around. That's almost the definition of a C-grade machine.

This machine was, I think, the last one put out by the original Sega of Chicago (maybe Harley Davidson was the last), and they had some truly excellent licensed themes that produced utterly no memorable pinball machines, save for the deliciously over the top Apollo 13 and to some extent, Jurassic Park (although I'm slightly partial to Godzilla, I can't say it was entirely a success). There's a lesson to divine in there someplace; after all, Williams/Bally put out some of the greatest titles of all time at the same time Sega was in business, and yet they both went belly up in the same year.
6 years ago
Ask yourself: if you had to pick only one game to play for the rest of your life, between The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone, which would you choose?

My answer's TZ. I will say that objectively, they're almost the same machine when it comes to the shots on the playfield; TZ has a weaker upper flipper shot and a less interesting skill shot, but adds in the upper playfield. But there are two main differences that I believe sets TZ well apart and ahead of TaF.

First is the graduated overlapping scoring; while there's progress towards a Wizard mode in both games, there are so many more detours in TZ, including more than one mode going at once, that it makes for an N-squared number of possible approaches to the game. We all know there are certain shots in TZ (as well as TaF) that are very dangerous to make, and yet the multiplicity of scoring modes offer them as a temptation so it's not really possible to lie in the weeds (which in my experience is possible in TaF with its easier ramp shots).

Second is theme integration. As appealing and amusing as TaF is in its great encaspulation of the movie's version of the Addams Family quirks, and with the actual celebrity voices on it, The Twilight Zone takes it one step further by having a mixture of call outs to the actual television show (which was longer-running, more complex, and weirder than The Addams Family) and some things that *seem* like they should be in the show, but were actually invented for the game in the style/as inspired by, the show. You very rarely see liberties being taken with a theme that way, and despite my occasional disappointment they didn't get more of the original Twilight Zone's classic episodes incorporated, it makes the pinball machine more of an extension of the theme inspiration than a mere hommage to it.

As with TaF, the only time I get bored with TZ is if the machine isn't tuned or if something's broken. Unlike TaF, the machine still surprises me from time to time. And that is, in the end, why it rates a bit higher.
6 years ago
I have resisted rating TaF for a while in part because it may be the most played machine of all time, in part because of my inherent biases (note my user name!), and in part because there may be nothing original to say about it.

I could be contrarian by listing the things I don't like about it:

- the playfield's not balanced, the way a lot of Lawlor machines aren't balanced. Bumpers at the bottom, unusually cruel outlanes, so many unique shots that the playfield feels like a series of little games not one big one, sometimes.

- the complexity of the design invariably means that when you run into a machine that's not tuned, the game can play terribly.

- Lawlor's reputation for innovation is deserved, but also his repetition for having such a signature feel that sometimes it feels like every Lawlor is just a new edition of the same single machine. TAF is now relatively early in his design stretch, but even a machine as fantastic as Dialed In!, I can close my eyes and feel the same shots I take on Earthshaker.

Not to say that this machine's reputation is ill-deserved; when you find a machine in excellent working condition, it remains a pleasure to play. Whether this or Twilight Zone is the ultimate epitome of Lawlorness will be the perennial question (I myself am increasingly partial to Ripley's, which only lacks the actual animated head and a better scoring right flipper shot to make it the ultimate synthesis of Lawlorhood).
6 years ago
May I quietly and somewhat weakly dissent about Pinbot and its descendants?

There are four main gimmicks in this game. One is the obvious - the double-ball-capturing opening, along with the flashing field of lights and two ways of activating the box. There's the vortex skill shot, and the bagatelle-style upper playfield on the right. Almost none of these really engage unique skills. The robot part is fun, of course, and there's the progressive planetary goals (which seem like they're from a different theme than the robot theme), but all of this feels like it's from a machine from a decade earlier. Just because the ship allows the robot sounds and a little more complex scoring logic doesn't make it feel like the acme of the era (High Speed came out the same year).

The kicker for me is that when I play this, I always post pass to the right flipper. A machine where this is a winning strategy for play is inherently unbalanced. It's not that I don't enjoy all the toys, it's just they feel like they were smooshed together in the wrong order somehow.

Yes, an amusing machine that's worth revisiting; but not the classic that merited two sequels, IMHO. There, I said it - Pinbot is overrated.
6 years ago
Was 1995 the best year for pinball ever? Quite possibly, and in turn that may be the major reason Mnemonic isn't better remembered -- any year with Theater of Magic, Attack from Mars, No Fear, and Congo (not even to mention oddballs like Apollo 13, Who Dunnit, or Waterworld) is going to have some also-rans that may be hidden jewels.

The movie had a plot that was so non-sensical at the time it ended up being inadvertently campy good fun. Having Keanu Reevers on your backglass is the perfect starting point for the level of seriousness. The passage of time only accentuates this (your average USB stick now has as much memory as Mnemonic's brain!). THE PROBLEM IS UP HERE! (Points to brain.)

But, Mnemonic the machine managed to recapitulate the plot of the movie and some of the cool tech gimmicky things quite well, incorporating a good flow, progressive goals, and the toy (the vaunted glove, which is basically a tic tac toe machine!) that actually is a completely non-pinball skill but is still fun (compare to: the helicopter in Rescue 911, or maybe the crane in Last Action Hero).

As such, it has aged incredibly well. I enjoyed this a ton when it was on location and among the pantheon of mid-90's Williams/Bally DMD games, it deserves quite a bit more respect. It's not the complex beauty of an Addams Family or Twilight Zone, or the perfection of a Theater of Magic or Attack from Mars or the chaos of Shadow, but it was a pretty good design and the machine still plays well.

This one also has a special place in my heart as being the only William Gibson-themed machine; I am still waiting for a Sprawl Trilogy pinball machine (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive).

One personal PS: I played on this machine in a singles league at the time it was on location. First place in the league was a nice cash prize and a trophy; second place was smaller trophy and a little less cash; third place was a Mnemonic translite. I finished in...third place. I still have my translite, which is now worth more than the value of both trophies plus the cash plus inflation. WINNING
6 years ago
Ah, yes, the most unique pinball machine between Black Hole and Safecracker. From a collector's standpoint, if you were making a museum of pinball, this would be on the must-have list. The vertical pinball takes the mechanical back box animation to its ultimate logical finale, a call out to both pachinko and bagatelle, and is tons of fun. The major flaw of the whole design is the rules and scoring and playfield challenges aren't balanced. Jackpots are incredibly hard, relative to payoff, and the lower playfield (ahem, main playfield) is simple. While I always dig the originality of Lawlor's theming, and the dirt bike maze is well thought-out, I still think that somehow if there had been a different thematic hook to this machine other than another racing game it would have had more staying power. It's a player's machine in that it's not particularly easy to master, but not in the sense that it rewards a balance of skills, and it takes a lot of plays consecutively to get into the game successfully.

I think the analog to this machine isn't, say, No Fear or even Safecracker or Haunted House, but Hercules -- a novelty machine so wonderously weird you really have to put it on your checklist of machines to play, but not one you're likely to pine for when you haven't played it a while. A bucket list machine, not an obsession.

That said, when I start my Pat Lawlor Museum, this will be on the list, for sure.
6 years ago
I'll say it: the car/automotive theme has been done to death in pinball. NASCAR had the interesting loop de loop and a few cute acceleration type features, but you have to go back to Getaway and High Speed to find a car theme that really had the feel of an original game. Mustang annoys me; it's like the apotheosis of both the "Stern Formula" and the "Car Theme Formula". It remains absurdly uninteresting after repeated plays.

That said: there's a certain callback to classic Williams 80's layouts here. It had a lot of possibilities but seems like it's one shot short, somehow...
6 years ago
The way I feel about this game has oddly mirrored the way I feel about the series that inspired it. At first, I was really interested in the premise and impressed with some of the odd twists. Then the structural flaws and lack of plot consistency started to get a little annoying, but still I came back for more because I was hooked on the characters. Then a certain sameness started to take over, and I got bored and just turned it off and didn't think in the end I had missed much.

In terms of the gameplay, this translates as follows. First off, I've never played a Walking Dead that didn't have some tuning or mechanical problem, usually relating to the barn magnet or the right outlane leading to too many drains not associated with player skill or lack thereof. The theme only follows the first three seasons of the show, and the modes seem to place outsize emphasis on parts of the show that weren't, in the end, that memorable. I love zombies, but I found "Scared Stiff" and "Monster Bash" a lot more campy fun for the monster hunt, and "Dracula" creepier as a pin.

The one thing that oddly the designers got right, IMHO, was the black and white stark color scheme in the artwork and design. This glare adds a little uneasiness, which reflects the theme well and adds a little player anxiety. That may not be the best formula for getting somebody to put more quarters in, of course, but it's a striking change from the usual incredibly overbusy splotches of vivid colors on Sterns.

And, the rules -- while somehow not terribly compelling -- at least make for a good tournament game, that is, if everything works.
6 years ago
I'm not a huge fan of the run of Stern machines over the last decade and a half - the sameiness in the playfield and the kind of cheap feel make a lot of them feel like more of the same, and the lack of original theming sometimes makes it feel like you're playing with somebody else's collectible and not a pinball machine. I'm no Wrestling fan, at all, so I don't really get the nuances of this theme. But the reason I kind of like this more than most of the recent Sterns is because of the wrestling ring. (Yes, I do know what the wrestling ring is). It feels like a throwback somehow to an unproduced 1950's wrestling themed pinball machine, with the symmetry and the cute upper playfield action making the game a lot more fun. (Maybe that's the trick with Sterns of the modern era; the ones with upper playfields or third flippers, like Family Guy and Ripley's Believe It or Not!, are fun, while the two flipper rock and roll games are yawners). In any event, the series of theatrical wrestling matches seems to match the theme well, and that's a cute trick, even if I don't know the actual WWE personalities, the match concept works pretty well. Just a nice design -- for me, in spite of the theme, not because of it.
6 years ago
I was a fan of the show, and on the one hand, incorporating actual actor voices and many famous scenes from the theme worked well. But on the other hand, it comes across as a kind of banal interpretation of the show, just a "fun" (?) mobster game with,you know, murders as your position in the family rises from soldier up to boss. As such, it just doesn't quite seem like the theme was properly executed. The playfield feels like the generic Stern 'aughts playfield, where you can close your eyes and make the shots and the cheap toys are just rotated around. It's not that I haven't enjoyed gameplay on one -- it's not a machine I'll pass by, and I can't say that about every modern Stern -- but it's not a machine I'd likely pick over a different one in working condition sitting next to it. Just left me a bit flat.
6 years ago
A few randomized observations about WoZ:

- This may be the "oldest" licensed theme ever...74 years after the movie was released?
- The game obviously broke huge new ground in incorporating video, and it was done well, which means the gimmick didn't take over the gameplay.
- One of my favorite Jersey Jack features is: SIGNIFICANT DIGIT SCORING! The ones digit means something!
- A complex, detailed, and well-thought out rules set for overlapping modes, but...
- not so complex that you can't have fun and a good game by just shooting away and finding the sweet spots.
- My nickname for this game is "Swiss Army Knife" - it seems like the goal was to somehow get "one of everything ever put into a pinball machine" into the game, and they pretty nearly succeeded.
- This is also the first really successful all-LED machine by design, by my reckoning, and the color design was well thought out.
- That said, the lighting is still dim; I have a hard time following poor GI games with bright LED lighting. I don't know if that's my age or the nature of the beast, I suspect a combination of the two factors.
- and, with the whole movie's "plot" well integrated into the rules -- pretty much every major scene -- (but not the book) -- it gets championship points for faithfulness to the theme.

The playfield may qualify as the most complex ever made in some ways, and that can be both a blessing and a curse. I'm not swooningly in love with this the way I am with Dialed In, since in the end I find it a bit busy, but it's definitely not boring. But it deserves a place of honor in the pantheon for moving things forward a step or two and providing a great starting point for the full-screen-animation-backglass era.
6 years ago
If it was just the odd provenance of the theme (a pinball based on a video simulator?) or its essence (killing animals, not just whacking gofers, but slaughtering them) I might still have an overall positive impression of this machine, as the toy and the incorporation of the concept of "shooting" pinball/bullet is at least consistent and there's a modest amount of originality. But the flow isn't there; there's too many weird random drainouts; the sequencing doesn't quite do it. I almost, *almost* am disappointed by this because I like to see designers encouraged to take chances, and this isn't just another rock and roll or motorsports theme. But the execution wasn't quite there, in part perhaps because the inspiration wasn't exactly there in the theme to begin with. FWIW.
6 years ago
I sort of wish there was a ratings field for "engineering", because the Pinball 2000 system deserves some admiration for that. I realize most people never see the inside of a machine, and I don't own one, but in the great-lost-opportunities of pinball history, the lack of more than two Pinball 2000 titles -- one excellent (RFM) and one showing serious limitations (SWE1) -- is just going to leave a lot of us wondering what might have happened.

I have to admit the original release of this machine left me a little cold, because of the short playfield and limitations of the lighting, which tended to make the utterly impressive animations and monitor reflection system gimmick feel like they were forced on top of an inferior machine. But I recognize now this was lack of opportunity to play it at length, and a certain lack of perspective. It's great for younger players, but also with the sequel touches (other than a few done in questionable taste) and inside humor just showed a lot of care and attention to detail and the Fun Quotient. The machine now has better staying power, and I wish I had one both for that reason and the unique Pinball 2000 features noted above.
6 years ago
Ah, Rollergames.

This game comes very close to a themed machine that's actually more famous than the thing for which it was themed, the very short-lived camp-out wrestling-roller-derby hybrid of the same name. So let's start with that theme.

I will dispense with the artwork first: blech. It's in part because it's so cheesy it feels like a mid-70's machine, not one done in 1990. There's a certain charm to the use of 80's-style motifs, such as the geometrical colored shapes, but it's not enough to redeem it. What's worse is the TV show (see YouTube for some episodes) had a certain look to it, and they not only ignored it (where are all the teams?) but they punted on the multi-ethnic cast of the show (where is Mr. Mean?!?) I will say, not having done it yet myself on my own machine, if ever there was a theme calling for garish LED conversion, this is it. I expect that would improve things a little.

But OTOH: rarely has the _play_ of a pinball machine matched the kinetic motion of the theme quite so closely. Steve Ritchie, riffing on the same vibe as High Speed and presaging the fantastic double-ramp action of No Fear, has a lot of fun with the habitrails. Once you lock a ball or two for multiball, the balls sort of randomly go around a habitrail loop that looks just like skaters (even speed skaters in short track) drafting off one another. And the unique multiball dump -- hated by some -- of all three balls being dumped into the right in lane looks like a train, and also requires you shoot at least one into play instead of trapping right away. With all the looping, the use of the WALL OF DEATH ramp that's shaped quite similarly to the eponymous part of the track in the TV show "sport", and Ritchie's nearly-trademark overlapping fast orbits, it feels like a real "rolling" sport.

(The music and sounds are famous - or infamous - and you will either be absorbed by the repetition or you will go insane. I don't think there's a middle ground. I am in the former category now, but may be insane eventually now I own one.)

The scoring is pretty balanced on this machine, although a little random (as I'll get into below) so it makes for a better party game than a tournament game. (This does not mean it's not a player's machine; I think it is, and a sleeper at that.) You can get accumulating scored shots from combos and ramp shots, a reasonable but not huge amount from multiball, and decent amounts from the Sudden Death mode and WILLIAMS mode hurry ups. A reasonable strategy (like in NO Fear) is to get the Jetway shots (left and right orbits) or shoot for the middle shots or non-lit ramp shots to try to bag the extra ball early, or simply stack them up.

The random aspects that make it a kind of non-starter for tournaments (although, again, fun as a party game): Sudden Death just blinks on at random once per game (sometimes more if you have a really long game). WILLIAMS carries over player to player and game to game, which is odd, and a little like 1960's games that had ball capture that could be stolen.

The only ramp in the game is the Wall, accessible only from the upper right flipper (see also High Speed) so it's a strange hybrid between a ramped shooter's game like many that came after it and the lower playfield feels like a throwback. The bumpers and top rollovers hardly play a big role in the game. And the standups play a lot like old-school drop targets: SKATE to relight the magnet, WAR for Multiball lock, and ABC for relighting the left outlane kickback (THE WHIP, another great theme integration that feels kinetically just like the real life analog that inspired it).

The Pit does add something I don't like about this game. While sending the ball from the pit to the magnet on the Wall of Death shot is a clever (relatively) early use of a magnet it adds a pause -- a major pause -- in what's otherwise a fast, fast game. Because The Pit is an easy shot from either flipper, if the magnet's on there's no real reason not to take it, and then bag a Wall shot -- it causes a lot of breaks in the overall flow.

All that adds up to something that's pretty modern -- there are eight distinct shots on the playfield to make, all of which are worth going for at various times, including some side bank shots -- but which isn't entirely into the next era of play in terms of complexity. It's a good game for practice, but also for casual play if you want to play without the tension of working towards a wizard mode, as it were.

Historically, this is right at the end of the solid state era - one of the last five or six SS games Williams produced. It's post-backglass (modders: this is crying out for an alternative translite) but has the kind of simplistic sameness between games of the 1989-90 final SS games (See Earthshaker, Funhouse, Diner, et alia) - simple mode in a remote lock, only one multiball mode, and essentially one "money" shot (the Wall in this case) with a lot of meandering around the playfield. And it is missing a signature toy (think the coffee cup in Diner, Rudy in Funhouse, the shaker in Earthshaker) -- I'm so tempted to add a plastic roller skate in the middle of this as a mod. I personally really love this Williams era, and each of these late SS machines has something to say for it and some staying power, even if they're not entirely immersive (good players will repeat everything on these machines in a good game).

It's definitely not for everybody (see also: blech artwork and love/hate music) but it's a serious sleeper for a fast game. And as noted, it really is a great bridge between High Speed and No Fear. Not boring.
6 years ago
Roller Disco's a widebody with double sets of flippers, with a mostly open playfield, so it lends itself to verrrrryy loooonnnng and slow ball play. Whether this is a blessing or a curse is a matter of taste. The scoring set is heavily loaded on bonus, although there's a long left side vari-target to collect bonus that allows for a progressive approach to scoring, as well as bonus carryover. It's relatively difficult to return a ball through the upper rollovers -- you have to get lucky off a top bounce from the pop bumpers - so being able to light A-B-C-D and get the two top star rollovers is a little quixotic. Not that it isn't a challenge, but it's more a matter of shoot the ball high and wide and hope for either a pop-up, or if lit, a roll down the mini-outlanes in the upper playfield in order to score specials. So the play is, well, OK.

As far as the theme, while there are some cute little squibs on the attract mode, the machine was just a bit too early to really capitalize on having Disco snippets incorporated, so it's a surprisingly quiet machine. Most of the shots do have semi-distinctive sound effects. But between the art work and the sounds, it's a lot less fun than the theme choice might suggest. (Oddly enough, the theme was too early to incorporate the kind of technology needed to emphasize the theme, and too late culturally to be cool.)

I may add this to my list of "ersatz licensed themes" - it may or may not have been meant to capitalize off the "Roller Disco Roller Boogie" movie of 1979, a year before its release.

As far as owning it, like any widebody, it's a labor of love for someone who has the space. (Disclaimer: I don't own one, but I help maintain one, sort of, for somebody who does...and who picked it up for the chore of moving it out of a garage, because they are BEARS to move even a few inches.)

One speculative note: certainly this is a game that will benefit MIGHTILY from an LED conversion and some add-on toys (like a flashing disco globe as a topper), and if it could be wired for sound with some appropriate songs, I can see making this into a major fun party pin. But it would require somebody with the proper motivation and creativity.
6 years ago
I'm not sure what I can add to the discussion of ToM, but having played it to death when it first came out, it's always struck me as having excellent balance in the scoring. It has a wizard mode that's fun to work towards and which isn't so difficult as to be impossible but nevertheless is a real achievement. It's got good tournament chops and also plays well as a single player. As noted, about the only real criticism is the prevalence of maintenance headaches from the magnetic toys, particularly the trunk, and the degree to which a poorly-tuned Theater of Magic will just drive you ape, fast. It's far from the most temperamental machines of its era, but it goes from near perfection to horrors pretty fast, especially since it's got some drain zones on the outlanes and some STDM opportunities if flippers, ramps, plungers, and toys are off a bit.
6 years ago
The artwork is whacky, and is in a style that says "early 60's over the top comedy" reminiscent of its two inspirations, the movie "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and Mad Magazine. But of more interest to players and collectors will be the multiball/extra ball/add a ball feature, which requires completing a progressive series of steps. The locked ball is fed down a "slide" parallel to the plunger lane via a gate which is opened either via a plunger skill shot or a left-"orbit" style shot over a rollover. The locked ball is then fed progressively down three steps by hitting two out of three lower playfield features - two mushroom bumpers and a right mini-orbit rollover. The final release scores 100 points (a lot on this machine) and allows the player to have a multiball or effectively an extra ball. This locked ball can be "stolen" in two player games, a feature touted in contemporary advertising for the game. Mid-playfield there are three pop bumpers which are worth ten points each. There's no bonus feature, so much of the strategy surrounds the sequence of shots for the locked ball.

It's a strong example of the kind of innovation Ted Zale was allowed to put into Bally machines of the era, where virtually every machine he designed had a unique, new mechanical feature of some sort. As an early Art Stenholm, it also features the strange comic caricatures that are a distinctive feature of his games.
6 years ago
Why do I love this unusual machine? I shouldn't. No upper flippers. Long ramps are not much in play. It's got fairly a fairly simple rules set. There's a ton of luck involved with high scores, digital luck at that. And it's in the heart of the absurd point hyperinflation of the mid 90's; a billion is just a kind of OK score on this machine.

Oh, despite all that, it's just fun as hell. For one thing, the jazzy Theme from Peter Gunn music. The 1930's hardboiled private dick - problem gambler narrator, like from some kind of noir film they never made. (Yes, it's a teensy bit like Clue: The Pinball, but not really.) The (tiny) logic puzzle involved in getting to the suspect. 2, 3, and 4-ball multiballs. A wizard mode that's not really a wizard mode. A hidden midnight mode. The weird-ass triple scoop in the front, which is unlike any other game's (and really does require some skill). The sequencing required to get certain bonuses. The variety of strategies available to score high. It's got Novice mode for your guests and beginners, it has buy ins to keep it going, it's got cute little quotes like the Pack of Rats and the (mostly) meaningless Secret Bookcase lock. Despite the ostensibly violent theme, it's a good kids' game - see also those easy multiballs and the not-really-bloody "murders" one has to solve.
6 years ago
If you don't freak out and/or burst out laughing the first time you get 13 ball multiball, something is wrong with you. That's the feature this game is remembered for, of course, and truth to tell managing 13 ball multiball fruitfully may not be a transferrable skill but it will stretch you out in a way no other game quite will.

That said, the game certainly has other limitations, with a crowded playfield and some oddities in the programming (at least in the original release, I have no idea if there've been any updates, but I couldn't see any on recent games I've played). But, it's got some truly outstanding toys (great rocket stuff) and the inspired repress-valve launch (that launched the accident on the real Apollo 13) always makes me chuckle.

It's definitely a noble addition to the grand tradition of space game themes in pinball, and a great licensed theme - space disaster - that's adequately incorporated into the modes. One of those games that's a lot of fun to play from time to time and maybe a bit more fun that its individual feature set might suggest.

I can't comment knowledgeably on how hard it is to maintain, but when this was first released I saw a few machines in the wild that seemed permanently broken. I played the bulk of my games on one that never seemed to have a problem, though, and the PAPA machine seemed like it was in excellent working order.
6 years ago
RBION may be one of those love it or hate it machines, but it's all Lawlor at its heart, and this is a champion's game among the early Y2K era Stern.

The playfield doesn't break a lot of new ground, but you'll instantly see self-quotation from Twilight Zone, Addams Family, and the 80's classic Lawlor machines such as Earthshaker. Among the familiar features: a between the bumper shot to the left (although relatively inconsequential for scoring in RBION), two tight up the middle shots and a close standup bank almost dead center set against a scoop, multiple top flipper orbit shots, and low side features. It has a second plunger lane, albeit an autofire one for locked balls, another Lawlor standard feature. There's even a talking giant head (the shrunken head), although thanks to the vintage and manufacturer it's not an actual moving head ala Red, Ted, Rudy, et alia.

The final product is a maven's variety of shots - fore and backhand options for almost every shot are available, none of them too easy (although the right ramp is pretty low difficulty), and while there's a little start and stop with some of the scoops, in general the action is pretty free flowing and can get fast. It's extremely easy to get a multiball of some sort (half the modes are multiballs) but the "main" multiball of three balls takes a reasonable sequence of shots, and the wizard mode is hellaciously difficult to get to, requiring successful completion of all the modes. There's a sort of bonus multiball, the slyly named RIPOFF mode, that's independent of the modes or the main multiball.

What sets RBION apart, though, is the layering. Modes can be stacked, and using the tic-tac-toe gimmick temple up the center ramp to time things like the 2X playfield in combination with one of the multiballs - or if you're truly amazing, the Atlantis mode - can lead to amazing point totals for rounds that normally feel like chicken feed. Because there's a set of several progressive goals, while it doesn't have the extremely deep rules set of some more recent vintage machines, it makes for a variety of game play and goals.

The Stern engineering is a blessing and a curse: game control is relatively easy, and outlane drains are boring (none of the panic of the left outlane of TZ), but flipper touch isn't as elegant as the classic Lawlor Williams machines. There aren't as many playfield toys -- a Bigfoot or a Rollerskating Penguin, or an actual Idol instead of an illustrated one, wouldn't have added more than a few bucks of cost and would have added to the fun factor.

Now, as to the theme (and artwork). This is where the love-it or hate-it aspect comes in. Ripley's itself is an old school throw back to a pre-internet time when a lot of weirdness in the world that was real, some that was fake, and whether any of it was significant or not was hard to evaluate. The Sunday RBION columns and the even older newsreels and traveling super-side-shows, only a few steps away from a carnival freak show, weren't exactly textbook anthropology or natural history, nor were they culturally sensitive by modern standards, but they did pique interest in people about things outside their sphere of experience. Fun, yes, even if you were left wondering whether it was all BS.

This is where I think it's a great Lawlor theme. Even though it's licensed, there's quite a bit of Lawlor whimsy built in that pokes gentle fun at the theme (not taking Ripley seriously, having him as a pseudo Indiana Jones figure as he painted himself in the 20s and 30s, the occasional self-deprecating joke such as "Ripoff" Multiball) while incorporating the essence of the old Ripley's books and strips (the Odditorium, with its one-line weird facts) and incorporating a sort of 1930's travel the world feeling. So it's supposed to be sort of dark, dusty, and leathery, like one of those local museums you stumble upon that hasn't been updated in sixty years. I can fully see why this might not appeal to some people, but if you're in the right mindset, it can be lots of fun to go along with the theme. My kids have enjoyed talking along with the Shrunken Head and reading the "facts" and looking for jokes and easter eggs. It's strange. And very unlike a lot of playfields in that regard. An acquired taste, yes, perhaps.

So, calling it "Stern's Twilight Zone" or "The Poor Man's Twilight Zone" are both fairly apt descriptions - it's not quite the equal of TZ or TAF but it's a very playable machine with its own rewards, and a celebration of odd and funky like the best of Lawlor with his fascination alternating between disaster zones and freakish characters.
6 years ago
I like this game immensely despite hating the way it plays some times, and the generally symmetrical layout, because it revels in its oddity.

First off, a classical theme - the legend of Medusa! Complete with hunky drawings of gods, demi-gods, monsters, and heroes of both sexes so it's not sexist per se, just lurid. Did I say lurid? The artwork just gushes all over the playfield. It's a little hard to see, with darker brownish hues, but well worth taking in.

The playfield has upper and lower parts. There's three pop bumpers in the lower section. You access the upper playfield via the plunger (with a timed shot for various skill shot values), but not too hard, as it will bounce out the left side if you go full measure. So the skill shot is a combination of points reward and trying to to lay the ball into the upper playfield. You can also get back to the upper playfield through a center shot up through the bumpers, or via left and right orbits. While the orbits are symmetrical, the left has bonus X advances and the right has progressive points values.

On the right of the lower playfield is a bank of drop targets, and the big scores are made by getting the drop targets down here while getting the mini-drops and saucer value in sequence in the upper playfield. In general you want to get it up the left orbit for bonus X and work the upper playfield as much as possible, but you can't entirely ignore the lower playfield.

The upper playfield's flippers are a throwback - old school two inchers, complete with the old Gottlieb-style lock-together on a timer if you hit the A and B lights on top.

On the bottom is the devious snake-like feature, ugly outlanes with double posts that are like navigating Scylla and Charybdis (just to mix up our mythological tales a bit), plus the bumpers that are major hazards if they get hit from below. The outlanes eat balls incredibly, and if you have a tight tilt it's quite difficult to nudge them back. But it can be done, as an advanced skill, so it's a player's feature in some ways, although you'll be cursing Medusa and her stoney drains fairly certainly.

I tend to dislike symmetry, bad hazard outlanes, and survive-or-die rules sets, yet I like this machine. Go figure.
6 years ago
In the top five of most racist themes, featuring a caricature of a Mexican, complete with Donkey, and a cantina scene. There's no coherence to the imagery other than to reinforce the stereotype.

The basic play is: hit the right lane to light the spinner on the left orbit shot; hit the left orbit to spin the spinner for big points and open the right gate; keep repeating the left orbit shot as much as you can to build points and bonus. It's simple and not an ineffective rules set, although the machine plays a little boxy on the right and if you have weak or hot flippers it's very hard to get the left shot correctly. I'd rate the game play as decent....but then you look up at that glass for your score, and if you don't wince, something is wrong with you.
6 years ago
Stars is an excellent game that's really held up well over the years. I go long enough between stints playing it that I tend to forget it has a nice progressive points scheme, where you alternate hitting targets to get additional points on the spinners, bonus X for completing a bank, and eventually a special light for completing both banks (available at a standup). It has only a single bumper, but it's got a lot of kinetic action for its placement. There are three overlapping arcs/parabolas that play dominantly, and you can if you want make almost every shot from both flippers, although it has the typical crossover pattern for most shots. The left spinner is harder, hidden up beyond the banks, but isn't impossible. In general it's got a lovely open playfield.

The artwork also is pretty cool; it's a generic space scene, with a kind of SST like rocket on the backglass, and spacey stuff on both the cabinet sides and playfield. There isn't a huge incorporation of space sounds and a "story" on the playfield, though.

The one caveat is that there's no blinking indicator for which player is up, and this is one of those odd machines with the player scores not in left to right top to bottom order -- it goes up from bottom left and then down to the right. In tournament or multiplayer games, make sure you keep track of who's shooting!
6 years ago
I've only ever played two iterations of this machine, and they both had weird mushy flippers. I have been assured by another player that this is not universally true with CRs, but there it is.

The design is sleek and uncluttered, without a lot of extraneous artwork, and there's a simple saucer to collect what's on the spinner wheel (which is a ring of lit lights in the lower playfield). The saucer collects the value on the spinner; otherwise it rotates around, although there's a "top spinner" light. If you get a special or an extra ball (which doesn't do any good at all in tournament play, this being a pre-SS game with no alternate settings for points) it's kind of an exciting roulette-type award, but it's a high risk sequence and not a path to a high score.

The playfield has only one shot, really - up the left orbit. You can light a bumper for 1000 points, up to the three bumpers, let the ball rattle around, and try to recover. There isn't a safe shot from the left flipper other than passing (which doesn't work with the mush flippers). There's a right lane shot which is difficult but which doesn't return to the top rollover lanes. All in all, not a great rule set.

The artwork is a bunch of sophisticates at a casino, presumably Monte Carlo, not a tie-in to the 1967 James Bond parody movie, but is kind of meh. The most recent one I played on, at a tournament, had been retrofitted with LEDs and it looked nice and bright, as befitting the casino theme, so I'd recommend that if you are buying one.

It's an unusual game in North America, I don't know how common it is to find in Europe, so worth a play for curiosity but it's not going to be a favorite.
6 years ago
I've been playing WCS for a generation now and the machine always seems to be more than the sum of its parts. I'm not a soccer fan and certainly no fan of FIFA. The crowded playfield, the odd fall offs into outlanes, the miscellaneous frustrations of idiosyncratically-tuned machines -- all of these things should drive me crazy, but I keep shoveling quarters into WCS whenever I find one. Maybe it's lovable Striker, maybe it's the nice progression through cities, maybe it's the relatively simple wizard mode, I don't know. I can never quite put my finger on it the way I can other contemporary machines. But it has had staying power for nearly a quarter century. That makes it a great machine.

I do NOT like the LED retrofits on WCS I've seen, FWIW. They are too bright and distracting; this is meant to be a pale game, not a gaudy one.
6 years ago
I like this idea of a retro playfield with a modern DMD and chip-based multimode and multiple goal machine, and it's largely successful. Clearly quite a bit of thought went into getting the old playfield feel just right, and there are lots of different kinds of skills and shots to make compared to the modern ramp-and-habitrail designs. It plays deep as a result, and although it's not the kinetic overload of machines of recent vintage, neither is it the snoozer on repeated play that some old-school EMs can become. A hidden classic.
6 years ago
The game, among small manufacturers, uniquely plays well and has a very decent overall playfield design. I wasn't able to get deep enough into modes to evaluate its depth and lastability, but despite a few odd ball-eating features, it left me wanting to play more. It's fast, it's got a sort of understandable racing theme (although I couldn't quite figure out how it related to real cycle racing), and unlike very other bleeping $U#@)))$#@ small manufacturer, they seem to know what QA is on their software builds. At least I had no discernible glitches. I don't think this will ever become my favorite pin - theming in part is a bit too familiar with every other motorized sports game that's been produced - but I'd be more than willing to try to crack it if there was one closer to where I live.
6 years ago
Meh. So we have an R-rated pinball machine; unlike Lebowski, where the cussing makes some kind of elegant tie-in to what's going on in the pinball game, this is just kind of thrown out there. The machine I played on was full of bugs, throwing balls out and swallowing them, and the playfield seemed really unbalanced. Even getting into a couple of multiballs, I didn't feel that sense of either discovery or anticipation, and hitting jackpots was strangely underplayed. I don't like the feel of the flippers, either, which feel like they're toys. The bugs in the software and bad STDM throws turned me off soon enough, though, and I doubt seriously there's much in the theme to draw me back in given the poor overall gameplay. But, it's still better than Domino's.
6 years ago
This was in a tournament - a TOURNAMENT - I played in, if you can imagine that. I can't, because the machine was so badly malfunctioning (throwing balls STDM, zotzing them, switches not tripping, etc.) it was taken out of the tournament after an hour or so. I idiotically had played a bunch of games on it by then, figuring as the machine I was least familiar with I should spend the most time on it. I even more idiotically played more later when it got moved onto the floor and turned back on, because of some kind of pathological interest in the truly terrible.

Well, I could rag on the horrible theme (Domino's Pizza?) and the resulting banal artwork and animations but they take a backseat to the truly off-line design of the playing field. Every Spooky I've tried has had similar issues, but this was truly the worst.

I'll just leave it at that: I'm no fan of most Stern designs of the last 15 years, and am sick of their playfield gimmicks that trap balls and toys that break after being on site for three months, but at least they generally work and have a coherent set of rules. This, OTOH, may be the most ill-conceived and poorly-executed pinball machine in a generation.
6 years ago
Update, some years later: I'm not changing the rating just yet, but a respected friend has persuaded me that I just played a particularly problematic machine and that properly working it's fantastic. Perhaps the re-release by Pinball Brothers will give me an opportunity to reassess it.
I got a chance to play this on-location, and fed a lot of quarters into it only to find it's got significant bugs. The other Heighway game was in much better playing shape (the motorcycle game) and hands down I'd rather play that one.

It wasn't just the bugs that suddenly stopped the game from time to time, or left the machine thinking it had balls when it didn't; the game just stopped having flow of any sort, and while the playfield looks like it might as least be as good as your typical Stern, there just wasn't any consistent ball rhythm to the thing.

I will say the jaw-droppingly impressive back display nearly swayed me, or rather, it did inveigle me into putting a few more dollars into the machine. The theme allows you to pick from the first two Alien movies (sort of two games in one that way) (what, no love for Alien Resurrection?) and the animated video display on the back shows super well-done versions of the heads up displays and shooting style from the movie. It has real potential in that sense to be a great theme pin.

But in the end, it was deadly boring because of the failures and the multiple ball hiccups (particularly with the "plunger" and scoops). Not knowing exactly when the machine is going to burp and die is not the kind of tension one wants to build up with _Alien_.
6 years ago
I got to play a prototype version of this game in both single user mode and multi-machine networked mode at a recent tournament where it was up at the venue. The basic game is like a carnival game, more so than a traditional pinball; you have to shoot at animated pirate ships in the backglass/animated display as they pass from left to right and change directions, shooting the pinballs exactly so. It's an interesting training exercise, as it were, but the play itself is like every video submarine game from the 70's and 80's, only you're flipping balls instead of firing on-screen torpedoes.

The networked game is basically a parallel-play version, where you get identical challenges but one of you does better than the other.

As with all the other P3s I've tried (I think I've tried them all, at least all I've heard of) there are some intriguing ideas for innovation here that come up significantly short when it comes to execution in terms of a Fun Quotient. So I give it a friendly pat on the head but it's way, way down on my must-own must-play list right now.
6 years ago
A very close runner-up to the similarly-designed Raven for a contender for worst pinball machine ever. Everything about the build is cheesy and cheap-feeling, and on a well-maintained machine it's highly unpredictable whether "made" shots will actually make it up around the ramps or slots or what have you. Throw in a photographed translite "theme" that seems like it should be from some obscure British science fiction TV show, but in fact is nothing (a knock off of Strange Science, Bride of Pinbot, or whatever by some theories, but my theory is it was a random photo of odd people somebody threw up as 'inspiration' on the design board that accidentally got put into the final game).
6 years ago
I had to play this game in competition at Pinburgh, and I was reminded of why it might possibly be the worst machine produced of all-time. From the horrible theme and incredibly cheaply-produced artwork to the nearly unplayable rule set to the cheesy mid 80's flippers to the dim and tiny LED scoring, and the hard to see playing field, I have tried hard to find one redeeming feature about this mess, and have failed.
6 years ago
I've played this game enough to feel I can rate it, but I don't feel like I can properly review it, given that I swoon with joy every time I hit the start button. I haven't gotten through full wizard mode so I can't comment on its lastability, either, but the tremendous variety of shots and multiple levels of play suggest I won't be bored with it anytime this century. Gimmicks? It has invented whole new categories of gimmicks. Playfield layout? Among the best ever. Surprises, overlapping modes, an extremely large number of permutations on how to maximize scoring, a variety of multiballs, and an array of combos. It doesn't quite incorporate the "one of everything" aspect of Wizard of Oz (which may be a good thing) and it's an incredibly busy playfield, so it's hard to call it perfect (if such a thing will ever exist), but it's clearly the best design of a generation, with only Lebowski possibly giving it a run for the money for having a superior theme and integration. (Are you the good guy or the bad guy in this pinball, with its hommage to Lawlor disasters of previous machines? Who knows? Who cares? It's only the lack of coherence in the theme that really keeps the design from pure nirvana levels).

The best.
6 years ago
A game where the schtick (the elevator!) and the artwork are so pleasing that it raises a fairly simple game play up to a level of enjoyment well above the sum of its parts. The scoring is pretty simple in the end - for a two-inch flipper game, it's got about four shots to make - get it up into the bumpers high and leave it, collect the elevator levels 1-12 at will. But enjoy the swells partying down all the while, and bump and grind as best you can. The era is straight up gambling -- the payoff on this game are specials, and the literal payoff came from collecting them as frequently as you could -- so if you own this game, you might do something like have a jar of coins or candy or something and you get one every time you make a special.
6 years ago
The flow on Flash is quite good. There's two loop orbit shots that are overlapping parabolas, asymmetric and which play different from right and left. But you can't just sit there making the shots; the big payoff is on a lit right spinner, which requires going down to the lower playfield. I think the bumpers are a bit superfluous to the overall scoring (simply rattling the ball around the top rollovers) but the overall gameplay is excellent. I'm not a huge fan of the theme and artwork, but it's not ugly and the 'flash' theme and strobe match the pinball idea pretty well. All in all I think among the better gems of the early SS era, and while clearly hearkening back to the late EM era for the point scoring design and not using chip scoring quite as much as later machines, there's a clean simplicity that does not fall off into tedium.
6 years ago
A really excellent theme -- various emergency responses -- and an outstanding gimmick - a flying helicopter that lifts your ball up and allows you to drop it along an arc or into a rescue pen -- are marred by a horribly unbalanced playfield layout. The modes could have been fairly awesome (I'm thinking more favorably of the contemporaneous Big Hurt from Gottlieb, which made good use of different baseball themes in the modes and had relatively balanced scoring among them) but the lack of reasonable shots makes the play heavy. On the lower half, there's a hook to a saucer that blocks off all other left side shots. There's a long lane up to bumpers that you almost can't miss with a reasonable aim. There's a long shot up to a single drop target on the top with a saucer (no VUK, where it might be expected), and a very boring and relatively hard right ramp that goes straight back. The different colored balls in the captive ball area are cute: like emergency vehicle lights.

So the net effect is lots of potentially bright and shiny shticks lost under a sea of strange shots. There's no flow and most shots are there and back and returned via just a couple of paths. It really is a bit disappointing. That said, for an initial play or two, kids will like this one, if you can show them how to make the left side shot. And then they will be bored.
6 years ago
I will voice a minority opinion (apparently) on Fire, and sing its praises. It's an unusual game, that feels like a throwback, but which has a very distinctive set of shots and a feel unlike most games of its era and quite a bit different from where pinball headed after the 1980's. That may be why many players don't like it and get bad first impressions, but in terms of having a relatively unique set of shot skills to make, it definitely warrants some second looks if you're serious about pinball.

First off, what it doesn't have. There's no upper flipper (at a time when this was common). There are no pop bumpers, at all. The slings are limited. There's no licensed theme, that's for sure. There aren't habitrail ramps - in fact the two most prominent ramps, the rescue ramps, lead nowhere but to a dead end, and the two loop ramps are subtle. It's symmetric in layout as well.

What it does have that's challenging:

- the pop-up stopper (fire plug) in the middle requires a different kind of flipper/ball management. The ball runs down from the rescue ladders,and the ability to get the plug activated and reactivated plays like old school rollover with center post pop-ups, but with the twist of the high ramps.

- a four-shot sequence required to go through the rescues and ball captures to multifball.

- a hidden ball U-turn in the center, followed by a launch ramp (raised) in the center (the ladder), which requires, in the manner of Attack from Mars, control of center shots that tend to come back down the middle. This is far more challenging than the typical ramp-ramp-ramp game of the era.

- an up and down back and forth flow that alternates with the two loops for ball control. The symmetry, which normally annoys me, is a feature here, in that it's required you alternate sides.

- the theme!

I personally adore the theme. It's old school fire fighting (as suggested, possibly the Great Chicago Fire - including possibly the first Williams Cow! - although the East Side and West Side layout suggests it's supposed to be New York). The artwork of the burning city and the mechanical effect of the burning city are wonderful. The working fire bell ringing is very cool - it's like "High Speed" for a 19th century fire department!

So, all that said, this might not be the game for you. But it's a different kind of game, and one with a very reasonable design center, and a theme that will please non-wizards.
6 years ago
I finally got a chance to play this at some length, and was a bit surprised on several fronts.

First off, the lack of delivery on the theme. The video clips used are...boring. This was an exciting show, and there's lots of shots of, say, the Penguin looking one way followed by the Penguin looking the other way. I got well into the modes of this game and watched other players for quite a while, and it's hard to believe the missed opportunity here.

The playfield layout has some problems. The frequency with which I got balls stuck in the rotating thing below the phone was strange. Waiting for a randomized ball clear is not helpful for the Fun Quotient. And the game seemed a bit unbalanced, with a lot of busy features stuck around the bumpers without an interesting visual payoff.

The bottom of the playfield is open, and there are toys spread around the game, which also gives the overall art design a very odd feeling. There's not a lot of either focus or flow.

I have a feeling the novelty of having a screen and live video was distracting, and having not studied Jersey Jack's examples well enough, this is that came out.

The basic sequencing and software design seems fine, and that's the game's salvation, but I'm still astonished at how ineffective the use of the Batman ethos is in the game features. More humor, Biff, Bang, Pow, and maybe just a little more Bat Girl and motorcycles and flaming bat mobiles and so forth?
6 years ago
Atlantis has a dreamy watery theme, with fishes on the sides of the cabinet and three presumable denizens of the watery continent/city swimming away from an underwater palace. The teal and aquamarine in the playfield may lull you to sleep, but it's consistently watery, that's for sure.

The playfield is mellow, too. There's only two pop bumpers, at top. The asymmetry is excellent, with an outcropped target bank on the left you can squeeze by to get to the top of the machine, or a top feeder shot for a pachinko-like bonus ladder leading (dangerously) down to inlane/outlanes on the right. The big scoring really requires getting all the drop target bank down, so there's aimed shots on the left at almost every angle, which is great and challenging. It has a level of lastability a slight cut above average for the era as a result, even if the audio-visual feedback is a little below par. (WE WANT MORE MERMAIDS!)

Hey, it's a better machine than Waterworld!
6 years ago
I don't remember ever playing this when it came out, so my recent turn on it at in somebody's basement was my introduction to the game. It feels very transitional, moving into the solid state era, and has a jungle cat hunter theme that doesn't really tell much of a story or get integrated with the shots. That said, the playfield pleases me. There are asymmetric shots, and managing the double flippers feels like you have an elephant gun - a little high caliber and slightly out of control until you get the hang of it. In any event, it felt like a fair game that rewarded skill more than some other SS games of the era, and the widebody layout is a bit unusual as well. I expect it would be a good collector's game for somebody interested in getting interesting examples of variations in design.
6 years ago
Disclaimer: I've only played a single (prototype) instance of TBL, at one sitting, so take the comments and rating with an appropriate grain of salt.

I normally am not a fan of licensed themed games. Maybe it's the licensed movies and heavy metal groups and so forth aren't generally my cuppa tea. But I always have liked original themes, particularly ones that are evocative without being imitative.

TBL is probably the greatest theme integration in the history of pinball. I won't belabor the point, but starting with a great theme -- a cult movie that has a noir progression, and with a built-in visual schtick of bowling (itself an old meme in pinball and coinop) is a tremendous starting point. In the rules and multiballs, and the gimmicks (including the rug under the machine, which really does tie the whole room together), and the overall flow, combined with full video and an R-rating, makes this as true and evocative to the whole TBL experience as if you were watching an outtakes director's cut DVD.

My feelings about sustainability may change if I ever get another chance at a marathon session, but if that holds, it may hold the spot of best ever.
6 years ago
My user name probably gives away my bias, but there isn't a Lawlor machine I don't love to pieces. This despite the fact that as a rule, in non-Lawlor-land, I prefer machines with more open play fields and where everything is visible. Road Show, if I can commit apostasy here, is even better than TZ or TAF -- because it's got an original theme, albeit a strange tale of a cross-country construction crew -- and isn't a licensed game, I feel like the odd modes and hidden souvenirs and easter eggs all point to a hilarious unspecified story of some sort. There's no upper playfield or captive ball or magnet, but it's got a little bit of everything else, and the playing regions of this machine are varied. I just haven't gotten bored in the nearly quarter century since it came out (though I have never owned one, I'll sit and play anything on location until the cows [MOOO] come home).

The only faults I can find with this game have to do with mechanical quirks. It seems like very machine I've played has had something - a kickout that went close to STDM, a curve to the outlane, a balky kickout from Bob's Bunker. An idealized perfectly-tuned machine would be amazing. As far as the rules set, I'd be happier if modes could overlap, but for a linear-progression to wizard mode game, it's just fabulous and pretty well balanced.
6 years ago
I played Lexy a half dozen times or so at the Austin Bat City Open in June, and got a chance at the same time to play all the other P3 machines. I'm very much on the fence about them as a lot. I love the innovation here, the sweat and intensity put into a new concept for building games, and the full-field video, while not entirely new, is very well done. But the mechanics feel a bit clunky and off; there's a lot of thunking and odd transitions for the pinball, and the mechanical flipper mechanisms feel strange (although perhaps that's unfamiliarity) after the warmth of the solenoid. While the component integration with modes allows for quite a large and varied rule set, Lexy itself felt a bit disjointed. I got a terrible score on one game and a fantastic one on another, and both games felt like I was making flashing shots and controlling the ball about equally. With the large lower playfield display, every shot is a long shot - and despite the fact there were about 10,000 gimmicks/modes among the top playfield ramps and diverters and popup blocks, I felt like the lower playfield was sort of a wasteland. This just may take some getting used to processing the video under the surface of the field -- it's definitely a different cognitive skill than has previously been required in pinball.

So, consider this a "temporary" rating, pending a full production machine to play on at length. The concept has a lot of promise in some ways, but whether it catches on or not probably depends on there being a "hit" machine in the P3 stable, and I didn't feel that with Lexy, not just yet.
6 years ago
This game came out when I was just at the age where the opposite sex was becoming really, really important to me, and while I enjoyed staring at the artwork, even then the dagger and snakes the eponymous heroine of this game wraps herself around seemed a bit hilariously over the top. And what's with the guy holding a cigarette in tails? Is he some kind of French dupe of the famous spy?

Well, the theme is what it is (sexy woman needing NO licensing, huzzah) but when I recently played the SS version of this in a tournament, I was quite pleased at how well the gameplay has aged. It's got a bit open playfield, drop targets that are worth going for, and orbit lanes both left and right. But it's the straight up the middle to the saucer that's the money shot in this game, for the key to scoring big is building that bonus and keeping it. It's a fairly simple rule set at that, but the challenge for building a high score is real and as such it's got quite sustainable playability.
6 years ago
Not to be confused with the 1960 Williams machine, this is the original 1949 woodrail.

I had the privilege to play a partially-restored Golden Gloves at a friend's lair recently, possibly the oldest machine I've played outside of a museum-cade setting. It's an unapologetic gambling game/trade stimulator, with the upper playfield almost unreachable after the ball drops down (but not entirely). It gets decent "gimmicks" rating because of the one-way gate between bumpers at the top, a truly evil center lane drain. The rubbers are oriented like boxing rings (smaller one at top, bigger at bottom) with bumpers *below* the level of the flippers -- which flip backwards (and always together, either flipper button activates both flippers). It's a pre-wheel scoring machine, with scores indicated just by bulbs lit up behind scores on the backglass,and has a manual feeder for the balls. There are six lit bumper-like posts, there's an object of getting those all darkened (not entirely sure what the rules are for it, but I managed to do it).

The backglass art is...well, wow. It's (according to my friend) based on a real boxer, a middleweight champ of the era, but I'm not entirely sure the artist had anatomy or the basics of figure drawing or perspective down. OK, I'm sure he didn't, at all. The figure is sporting an odd grin and is grotesquely misshapen. It sort of works, in an odd way, for a pug-themed game, but it's an acquired taste if you're going to be staring at it a lot.
6 years ago
Fun Fest is a weird gogo-music sort of theme, with an old dude getting down with some hot and swinging ladies on the backglass and music notes scattered through the playfield and artwork. My friend who owns one has replaced the bumper lights with some colored LEDs, and it's a great look - pink and green and all those transitioning colors from the psychedelic era to the disco-pastel era. It's complete with both gambling reels (a swing reel and a credit ticker).

The best thing about the play is it has three "gimmicks", or at least features. One is a pop-up bumper in between the flippers; if it's up it blocks STDM drains, but it's useless for shot making or passing if you let the ball come to rest on it. Two rollovers send it down, two more send it back up. Managing your shot selection around keeping the center pop-blocker up is kinda tricky and an interesting challenge. The seven bumpers (five in upper playfield, two straddling the saucer at the top of the plunger exit) also add a bit of "Fun Fest" frenzy. There's also a kicker on the left outlane, and the big gimmick, a moving target in the middle that scores a value or opens the right outlane gate depending on your timing of a slowly changing indicator light. So it's got a lower-playfield-heavy set of challenges.

My quibble with it for gameplay is in its blocky symmetry. There aren't orbit shots; the left and right high playfield shots go to slings (although you can aim for a target, which is OK). There are no inlanes, although you can effectively close ALL of STDM and outlane drains (if kicker is lit and gate is open) so there's this strange dichotomy that the upper playfield feels like pachinko, and the lower open playfield has some drama to it. It's an acquired taste, and I have vacillated a little on the fun quotient as a result.

If I owned this machine, I'd be very tempted to mod this - rig something that would trigger sound samples with each major target, to get that "go go" theme going. As it is, maybe about 5/8 of a barrel of monkeys worth of fun.
6 years ago
There are two things that set this machine apart.

First is, there's an actual rules set, of a sort. You have to work progressively up through numbered targets (not all in order, fortunately) to get the maximum score. A couple of the targets are pretty hard to get, so there's a little challenge to it. It's got a symmetrical layout, with spinner and mini-orbit shots on both sides, so unless you're going for a specific target, there's no premium on passing or left or right flipper return shots. It does play evenly, and fairly, in that regard, and rewards skill.

Second is the oddball theme. My theory is that the Williams people produced this to create a "wholesome" pinball machine, at the exact time pinball was literally on trial in New York and Williams' own reputation as the bar/gambling-oriented pin company was a sore point. So on the top of the backglass, it proclaims "PLAY FLIPPER SKILL GAMES" (see, NOT gambling, folks!) "FOR FUN AND RECREATION." And then to make it even more wholesome, perhaps even educational, the theme is scenes from science and industry, perhaps vaguely linked around the idea of "blue chip" stocks (there is a stock ticker in the artwork, but no other stock market link). Scientists, oil well wildcatters, steel workers, a surveyor, some really nice transportation artwork on the cabinet.

And...for a mid-70's machine, the absence of the ladies is a bit noticeable. Perhaps Williams was responding to charges of sexism in their artwork at the time, but there's a lot of artwork of...well, guys with bulging muscles, including a shirtless stoker smack dab in the middle of the playing field.

All this makes for a really kind of unique machine theme for its day, and while I wish the playability was a bit higher, it does make it an intriguing machine and a bit sui generis.
6 years ago
The layout is asymmetric, with a wide left orbit shot to a set of three rollovers and if you can get it open (hit A and B rollovers or left and right inlanes), and a gate shot to return to the plunger low on the right being the only real left flipper shot. It has only two upper bumpers and limited slings, so it's also not as kinetic as some machines of the same era. It provides a nice challenge and is a pleasant game to play repeatedly.

The scoring is most emphatically bonus-oriented, with only a few 1000-point rollovers and otherwise playfield shots of 50-500 points, with 100-point bumpers. But the very high scores from bonuses require a sequence of shots. First, get your bonus maxed out - the bonus maxes out at 10K through multiple standups and lanes. But then you double it with the saucer or the center rollover at top, and then try to hit the more difficult return-to-plunger shot to collect the bonus, effectively making the whole thing an extra ball.

Overall, it's not a hard machine, and with extra balls awarded for specials and at the "replay" level, it's forgiving - which is why it makes a good machine for kids or neophytes while still having rewards for advanced players. "Easy" but not without a challenge.

I'm a bit torn about the artwork; in retrospect saying "it's not nearly as racist as a lot of other games" seems like the wrong kind of praise to lay on it, but indeed the plains-type Native Americans depicted aren't caricatures and the artwork is a sort of peaceful plains mountain valley scene. The playfield artwork has a vaguely southwestern theme and feels like it's more copied off a blanket, but the color palette is unusual for the era. I still detect no integration of a "theme" into game play, and whether it's anachronistic or not, it gets some minor points on that account. But, all in all, a very decent layout that stands the test of time relative to the fun quotient available. Calm, I'd call it. Peaceful.
6 years ago
Possibly my favorite machine of all-time. It combines a quasi-tie-in (the Tim Burton movie, but also, the original trading card game) with a lot of original riffing in terms of creating a retro 1950's theme that feels like it should have been its own movie altogether. The machine itself is extremely open - which some might not like - but requires, absolutely requires, control shots off an unpredictable center target to fight the saucer. It thus combines pleasant gradually building modes, multiple multiballs, a progressive target towards wizard mode, and....WIGGLING MARTIANS! When well-tuned, it's just an extremely pleasant and rewarding game. It may not have all the gimmicks and multi modes of the contemporary Lawlor / Williams giants (TAF and TZ) but it stands alone among the Bally machines of its era (some of which were quite good, but don't have the same complete combination of skilled gameplay and clever sequencing).
6 years ago
Disclaimer: Clowns give me the creeps. Fun Houses, Carnivals, and Circuses are not my thing. Rudy has always given me nightmares. But the Giant Pinball-Swallowing Head, complete with sound effects, combined with a really nicely balanced set of shots and play rules, makes this the acme of the early Pat Lawlor design era (pre-dot-matrix). I owned this long enough to know it was going to be a keeper (and sold it, again, due to a coastal move that required major downsizing, not because of any fault of the machine). I may not want to own it again -- see also, Clowns Give Me the Creeps -- but when I introduced my kids to it at a show they were all over it and barely noticed the more modern machines nearby. If that's not a ringing endorsement as a Classic, I don't know what is.
6 years ago
This is the game that broke my bank account when it first came out, as I vied to stay on the high score board. It's simpler by modern standards, with the "Getaway" ramp shot being the real money play, along with lit highways. (I owned it but misguidedly sold it when we had to downsize, although I'd frankly played it out by that point.) But in retrospect, this is a really nicely-balanced game, requiring hitting targets, an outhole, ramps, and for high scoring, the inlanes. And when the police radio sound bite comes on, you just get a jones to hit the ramp, and then when the flashing red light comes on on top, it remains a thrill each time to beat the machine and listen to that siren go off. A classic of its era. It's also one of the few non-licensed themed pinball machines with its own sequel, "Getaway", which is also an excellent machine that uses the basic layout and shctick but adds the innovations of dot matrix display and modes. I may yet try to get both of these into my collection again.
6 years ago
I grabbed a Big Hurt for about $400 mostly new just after it came out, and it was cheap because it had enough oddities (including mechanical unreliability) that kind of harshed the buzz. The main thing one notices is it's all about Frank Thomas (try not thinking about the testosterone replacement he's hawking on TV now when looking at this machine) but without any licensed Major League Baseball logos etc. So: no ChiSox, no Comiskey Park, just Frank standing alone. The baseball bat multiball is kinda fun but has some of the flaws of the bat and ball theme games since time immemorial, notably it's just hard to control with skill (and mine had mechanical issues). Each mode (Home Run Derby, etc.) felt a little disconnected. But: if you like baseball, it's one of the only modern baseball themed machines that's playable, and now the real Big Hurt is in the Hall of Fame, if you are a collector it may have a certain caché.
6 years ago
Another machine I once owned -- that was stolen (long story) -- and which stood the test of time and playability. It is one of the best machines of all-time for encapsulating a commercial theme, employing an amusing variety of modes with great accompany animations that cover the (better) parts of the first Indiana Jones trilogy. It has a few cute toys, including biplanes (not part of gameplay) and a rotating idol (a hilarious storage spot for locked balls) and one of the better incorporated scoops (the Well of Souls), and a labyrinth-like upper playfield element (The Path of Adventure). The Wizard mode may be one of the most fun and frenetic multiballs of all time. My major criticism of it remains it's got a very crowded playfield, with a lot of elements low down, so even the orbit shots (which are largely hidden) don't "play long". But still a terrific machine after all these years.
6 years ago
I once owned a Diner, and I regret having parted with it, because it was a great, albeit simple by current standards, original theme game. There's a schtick that's sort of like a series of modes, where you serve up different customers (although there are a few moderately un-PC snippets, to modern ears) and a simple multiball. Ramp shots and a cup of coffee, with a clock on the backglass (which if working adds a lot to the appeal). One of the fine machines in a very good Williams era.
6 years ago
Earthshaker isn't ever going to be a maven's game because of a couple of scoring faults -- you can basically run up the score by hitting the center ramp shot over and over again, one which can be made from either flipper. So from that perspective, despite loop shots, quick multiball and a nice three-ball multiball, and the gimmicks (a tower going up and down, a map of California and Nevada splitting, the first real shaker motor), it may not rank terribly high.

But as a pure Fun Quotient game, this is great. For the era, it's got a few funny sound effects, and the theme of the earthquake -- complete with shaker motor -- combined with the ubiquitous Pat Lawlor / Williams obsession with highways, entrance ramps, and getting around by car in general -- is original, unusual, and cute. More to the general point, kids love it right away, and it's not so complicated as to be inaccessible. A great bridge between eras, and a very good game room machine.

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