Banning, California. Most lifelong California residents would probably scratch their heads upon hearing the name of the place, and those that do know where it is would probably balk at the thought of traveling there.
But last Saturday, October 19, I was thrilled to be driving out by myself to this scarcely known desert community in my little Chevy Spark. It was the second and longest day of the Museum of Pinball's Pinball Madness event. Over 500 pinball machines, both old and new, popular and rare alike, all on free play from 11:00 in the morning, until 1:00am at night. A veritable dream come true for any pinball fan.
Despite suggestions that I should invite cousins, siblings, or friends to join me, I obstinately decided this would be a me day. I didn't want the burden of making sure a friend was enjoying him or herself, and I cringed at the thought that they would want to leave before I was ready. I was prepared to tuck in to a full, unbridled, unadulterated day at this pinball smorgasbord, and that's exactly what I did. Nearly 12 full hours from 11:00am to 11:00pm, I literally played until my tired brain could no longer keep up with my eager heart, and I couldn't score a single point more! And I loved every minute of it.
Needless to say though it may be, Pinball Madness ended up being just as good as it sounds. Literally hundreds of pinball machines, many of which I was seeing with my own eyes for the first time in my life. Favorites, which I have played digitally on FarSight's Pinball Arcade for years—Swords of Fury, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Funhouse, Dr. Dude, Centaur, to name a few—and some more uncommon tables—Orbitor 1, Big Bang Bar, Spirit, City Slicker, Voltan Escapes Cosmic Doom—all available in perfect working order for everyone to try. It was truly a feast for the senses: magnificent artwork gleaming from backboxes and playfields wherever you looked, brilliant lights in every color illuminating from even the darkest corners of the room, bells and chimes and music all chorusing into one great pinball cacophony.
Before visiting the Museum of Pinball, I'd been to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, and even worked at Pinballz in Austin, Texas. But nothing in my experience could ever compare to the Museum of Pinball's stunning collection. If I had the means, and it wasn't a four-hour drive from where I live, I would probably visit the Museum every week, but, sadly, they only open their doors 2-3 times a year. On one hand, it's regrettable that this mega collection can't be enjoyed more often, but on the other, it's probably a good thing so the tables can be preserved in their virtually immaculate condition.
Based on my experience, I highly recommend all pinball fans to visit this incredible collection. It was absolutely worth the $60 ticket, although the place was not without its flaws. For starters, while the square-footage of the building is just tremendous, I was sorry that half the space is dedicated to classic arcade games. While this was undeniably just as impressive as the pinball collection, I feel like the Museum could've made better use of the space by spreading the pins out more. (I am not much of a classic video game guy.) Because there was so very little room between each of the pinball tables, the sound from neighboring machines (often with higher volume settings) made it impossible to hear the games I was trying to play. This is also simply an organizational problem, whereby the most popular games (i.e. Medieval Madness, Attack from Mars, Indian Jones, all of the modern Stern tables, etc.) were placed in a huge clique at the end of each of the rows. By doing this, those machines with the most impressive production quality sound-wise were drowning each other out, rendering it impossible to enjoy their entertaining audio work and excellent soundtracks. This could have been remedied by simply reorganizing the floor so the more popular games were farther apart from one another. I do realize the tables may have been arranged in some kind of chronological order, but perhaps they could've been set up somehow differently.
The last two aspects of the Museum I was sorry about were the facts that it seemed as though the Museum hadn't reset the high scores before the event so that event-goers could enjoy setting the scores themselves (because previous scores were simply too high), and that some of the tables—including some I really wanted to play—were reserved for tournament participants only all day long. I understand that it's almost a sacrilege to reset high scores, especially some that I'm sure were set by past legends, but the result of being unable to achieve a high score or two of one's own was that even though all of the tables were on free play, there wasn't really a sense of accomplishment to any of the playing I did, and because of this lack of motivation, I certainly wasn't playing to the best of my abilities at any one table. In this sense, the place really did feel like a "museum"—a cool, interactive one nonetheless, but still just an opportunity to study the tables and experience them in action. You may be rolling your eyes and blaming my inability to achieve a high score on the fact that I'm maybe not a great pinball player, but I am confident that I am perfectly skilled enough to set a high score from time to time. And with 12 whole hours of dedicated pinball play, and some pretty impressive runs, I think I should have done really well on at least a couple of the tables I played. I wonder, if anyone else was there, how did you do? Did you manage to leave any high scores behind last weekend.
These few petty gripes I had are not enough, however, to keep me away from the Museum of Pinball in the future. I assure you I will be back to participate in the next big event, whenever it may be, and I will be looking forward to enjoying the tables I didn't even get to try out last weekend. If you went, or have gone in the past, please let me know your thoughts in comments below. I'm really interested to hear what other people thought of the place!