I have had AMH in my 12 game lineup for 6 months now. This game is fun and it is very challenging. It's well built, it plays fast, the shots are very satisfying, the toys are great, the callouts are funny and the music is awesome. I personally love the theme and the rules are plenty deep. Overall, this game is possibly a contender for A status, but it's not perfect and I'll explain why. At this point I think I can give a fair analysis of the pros and cons and I'll try not to sugar coat. I'll also try to not spend too much time on the art, dmd and the audio as that's subjective and can be experienced without actually playing the game. I do consider those to be pretty strong positives, though. I'll start with the bad and get that out of the way.
#1 The Difficulty - Yea, I know, 'Since when is difficulty bad?' I mentioned this game was challenging, but it can also be genuinely frustrating. Everything on the playfield seems hell bent on draining the ball, even more so than say Flash Gordon or Bram Stoker's Dracula. Don't get me wrong, I would rather have a game be difficult than too easy and I'm an above average player, but I probably lose about 70% of my balls before the (10 second) ballsaver ends and often lose the next one just as fast. This does make the game great for multiplayer, but it would be nice to make some appreciable progress in the game a little more often, especially considering how deep the rules are. So, what exactly makes the game so difficult? Most of it is what you might expect, but I think these three things are what make the game exceptionally difficult:
(A) The Slings! - The main slingshots are large and are positioned closer to the base of the flipper than on most games. This means that balls will never land at the base of the flipper, but instead tend to hit the sling and bounce out to the tip. This makes ball control very difficult. Drop catching, live catching, nudging and dead flipper passing are your only hope. Even then, most shots will be forced to be made from close to the tip of the flippers. The right sling positioning also interferes with the path to the flipper from the right scoop kickout quite a bit.
(B) The Other Slings! - To add insult to injury, positioned just above the deadly slings is another set of similarly positioned rubber rings on the sides. There are no kickers for these, but they also tend bounce the ball right into the opposite outlane pretty relentlessly. The positioning of the rubber rings at the bottom also tends to guide the ball right down into the outlane on that side. This makes recovering from the ball getting tied up in the slings even more difficult.
(C) No Adjustments - There is no way to adjust the outlane posts or the positioning of any of this stuff.
#2 - The Jump Ramp - This was a creative idea, but I can't help but feel that the game would have played smoother with just a regular ramp here. You can always make the ramp with a direct shot, but it does result in a lot of rattle outs and airballs too. The feeling of making the shot is awesome, but it doesn't happen often enough and I hardly ever see the Theater Ghost as a result. This is also one of the best flow shots in the game, so it feels stunted somewhat. The positioning of the rollover switch at the base of the ramp also seems to be what deviates the ball just enough to not complete the shot in a lot of cases. **EDIT** <<Since the time of writing, I was able to adjust my right orbit ball guide in such a way that the jump ramp is now a completely smooth shot. I no longer feel that this is a negative point for the game provided the user can dial this in if needed on their machine.>>
#3 - The General Illumination - It's been said many times, but the GI on the game might be it's weakest point. The color changing strips are through-the-roof good, but they aren't enough to light the whole playfield with the few scattered GI lamps and three pseudo flashers. Modding in spot lamps for, at least, the slings, the ramps and the hellavator area is a must. At least it's an easy enough fix.
That's it for the bad. Yup, these are my only criticisms of the game. Now onto the good...
#1 - The Rules - The rule set for this game is fantastic and has some innovative ideas I can't remember seeing in any other games. The structure plays out more like a video game than a typical pinball. Sure, there are still the standard things you want and expect to see like jackpots, modes, numerous multiballs, mystery awards, playfield multipliers, varied strategies, stacking, etc., but where it really shines is with the dynamic, multi-tiered progression of the ghost bosses. Once you reach a ghost boss by shooting their corresponding shot(s) enough times, the rules on the field change almost completely. They are all pretty different from each other and also have 'side quests' that can be completed. The objectives are also much more varied than 'shoot x target xxx times'. Completing the core objectives will advance you to yet another tier of the battle with that ghost boss, where you can score jackpots and defeat them. These are also pretty different from boss to boss and feature their own unique side quests for big points. Jackpots can usually be increased by completing other shots, as well. It's just really fleshed out and there's a lot exploring to do.
#2 - The Toys - While I don't think fun and elaborate toys are a requirement of good pinball, this game certainly delivers in spades.
(A) The Hellevator - Likely the most innovative toy to grace a playfield since the B/W days. It basically acts as a scoop that raises and lowers, but it also does this in the middle of a ramp and pulls it off with flying colors. The risk/reward of trying to raise the elevator and lock your next ball without accidentally calling it down to the lower floor is great setup. Even when the elevator is down, this ramp is one of the fastest and smoothest shots in the game, with a quick return to the right flipper.
(B) The Ghost - Who doesn't love a battle magnet? This is sort of a hybrid of the AFM saucer and the CV Ringmaster. When the shield is down, you have to hit the inner 'loop' at the right angles to avoid a sdtm return. This is a skill that gets picked up the more you play the game. The magnet can divert, capture, and fling the ball depending on the current mode. All the while, the glowing ghost toy looks around the playfield and taunts the player.
(C) The Spooky Door - Ok, it's just cool. Bashing the door open is always satisfying. It's primarily used during the Hospital Ghost rounds, where you'll actually see the 'stuck' door give a little as the ball hits it, only to slam closed again. That is, of course, until you finally smash it open and it creeks back on it's hinges. The shot behind the door also has a good feel to it, like a good lock shot, so it's still fun even when the door is open.
#3 The Shots - There's a lot to shoot for on this game and every shot feels great when you make it. No two shots are the same. There's a good amount of flow and combo shots with just a dash of stop-n-go. I also like how the ball can exit from the pop bumpers in multiple ways, which keeps the returns from the upper playfield area fresh. The game plays very fast and furious when you get things going.
#4 Open Source Software - The ability to add my own personal touches here and there with the audio has been a huge boon. If you don't like a track or a callout, just take it out and put in whatever you want. I thought most of what the game came with was top notch, but the few things that I felt could be better for my tastes, I was able to change in a matter of minutes. Someone with some real programming knowledge could also modify the rules for the game and add in additional modes and tweaks. Fortunately, Ben Heck has also been tireless in his continuous expansion of the rules on his own.
#5 The Atmosphere - Some games just do a good job of creating it and this is one of them. It's easy to get immersed in what is going on under the glass. I think this is largely due to the boat loads of character that this game has. This is all difficult to pinpoint and describe, but I think you get the idea.
#6 Spooky Pinball! - Everyone I have talked to at Spooky has been a pleasure to deal with and their support has been amazing. I want to see these guys succeed. Overall, my AMH has been very reliable, especially as the bugs have been worked out of the software. However, during the first month I did have some issues and Charlie bent over backwards to help me track down the gremlins and offered every resource at his disposal to assist. I don't think the guy ever sleeps.
So, that's it in a nutshell. If you're a bit of a tinkerer, you like the theme, you're an average or better player and you appreciate the B/W games from the 90's, you can't go wrong with this game. At the time of writing, I know there aren't too many slots left to purchase one of the 150 machines being built. I'm really glad I was able to swing one of these and it's been a huge hit in my game room. I'm looking forward to hearing about game #2 from Spooky!