So… let's talk about some Flash Gordon.
Here is a machine I hated in the arcades. HAY-TED. I hated it because my games lasted maybe 30 seconds. I hated it because I loved the movie so much, I couldn't help but waste my precious quarters on it. So now there I was - having no score, having no fun, and most importantly, having no quarters left to buy me some Big League Chew on the way home.
I hated Flash Gordon because I was a child, and I was playing a game for adults.
Fast forward a few years, and now I think it is one of the best machines from that era, and definitely one of my personal top 5 games of all time. Like many great things, some of that is by design, and some of that is by happy accident. Here are two (of many) design choices I think make this game what it is:
1) Pop bumper placement. The short answer - it's ingenious. The 2 main pop bumpers here are not safely nestled up top, away from any real threat. They are dead center, halfway up the playfield, and create a ricochet triangle of death with the slings. The split playfield compacts the area to the point where bad shots are almost always deadly, and good shots are still dangerous. Furthermore, the bumpers guard the kick out hole which is needed to start your 2x, 3x, 5x playfield scoring , meaning the only safe way is getting it back up to the top when you are ready to start. It's a really smart move that never lets you focus on one area of the table, and it's one of the reasons the main playfields on these games are normally just torn to s--t.
2) The inline drop target placement. As anyone who's played a game with inline drops knows, these are the crack cocaine of pinball. Regular drop banks are great, but something about inlines brings out the severe OCD in players. Flash Gordon does a couple things with inlines that are really smart. First, it makes the 'back' two targets essential in building your bonus multiplier. Flash Gordon is a heavy bonus build/collect game, so bonus multipliers are requisite objectives in getting any decent score. By starting the multipliers in the back, you can't ignore this section - quite the opposite in fact - you usually have to start with it because you never know if the next time you lose control (see design choice #1) will be your last. Forcing you to start with the inlines leads to the second smart design choice; its a sucker shot. Bad shots here are punished with either swift drains, or wild balls sent back into the sling/bumper triangle where your mistakes are only exacerbated. It's frustratingly awesome.
There are many more reasons why I treasure this game, but I'd love to here what other owners like about it. Or haters, for that matter. Are the very details that owners love about the game the same thing that turns off others? All opinions are welcome.
Flash Gordon is not a flow-y, combo-y game that you can lose yourself in and just zen-out with. It is a game of controllable explosions. It is a game that fights back with every shot.
Emperor Ming Awaits.