So, my Big Lebowski Achiever Edition #6 arrived today. Impressions to follow, but first, I wanted to tell the tale of the delivery fiasco. If you want to skip this and just get to the review of the machine, scroll down below the asterisks.
My TBL was going to the living room on the second floor. After nearly killing myself trying to move other NIBs myself with an Escalera, I decided to spend a few extra $$ for white glove delivery. Melissa at CoinTaker contracted with American Moving, which is a SoCal freight company. I spoke with them a few times to ensure they knew the game would need to be trucked up the stairs.
I took a day off of work to receive the machine. I got a call that they were on their way, and I verified that they were arriving prepared to bring the box upstairs, and I got a brief hesitation, and then he said yes.
35 minutes later, I receive a call that they are here. I bolt downstairs and am greeted at the door by one of the drivers, holding my rug, the legs, the goody box, and the legs in his hands. I paused a second, and thought out loud, "I thought all of that stuff was supposed to be all in the same box..." And then it hit me like a bolt of lightning: they had opened and started to unpack the box, without even checking with me.
As I stepped outside and peered into the truck, it was even worse than I thought. Not only had they opened the box, but the dude still in the truck cut the box on the OPPOSITE side of the clearly-printed cut marks, leaving the bare machine sitting upright. To make matters even worse, the guy, not understanding what that strap inside the box does, cut the strap, causing the backbox to slam down hard on a pile of discarded pallets and trash that was sitting nearby. All of this happened BEFORE they called me.
I was furious, as you might imagine. These guys tried to unbox the machine while it was still on the truck, without my knowledge and consent, and they clearly had no idea what they were doing.
I told him that the box should not have been opened until it was upstairs, and that they should have checked with me, and he immediately started giving me a bunch of attitude. I pointed out to him that even if he didn't know what he was doing, the moving and unpacking instructions were CLEARLY labeled on the box. He said that they didn't need instructions. Obviously, he was egregiously wrong about that.
I told him that we needed to re-secure the backbox before we moved the machine, and he stated that they had nothing to re-secure it with, and that they didn't bring any hand truck to get it up the stairs. So, they just folded the backbox back up and taped the box shut, the cardboard and tape the only thing holding it up.
I should add here that the backbox on this game is HEAVY AF. The translite is an integrated LED panel, which weighs about 20 lbs, and the speakers and DMD are a good 25 lbs. Cardboard and tape wasn't going to keep this thing secure and prevent it from slamming the rails.
At this point, we got his supervisor on the phone, and I explained that we needed a crew to show up with the right equipment, and the guy said he'd send somebody right away. The guy stated that he wasn't waiting around, and when I told him that we couldn't move the machine without securing the backbox, he doubled down, stating that he was going to leave. Obviously, driving away with it all undone would be just as bad or even worse than moving it with the backbox unsecured. I had to literally climb in the back of the truck and challenge him to remove me to get him to realize that he had made this bed and was going to sleep in it until backup arrived (one of the few times I've been glad to be a big guy).
Eventually, backup arrived, and they brought stuff to repack the game, securing the backbox, and closing and wrapping the box. They got it upstairs.
Now that it was upstairs, I could properly unpack it and survey the damage. I got the front legs on, and was about to tilt it using my Pinball Lifter and Tilter (indespensible... if you have more than a few machines, you need one), and as I went to put the straps on, I noticed that the guy was holding the backbox again... he had removed the wrapping, even though I explained about a dozen times that the strap holding the backbox is the absolute last thing to go. So, we re-wrapped it, and I got the thing upright and sitting on its legs.
The damage was unfortunately severe, once I had the chance to survey it. The backbox was damaged in several places where it slammed against the trash, and the force was so great that the left speaker literally ripped completely from the mounting on the DMD panel and was bouncing around the inside of the backbox. This is a heavy Flipper Fidelity speaker. The screws tore out the wood along with it, leaving divots that will not let me re-secure the speaker. Several corners of the decals were also lifted.
The whole ordeal was very upsetting. I paid a lot of money for professional delivery, and these guys acted with blatant disregard for the contents, and did some very significant damage to the machine.
As you will see below, several things aren't working right, and it's tough to tell if it's just buggy code, wonky mechs, or damage to the computer and boards from the drop damage, or from that big speaker with that powerful magnet creating blunt trauma and scrambling circuits.
Melissa assures me the shipment is insured, and I documented the living crap out of the fiasco, so I'm hoping I will get this fixed. Honestly, the damage is so severe that the most reasonable thing is to completely replace the backbox and everything in it.
OK, on to my impressions after about 30 games with the latest code (0.45 as of today):
This is one beautiful machine. The cabinet artwork is very nice, and the playfield artwork is clean and crisp. The toys are all custom and nice to look at. Good combination of metal and plastic ramps and wireforms. The white Russian toy is shockingly lifelike, and the pop bumper caps and bowling toys are beautiful. The lighting is bright and crisp, with warm GI that keeps the entire playfield illuminated, and a combination of insert lighting that is straight single-color LED, and RGB LEDs. I could see no ghosting. Just one look at the playfield, with the machine on or off, and you can tell this is a fun one to flip.
The LCD substituted for the DMD is great. It's bright, crisp, and colorful, and I like the fact that it's a bit oversized. There are several display options, but curiously, all of them have some sort of DMD filter, so there's no way to see everything without the simulated screen door. The movie clips look clean enough, but some of the smaller badge icons suffer from the faux-low-res filter.
Even in the early code, the animations are pretty robust, with a combination of movie clips and stills, and some original artwork.
The sound is great. The speaker system is high-quality, and the sound is crisp and relatively free from compression artifacts. The subwoofer is powerful, and almost makes it feel like there's a shaker motor inside at times. The crew overall did a great job isolating dialogue, and there's only a few instances where some background noise or another line clips into the sound bite.
I was disappointed when I heard that the music rights didn't include rights to the actual cuts used in the movie, but the instrumental re-creations are overall very good. I'm hoping that some enterprising pinhead is able to find a way to sideload the actual music and share it with the Pinside community.
Callouts often have little to do with the objectives, since they're mostly movie clips, so you don't get a lot of audible cues to what is ready to go, outside of the stranger announcing that the locks being lit or a rug mode ready to go. Guy does a pretty good Sam Elliott impression.
BUILD QUALITY AND FEEL:
Overall, this thing is solidly built, and a lot of attention has been paid to detail. The backbox is an absolute monster, with the translite and lighting being housed together in a very heavy plank, and a very heavy speaker panel and LCD housing.
I was concerned after playing the machine at Pinburgh this year that the rug would be problematic, and that seems to be the case. It can go for a stretch of time where it is completely unresponsive, and then all of a sudden it registers several shots in a row. It can even occasionally be activated by a nearby pop bumper. Once it works, it works.
The auto-plunger is a bit wonky, and the ball only makes it up the shooter lane about half the time, regardless of the coil settings. It almost always makes it on the auto replunge, so maybe this is just software.
The car toy doesn't hide and unhide smoothly, and the motor has a difficult time knowing it's all the way closed. This results in the wall wobbling for a few seconds. It's also intermittently responsive when a car mode is active. From what I can gather, the car basically hits the standups next to it, but I find the only way to get it to register is to hit it squarely on the front corner, and even then, it doesn't register reliably.
The kickback relight standup is finicky as well.
The bowling alley has some issues. I have one pin that will not move in test or in game, which causes errors. Sometimes hits do not register as well.
One of the biggest issues is that the left ramp is not well-stabilized. The main arch of it is just hanging in the breeze, with no support. Often, when the ball is shot up the ramp, the ramp shakes, causing the ball to bobble back and forth and lose momentum, causing it to roll back even when solidly hit.
Finally, the flippers are a bit squishy, or at least there is a big dead zone. Unlike pretty much any modern game, the flippers don't seem to be dual-fire, so staging of the upper flipper does not appear possible. Even worse, the flipper does not disengage until you let the button out almost all the way, so post passes and tap passes are very problematic. I think this is a design issue with the flipper buttons themselves.
This is what you really checked out this message for. Gameplay is fast and flowy, and borrows heavily from Medieval Madness, with a little sprinking of White Water and Simpsons Pinball Party. Not that that's a bad thing. In fact, it makes for a game that is a heck of a lot of fun to play.
SHOTS AND FLOW
Overall, the layout is very nice. It's mostly a fan layout, with all shots makeable from a cradle or a rolling ball. Several shots are associated with a character and not only advance towards qualifying each character mode, but also serve as that character's jackpot during character multiball (just like Medieval Madness).
There are two skill shots: hold the right flipper as you plunge, and it will feed the upper playfield (provided the plunge makes it), and you need to hit the bowling loop to instantly qualify a bowling mode. You can also go for a standard plunge and try to hit the lit rollover. This is not selectable, so you have to nudge. Going for the super skill shot appears to be the better strategy.
Starting from the left and moving right:
The kickback relight is at the far left, and is a tough shot to a finicky target. I find that I mostly hit this when the ball is exiting the slings.
There is a scoop at the far left that is used to complete "mark it zero" qualifications, activate bowling when lit, or start character multiball. The kickout by default is a bit weak.
The left orbit is the Donny shot, and it sends the ball careening around to the right middle, which does have a tendency to send the ball SDTM. Perhaps this is a leveling issue. This will hit both spinners.
The left ramp qualifies The Dude, and also locks balls for the main multiball. To light the lock, you have to hit the standups on either side, like White Water. Unlike White Water, these lock lightings cannot be stacked. When lit for lock, the ball travels behind the back of the playfield, like the Damsel in Medieval Madness, and when the lock is not lit, it diverts to a wireform that feeds the left inlane.
Next to this is the Maude minefield, with 2 pop bumpers and five rollovers stacked in an inverted pyramid. The ball can leave this area one of two ways, either to the left orbit, or right in the middle, which caroms to the right flipper.
Next to the right Maude exit is the scoop. This gives mystery awards and starts Nihilist Battle once qualified (this was a nice surprise I didn't know about). Balls that are fed into the lock on the left ramp or into the rug hole, and balls which exit the upper playfield end up here as well, and feed the right flipper with a nice feed that is easily handled with a drop catch or flipper bounce.
Front and center is the rug. It's very much like the castle from MM or the saucer from AFM. You bash this until it rolls all the way back, then sink it in the hole to start the mode. I don't know what selects the mode... maybe the pops. This is a dangerous shot, as the ball can have an unpredictable return. The rug doesn't always register that well, and it almost seems that it has a better chance of registering if the ball hits one of the metal guides as it caroms. This is flanked by 2 nihilist targets (the other being to the far right of the playfield).
To the right of the rug is the Jesus scoop, which will feed the upper playfield.
To the right of Jesus is an orbit that feeds the pop bumpers and also serves as the shot for Maude jackpot. The entry has a spinner that is simply satisfying to rip. We're talking Grand Prix or RoboCop satisfying.
The right ramp qualifies Walter and is the other way to get up to the upper playfield.
To the far right is the white russian target bank. Default settings allow you to collect an adjacent target if you hit one already collected.
The inlane and outlane rollovers spell ZERO, which qualifies a "mark it zero" award at the left scoop.
The upper playfield feels a lot like TSPP, but with one flipper. There are 3 shots to make with the small upper flipper: a shot off the tip will send the ball looping back around and award a BOWLING letter. The two standups will light a car mode, and both bowling and car can be started by hitting the rightmost hole which is an exit to the scoop to the left of the rug. You can also drain out of the bottom, which returns the ball to the right inlane. Assisting with keeping the ball up there is a long rubber than you can use to nudge the ball back to the flipper. Once a car mode is started, the car swings out from the wall and parks in front of the standups, blocking the upper exit. You then bash the car to advance through the mode. This is finicky as well.
The sub playfield is the bowling alley. You select a character and try to complete the task, which is either knocking down all the pins or hitting a roving pin. There is a bit of a delay before the release button becomes active. I find that the top facade of the alley obscures your view of the back pins. Completing the frame awards a ball.
QUALIFYING MODES AND MULTIBALL
Modes are qualified very much like MM and AFM. Hit each shot X number of times to light the character. Like MM, once one character is qualified, you can start a character multiball, that can be anywhere from 2-5 ball, depending upon how many characters you've lit before hitting the left scoop to start the multiball. This is exactly like Medieval Madness, except you have the option to postpone the multiball by hitting the launch button, but ONLY if you have something else lit at the scoop. This allows you to cash in rewards as they come instead of avoiding them to avoid prematurely starting multiball. That's good, because "mark it zero" is only lit for a short period of time after completing the inlanes, and then it resets.
If you don't have the full complement of characters lit, you can start another multiball as you qualify the others, and then the characters reset and you can rinse and repeat.
The other main multiball works a bit like WH2O or Cirqus Voltaire, in that you have to hit the standups next to the left ramp and then hit the ramp to lock the ball. Unlike WH2O, you can't stack the lights on the first multiball, which I think would be nice, since it's a dangerous shot. Once you start this multiball, all the shots are lit for jackpot (including both upper playfield shots). I assume you complete all to light the super but I've always fallen one short.
The rug modes are varied, and getting them started is the biggest challenge due to the responsiveness of the rug. They will have you ripping the spinners, or hitting ramps or bashing the rug, etc.
Bowling is pretty straighforward, and lighting bowling is relatively manageable, due to the nice return to the upper flipper for repeat loops. It's a lot of shots, though. The car modes require a lot of hits, and I've never managed to finish one, due to the bash toy failing to register reliably.
Nihilist battle is qualified by hitting the nihilist standups several times, then hitting the middle scoop. It's a multistage battle where you have to peg the standups again. This is a lot like Martian Attack.
Not sure what completing a white russian does except for adding to your bonus.
The wizard mode apparently requires you to complete everything. Start all characters, complete all frames of bowling, all rug modes, all car modes, and get a super jackpot. Very reminiscent of AFM.
MY STRATEGY SO FAR:
1) Take the super skill shot. It's easy enough to hit the loop to instantly light bowling, which awards a fair number of points and allows you to make progress towards wizard mode.
2) Qualify all characters. Try to keep the scoop lit for something in addition to character multiball so you can cancel the multiball start if you hit it too early. Once all characters lit, start multiball so all jackpots are lit.
3) Don't aim for the standups to light the locks, or if you do, backhand it to keep it safer. Generally, you will light locks with random caroms. Lock a ball as soon as it's lit so you can reset the targets to light the next lock.
4) On the upper playfield, keep hitting the bowling loop. It appears that you can stack "let's go bowling" qualifications, so you can get a lot from keeping the ball up there and in play. Wait until you've qualified bowling before shooting for the standups to light car, so you don't inadvertently exit the upper playfield. I find it's generally best to stay up there as long as you can, because you can get a lot done if you play it smart. Use that rubber to get the ball away from the upper playfield drain.
5) Shooting for the trampoline kickback relight is dangerous. This game isn't all that drainy, so I just hope to get it on a carom from the pops. Same for white russian targets.
6) Take the rug modes as you can get them. Until they issue a fix for the sensitivity and let it register reliably, it's just not worth risking unless you've accidentally registered the first shot and the rug has rolled back a bit, which makes the return a bit more controlled.
GRIPES AND FINAL THOUGHTS (FOR NOW)
All in all, TBL is a fantastic game, and the code is already quite robust for a new release. The flow is good and the shots are satisfying. The game really is a lot like Medieval Madness in that it's simple to make a few shots, and the ruleset is easy to grasp, so novices will find a lot to like, but if you are an advanced player, getting everything stacked is quite a challenge, and makes the game deeper than it seems at first.
As I mentioned above, the lack of stability of the left ramp is disappointing, but I imagine there could be a fix for that. I'm hoping some of the switch issues can be fixed with software, and won't require replacing mechs. I also hope they can issue a replacement for the flipper switches so post passing and taps will be more feasible.
Some things I'd like to see with future updates:
1) Allow the lock lights to be stacked for at least the first multiball
2) Give us a video mode to enjoy that beautiful screen. I still think it'd be hilarious to have a Knox Harrington, The Video Artist Video Mode
3) More sound bites
4) More callouts that help guide the player
5) A Royal Madness type mode after you've qualified the characters
6) More variation in the bowling objectives
7) Fewer hits to complete the car modes
An option to keep the player signed in when playing consecutive single-player games
9) more match screens besides Marty's cycle
10) incorporate the bowling alley into multiball
11) Allow the upper playfield to serve as a playfield multiplier during multiball like WOZ