Ligtning and how to play it!

Written by emo, published March 4th, 2011. No comments.

Lightning.

I had owned and fallen under the spell of Black Knight 2000 so I craved another double level game for my small collection. It had to be fast and challenging, like Williams Pharaoh but preferably with more familiar Bally circuitry. I had played Bally’s multi-level games but wasn’t convinced that they were what I wanted so I decided to search out a Stern Lightning.

Deciding on a Lightning was the easy part, finding this 1981 game proved much harder to find than I expected. I searched for a couple of years without success and then when I did find one it was only as a result of the Pinball paradise auctions held in 2004. In fact there were two almost complete machines. Unfortunately between them there were only enough parts to make one good one e.g. one good backglass, one good top playfield, one good bottom playfield, one full set of plastics etc. Still they hadn’t broken the bank and I considered myself lucky to have found enough parts for a complete machine and it wasn’t long before I had one reasonable looking game.

The MPU and power board needed attention so were sent off and repaired and then re-installed. In the mean time I did some necessary touch up work on the back glass and playfield. When I eventually threw the switch I found the game basically worked with the exception of a flipper, a few switches and most of the lamps, all of which proved simple to fix. Note that all pictures shown are from this stage in the game's restoration and that its looks have improved since. There was one remaining problem though, no voice!

I played the game for about a week and I liked it even with out speech but I thought I should at least try to get it to talk. A bit of research pointed to a speech chip on the voice board that unsurprisingly can be problematic after quarter of a century. I had a couple of spare boards and rather than messing about trying to swap old chips over I swapped boards. The first produced a garbled grunt, “aha so the mute was trying to speak”. I tried my last spare board and an electronic voice said “Begin star journey worrier one”. A memorable moment, the first sounds from my new baby.

Game description.

Lightning is an early talking, double level game and was designed by Joe Joos Junior as Stern’s answer to William’s Black Knight. The similarities are obvious. They both have double level play; lots of drop targets, a central loop under the top playfield, four flippers and 3-ball multiball but when you play Lightning you soon realise that just as there are similarities, there are also distinct differences. For instance: On Lightning the ball can’t return down either ramp, the top playfield has small mini-flippers instead of normal sized ones plus two sling shots and in addition to its nine drop targets there are also nine stand-ups. Add a unique and challenging rule set and you have a Black Knight influenced but totally distinct game.

Theme and Art

The game theme is Greek gods and you take the part of “Thor, the thunder god”. He heads off on a journey to somewhere, with a Star Goddess to do something or other. On the way, when hassled by a couple of annoying Valkyrie (worrier maidens), you capture balls and then get into a fight (multiball) before returning home to Asgard (the great hall of the gods) and Odin (father of the Gods). Sounds like an average young God’s night out on the town really.

I have not been able to find who drew the game's artwork but its mighty fine work. The cabinet is black, blue and yellow in a Lightning bolt design. The scantily clad Thor and the sexy (gasp-almost topless) Star Goddess appear being zapped by a bolt of lightning in the backglass (see pic). This image is made from numerous small dots so that the scene almost appears electrically charged. It looks great with plenty of nice detail in the background. The same couple also appear on the main playfield-no doubt beginning their dangerous journey to wherever (probably to the local ouzo or kebab house). Odin appears on the top playfield in a cloud storm and is an awesome figure indeed (see pic). The plastics are colourful and have a gothic or tribal feel and the scrolling designs contain many figures and animals. Its fun to try and spot the weird creatures once you get your eye in. One visitor commented that the plastics almost appear to be made of stained glass.

Playfield Layouts

The Bottom Playfield has the usual layout of 2 flippers, slingshots, in and out-lanes. On the left is the 3rd set of 3-drop targets and above them is the left ramp, which leads to the top playfield. Top/centre is the 2nd set of 3-drop targets. There is a tight loop around the back of them under the top playfield. Further right is the right ramp, which has a spinner at the entrance, and below this are two yellow stand-up targets. There is a 5-digit display is in the centre of the playfield and bonus points are added after each ball drains.

The Top Playfield has 2 flippers, slingshots and outlanes that lead to a central drain hole and back to the lower playfield. There are no inlanes as such with the flippers being placed right next to the slings. The top flippers are small and therefore more difficult to use accurately but there is a very handy central post to help you out. The ramp entrances have non-return gates at the top so the only way to drain to the bottom field is through a central drain hole that drops the ball onto the central loop. Top left are two more yellow stand-ups with the 1st set of 3-drop targets to their right. To the right of these there is the 1st ball capture saucer and then another 5 yellow targets before coming to the “new ball” entry lane in the top right corner. Below this is the 2nd ball capture saucer and the right ramp.

Lightning is very good at indicating what to go for. All the stand up targets have red indictor arrows that light when the target has been hit.

There are 4 yellow arrows, two in the top playfield out-lanes and two in the bottom inlanes. Once all 4 are lit the yellow X bonus indicator will flash at the central loop where it can be collected.

There are also two stunningly bright cobalt blue arrows at the centre loop to indicate when the blue bonus can be collected.

Target banks have various associated lamps. A lit green circle in front of each bank indicates that this is the current bank to go for and there is also an “extra ball” and “special” indicator lamps in front of each bank.

There is the usual extra ball awarded lamp slightly above and between the flippers plus 3 columns of lamps. The blue column tells you the current blue bonus status, a yellow the yellow bonus and 3 green lamps indicate the target banks completed.

Sounds

Lightning buzz’s and bleeps and I love the sounds. They don’t compare to modern games in terms of sound quality but in terms of entertainment they are great and distinct from any Bally or Williams games that I have played from that period. The background sound is like someone walking on gravel. This speeds up indefinitely as you complete rounds of drop targets. It’s also quite a chatterbox and talks away in its synthesised electronic voice. Speech is as follows. For those not familiar with Greek mythology (many of us I would guess), I have added some background information, as without it some of the speech makes no sense at all!

Start of Game: “Begin star journey worrier 1”. This could be worrier 1 to worrier 4 depending on the number of players.

Ball capture: “captured the Valkyrie (worrier maiden)”

Multiball: “Thor angered, unleash the hammer of Thor (thunder god)”-accompanied by a crack of thunder!

Bonus ball achieved: “Odin (father of the Gods) pleased, welcome the hero to Valhalla (the great hall in Asgard, city of the gods)”

Bonus time, count down: “20 seconds left, 10 seconds left, 5-4-3-2-1”.

Completion of target bank 1: “Star Goddess, God of Urth (the past).

Completion of target bank 2: “Star Goddess, God of Verdandi (the present)”.

Completion of target bank 3: “Star Goddess, the god of Skuld (the future)”.

Extra or bonus ball: ”Odin pleased, continue star journey”

Game over: “Star journey over the hero returns”.

Bonus counts can be spectacular after a good ball, the playfield display counts down and the sounds boom out in changing pitch in a most excitable manor-great stuff!

Playing and Tactics

Aims of the Game:

1. Get both sets of bonus multipliers up to their maximum and then score as many points as you can before the ball drains. As part of this strategy you need to get multiball to light the blue bonus.

2. Go for the 3 banks of drop targets in order to light and then win extra balls and specials

3. Aim to score enough points to get bonus ball time-you may need it.

You need to complete each target bank in turn if they are to count towards extra balls/specials so my tactic are to launch a ball onto the top playfield and try and knock down the top 3-drop targets. This means if the ball then drains to the lower playfield, hits on the bottom drop targets aren’t wasted. Next I try and keep the ball flying around the top playfield for as long as possible to lock balls and pick off the stand-up targets for multiball. If the ball drains to the lower playfield I try and hit it back up top via the ramps until balls are locked and the top stand-ups are all lit. Nudging helps to get the maximum ball speed off the slingshots and center post to keep the ball alive on the top playfield.

Next I concentrate on the bottom playfield drop targets for extra ball and special, and the stand-ups for multiball. Don’t hit the central 3 targets straight on or the ball will probably go straight out down the middle. The targets often seem reluctant to fall from a straight hit anyway so its much more effective and safer to hit them at an angled bounce off the sides of the playfield.

Collect the yellow bonus X multipliers at the central loop when lit. The blue bonus is only available at the central loop once multiball has been achieved and advances to a maximum of 4x. I go for them as long as I have multiball play and then just aim to keep the last ball in play and score as many points as possible. With only one ball in play I work at starting multiball all over again.

Bonus time is awarded when you reach an operator pre-set score and can prove very useful. It gives you an extra 20 seconds in which to potentially try and get the last couple of targets for extra ball or multiball. During that time you can cast caution to the wind as any ball drains are returned. It often proves a lifesaver and is exciting as it counts down with only have one more target to get. This feature can be disabled but really does add a lot to the game in terms of fun and dialogue-so turn it on!

Extra balls are won by completing the drop target banks in sequence. The extra ball lamp circulates between target banks and only stays lit for a few seconds at each before moving to the next bank. This adds an extra dimension to the game and is a nice feature. Specials are also collected at the target banks in a similar way.

On the down side, a design fault is that locked balls sit in their saucers half showing above the playfield surface. This means they tend to deflect other balls into the air. The result is that it’s rare to find a Lightning with the plastic behind the central saucer still intact. Some players don’t like the fact that balls can be re-locked during multiball but the real reward for achieving it isn’t multiball itself but the opportunity to increase and maximise the blue bonus, which remains possible until the last of the 3 balls drains. Also, during a multi-player game the other players can benefit by starting multiball with your locked balls! Its tough but all part of the game!

As the name suggests Lightning is fast. The playfields are small; the central loop is quick and with 4 flippers and slingshots, the ball is often moving at high speed.

Overview

Lightning has aged well and remains easy to understand despite a complex but well thought out rule system. It is also fast and challenging. With nine drop targets and nine stand-up’s it’s a real shooters game but with a nice flow and it tests your ball save and nudging skills. It is tough though, for example it often seems difficult to hit that last illusive stand up target for multiball and scoring over a million (using all score digits) is a rare occurrence even with 5 balls.

Lightning looks and sounds great. The only real test of a game is to play it for a while and Lightning has become a firm favourite. It’s also proved popular with visitors. Even those who are normally only into dot matrix machines soon become engrossed in it so consensus suggests it’s a “good-un”. Lightning is, in my humble opinion is a classic of its type and one of my favourite games of any era.

Eddie Mole 21/02/05


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