Pinfest Day 2 – Allentown, PA – May 4th 2013

Back for day 2 of the pinfest and not worrying about the Gold Record, I got there early and put some time on some games that I was interested in putting some time on.

Machine #220: WILLIAMS SWORDS OF FURY

Machine #220: WILLIAMS SWORDS OF FURY

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Swords of Fury is a System 11 pin from Williams and it is packed with goodness.  The game features 4 flippers, an upper mini-playfield (with timed drop targets which are a blast) and a ton of shots.  The layout is great, all 4 flippers are crucial to the success of the game.  There are 2 ramp shots and they are not easy.  The flow of the game is different as it features not one, but two horseshoe lanes.  2 and 3 ball multiball modes which aren’t easy to achieve and scoring a jackpot is even more challenging.  The artwork is a bit dark, so the proper lighting is imperative when playing the game.  The audio is solid with great sound effects and music, but the “Lionman” callout is monotonous.  They had 2 of these at Allentown.  I got the chance to play both of them and they both played great.  This is a sleeper that you should check out if you get the chance.  GRADE: B+

Machine #221: SOLIDS N STRIPES

Machine #221: WILLIAMS SOLIDS N STRIPES

Solids N Stripes is a hybrid of pool and pinball and your objective is to hit the 6 kick-out holes on the playfield which represent billiards pockets.  There are rollovers and pop bumpers, but the main objective is to shoot these shots which will light the 8 ball shot which scores an extra ball and increases the value of “pocket shots” to 2,000 points.  I had mixed feelings about the game when I was finished because these kick-out holes that you need to shoot for create major turmoil.  They are very hard to actually the pinball into and many times hitting the edge of the kick-out holes would launch the ball into the glass.  If that didn’t happen the ball would go traversing down an outlane.  I liked the overall concept, and the idea to be different, but it wasn’t that much fun to play.  I do like the retro artwork.  Worth checking out, but not much more than that. GRADE: C-

Machine #222: GOTTLIEB JET SPIN

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Jet Spin has many pros and a few consThe artwork on the backglass and playfield is extremely colorful and quite beautiful, except for the oddly place mug of someone that strikingly resembles one Ronald Reagan.  It’s so bizarre and offputting.  I like the asymmetrical layout and the use of only two pop bumpers.  A third one would have cluttered the playfield and ruined the flow.  The roto and vari targets are great, but be careful, those shots can lead SDTM.  There are many ways to score specials and extra balls and build and score the bonus.  The outlanes are wide and extremely rough as the wire guides are very low.  A nice effort.  GRADE: B

Machine #223: TOLEDO

Machine #223: WILLIAMS TOLEDO

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Toledo was trying to appeal to the romantics in all of us.  A mariachi themed pinball machine, I’ll bite.  The artwork is colorful and I like how the playfield resembles the face of a guitar.  The gameplay is very simplistic as there is basically a bank of 8 targets in the upper middle of the playfield that you need to shoot along with 4 along the side.  Light 1-8 to light special.  Light AB for double bonus, Light ABCD or 1-7 to light an extra ball.  Rollovers the advance the bonus.  That’s it.  There are two small upper flippers that help with your quest, but the angle is odd making it difficult and seemlingly unnatural.  I forgot those upper flippers were there half the time.  It’s a one trick pony, but it’s okay to put a few quarters into and good for the casual player.  GRADE: C+

Machine #224: GOTTLIEB TORCH

Machine #224: GOTTLIEB TORCH

Torch was released in early 1980 and I’m sure it was in conjunction with the upcoming summer Olympics that were to be held in Moscow.  Unfortunately, the United States and 64 other countries boycotted said Olympics due to Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan.  Still I really like the colorful artwork on the backglass and playfield and the different flags are a nice touch.  It also shows the global appeal of spandex.  The layour is average with the main features being two banks of drop targets and a roto target.  There’s a grid of 9 headed with A-B-C and the numbers one two and three.  Knock down the left bank of targets to light A1 and C3, knock down the right to light A3 and C1.  This offers different bonus multipliers.  The rest is done through the roto target.  No catching the ball in this game as if you try the ball will drain down the left or right outlanes.  Decent sound for a Gottlieb system 80.  GRADE: C+

Machine #224: AMAZON HUNT

Machine #225: AMAZON HUNT

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Amazon Hunt is a decent effort from Gottlieb.  I’m a fan of the artwork and it’s bright and colorful.  The audio is a mixed bag with some crude but cool animal sounds and drumming which can get a bit annoying.  The layout is pretty good.  Knock down the two target banks to light the 50,000 middle target that reappears and hit the 4 stationary targets to boost the bonus and spell A-M-A-Z-O-N-H-U-N-T.  There are two kickout holes hidden along the left and right side of the playfield that you can’t really shoot for, but nudge the ball into that can score big points and specials.  Simple and fun.  GRADE: B-

Machine #226: WILLIAMS FIREPOWER

Machine #226: WILLIAMS FIREPOWER

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Firepower is classic Steve Ritchie and a game that truly used every bit of the technology that was offered at the time and is known for many firsts.  It is the first game to have a flipper activated lane change, the first electronic multiball and the first animated displays.  The game has exquisite artwork which is beautifully done.  The lighting is excellent, even with the dark playfield.  The sound is mechanical, but totally fitting transporting you to another realm.  The game play is solid and still holds up today very well.  The game has a good layout and you can see elements that Ritchie used in High Speed and Terminator 2.  Shoot the middle six targets to light the locks.  Lock the 3 balls (two of the locks are the same placement as T2) and start mutliball.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a jackpot or any real purpose to multiball, but I am enamored with the countdown and outstanding light show for multiball.  Firepower is important for the innovations that are standard in pinball today and is a great game.  GRADE: A-

Machine #227: WORLD'S FAIR

Machine #227: GOTTLIEB WORLD FAIR

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World Fair was released in conjuction with the 1964 World’s Fair that was held in New York and it features beautiful artwork from Roy Parker.  It features a whopping NINE pop bumpers and a giant spinning wheel.  The objective is to hit the red pop bumpers when they are lit which activates a spin which win spot a number that will light a ferris wheel car on the backglass.  Light all 11 for a special.  You can also light the numbers via rollovers.  Lighting all 11 is not easy and sometimes can be maddening when you are just one away and you just can’t get the last one.  My girlfriend collects World’s Fair memoribilia so I think that one day this will be in my collection.  Considering it’s one of the best EMs out there, it would be a welcomed addition. GRADE: A-

Machine #228: BALLY CACTUS CANYON CONTINUED

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I was fortunate enough to play Cactus Canyon Continued due to the wonderful generosity of James AKA TheCNYPinGuy bringing for everyone to enjoy at the Allentown show.  A few years ago a pinball named Eric decided that he wanted to pay tribute to Cactus Canyon by replicating and adding to the game due to the fact that it was rushed out by Bally and the potential was there for more.  He wrote a program in Python for a P-ROC board that expanded upon the original CC software.  The layout is the same and nothing physically on the playfield has changed with the exception of a bit of the artwork (the stand up targets have characters on them).  The cabinet and translite have been altered to reflect the Cactus Canyon Continued name.  So much was added to the code.  Here’s a link to his website so you can read about this amazing achievement.  http://soldmy.org/pin/ccc/index.php?title=Main_Page

Many more modes were added, various multiballs including a drunk multiball, DMD animations, and bionic bart, who was mysteriously omitted from the original CC.  Playing the original CC, you think what great potential the game would have in Bally would have gone all out.  Well, Eric went all out and then some.  It’s hard to put into words what a phenomenal job Eric has done realizing the full potential of the game.  It’s something that really needs to be played to fully appreciate.

It opens the door to other pins as well, expanding them to create a better pinball experience.  Similar to the custom color DMD, it would just take the knowledge and dedication of people like Eric to create their visions.  Sometimes you play a game and say, “I wish had a multiball or a wizard mode.”  The P-ROC board can potentially allow for this to happen.

Cactus Canyon Continued is really what pinball dreams are made of.  GRADE: A+

Machine #229: DOMINO

Machine #229: GOTTLIEB DOMINO

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Machine #230:

Machine #230: GOTTLIEB PLAYMATES

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I mentioned before gambling laws in different areas of the country forced pinball manufacturers to make two different versions of a game, a replay version and and add-a-ball version and at the pinfest I was lucky enough to play both iterations of this game.  Domino is the traditional game and PlayMates is the Add-A-Ball version.  I’m going to review them both together because they very similiar and their main objectives are the same.  The differences are specials vs. extra balls, the scoring (the value of targets are more in PlayMates probably due high scores which award extra balls) and the domino layout on the playfield (see the pictures above for the difference).  The game features a roto spinner in the center of the playfield that you can hit various dominos and light them.  Lighting them all will award specials or extra balls.  Hitting the * roto target awards an extra ball on PlayMates.  Pretty much every shot will spin the roto target which helps you complete the domino sequence.  Nice theme and good artwork make this a very solid EM.  I liked both of these games, but I prefer when machines are on free play the Add-A-Ball machines.  DOMINO & PLAYMATES GRADE: B

Machine #231: BANK-A-BALL

Machine #231: GOTTLIEB BANK-A-BALL

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Bank-A-Ball was the 1st game to be released that featured return lanes.  It was released in September of 1965 and although Paradise was the 1st game to be designed to feature return lanes, it was released in November of 1965.  We take return lanes for granted and some machines feature double return lanes, but the return lane gives the player so much more control over the pinball.  The return lanes allow you to trap and catch and pass and set up shots.  Another pool theme pinball, but this one works well.  The backbox has all of the balls lit when you start a game.  As you hit the shots, the lights dim and a corresponding pool ball drops into view at the top of the backglass.  A couple of really nice touches.  Simple game play shoot the stripes or solids via rollovers or targets to light the 8 ball shot for a special.  The artwork on the playfield is laughable as a blue haired nerd “chalks his stick” with a member of the Swedish Bikini Team.  Bank-A-Ball is a game of historical significance and a good one to boot.  GRADE: B

Machine #232:

Machine #232: WILLIAMS CASINO

Casino is a woodrail designed by the great Harry Williams and has a couple of really nice features.  The backglass is mirrored and shows you what’s going on as you make the shots.  The game has really nice colorful artwork as well.  This game is not easy.  Making 4 deuces is almost impossible because it is very difficult to hit the top ones in the upper corners of the playfield and the other two you have to drain down the left and right side.  There are two kick out holes in the center which spot Royal Flush cards and between them a gobble hole that when lit awards 500,000 points.  You know my thoughts on gobble holes, but to sacrifice a ball for a half a million points makes sense when close to scoring a replay.  Good stuff.  GRADE: B

Machine #233: EVEL KN

Machine #233: BALLY EVEL KNIEVEL

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I just want to say thank you to whomever was nice enough to share their pristine condition Evel Knievel with everybody at the Pinfest.  I couldn’t get over how nice this machine looked and played.  It felt like it was new out of the box.

Evel Knievel is a simple, but solid game.  It has beautiful artwork featuring the Red, White and Blues of Old Glory as well as buxom babes with braless bazooms.  I like the symmetrical layout.  Spell C-Y-C-L-E via rollovers and targets to light outlane specials.  Spell S-U-P-E-R via the top kickout hole or the S-U-P-E-R target in the center of the playfield.  Hit the spinners for big points when lit.  Advance bonus by hitting targets along left and right side of the playfield.  This game has rough outlanes, be prepared to nudge.  It’s basic pinball, but it’s fun and challenging to best your high score.  I’m a fan.  GRADE: B

Machine #233:

Machine #234: GOTTLIEB CACTUS JACK

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Cactus Jack is really like no other pin I have ever seen.  The theme deals with a banjo playing cactus band and a group of audience members who dislike them so they throw personified food at the aforementioned super group.  There are actual cacti with SUNGLASSES on the playfield that dance during multiball.  I think potentially if you drop acid and play Cactus Jack it could go one of two ways.  You will discover the meaning of life or have a trip so bad that you’ll feel like you’re covered in spiders.

All kidding aside, I like the game.  It’s good for casual players and families, but challenging enough for pinheads.  It has a solid layout with two well placed ramps and a two ball multiball that you can achieve multiple times a game.  The audio is a bit hokey and annoying, but it fits theme well.  The playfield lighting is abundant and I dig the light show (epileptics beware).  I like the bright yellow cabinet and kitschy artwork.  It’s Way over the top, but they went for it and for that I give them credit.  GRADE: B

Machine #234: CORRAL

Machine #235: GOTTLIEB CORRAL

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Corral is a decent effort from Gottlieb and has a once popular Western theme.  I don’t know what happened to the Western and why its popularity has all but become extinct, but back in the 1960s, the Western was hip.  The idea in this game is to light numbers 1-10 which score extra balls.  You can do that via the 10 rollovers (1-4 on the upper playfield, 5-10 and the ball drains) or via the roto target or spot number target.  It’s tough to light all 10 numbers.  This game requires a ton of nudging as lower playfield features 6 outlanes and two little flippers and ideally you nudge the ball from an outlane post to a flipper to keep the ball alive and scoring.  GRADE: B-

Machine #235: SWEET HEARTS

Machine #236: GOTTLIEB SWEET HEARTS

Sweet Hearts is the last Gottlieb game to feature a gobble hole a sign that pinball was becoming more skill oriented and less luck oriented.  In this case, you want to shoot the gobble hole when you light 2-5, 6-9 or 10-A because you will score a special.  Light all of the cards to light the gobble hole for 3 specials and it also allows you to score a special for every rollover you hit.  The artwork on this machine is exquisite.  Big fan of the card theme as well.  Great layout with 5 pop bumpers in a V shape.  The key shot for success is getting it up past the gobble hole into the bumpers to score the side rollovers.  Love the illuminated backglass which shows your progress similar to Casino.  Sweet Hearts is one of the top EMs out there.  GRADE: A-

Machine #236: GOTTLIEB RAVEN

Machine #237: GOTTLIEB RAVEN

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Raven is the first pinball machine to feature a photograph for a backglass or translite, an unassuming thing that led Stern to basically destroy the artwork on most of their machines.  Who would want to pay an artist to design something when you can just slap a photograph on there?  At least this one was specifically designed for the game and they used an actual film crew to capture this image (see flyer above).  Also the helicopter in the picture was actually a crop duster.  I think Raven gets a bad wrap due to how cheesy the translite is (see incredible alternate translite above), but I think there’s some good pinball here.  It’s one of the first games to feature a playfield toy (a red helicopter with blades that spin when you hit the spinner).  Hitting the moving lit target on the left and right bank which lights EXTRA and BALL is not easy.  Designer John Trudeau said this was a tribute to Firepower and with the similar target banks it works.  Also hitting the upper target bank to bring down the ramp isn’t easy due to the placement of the pop bumpers.  There are also four stand alone “sniper” targets that randomly pop up and are timed similar to Cactus Canyon.  The cabinet art is drab and the sound is pretty bland and annoying.  A multiball and a jackpot shot would really make this a better game, but you can get one of these for around $500 and I think it’s worth every penny.  GRADE: B-

Machine #238: GOTTLIEB TEE'D OFF

Machine #238: GOTTLIEB TEE’D OFF

Tee’d Off has a very good layout and a lot of shots.  It has three flippers two regular and an upper center flipper used to shoot the pitch n’ putt shot and the volcano.  I especially like the shot hidden behind the coconut drop targets.  The best thing about the game though is the modes and some of them are phenomenal.  The skins game mode is really innovative.  You shoot the volcano which gives you a skins letter.  You can take the 10 million points and get called a “chicken” or go for double or nothing.  Not of the 10 million mind you, but of your entire score.  It will then light a random shot which you have to make within 20 seconds.  If you don’t, you go back to 0.  Once your score goes back to zero a shot on the right side “recover points” will be lit for the duration of that ball.  If you can shoot it, you will recover your score.  The pitch n’ putt mode is great too as you try to shoot the ramp and score 10 million for every shot you get into the “mean hole.”  There are 2 and 3 ball multiballs and two really good mini wizard modes “Raining Cats and Dogs” and “Anything Goes.”

Where I find it a bit lacking is the artwork, sound and callouts.  It’s all a bit goofy and I find the NGG is much more refined and less cartoonish.  The one I played at Allentown had a huge DMD from giantdots.com so there was no translite.  I added the picture of it for the blog, but to be honest, I’m not a fan and prefer the giant DMD to the translite.

No Good Gofers was made 4 years later and it really took a lot of its ideas from Tee’d Off and improved them.  The artwork, callouts and game play are more sophisticated.  Still, Tee’d Off is a really fine playing game and if it wasn’t for NGG, and that Tee’d Off is a Gottlieb, it would get the respect it deserves.  GRADE: B

Machine #239: GOTTLIEB DIAMOND LADY

Machine #239: GOTTLIEB DIAMOND LADY

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Diamond Lady was the first pinball machine to feature the elongated backbox with the speakers and score display at the top of the playfield.  It’s a pretty bad design which luckily never caught on. Who wants to glance up to the ceiling to check their score?  Not this guy.  I personally find the photo artwork to be repulsive.  I’m not digging this goofy woman “Vanna Whiting” all over the playfield.  The audio is very space age and the female callouts are bland.  The game play is better.  Big drop target game.  If you knock down the diamond targets in lights a lock for multiball.  If you can knock down all the diamond targets without knocking down any of the spade target, it double your score. Super tough to do, but fun to try to accomplish.  The jackpot is achieved by spelling jackpot, but you knock down the 8 spade drop targets then shoot the left ramp (this is a timed shot as well) to light a Jackpot letter.  Super rough to achieve.  There’s stationary targets behind the drop targets which score points and eventually light an extra ball.  A good playing machine, Diamond Lady is marred by its aesthetics.  GRADE: C+

Machine #240

Machine #240: WILLIAMS TRAVEL TIME

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Travel Time by Williams is a bit of a gimmick, but I was definitely digging it.  Time is your enemy in this game, something that Safecracker copied some 20 years later.  You get an unlimited number of pinballs, but the game is timed.  You can add time and stop the clock with a wide variety of shots.  The game has a ball kicker in between the flippers which also starts the clock.  Targets spell T-I-M-E and T-R-A-V-E-L for points and time, but basically you are shooting the shots to add time and to score.  There’s an excitement to the game due to the time constraints.  Fun stuff.  GRADE: B

Machine #241: BALLY CHAMPION PUB

Machine #241: BALLY CHAMPION PUB

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There are a lot of cool interactive playfield toys that shine on Champion Pub.  There is a pinball jumprope that is activated by the flippers which rotates at different speeds.  It’s magnetic and getting the timing down takes some practice.  There is also a speed bad area where you use the flippers to operate plastic fists which score hits.  There’s also a heavy bag and a big fighter that you challenge.  Scoring shots against his body or head leads to potential knockouts and advancing through the boxing ranks.  Multiple multiballs (Fisticuffs, Raid and Multi-Brawl) which are stackable, two video modes and an Ultimate Challenge wizard mode which I haven’t sniffed.  This is a game where the ball can fly all over the place and there are a lot of death drains down the outlanes, so ball contol is essential.  There’s a post in between the flippers that is up during fights and if you use it, you can easily hit the ramp shots which add combinations for your punches.  Big fan of the artwork, the over 300 unique callouts by 6 different people and the ragtime music which fits perfectly.  Champion Pub a unique pinball playing experience, one I enjoy even more with every play.  GRADE: A

Machine #242: WILLIAMS TRI-ZONE

Machine #242: WILLIAMS TRI-ZONE

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They had a tournament at Allentown, a $5 qualifier which I completely embarrassed myself on, and Tri-Zone was one of the 5 games which you had to play.  I didn’t really know what to do or what to shoot for, it was my first time playing.  I found another one on the floor and got to put some time on it and I liked what Tri-Zone had to offer.

The backglass and artwork are stunning.  Great use of color and the futuristic look really works well for this machine.  The music and sound effects aren’t great, but it works for the theme.  The gameplay is pretty basic, but I found it challenging.  Knock down the Z-O-N-E targets to light the spinner and to increase target value, score the A-B rollovers to advance the bonus multipliers and score the T-R-I rollovers for extra balls and specials.  Repeat.  Get high score.  Solid Pinball.  GRADE: B

All in all, Allentown was a blast and it keeps getting bigger each year.  If even you are just a casual fan of pinball, I behoove you to check it out. 

Pinfest – Allentown, PA – May 3rd 2013

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Pinfest is one of the most highly anticipated pinball shows on the East Coast and it gets bigger every year.  Ivan does a great job putting on the show and the generosity of the pinball community makes the show what it is as many people bring their machines and let pinheads wreak havoc on them for the weekend.  It’s a great place to buy, sell and trade machines as well as meet people from the community or reconnect with old friends.

I brought my Chicago Coin Gold Record and it was dead on arrival.  I never once had a problem with it at my house.  I spent hours Friday morning trying to resurrect her with the help of EM specialist Bruce and Harry (what great guys that would take their time out of the show to help), but alas, we just couldn’t tweak her right.  If you heard a loud CA-Chink, Ca-Chink throughout the 1st 6 hours of the show, that was the relay switch not stopping the motor properly and I apologize.  It just goes to show how fragile these machines can be and moving them can knocking 1 tiny thing out of whack and then the floodgates of problems can occur.

When I finally threw in the towel with the Gold Record, what better way to decompress than with some pinball.  There must have been close to 200 machines at the show and many that I was highly anticipating playing.  Which machine would I choose first?  Predator?  Cactus Canyon Continued?  an updated Wizard of Oz with the latest code??  Not exactly.

Machine #202: BALLY KINGS OF STEEL

Kings of Steel is a decent effort from Bally.  Poker is an uber popular theme when it comes to pinball, and they can pretty much put it with something else like Aliens or in this case Medieval times.  It has nice artwork and a stellar backglass. I love the plethora of pinballs populating the playfield.  The layout and gameplay are decent as you make different hands and can get different rewards.  Lots of ways to gets extra balls and specials.  The scoring is a bit unbalanced as the 3s (the target along the right side) you can hit safely and rack up big points.  If you want to get a little more adventuresome shoot for the bank of targets along the left side to advance the other hands.  Has average sound and would be better with speech.  Unspectular, but fun.  GRADE: B-

Machine #203: SEGA GODZILLA

Machine #203: SEGA GODZILLA

Godzilla is a nice effort from Sega.  I’m a big fan of the theme, growing up watching Godzilla vs. Mothra on rainy Sunday afternoons, before or after some 70s Kung-Fu flick.  Sure this is based on the 1998 re-make that was far from stellar, but it’s close enough.  Not crazy about some of the artwork as Godzilla might have the worst slingshot plastics ever, but I like the color scheme with the variety of greens.  The massive Godzilla head is a very cool toy and it’s pretty rad when the ball comes flying out of his mouth.   Decent layout, modes and a few multiballs, but some of the shots become a bit repetitive.  Only a reported 510 made.  Godzilla is unspectacular, but fun.  GRADE: B

Machine #204: STERN 24

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24 is some good pinball in an wretched looking and sounding package.  The artwork is atrocious.  Look at the dopey face of Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) on the cabinet, awful.  The playfield is filled with shameful photoshopped artwork and huge bland inserts.  The game features custom audio from Rajskub that is like nails on a chalkboard and clipped audio from Kiefer Sutherland that isn’t much better.  I watched only one season of 24 and liked it a lot, but when I went to watch season 2, I felt like I had seen it already.  The pinball playing action is much better.  It features a couple neat toys with a sniper that pops out and a terrorist safehouse.  I also like the suitcase multiball.  The game has good flow lots of modes and deep ramps that are fun to shoot.  Two wizard modes (Save the President and Master Agent) that are tough to get to.  If you can get past how bad 24 looks and sounds, it’s actually a good game.  GRADE: B-

Machine #205: SEGA MAVERICK

Machine #205: SEGA MAVERICK

Maverick was the 1st pinball machine I ever owned so it holds a great sentimental value for me.  It’s also a damn fine game.  Not crazy about the Maverick theme, but I love the poker theme and it features 17 drop targets a must for drop target lovers.  You’ll be given different banks of drop targets to hit (say three 8s or four 9s) and you have to knock them down before knocking down the other targets.  It takes a lot of shooting skill. The more hands you win, the more points you score.  You can also raise or fold during hands increasing your chance of even scoring bigger when completing hands. Complete all of the hands to get to the poker championship.  There are also 5 other modes where you can rack up big points.

The artwork is pretty shoddy and the brown cabinet is digusting.  The paddle wheel is the big knock as the ball takes up to 10-15 seconds for the ball to return to the flipper, but it never really bothered me that much.  A good time to take a drink of a frosty beverage.  Hit shot, wait for paddle wheel, drink.  Repeat.  What bothered me more was how fickle the opto was for the paddle wheel and ball locking mechanism.  I felt like every other game I’d be adjusting it.  There’s also a captive ball underneath the paddle wheel behind the 4-5-6-7-8 targets that you need to hit for the super jackpot and it’s pretty much impossible to do.  The audio and country music suprisingly not annoying.  Video mode is blackjack which is a lot of fun.

This game sells for around $1K and it is worth every penny.  If it was Rounders and had John Malkovich snarling “Lays down a monster” the game would sell for $3K.  Color me a bit biased, but Maverick is one of the best bang for your bucks.  GRADE: A-

Machine #206: GOTTLIEB RACK-A-BALL

Machine #206: GOTTLIEB RACK-A-BALL

Rack-A-Ball is an average game.  Hitting the lit rollovers rolls a colored ball into the backglass.  Getting 9 balls scores a replay.  You need to lose a couple of balls down the right and left outlane to accomplish this.  Hit the red or blue target to light the corresponding bumpers to score more points.  It has a center pin so it doesn’t drain as much down the center which is good.  Leave It To Beaver artwork seems a bit bizarre now.  GRADE: C

Machine #207:

Machine #207: BALLY LOOP THE LOOP

Loop the Loop is the 1st machine to feature a rotating or spinning bumper and it’s a pretty cool feature.  It’s the only bumper on the playfield and it can help or hurt you hurtling the ball down the outlanes.  Quirky colorful artwork is the other highlight of the game.  Nice carry-over bonus feature.  Hit the A-B-C rollovers and mushroom targets and score the bonus.  Not super deep, but a decent game.  GRADE: B-

Machine #208: BALLY PARTY ZONE

Machine #208: BALLY PARTY ZONE

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Dennis Nordman decided to throw a party with all his other creations and the result was Party Zone, a zany and fun to play effort from Bally and their 2nd DMD game (Gilligan’s Island was 1st).  It features characters from Party Animal, Elvira and the Party Monsters and Dr. Dude and they all meet up for a shindig and the cosmic cottage.    Either you like how over the top and crazy this is or you don’t and I personally dig it.  Vibrant colors, wacky audio (I could see it being a bit annoying over time), this game is fun.  Has some cool toys like Captain B. Zarr, the robotic comic and the dancing crash-test dummy.  Love the DJ request where you get to choose what music you want to hear, but this is a risky shot.  The layout is a bit rough because many of the shots are risky and send the ball to the outlanes or SDTM.  The safe way to play is the left ramp and the Ha Ha Ha saucer.  Any other shots and the ball returning safely to your flipper becomes too unpredictable.  The word on the street was Bally was going to make a Ghostbusters pin, but decided on this instead.  All in all, Party Zone is a good time.  GRADE: B-

Machine #208: SKIT-B PREDATOR

Machine #209: SKIT-B PREDATOR

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When I went to the Allentown pinball show last May, the guys from Skit-B where there with the Predator, showing a whitewood mock up and taking orders.  $4700 for a Predator, only 250 going to be manufactured.  This is the 1st game made by Skit-B a small company based out of Michigan.  The guys are good dudes I wish them the best.  I think guys like Skit-B and Jersey Jack can only make the pinball industry better with new ideas, and pushing Stern to make better games as well.

This iteration of Predator is not complete, but it is getting there.  There is some really nice hand drawn playfield artwork depicting the characters, no photo shopped junk.  Skit-B got a full license for the game, so it also uses likenesses on the DMD and for the audio.  Personally, I am a huge fan of the film Predator so I think the theme is pretty spectacular.  The backglass is really eyecatching and captivating.  Nice cabinet art as well.

The game play is in development.  The modes were working and there is a fantastic mode where the playfield is illuminated by black light.  The layout is decent, and the game features two wide plastic ramps.  It’s a pretty standard layout, nothing really different or exciting.  No toys yet, but I hear there might be some dead bodies strewn around the playfield.  Did I mention that this might be the most adult pinball machine ever made?  I’ll be curious to see what else they do to elevate the game to that “I’ve got to own this!” status.

It also features two kick-out holes that aren’t kick-out holes.  They recede into the playfield and the pinball rolls down two metal wireforms.  It registers and awards a mode or a score and then the ball is shot back out very similar to a kick out hole, but different.  More than once, the ball would get stuck in said apparatus and due to the dip in the playfield, the ball would be stuck.  No amount of nudging/tilting would release the ball.  I just don’t know if this is the most sound design.

I would be surprised if this is complete and out to owners by next May, not to mention coding and working out the bugs.  I do like what I see, and can’t wait to check out the finished product.  I love theme and the artwork and the from what I hear, the audio is pretty solid.  From a pinball playing perspective, it’s a bit vanilla.  We’ll see what the guys from Skit-B have up their sleeve.  GRADE: INCOMPLETE

Machine #210: WILLIAMS TOP HAND

Made in 1966, Top Hand is probably where the creators of the Maverick Pinball machine got their ideas.  You have to beat the dealers hand which is illuminated on the backglass at the start of every ball.  There are different variations of trips, 10s through Aces which you need to beat.  You do that by hitting the left, center and right targets in the middle of the playfield which in turn operate a reel.  There’s a wild in there.  It’s tough because your got to do some sharp shooting to avoid advance the targets past where you want them to go (if you have two Qs and you are shooting for a third, you’ve got to be careful not to shoot the Queen).  You can get a full house by hitting the two 9 targets along the left and right side of the playfield.  Beating the dealers hand scores an extra ball.  I found it challenging and I appreciate games where your objective changes a bit from ball to ball.  The Western poker theme fits as well.  Good Stuff.  GRADE: B

Machine #211: CARD TRIX

Machine #211: GOTTLIEB CARD TRIX

Card Trix is the add-a-ball version of Flip A Card which was #40 on my big year.  This was my first chance to play a replay game and add-a-ball right next to one another.  It’s interesting to see the little differences in the backglass and playfield artwork, but the objective is basically the same.  In both versions you are score cards 2 through Ace.

Fun to try to complete the sequence.  I hate that the 10 and the Ace are in the outlanes, but love that you can score them hitting the kick-out hole spinner that randomly awards a card.  Small flippers and huge center drain make it tough.

In Flip A Card if you accomplish this it lights a special, in Card Trix it adds a ball.  From my understanding people prefer the replay games to the add-a-ball games, but I tend to disagree, especially if the game is on free play.  I really like getting the extra balls to prolong the games to potentially have the best singular game you can have and possibly set a high score.

Dont get me wrong.  Growing up, I always preferred pinball to video games because you were playing for something.  You were playing for another game.  Whether you did it via a high score, accomplishing a a set of objectives, or matching at the end, the firing of the solenoid, the crackling “POP” echoing through the arcade, signaling to anyone in earshot there was a pinball player in the house.  I still get a rush when I hear that melodious sound when I’m at the arcade, and you can feel other people’s eyes on you checking out what you are doing, it’s really an indescribable feeling (although I’m trying really hard).  Free play replays just don’t have the same magic.

Card Trix is good stuff.  GRADE: B

Machine #212: NIGHT OF THE LIVING FED

Machine #212: NIGHT OF THE LIVING FED

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Night of the Living Fed is the 1st custom pinball machine for the big year and the first I’ve ever had a chance to play.  It’s Data East’s Secret Service retro-fitted with different artwork and toys along the playfield.  I’m really impressed with the different artwork and the theme is spectacular.  These politicians today are rabid zombies eating the proverbial flesh of the American people.  Secret Service is such a smart choice because the politicos operate under the guise of liberty.  Only the artwork was changed, it’s a shame they couldn’t change the cheesy callouts.

The gameplay is decent.  Two different multiball modes, a steep ramp (that can be hit with the upper right flipper) and the “KGB Hideout” that flyer boasts “never before in the history of pinball has there been a reseatable ball eating target until now.”  Basically, it’s a ball lock that locks the ball underneath the playfield.  Love the ideas of customizing pins and this one is spot on.  GRADE: B+

Machine #213: DYN-O-MITE

Machine #213: ALLIED LEISURE DYN O’ MITE

Allied Leisure’s Dyn O’ Mite took me by completely by surprise as I had no idea the likeness of JJ Walker was smack dab in the middle of a pinball machine.  He’s also awkwardly quivering on left side of the backglass.  Who knew that he was such a cultural phenomenon in 1975.  This game was released three other times as a 4 player version with the titles “Rock On” “T. N. T” and “Boogie.”  It does have a great feature of 4 standalone targets built into the playfield that need to be knocked down before getting at the other targets.  This concept was used in Cactus Canyon almost 25 years later.  Other than that there isn’t much going on.  In the words of JJ Walker, “Van Gogh, and Rembrandt, don’t be uptight, cause here comes KID DYNOMITE!”  GRADE: C

Machine #214: BALLY HARDBODY

Machine #214: BALLY HARDBODY

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If I had room for 30 pins, Hardbody would definitely be in my collection.  Not because of the gameplay, but because Hardbody is the kitschiest pinball machine I have ever seen.  From the heavy breathing and moaning that is of a “different” type of workout, to the aptly named targets like Glutes, Hams, and Traps, to the gauche backglass that features photographs of the scantilly clad Rachel McLish, Hardbody needs to be seen and played to be believed.  Mountains of cocaine I’m sure went into this game.  The gameplay isn’t bad as it is a 2 level game with a decent amount of shots.  Visit the different “workout stations” by hitting the various muscle targets.  It also has a “flex save” feature which will “muscle” the ball and save it from the outlanes.  Out of all the games at Allentown, Hardbody is definitely one of the most memorable.  GRADE: B

Machine #215: AQUARIUS

Machine #215:GOTTLIEB AQUARIUS

Aquarius might be the 1st pinball machine made for hippies as it depicts a flowering loving couple, well sharing their love over some flowers.  Also note the kissing fish and amourous lion and ram on the backglass.  Love is definitely in the air.  The objective is to light the 12 signs of the zodiac which will light a special.  You can do that one of 2 ways.  Hit the various targets and outlane rollovers (boo!) or plunge the ball into out of 5 kickout holes at the top of the playfield to spot a number (Yay!).  Not really much else to do, but there are worse ways to spend your pinball time.  Nice colorful artwork and cool astrology symbol artwork.  GRADE: C+

Machine #216: BALLY DOLLY PARTON

Machine #216: BALLY DOLLY PARTON

Dolly Parton is an average player from Bally.  It’s interesting to note the battles Bally had with Parton over her depiction on the game.  The backglass design had to be changed a number of times to make her look less country and more pop, so they duded her up in yellow and gave her a big bird hairdo.  On the playfield (which was complete when she started to complain, she looks much better in traditional country music attire i.e. a tied button-down and daisy-dukes.  Spell D-O-L-L-Y P-A-R-T-O-N by scoring the top saucer or hitting the D-O-L-L-Y targets which are located behind a set of pop bumpers.  You can shoot them directly, so it’s pretty random to spell her first name.  For point scoring, focus your attention on the right side of the playfield, shooting the spinner and knocking down the super-star targets for bonus multipliers and safer shots.  The game features “Here You Come Again” a supposed hit by Dolly Parton, but alas, I am unfamiliar with her music.  The rest of the sounds are traditional sci-fi beeps and boops.  GRADE: C

Machine #217:

Machine #217: GOTTLIEB TX-SECTOR

The second you press start on TX-SECTOR and the music hits, you know you are in for a pinball experience.  The audio on this machine is stupendous, definitely top 5 all time.  The music, sound effects and callouts are smashing and it makes you realize how spectacular audio can elevate the gameplay of a pinball machine.  The lighting is excellent as well.  The artwork is colorful and definitely fits the sci-fi theme, but the backglass is like one of those magic eye puzzles that gives me a headache.  The layout is solid as you try to advance power levels by knocking down drop targets.  Very cool lock feature which “teleports” the ball across the playfield.  Upper left flipper is well placed and good for a a number of shots.  “TX, TX, TX, TX, TX, “TX, TX.”  I can’t say enough about the audio, but I’ll leave you with this; If I was a prize fighter, I might use the music from TX-Sector to enter the ring to.  It’s that good.  GRADE: B+

Machine #218: BALLY STRIKES AND SPARES

Machine #218: BALLY STRIKES AND SPARES

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Strikes and Spares is probable the best and definitely the most memorable bowling themed pin ever made (don’t laugh, there’s been over 50 bowling themed machines made!).  It feature the lascivious artwork of Kevin O’Connor and I can tell you that women like this don’t exist at bowling alleys unless they are getting paid lots of $$$$.  The game has a simple yet engaging layout (A-B-C rollovers for bonus multipliers, spare targets for extra balls and specials and hitting the star targets for strikes).  Extra balls and specials are plentiful and the game is fun.  The audio is bizarre as with the start of every game it plays the traditional horse racing ditty “the call to the post”  This particular machine for some reason has a doorbell on it which I’ve never seen before on a pinball machine.  GRADE: B+

 

Machine #219: BALLY GILLIGIAN'S ISLAND

Machine #219: BALLY GILLIGIAN’S ISLAND

 

Gilligan’s Island was a popular television in the 1960s that became more popular through syndication in the 1980s hence Bally’s desire to release this machine in 1991.  It is actually the 1st Bally/Williams pin to be RELEASED to feature a DMD (Terminator 2 was designed 1st but Gilligan’s Island came out in May of 1991, T2 in July).  The gameplay is very simplistic as you try to collect 7 items for the professor’s secret formula Lava Seltzer.  Once you do that shoot the KONA ramp for a 50 million point payout.  The key to the game is hitting the ramp over and over and over again to score points.  I like how it does have a rotating upper playfield which diverts the ball to different areas when you hit the ramp shot. The layout is decent and I like the theme but I wish they did more with gameplay.  The 2 ball multiball is a random award from the Lagoon and it’s underwhelming.  It would be great if someone updated the code and added modes and features because the footprint is there for something good.  Good for kids or casual players, but it’s lack of depth gets old quickly.  GRADE: C

The Pinball Gallery – Downingtown, PA – April 27th, 2013

After leaving the underwhelming Arnold’s Family Fun Center, my pinball thirst was unquenched, so I headed down 202 to the Pinball Gallery.  It used to be right on the main drag of Lancaster Avenue, but they moved it to a back alley and it was extremely difficult to find.  With no GPS I combed the streets of Downingtown and finally stumbled upon it when I was going to stop at the McDonalds for McNuggets and directions.  It shares its space with Margo’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and is the perfect place for a kids birthday party (There was one going on there at the time).  Here’s a link to the website http://www.pinballgallery.net/ where they have about 20 games and the collection always seems to be rotating.  Most of the games are for sale as well, but they are on the high side when it comes to price.  I will say this about the Pinball Gallery, the games are in great playing shape and well maintained.  Not like Arnold’s or even Silverball, the games are clean, level and ready to play.  I got to put time on 6 new machines for my big year while I was there.

Machine #196: GOTTLIEB COUNT-DOWN

Machine #196: GOTTLIEB COUNT-DOWN

Count-Down by Gottlieb is a drop target lover’s dream machine. There are 4 banks of 4 drop targets (red, blue, yellow, and green) and knocking down 2 banks lights the extra ball, 3 the special. Each time you knock down a bank it increases the value of said drop targets. Knocking down the targets in sequential order from left to right increases the bonus multiplier. I really enjoyed playing this game, knocking down the banks, increasing the bonus and multiplier. Has 4 flippers (2 smaller upper ones for hitting the upper banks of targets) and one pop bumper (who needs 3 when one will suffice?). I like the look of the machine and it has a nice color scheme. Simple yet challenging all in one. This is a good one. GRADE: B+

Machine #197: BALLY VECTOR

Machine #197: BALLY VECTOR

Vector is a pretty wild machine from Bally. Made in 1981 it’s theme is a cross between Tron and some sort of futuristic Jai Alai, but for me it works. The overall layout is a bit awkward. The left outlane is reversed and features a very cool ball save if you can nudge it properly into the kick-out hole while it’s draining while the right outlane is traditional and features the same ball save. There’s an upper right flipper that is blocked by targets some of the time and it’s tough to shoot the upper playfield with it. The upper right flipper is for the X-Y-Z targets, but you need to knock them down in sequence. If you do, it will knock down a row of drop targets that block the lock ramp. The multiball is tough to achieve. Has a nice use of backbox lighting and great audio for it’s time. Love the quote “Hit the showers” at the end of the game. I found the game challenging and for 1981 it’s impressive. GRADE: B (Vector is no longer at the Pinball Gallery.)

Machine #198: BALLY EIGHT BALL

Machine #198: BALLY EIGHT BALL

Eight Ball by Bally was a cash cow when it came out in 1977. A whopping 20,230 machines were produced.  I think a billiards theme lends itself well to a pinball machine and I love the Fonz backglass clad in his butter soft brown leather jacket.  The game is Solid State, but features chimes which is a nice touch.  It’s one of the 1st machines to feature memory (it saves your progress from ball to ball).  The game is simple yet maddening.  Hit the shots to light the balls 1-7 (if you are player 2 or 4 you shoot for 9-15) the shoot for the 8-ball which is a tight shot.  The bank shot lane is paramount to scoring well for the bonus multiplier and extra balls.  The game is a bit of a drain monster, the center drain is vast and the left outlane is especially rough.  Decent pinball action.  GRADE: B-

Machine #199: STERN METEOR

Machine #199: STERN GALAXY

Galaxy by Stern was a game that I just couldn’t get into, even after playing it some 15 or so times.  I think it has nice colorful artwork on the backglass and the playfield.  The layout is even a bit different with the higher spread out pop bumpers, leaving a wide open middle.  Most of the action takes place on the left side (the drop targets and the kickout hole) and that’s pretty much what you continually shoot for.  Pretty simple and not very involving.  GRADE: C-

 

Machine #200: GENIE

Machine #200: GOTTLIEB GENIE

Genie is a classic widebody by Gottlieb.  They have this table for the Pinball Arcade for the Ipad and other devices, but this was my 1st chance to play the game in person.  It features 5 flippers and a mini-playfield where knocking down the drop targets lights extra balls and specials.  The 4 yellow drop targets are important in lighting that bonus and bonus multiplier.  Also the collect bonus kick-out hole is huge for scoring for in-ball bonus collecting.  The biggest complaint seems to be about the audio, which can be a bit annoying, but I actually think it’s fitting and I get the snake charmer like sounds.  The thing that I like least about the machine is the lower left pop bumper which sends the ball down the outlane seemingly half the time.  I try to stay away from the lower A-B-C-D rollovers for that reason.  A really nice colorful game with a ton of shots and a lot of ways to score extra balls and specials.  GRADE: B+

Machine #201: DATA EAST TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

Machine #201: DATA EAST TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

The marketing slogan for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pinball machine was “Coin-A-Bunga, Dude!”  I don’t know how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were successful the 1st time they came out with comic books, movies, television shows, toys and video games, but I’ll chalk it up to cocaine and just the overall bad taste of the 1980s (They had a concert tour in 1990 with a live-action band called “Coming out of their Shells”).  When I heard that they have recently made a comeback I am agog that a whole new generation of children get to be baffled by these ninja-esque turtle broskis who sound like they are from California.  Another movie is planned for 2014!

If you are a fan of the TMNT, you will most likely enjoy the pinball machine as it does a good job incorporating the look and feel of TMNT even including a pizza spinner.  The artwork and audio are fitting, minus the “Cow-a-Busty” over-the-top damsel in distress on the backglass.  Really a bit tasteless if your target audience is childen.

The game features a double ramp (green sends the ball to the left flipper, yellow to the right flipper) for the skill shot and it’s actually a well done innovation.  The shot is a bit easy though and you can sometimes hit it 10+ times in a row.  Also that’s the shot to score the big points, yellow ramp, green ramp and then the sewer.  The captive ball also is an important shot to light the 10 million point sewer shot.  Specials are also pretty easy to score as well with the sewer shot.  The gameplay seems simple and most likely designed for a younger audience.    Good for kids or places where kids might be, but playing a handful of games, I accomplished everything I could on this machine.  GRADE: C (This machine is no longer at Pinball Gallery, which is surprising because I would think with the revival of the TMNT, that this would be a cash cow, but I’m sure they got the right price for it.)

 

Arnold’s Family Fun Center – Oaks, PA – April 27th, 2013

Arnold’s Family Fun Center has go-karts and a wide variety of redemption games.  It has 15 pinball machines, but they are in such bad shape, I am baffled why they are there taking up the space of their footprint.  Unless of course, it is a storage area for non-working machines.  Hercules, Riverboat Gambler, Bad Cats, Elivs, Banzai Run, Baywatch, Frankenstein, Goldeneye, Harley Davidson, Laser Cue and the Sopranos all non-working.  If any of these machines happened to be turned on, do NOT waste your money on them.  There is something majorly wrong with them.

The Simpsons Pinball Party is playable, but has weak flippers and is filthy.  I did get to put time on 2 machines at Arnold’s that were in passable condition.

Machine #194: WILLIAMS THE FLINTSTONES

Machine #194: WILLIAMS THE FLINTSTONES

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The Flintstones pinball machine has a lot going for it when it comes to pinball playing action.  It has a great layout, 3 multiballs, 4 modes and I really like the fast flow the game features.  Bowling for strikes and spares is a nice touch.  Complete the 4 modes for a mystery mode which is the wizard mode.  The biggest problem for me with the game is the movie related tie in.  No pinball machine should have Rosie O’Donnell mug on it.  It’s unappealing.  Not to mention the movie is awful.  I’m old school when it comes to the Flintstones and wished that it was based on the cartoon and not the movie.  They have a couple of alternate translites that I adore.ft2

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The audio callouts are a grating as well.  Just like I mentioned earlier with Fathom, the sheer beauty of the machine can elevate the overall experience.  The Flintstones is a good playing game and a lot of fun, but I’m downgrading it a bit because I find it annoying.  GRADE: B

Machine #195: SEGA GOLDEN CUE

Machine #195: SEGA GOLDEN CUE

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Golden Cue by Sega/Stern was a prototype that never was never massed produced (supposedly there were only 10 ever made) and was redesigned and released a year later as Sharkey’s Shootout.  Kelly Packard was an actress on Baywatch (who???) and they decided to put her on the game because she looked good on the backglass and playfield and they thought she would attract players.  Looking fine on the backglass, but her crazy ass close up face by the flippers creeps me out.  She has no pinball or pool connections and was replaced Jeanette Lee for the redesign.

I have never played Sharkey’s Shootout, so I can’t compare, but there really isn’t much to do with regards to Golden Cue.  Knock down the drop targets then hit the stationary targets and sink the pool balls.  Hit the left loop 5 times for an extra ball, 6 for a special and this is a simple shot.  Also spell V-O-D-K-A (I’m not kidding) with the rollovers.  There’s a checklist on the apron which you try to complete and once you do, the game ends, even if you are on ball 2 which is ridiculous.

The most interesting thing I can say about Golden Cue is the upside down “Can You Read This?” message that Sega put on there as a jab at Williams Pinball 2000 top secret game Revenge From Mars.  GRADE: D-

Overall, Arnold’s Family Fun Center might be good for redemption games and slow driving go-karts, but for pinball it is an atrocity.

Pinburgh Day #3 – Carnegie, PA – April 14th, 2013

Machine #184: GOTTLIEB HOOPS

Machine #184: GOTTLIEB HOOPS

Now that the matchplay tournament had gone into the finals, many of the machines that were reserved for the tournament were available to play.  I had over 100 different games to choose from.  So of course I would gravitate to the most esoteric games which lead me to Hoops.  Hoops is another one of the “street level” games from Gottlieb (No ramps, toys, cheaper costs).  The backglass has the sun blowing clouds into the aforementioned “Hoops.”  The backglass and playfield art is extremely similar and bland.  I enjoy the basketball theme, it features a 3 ball multi-ball and there are a decent number of shots to make (the alley-oop and tip-in shots are tough).  This game would be better with a ramp or some sort of basket shot.  It would also be better if it wasn’t so generic.  GRADE: C

Machine #185: STERN BIG BUCK HUNTER

Machine #185: STERN BIG BUCK HUNTER

Big Buck Hunter was high on my list to play for 2 reasons.  1st because I heard how awful it was and second because my buddy John desperately wanted one.  I didn’t get why he wanted one and after playing it, I still don’t know why he wants one.  Big Buck Hunter has an overall cheap look and feel to it.  The artwork is uninspired something having to do with animals and moonshine.  The ball times are extremely short has everything seems to lead to a drain STDM.  Make the Ram or Bird shots and they will drain some of the time.  No pinball machine should be designed to when you make a shot that advances the game, the ball then drains when it is released.  The Bird shot is especially tight and when you make it this is what happens in your mind:

  1. Yip Skiddly Doo!!!  I made that really tough bird shot!
  2. Hmmmm….it looks like the ball is going to shoot straight down the center.  Naaaahhh…they wouldn’t design it that way.
  3. Crap.  The ball went straight down the middle.

You shouldn’t have to smack the side or nudge the game.  Have a VUK that sends the ball to the flipper.  Especially for such a tough shot.  It has a Buck who moves across the playfield which you need to shoot (literally) 5 times to start the Big Buck multiball.  There are a bunch of multiballs and an “Open Season” wizard mode.  Wasn’t a big fan of the arcade game and not a big fan of this pinball.  GRADE: C-

Machine #186: CAPCOM PINBALL MAGIC

Machine #186: CAPCOM PINBALL MAGIC

Pinball Magic was Capcom’s 1st game and it is a shame that they only made six games, two of which got an extremely limited release (Big Bang Bar and Kingpin).  Their pinball machines have a stellar build quality.  They just happened to be at the wrong place and the wrong time as in the mid 1990s, pinball was becoming an endangered species.  Capcom is best known for their Street Fighter and Resident Evil video game franchises, but their brief foray into pinball yielded a few hidden gems.  Pinball Magic is one of them.

It’s hard not to compare Pinball Magic to Theatre of Magic, and while I prefer TOM, for about 1/2 the price, Pinball Magic has a lot to offer.  It has a nice layout with a lot of shots, 6 tough modes and a “Matra Magna” wizard mode.  It also has two really incredible features.  First a magnetic magic wand that the pinball will float along locking the balls in the trunk and a levitating ball stage.  The artwork and audio is a B version of TOM, but the game features nice DMD animations.  A solid effort here.  GRADE: B

Machine #187: DATA EAST JURASSIC PARK

Machine #187: DATA EAST JURASSIC PARK

Jurassic Park is a game that gets better every time I play it.  2012 was my 1st Allentown show and JP was the game that I most remembered.  Not Circus Voltaire or Tales of the Arabian Nights.  Jurassic Park has the greatest ball lock feature, hands down.  Watching the T-Rex gobble the pinball is absolute pinball perfection.  The layout seems a bit flat, but it works with the one ramp.  There are a bunch of tight shots, good modes, a 2, 3, and 6 ball multiball.  I’m a big fan of the theme and I think the cabinet art and backglass are classic while the playfield art is decent.  The “Smart Missile” that you get once a game activates/scores everything that is lit is a unique feature and a homage to the Defender video game “smart bomb.”  GRADE: A-

Machine #188: YUKON

Machine #188: WILLIAMS YUKON

Yukon by Williams is an add-a-ball game and has reels similar to a slot machine where by hitting different targets it advances the reels 1-9 then YUKON.  Depending on the combinations you can add pinballs.  The replay version of this game is “Klondike.”  It features a good layout and I like trying to advance the reels by hitting the targets and the scoops.  It feature 5 pop-bumpers and it’s fun to shoot the top right or left scoop and then nudge the ball off the pop bumpers to hit the targets.  The artwork is pretty atrocious and that prospector looks like he should have a rape whistle.  That bear creeping up behind him looks like he wants more than bacon and eggs.  A good playing game.  GRADE: B

Machine #189: SCORPION

Machine #189: WILLIAMS SCORPION

Scorpion is a widebody from Williams with a bit of a twist.  It features a 2 ball multiball that is timed, but not in the way you would think.  The objective is to get the 2 ball multiball (a loud siren is triggered for all to hear) and keep the balls in play for as long as possible.  Keep them alive for 15 seconds and score points, 35 seconds an extra ball and 50 seconds a special.  And you can’t just cradle the ball on the flippers because the clock will stop if switches aren’t activated.  Multiball also awards the left and right bonuses.  The game has a lot of shots (the locks are at tough angles), an upper playfield, and when you’re not getting the multiball you are trying to build the bonuses for multiball.  I don’t know why it’s called Scorpion considering there’s a giant 2-headed fire breathing Hydra that dominates the backglass and playfield art.  No matter, they added scorpion pop bumper caps and scorpion cabinet art to fix their apparent blunder.  I like the artwork even if I think it was done for another game.  Good stuff.  GRADE: B

Machine #190: ALIEN POKER

Machine #190: WILLIAMS ALIEN POKER

Alien Poker was released in October 1980 and Asteroid Annie and the Aliens was released 2 months later and are amazingly both Alien Poker themed machines.  The odds of that are astronomical.  It’s like the time in 1997 when two different movie studios released Dante’s Peak and Volcano back to back.  2 Volcano movies back to back?  Come on man!

The way to score big points is to knock down the royal flush sequentially starting with the 10.  Scoring the 4 kings via the upper rollover multiplies the royal flush score up to 4X so the real key is to bump up the multiplier to 4X, score the royal flush for 4 times the 100,000.  You also want to shoot the 3 Aces to spell P-O-K-E-R for extra balls and specials.  The game has a nice layout with a lot to shoot for, but I don’t think the extra right flipper really adds much.  I like the playfield artwork, but the backglass art looks muddied.  Williams marketed this in 1980 as the highest scoring pinball machine they ever made with a 400,000 point shot.  Who knew that some 20 years later they would be making games like Attack from Mars which easily score into the billions.  Better than Asteroid Annie and the Aliens by a bit.  GRADE: B

Machine #191: WILLIAMS LASER CUE

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Laser Cue is very similar to Alien Poker.  This time you have to shoot the pool balls in sequence 1 through 15 (minus the 8 ball) but instead of just shooting the 5 drop target bank in the center you have to shoot all around the playfield.  Once you finish the sequence it lights the 8 Ball shot that can be hit with the upper right flipper for an extra ball.  It was originally called “World Hockey” but instead they decided to put muscle bound warriors in Daisy Dukes playing bumper pool on the backglass.  Wretched.  Laser Cue features the 1st timed ball save in pinball history.  Decent playing game with awful artwork.  GRADE: B-

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Then it was off to the Pittsburgh Pirates Game.  A great place to see a game.  Then it was back to Pinburgh to pick up my buddy Gary and head home.  We had a couple of minutes and I squeezed in a couple more games.

Machine #190: BALLY FATHOM

Machine #192: BALLY FATHOM

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Fathom is one of the most beautiful games ever in the history of pinball.  The backglass artwork is exquisite, the color palette on the playfield with its cool blues is exceptional.  It has a great layout, plays fast and pretty straight forward rules.  Lots of great drop target action, hitting them in sequence advances bonus.  Features a multiball and the ability to steal the other person’s multiball (go second if you’re playing with a friend).  The reverse outlanes are tough to get used to because we are conditioned to the opposite but you can nudge and save the ball if the timing is right.  I’m a fan of the “wooshing” audio.  The working title was “Barracuda” and the name “Deep Threat” was a possibility but both were rejected by Bally.  A true example of how a machine looks can add to the overall experience.  GRADE: A-

Machine #193: SEGA FRANKENSTEIN

Machine #193: SEGA  MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN

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I spent the rest of my time at Pinburgh rocking a game that I think is a super sleeper, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Based on the 1994 film by Kenneth Branagh starrring Robert De Niro of all people as Frankenstein’s monster, the game is better than the movie.  When you start a game you can choose between Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein Theme or their custom music which I think is a nice choice.  You’re not plunging the ball either, you are throwing the switch to put the ball into play, another nice little touch.  The game is challenging as you have to spell F-R-A-N-K-E-N-S-T-E-I-N to start each mode and the letters are splayed out all over the playfield.  You can spot letters by hitting the North Pole, Sarcophagus, or Ice Cave so it’s not that daunting.  You can work your way through the modes for the “CREATION” wizard mode.  There are a couple of multiballs in this game.  The Geneva multiball which is straight foward (spell Geneva, shoot the scoop and start the 3 ball multiball) and the other multiball is ultra confusing on how to start it, even though I did it a few times.  You shoot the creature ramp to lock the balls to start a 2 ball multiball and then you have to shoot the Geneva scoop and it will determine how many other balls 3-6 will be in play.  It’s easier to do than explain.  Let me just say that this game features a toy of Frankenstein’s monster on the playfield that will literally throw the ball at you (it hits the glass first) when you start multiball.  JP has the greatest ball lock.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has the greatest ball release.  I don’t care that it looks more like Robert Duvall than Robert De Niro.  Close enough.  The artwork is decent, cabinet art is spectacular and I’ll always go with original artwork over photoshopped.  Great layout, tough shots, nice flow, good modes, I am smittened by this game.  GRADE: A

Pinburgh Day #2 – Carnegie, PA – April 13th, 2013

My second day at Pinburgh was a full day affair.  I wanted to put as much time on as many games as possible.  The match play tournament was heating up and there was a long list of pins I had really been looking forward to checking out.

Machine #151: STERN AVATAR

Machine #151: STERN AVATAR

Avatar was high on my list of pins to play as I had never played it before.  Everything I heard about it was pretty negative.  Looking at the machine, I’m digging the shades of blue, but I’m not a fan of the 3D backglass.  It’s weird looking and a bit distracting.  The biggest problem with this game is the actual layout and design.  When the ball comes through the top rollovers and through the pop bumpers it drains SDTM I’d say close to 50% of the time.  I can’t defend or understand how this design was acceptable through numerous test phases.  Has a rough left outlane without rubber as well.  The game would be pretty good without these flaws.  The AMP suit is a pretty cool toy and it is a tight shot.  The modes, audio and DMD animations are good too.  I feel the same way about Avatar as I do Lord of the Rings.  Saw the movie once, liked it, but that’s enough for me.  If you loved the movie, you’ll like the game more.  Take away the design snafus and this is a solid game, but the way it is, it’s like an ex-girlfriend.  You might remember them fondly and want to see them again, but when you do, you know exactly why things didn’t work out.  GRADE: C

Machine #152:

Machine #152: BALLY THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN

The Six Million Dollar Man‘s biggest attraction is…you guessed it, the ability to have 6 players play at once.  It also is one of the 1st machines to have a Television tie-in and since it is an early Solid State and all electronic, it’s one of the 1st machines to feature switch tests.  Everything else about the machine is pretty average.  Nothing stands out of note.  Hit the drop targets, spinners, and center hole, advance the bonus and shoot for extra balls and specials.  I never watched the Six Million Dollar Man on television so the them does nothing for me.  Has a “play more” post in between the flippers.  It’s a shame that the bionic score is 50,000 and not 6,000,000.  GRADE: C

Machine #153: BALLY SPEAK EASY

Speak Easy has a lot of interesting features.  I don’t know how successful they were because I haven’t seen them on other games, but good for pinball designer George Christian for trying something different.  The targets in the center of the playfield 10-J-Q-K-A are “flyaway targets” that when hit go up.  The objective is to hit the targets in sequence.  The game has a “sacrifice” feature where at the start of each ball you can hit an an extra button along the left side of the cabinet which allows the player to cancel any cards that were made out of sequence.  The price is 25,000 points.  This is specific to the 5-6-7-8-9 top rollover sequence.  Making that in sequence adds 2 balls.  It also features a spinning wheel under the playfield that rewards points and adds a ball and will even subtract a ball lady luck passes you by.  The flyer for the game is shockingly creepy.  The game play was just okay, but I liked the different innovations the game has to offer.  GRADE: B-

Machine #154: BALLY WHO DUNNIT?

Machine #154: BALLY WHO DUNNIT?

WHO Dunnit is a really fun and unique experience when it comes to pinball.  You’re a detective gathering evidence, solving cases trying to catch the killer.  Once you pick the right suspect there’s an exciting chase on the roof.  The game has a great layout (has an elevator ramp where when you hit it the ball can go one of three ways) and a unique feel to it.  It features a slot machine and a roulette wheel where you can bet big chunks of your score (the murders happen in a casino, a nifty tie-in)  WHO Dunnit really makes great use of the DMD and its audio as well.  Might be a top 10 game of all time if it featured a wizard mode.  It does have a midnight madness mode.  If you haven’t played W?D I highly recommend it.  GRADE: A-

Machine #155: BALLY GRAND SLAM

Machine #155: BALLY GRAND SLAM

Grand Slam is the only other game to feature “fly away” targets and it’s pretty amazing that I played the 2 games that have them (Grand Slam & Speak Easy) almost back to back.  I really like the idea of them because you can get the ball up into the upper playfield easier and it opens it up.  I don’t know why they didn’t catch on.  Hit the H-O-M-E-R targets in order to score a home run.  Hit different targets to score a triple, hit the spinner to advance the runners.  Like most baseball games you score runs and points.  The Zaxxon like audio is the only real fault with the game.  GRADE: B+

Machine #156: STERN CSI

Machine #156: STERN CSI

CSI is based on the wildly popular television show Crime Scene Investigation which spawned two spin-offs (Miami, New York) and has been a fixture on television over the past decade.  This game has some cool features one of which is the ball lock for the skull multiball.  They lock in the eyes and the skull raises and dumps them for the start of the multiball.  Very nice.  There’s the centrifuge shot that spins the ball around similarly to the mix master in Dr. Dude.  Enough hits in there will start the Centrifuge multiball.  There’s a microscope multiball as well, and once you shoot the microscope you try to hit different shot to collect evidence.  There’s no wizard mode, but there’s a wizard shot that becomes available once you get all three multiballs that is worth 50 million points.  The photo shopped  backglass and artwork on the playfield is a big let down, but the machine has a good overall look.  Tough skill shot as well.  It’s fun to play, but I don’t know if it would hold my interest for an extended period of time.  GRADE: B-

Machine #157: BALLY STINGRAY

Machine #157: STERN STINGRAY

Stingray is an early solid state from Stern and it stands out due to it’s colorful and exquisite artwork which features a bevy of bikini beauties.  Hit the center kickout hole to light the spinner, get extra balls and score a double bonus.  Knock down the drop targets once lights the special outlanes.  Do it twice on the same ball to light the special target on the upper right of the playfield.  It is a tight tough shot and rewarding when you hit it.  Great chime audio as well.  Good stuff. GRADE: B

Machine #157: SEGA GOLDENEYE

Machine #158: SEGA GOLDENEYE

Goldeneye was another game that was very high on my “pins to play” list and there’s a lot to like about it.  I think it has possibly the nicest and most fitting cabinet artwork of any machine I’ve seen to date and I appreciate the original artwork by Paul Farris even if some of the people drawn look like zombies.  The signature shot of the game is the satellite dish which is a fantastic addition.  A ramp pops up on the playfield and you shoot the satellite dish for multiball.  Another very cool feature is the ball save which is a magnet that hurtles the ball back onto the playfield.  Another unique feature is “eject or die.”  It lights in the outlanes and if you drain that way the ball gets flung back onto the playfield and you have 6 seconds to hit the “eject” target or you the flippers go dead and you lost the ball.    The game features 3 ramps, 3 multiballs, 5 modes, 4 mini modes, and very cool wizard mode that I haven’t come close to.  Goldeneye has some fun easter eggs as well.  During the first ball and initial DMD animation of Bond turning pull the trigger to watch Bond get stripped down to his skivvies or a variety of other shenanigans.  Can’t wait to play more Goldeneye in the near future.  GRADE: B+

Machine #159: ZACCARIA PINBALL CHAMP ’82

Pinball Champ ’82 is another game made by Zaccaria and they spared no expense when it came to vibrant colors.  It looks like a rainbow exploded on the playfield.  Note the hot pink cabinet.  The pinball champs of Italy circa 1982 were a bit muscular than the Pinburgh pinball participants.  The PAPA players have stronger flipper fingers.  This Zacarria’s first game to feature 2 playfields.  In this game it’s all about knocking down targets to earn time and them shooting the ball into the upper playfield via a scoop that is a tough shot.  Then score big points in the timed upper playfield.  This game has a 10X, 20X and even a 50X bonus scoring and don’t forget about the extra time/4 ball which seems to be standard on Zaccaria games.  GRADE: B-

Machine #156: STERN NASCAR

Machine #160: STERN NASCAR

NASCAR by Stern is a solid game.  When you shoot the ball out of the trough it makes laps around the playfield.  A very cool feature which can get a bit annoying after a while.  You start modes by hitting the ball into the garage which is blocked by a “test car” that looks like they got it from the dollar store.  You try to pass different racers by shooting different shots completing the different modes, starting the multiball.  The game is fast and there is a lot to do.  Great racing sounds and original audio by Allen Bestwick, a NBA NASCAR analyst.  The game also has songs like “I Can’t Drive 55″ by Sammy Hagar.  The DMD animations and video modes leave a lot to be desired.  The international version is Grand Prix and they made a Dale Jr. version two years later.  GRADE: B

Machine #161: WILLIAMS ZIG ZAG

Zig Zag is an EM made by Williams in 1964.  There are 3 kickout holes in the center of the playfield that when lit rack colored balls into the back box.  You can also do this by hitting the upper center rollover or the outlanes (both when lit)  Get all 9 balls racked and light the center kickout hole for a special.  Hit the A-B-C-D rollovers to light outlane specials.  A lot of nudging going on here with the two huge bottom slings.  Tough to get the ball back into the upper playfield.  Decent, colorful artwork.  GRADE: C+

Machine #162: BALLY MINIZAG

Zag is a word that must have been popular in the 1960s that has since then gone out of fashion.  Because the next game I played was MiniZag, an EM by Bally.  The machine features hipster girls dancing a la American Bandstand.  Has really nice retro artwork.  The game features zipper flippers and a “zagger” lane which activates a captive ball which scores points.  Enable this by hitting one of 2 “way out” saucers.  Spelling G-R-O-O-V-Y lights different spotlights in the backbox.  It has a good layout and is challenging, but I found it to be a drain monster due to the zipper flippers.  Sometimes you don’t even get a chance to flip before the ball drains.  GRADE: C+

Machine #163: GOTTLIEB 300

300 is a bowling theme pin and not a pin based on King Leonidas and the Spartan army although that would make a pretty cool machine.  Much like Zig Zag you rack balls in the backbox which turn into bonus.   Hit the spinner in the center for points and balls are racked.  Also hit the kickout holes for mystery bonus or to collect.  Artwork leaves a lot to be desired, but a fun game to play.  GRADE: C+

Machine #164: ZACCARIA DEVIL RIDERS

Back to a bank of Zaccaria machines, it was time to check out Devil Riders.  The cyclist does a loop in the backbox every time you enter the upper playfield.  There are drop targets that the upper ramp actually rests on, so when you knock down the targets, the ramp lowers and you can shoot the upper playfield.  Another super colorful machine from Zaccaria, this one with hues of blue and purple.  This also has the flippers built into the outlanes for saves, but it is not an easy thing to do.  Your timing has to be perfect.  Stuntbike theme is cool, but putting circus clowns on the machine is a detractor for me.  GRADE: B-

Machine #165: ZACCARIA TIME MACHINE

Time Machine has the unique feature of a “rising playfield.”  Once you hit a certain number of targets and hit the “time hole” the pop bumpers raise onto the playfield and there’s more targets and specials to hit.  I found it extremely difficult to do and with out this part of the playfield, you just shoot at these numbered targets 1 through 7 at the very top of the playfield and it will tell you “to the left” and “to the right.”  The rising playfield is cool, but I wish they did more with it and that the game played better when the playfield was down.  Good looking backglass with lightning marred by creepy wizard.  GRADE: C

Machine #166: ZACCARIA SOCCER KINGS

Soccer Kings played the best out of all the Zaccaria pinball machines I had the good fortune of playing at Pinburgh.  It features an upper playfield where you shoot on goal, a precursor to WCS94.  The number of shots you get on goal is dependent on hitting the different drop targets on the playfield.  Also hit the center scoop to light the team photo.  Light all of the teammates for super scoring.  The artwork is goofy and the sound of the speech is bizarre, but it plays really well.  GRADE: B

Machine #167: WILLIAMS BLUE CHIP

The definition of a “Blue Chip” per the Websters dictionary is “a stock issue of high investment quality that usually pertains to a substantial well-established company and enjoys public confidence in its worth and stability.”  Yes this artwork features a stock ticker, but it also shows scientists and welders without their shirts and surveyors and farms.  INDUSTRY!!!  It’s such a bizarre theme, but the game plays really great.  The objective is to light 1 through 8 and build the bonus up as this is a bonus heavy game.  Be careful with the 4-5-6 targets in the center of the playfield, they build the bonus but the shots can lead to center drains big time.  Don’t let the theme deter you, Blue Chip is a player’s machine.  GRADE: B+

Machine #168: ATARI MIDDLE EARTH

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Middle Earth was the first Atari pinball machine I had ever played.  I never knew Atari made pinball machines as I was only familiar with their video game consoles.  I was five years old when I got my Atari 2600 and it was actually a birthday gift for my father from my sister and me.  He set it up and might have played Pac-Man once, and then it was mine.  I still owe him a proper gift.

Middle Earth features some phenomenal artwork done by George Opperman (he designed the Atari Logo).  The scoreboard is located on the lower left hand corner of the cabinet, which you can look at as you flip.  It’s a widebody with a pretty poor design.  Two sets of flippers, not symmetrical when you shoot the ball from the lower flippers, they hit the upper flippers most of the time.  Two banks of drop targets advance bonus and light extra balls and specials.  The ball just kind off floats around on this machine, no real flow.  Flipper setup makes everything kind of random. I would love to make a coffee table of the playfield.  GRADE: C

Machine #169: ATARI TIME 2000

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Right next to Middle Earth was another Atari pinball machine Time 2000 which amazingly has a worse layout than Middle Earth.  It has two sets of flippers right next to each other! The theme is fantasy related with some sort of time element as you collect bonus via AM and PM on clocks.  Nice color scheme, but bland artwork.  A widebody should only be made if you can’t fit all of the stuff onto a regular playfield and this game is so wide open with very little to shoot for.  Kudos for Atari trying something different with the flippers, but it does not work.  GRADE: D+

Machine #168: GOTTLIEB VEGAS

Machine #170: GOTTLIEB VEGAS

Vegas is another one of 6 street level games made by Gottlieb (no ramps, cheap production, lower price).  I’m not crazy about the hot pink cabinet and all over the playfield and this feels circa 1983, not 1990.  The game has extremely unbalanced scoring as you want to  shoot the left loop repeatedly to rack up the points and bonuses.  Vegas has other features like a slot machine and drop targets, but if it’s a high score you want, left loop (which is a pretty easy shot) is all you’ll be shooting.  GRADE: C

Machine #171: THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN

Machine #171: GOTTLIEB THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN

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The Amazing Spiderman features gorgeous artwork that stays true to its comic book roots.  It’s a shame Stern didn’t adopt the same philosophy instead of the photoshop.  Spiderman is a widebody with 4 flippers and has standard play for its time, drop targets, rollovers advance the bonus etc.  Sound is underwhelming beeps and boops.  Artwork alone elevates this game and makes it more fun to play.  GRADE: B

Machine #172:

Machine #172: WILLIAMS DISCO FEVER

Throughout my academic career I received one F in 7th grade for band.  I quit the band a couple weeks into the school year and it was an elective so I got an F.  I never thought I would give a pinball machine an F, because I believe that they all have redeeming qualities.  I was mistaken.  Disco Fever by Williams is an F.  It has these ridiculous banana flippers that make shots extremely difficult, but not in a challenging way.  It’s more annoying.  The ball is hard to cradle and make flipper passes.  Time Warp was the only other game to feature them, and that’s good for pinball as a whole.  The playfield is wide open with not much to shoot for and disco theme is dreadful.  The worst pinball machine I have ever played.  GRADE: F

Machine #173:  WILLIAMS DERBY DAY

Derby Day is similar to a game I played earlier called Winner where you shoot the targets 1-6 to advance the horses and try to win the race scoring replays if successful.  This one has 4 mini flippers and is a drain monster with a huge center outlane.  The smaller flippers make it harder to make shots, hit numbers and advance the horses.  Derby Day was made in 1967, Winner in 1972, and in those 5 years they improved with better flipper technology.  Still fun to play.  GRADE: C+

Machine #174: DATA EAST STAR TREK

Machine #174: DATA EAST STAR TREK

DSC02611Star Trek by Data East was the 2nd pinball machine based on franchise and the 2nd that I played and I liked a lot about it.  Has a very cool backglass with the patented “Transporter Effect” which utilizes moving double layered semi-transparent pictures.  Great artwork with a superb color scheme. While the game isn’t super deep, it has a good layout and it’s fun to play.  Ramps are well placed, two banks of drop targets necessary to advance the game and a center sinkhole with a moving target.  I was killing it at Pinburgh, getting my initials on the machine, so I was really enjoying it.  GRADE: B

Machine #175: SEGA STAR WARS TRILOGY

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I used to know a girl in college who had a basement full of VCR tapes that her father taped from television.  1000’s of movies, sporting events and television shows.  It took up most of the basement.  The other thing she had in her basement was a Star Wars Trilogy pinball machine.  I used to love to go her house.  Star Wars Trilogy is a great looking machine with good audio and I’m a big fan of the Carbonite Han Solo.  The layout and gameplay are not super involving although there are 2 multiballs, 6 modes and a Return of the Jedi wizard mode that I haven’t gotten to yet.  It wasn’t a game that I left thinking about, but if you are a Star Wars fan like me, it’s hard not to like.  Hopefully I’ll put some more time on it this year.  GRADE: B-

Machine #176: SEGA SOUTH PARK

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I grew up greatly enjoying South Park and I still watch it to this day.  When South Park was released in1999 by Sega it was wildly successful and added to the the short lived success of Pinball 2000.  I think it is the funniest and best integrated commercially themed pinball machine ever.  The audio, toys, DMD animations, artwork are all perfect for the machine.  The 3rd pinball machine I’ve played with a toilet on the playfield (keep your eyes peeled for Mr. Hanky).  It features the typical fan layout and shooting the different shots a number of times to start the modes (a la Monster Bash), standard pinball layout, but it’s fun to advance through the game.  I would like to own one of these machines one day until I get sick of it.  If you like South Park, I can’t see how you can dislike this game.  GRADE: A-

Machine #177: STERN WORLD POKER TOUR

Machine #177: STERN WORLD POKER TOUR

When I turned 21 in 1998, my friend Craig and I used to frequent Atlantic City to play Texas Hold ‘Em at the Taj Mahal.  My first trip to Las Vegas I stayed at the MGM Grand because the travel guide said it had the largest poker room in the world.  When I went, they had closed it.  Poker was not popular and the casinos made more $ on the slot machines.  It wasn’t until 2003 when ESPN decided to provide blanket coverage to the WSOP $10,000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em Tournament and the most unlikely amateur Chris Moneymaker won.  His book Moneymaker is a fascinating read and if you like poker you should definitely check it out.  Poker rose from the ashes to be on television on some station any time of day.  Baseball card companies made poker trading cards and they even went as far as to make WSOP air fresheners.  “Have your car smell like that sweaty guy with the stogie!”

Poker and card games have always lent themselves to pinball, so Stern made World Poker Tour in 2006.  The backglass is hideous and the playfield art is busy and forgettable.  The playfield is extremely wide open with a ton of drop targets.  The ramps are tough shots.  The upper mini-playfield is bland and there isn’t much to do. Where the game shines is the game play.  You start with a hand and there’s the flop, turn and river, just like in real Texas Hold ‘Em (all shown on the playfield via a digital screen) and it’s difficult to advance through the WSOP cities.  Hitting certain drop targets to make hands is challenging and there are also 6 modes in the “Poker Corner” that you try to complete which add the jackpots for the Wizard mode (I haven’t sniffed the Wizard mode).  I wish there was a little bit more going on playfield wise, but I think the game is deep, challenging, different and fun.  If you like poker and pinball and can stand awful artwork, play a few hands of World Poker Tour.  GRADE: B

Machine #178: STERN WHEEL OF FORTUNE

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I have a true love hate relationship with Stern’s Wheel of Fortune.  I love the theme.  I grew up watching the Wheel my entire life.  I remember when they had to pick prizes out of showcases and when they would only have $250 left they would be stuck buying a ceramic giraffe.  I have loved Vanna White my whole life.  A true ageless beauty.

I’m so happy that Stern would make this machine.  Unfortunately, they never finished the code and to me that is unforgivable.  It shows right on the playfield the prize bank and the Wizard Bonus, but there is no Wizard mode and it doesn’t seem like there ever will be.  People say, the game’s so deep, you’ll never get to the Wizard mode, but it would be like if I ripped out the last chapter of a book or took the steering wheel out of a car. They have updates for computers and GPS’, let’s have one for Wheel of Fortune.

Another that is extraordinarily disappointing is having Lonnie, Maria, and Keith guess the letters for the puzzles.  The most fun about wheel of fortune is trying to solve the puzzles and there is no way this feature should be missing from the game.  I want to solve the puzzle, not watch someone solve it.

I like the spinning money wheel and flow of the game.  The ramps are fast, and they artwork and light show is so bright that this game would probably be banned in Japan just like that “Everyone Wang Chung” music video that gave everyone seizures during the mid 1980s.  It does has a double center outlane which is a throwback to the old EMs, but I grew to like it and you can hone your nudging skills.  Another cool feature is the you can earn free spins which light in the left and right outlanes.  If you lose the ball but they are lit, you get the ball back.

Wheel of Fortune is fun and has some things going for it, but when you play it, all you really think is how this game could have been so much better.  GRADE: C+

Machine #179: VARKON

Machine #179: WILLIAMS VARKON

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Varkon is a pinball machine that fits in a traditional arcade cabinet which I’m sure was designed to save space for the footprint of the arcades.  Regular pinball machines take up more space meaning you can have less hence make less money.  You use joysticks to operate the flippers.  Due to some amazing optical illusion and a mirror it looks like the playfield is vertical but it is really flat.  Only 90 of this game was made.  There isn’t that much to do, but it’s interesting to play for a bit.  I can see why it didn’t catch on.  GRADE: C

Machine #180: WILLIAMS PHARAOH

Machine #180: WILLIAMS PHARAOH

Pharaoh is another one of the 4 double level pins Williams made in the early 1980s (Black Knight, Solar Fire, & Jungle Lord were the other 3) and this game has beautiful artwork and a great color scheme.  The game play is decent, but I’m not the biggest fan of these split level games.  Depending on the strength of the flippers it’s hard to get the ball back to the upper playfield and sometimes those metal ramps send the balls SDTM.  The upper playfield has a decent amount to do (spell P-H-A-R-A-O-H hitting the captive ball, two banks of drop targets, a spot target and a kick-out hole).  If two or more players play, the person with the high score gets a timed bonus ball.  My favorite of the 4 is still Solar Fire, but Pharaoh looks the best and is pretty good.  GRADE: B

Machine #181: GOTTLIEB CLEOPATRA

The Cleopatra I played at Pinburgh was the 4 person solid-state version.  There is also a 4 person EM version as well as a 2 person EM version which was called Pyramid.  It has a beautiful backglass.  The idea of the game is to hit the different colored rollovers and their corresponding drop targets to build the bonus.  Nothing really to shoot for other than 5 drop target bank in the center which can lead to drains STDM.  Average at best.  GRADE: C

Machine #182: GOTTLIEB STRAIGHT SHOOTER

Straight Shooter is a challenging and fun woodrail from Gottlieb that was made in 1959.  It features 4 flippers, two traditional lower ones and two in the upper part of the playfield which are perpendicular to the other ones.  There is a matrix of three rollunders that you need to shoot with these flippers to advance the different colored lights.  Light 3 in a row on the lamp matrix for specials.  The A-B-C-D rollovers also light specials. One of the best from its time periods.  GRADE: B+

Machine #183: GAME PLAN ANDROMEDA

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Andromeda by Game Plan was the last game I played on a pinball packed Saturday and it’s a magnificent looking game.  Busty alien women with 4 eyes, and pop bumper caps to match?!  You can’t beat that!  The machine has a great layout with a double right outlane and no outlane on the left side, but instead a 4th pop bumper.  Two banks of drop targets with a tunnel shot in between.  Features a multiball as well.  Only 500 made.  Would love to add one of these to my collection.  GRADE: B+

Pinburgh Day #1 – Carnegie, PA – April 12th, 2013

The PAPA facility is one of the best kept secret in pinball.  If you haven’t gone, I implore you to go.  Driving to it, you turn into an abandoned industrial park, with dilapidated buildings.  The parking is on dirt and stone roads.  I saw this sign hanging outside of the PAPA headquarters and thought that I must be at the back or an annex.

As I walked from my car that was parked in a big puddle far away in the depths of this complex, I thought this couldn’t be the place.  How could this hold over 400 pinball machines?  I stepped in and was greeted with pinball utopia.

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Banks and banks of machines.  This specific event, Pinburgh, is their annual Match Play Tournament.  Enter for $150.  Play all day Friday and get placed into a division (A, B, C, or D).  Then 2 days of a match play tournament, each division crowning a winner with big cash purses.  The tournament was sold out by the time I decided I was going.  They had about 160 games dedicated for the tournament and about 250 that were available to play.  Most of them 2 tokens, some 1.  All of the usual suspects, MM, AFM, TAF, TOM, FH, STTNG, NGG, CC, and pretty much every new stern you could think of.  Where to start?!?!

Machine #138: GOTTLIEB ASTEROID ANNIE AND THE ALIENS

With over 250 games to choose from, I of course was drawn to the most esoteric game I could find.  That led me to Asteroid Annie and the Aliens, a extra-terrestrial poker themed pinball machine.  This game has beautiful and vibrant artwork.  10 drop targets and 4 rollovers as you try to make different poker hands.  The game play is solid, the drop target banks are well situated.  Only 211 units produced.  Decent game.  GRADE: B-

Machine #139: WILLIAMS JOHNNY MNEMONIC

Machine #139: WILLIAMS JOHNNY MNEMONIC

I went to look for my friends and I stumbled Johnny Mnemonic, a game that has been on my wishlist to play since I got into the hobby.  I’ve heard mixed things about this game (2 of my friends couldn’t get rid of the JMs fast enough), and I passed on one at a good price 6 months ago.  I was going to San Francisco the next day and the guy wanted me to come see it, pay for it, but pick it up when I got back a week later.  Something about how he had to move a bunch of stuff in his basement.  I said if I come to look at it and pay for it, I’m leaving with it.  Needless to say I didn’t get it and after I played this at Pinburgh, I’m kicking myself.

I have no problem with the theme and actually kind of like the movie.  Keanu Reeves acts like a robot all the time, so I’m buying it.  How can you go wrong with Reeves, Ice-T, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier, and Dolph Lundgren?  What a cast.  The game play is super fast and smooth and the machine has a great layout.  When you hit those ramps consistently you can rack up big points.  The big feature on the machine is the magnetic glove/hand where when you lock balls you use the hand to place them in a nine numbered matrix, each providing a different reward.  I could take it or leave it and it actually slows down the pace of the game.  The wizard mode which I did not get to (Power Down) sounds incredible.  It is a 4-ball multiball in which you make shots and extend the length of the mode, but as time runs out the machine powers down section by section.  Like The Shadow, people shy away from this due to its theme (If this was The Matrix it would be $3K-$4K easy), but that just means more bang for your buck.  Call me impressed.  GRADE: A-

Machine #140:  BALLY CACTUS CANYON

Machine #140: BALLY CACTUS CANYON

Right next to Johnny Mnemonic was another pinball machine I couldn’t wait to play.  The hype surrounding Cactus Canyon is palpable.  Maybe it’s the $11,000+ price tag.  Granted there were only 903 units produced, but is it worth that much money?

Williams was tightening the belt on the pinball division which resulted in the dissolution of the design team before the game was actually completed.  Bionic Bart appears on the rule card, but not in the game.  There’s no match animations.  There’s a jackpot light in front of the Bart Brother that isn’t a jackpot.  There is a P-Roc board you can now put in your machine, “Cactus Canyon Continued” that adds a lot to the overall gameplay.  A “drunk multiball” a “move your train” mode and much more.  I did not have a chance to play this updated version.

I’ve never spent over $1800 for a machine so it’s hard for me to objectively review machines with such high price tags.  That being said, this is my shot at objectivity.

Cactus Canyon has a great layout and plays very smooth.  There’s a train that moves along the playfield (Stern ripped this off for Big Buck Hunter).  A very cool quickdraw feature where a random target pops up on the playfield and you have to knock it down.  I like the idea of a western themed pinball, but I don’t like how cartoonish it is.  The audio is a bit annoying.  The two plastic guns are unnecessary and obscure the playfield.  During my second game I was one shot away from the wizard mode, so I felt the game was a bit easy and I don’t know how much staying power it would have.

I would love to play the game with the Cactus Canyon Continued software.

Cactus Canyon is a fun game, but not anywhere near its lofty price tag.  I’d rather have a Johnny Mnemonic.  GRADE: B

Machine #141: GAME PLAN GUNSLINGER

Machine #141: GAME PLAN SHARPSHOOTER

Amazingly, the next game I played after Cactus Canyon just randomly happened to be another Western themed pinball machine (What are the odds?), Sharpshooter by Game Plan.  I actually have a mint backglass for this machine in my garage (contact me if you are looking for one).  It was given to me by a good guy in New York after traded pinball machines.  Nothing like a macho hombre sharpshooter that wears glasses.  I’m sure the girls would be throwing themselves at this guy.  Maybe to do their taxes.  This was my first game by Game Plan, and they were most known for the cocktail table pins.  This game has a unique layout with no right outlane or slingshot.  Instead it features two lower right pop bumpers.  Has a big bank of drop targets and spelling S-H-A-R-P-S-H-O-O-T-E-R isn’t easy.  Has really great sound for a game made in 1979 including the hiss of a snake, a howl of a wolf and I especially like the galloping horse sound when you hit the spinner.  Decent game.  GRADE: B-

Machine #142:

Machine #142: STERN LECTRONAMO

Lectronamo is the first Stern with electronic sound and must have been designed by someone dosing on acid.  I researched what a Lectronamo might be and I’ve got nothing.  So I will define it as a half-female half-unicorn with Ronald McDonald features and pronounced nipples.  And the backglass is the best thing about the machine.  The playfield is open and really bland.  Playfield artwork just as uninteresting as the game.  Hit the right bank of targets to advance the bonus, shoot the left kick-out hole to collect, hit the left bank for extra balls and specials.  Wasn’t feeling this one at all.  Too Rudementary for my tastes.  GRADE: D+

Machine #143: SPY HUNTER

Machine #143: BALLY SPY HUNTER

One of my favorite arcade games growing up was Spy Hunter, a fantastic driving game where you get to spray oil slicks and fire weapons at the bad guys, all while driving.  I couldn’t wait to check out the Spy Hunter pinball machine hoping this machine could some how capture the feel of the beloved arcade classic.  The playfield design is awkward at best.  It features a mini upper playfield and a mini bagatelle in the upper left of the playfield (which I like), but then the lower playfield has two huge outlanes on the left side and a pop bumper that aids in the draining.  The flippers are off centered to the right.  It is an off-putting design and has the feel of an old EM.  The artwork is decent and this game uses a “Cheap Squeak” sound board that plays the “Peter Gunn” theme song, which is cool, but it doesn’t sound nearly as rich as its arcade cousin.  All in all, the layout detracts more than it adds, and there isn’t much else going on.  GRADE: C-

Machine #144: GETAWAY

Machine #144: ALLIED LEISURE GETAWAY

Getaway is a great looking game from Allied Leisure.  The artwork is sparse, but very well done.  Great ’20s gangster theme.  The game features a “machine gun spinner” that when hit, the lights in the backglass fire and a machine gun sound is heard.  Very cool.  It also has on the upper right side of the playfield an area with a variety of flags which reward you different things via rollovers.  Oddly place third flipper that sends the ball into the pop bumpers.  Match feature “Line Em Up” is on the backglass and its unique.  Instead of matching numbers, you hope the top light lines up with the bottom light on the backglass.  Good stuff here.  GRADE: B

Machine #145: GOTTLIEB SHAQ ATTCK

Machine #145: GOTTLIEB SHAQ ATTAQ

Are you kidding me?

Shaq Attaq is another pin that was high on my want-to-play list, mainly because everyone told me how awful the machine was.  I thought it can’t be that bad, it’s got a basketball theme which I think really works for a pinball machine.  Who doesn’t like shooting the hoop on NBA Fastbreak?  And this basket moves!  It was a confusing pinball experience.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to do.  The annoying announcer kept telling me to “Shoot the spinner!”  There’s an upper and lower playfield and when you make or miss the basket, the ball goes into the upper playfield where you can hit the kickout hole and knock down targets.  This playfield is cluttered and awkward.  The art package is terrible, Shaq looks more like Fat Albert and they couldn’t get the NBA license so he’s on team Shaq.  And to spell attack “attaq” puts another nail in the coffin. Could be the worst DMD pinball out there.  GRADE: D-

Machine #145: TITLE FIGHT

Machine #146: GOTTLIEB TITLE FIGHT

Title Fight is another one of Gottlieb’s Street Level games where there aren’t ramps and it was made at a relatively low cost.  It might be the best of the Street Level games.  I like the boxing theme and I think it works well for a pinball machine.  The backglass is animated as the fighters punch each other in the face which is a nice touch.  The playfield is basically broken down into 3 areas, the mini-playfield in the upper left where you battle fighter by knocking down drop targets, the roundhouse loop in the upper right of the playfield where you can rack up punches, and then the lower playfield where there’s an oddly place pop bumper and a few targets to hit.  Beat the different fighters, go for the jackpot.  Both the mini-playfield and roundhouse loop are fun to shoot.  The audio and artwork are average.  A decent effort.  GRADE: B-

Machine #147: ZACCARIA FARFALLA

Farfalla is the first pinball machine by Zaccaria that I had the pleasure of playing.  Zaccaria was an Italian based pinball company that manufactured pins from 1974 to 1987.  Zaccaria machines have a really interesting feature which allows you to play a 4th and sometimes even a 5th or 6th ball.  Depending on the length of your last ball, there is a clock that counts up to 99.  Once you drain your last ball, you will receive another ball and you could potentially have up to an additional 99 seconds of pinball action.  When the timer hits 0, the flippers go dead and the game is over.  A very cool feature.  Another feature Zaccaria machines have outlane save flippers.  If the ball is rolling down the outlane, you can save it with a flipper that acts as part of the outlane.  It’s very hard to do, but when it works, it’s pretty exciting.  Farfalla is Italian for butterfly.  The game features and psychedelic playfield with flowers, rainbows and hippes.  The audio sounds like it should be for a Science Fiction film.  Try to knock down 17 the drop targets, advance the multiplier, get the big bonus.  Getting to the upper playfield is not easy.  The Italian version backglass which I played is nipplelicious.  The American version is much more obscured.  Simple, yet fun.  GRADE: B

Machine #147:  GOTTLIEB GLADIATORS

Machine #148: GOTTLIEB GLADIATORS

Gladiators is a Gottlieb System 3, in the same vein as Wipe Out!  I’m partial to Wipe Out!, but Gladiators has a decent layout, modes and a shaker motor.  The artwork and audio is lacking.  Good/bad thing about the audio is it tells you where to shoot.  Great for beginners, but it becomes a bit tedious.  There’s a “catapult” which is a metal wire form that pivots so you can drop the ball in different places and if you hit the “T” ramp  the ball comes rocketing back to the flippers from another elevated wireform.  Rules not that deep.  Would be okay in a bigger collection.  GRADE: C+

Machine #149: GOTTLIEB MARIO ANDRETTI

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Mario Andretti is another Gottlieb System 3 game and it’s a bit of a sleeper.  I think the car racing theme works for a pinball machine  The backglass depiction of Mario Andretti is wretched.  His face looks like he just smelled 1,000 farts.  Such a pained expression.  It has two spinning cars that have posts that rotate, by far the biggest spinner on any game.  Hitting the cars helps you advance your position in the race.  You try to win races by hitting yellow Mario targets and completing laps.  Once you win the race, can choose your “Checkered Flag Award” which might be a multiball or jackpot.  Also, you need to watch your fuel and you can fill up by hitting the “pit in” hole on the right of the playfield.  If you win 3 races there is a World Championship wizard mode.  Mario Andretti also has a up-post between the flippers which is engaged for a pretty lengthy time at the beginning of each ball.  Audio is a bit annoying, but solid pinball overall.  GRADE: B

Machine #150: STERN DRACULA

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As if the Mario Andretti artwork was bad enough, the last game I played on Friday night was Stern Dracula which features a Dracula that looked like it was drawn by Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson.  Stunningly bad.  Cabinet art, equally as bad.  Very cool pop bumper caps though and I like the coffin spinner.  The game play is decent as you try to build the bonus via the drop targets and rollovers and hit the left kick out hole to collect.  The artwork really crushes a decent game.  This Dracula is so stereotypically Jewish, FYI the Hebrew translation of Dracula is דרקולה

GRADE: C-

I decided to break down my Pinburgh escapades into the 3 days I was there so stay tuned for Day 2.