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 411mania » Games » Columns

The 8 Ball 04.15.14: Top 8 Pinball Machines
Posted by Marc Morrison on 04.15.2014

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! Clever and/or loyal fans of this column (all 2 of you) might remember that I actually did a Top Pinball Machines list around 14 months ago, which you can read here if you want. However, I decided to revisit the topic for a few reasons. One is that Liana wasn't doing lists when I first started, so I wanted to get her input on the subject. Second, I went to a pinball expo last weekend and got to try out some new tables and playing some machines I'd never tried, or even seen before. Third: pinball is awesome. Plain and simple. So you get to have another column of me and (now) Liana talking about it. Enjoy:

8. Ripley's Believe it or Not

Ripley's is on here almost by default. It is literally the only pinball machine anywhere near to where I live, that isn't in a 20 minute driving radius. Specifically, it's at the laundromat where I go to, to do business. Also, quite inexplicably, the table was in the launch pack of the Pinball Arcade game. I'm really not sure why this is. The table involves you having to try to get the letters for the word "Ripley" through various missions involving visiting continents and then doing shots based upon that, like hitting the spinner 25 times, or the "vari-target" 5 times. It also has a slot system, via a ramp, that can net you big jackpots and other bonuses. Ripley's is a fine enough table, at least better than some of Stern's other works.

7. Red & Ted's Road Show

I like to think the genesis of this game came from the following idea: "Hey, Funhouse had one talking head in it, and it did well, so why not put two heads in a game?" Thus: Road Show. Road Show features a construction/USA motif with the titular Red (voiced by Carlene Carter) talking to you non-stop about what is going on and trying to get the lazy Ted to do anything. Like with Rudy (from Funhouse) you can shoot the ball into her mouth easy enough, if you're lucky, with Ted it isn't simple. He is guarded by a construction bumper that has to be raised before you can try to vanquish him. Road Show is one of the few games with a shaker motor that is used to good effect as you play. I managed to play this table via a Hyperpin cabinet, and it even replicated this feature, which was actually really impressive to me.

6. Cirqus Voltaire

Really, Cirqus Voltaire has some incredibly great music in it, some of the best in a pinball machine. It's a simple melody but one that draws you in, and can get inside your head. The purpose of the game is two-fold: 1. Defeat the Ring Master, and 2. Join the Cirqus. The Ring Master is a special target that pops up on the playfield and requires five hits to beat. Joining the Cirqus involves collecting various marbles (through the missions), then it will activate. Two cool features on this table are a color-change neon light that is part of a ramp (it changes colors fairly frequently, it seems), and the DMD isn't on the backglass like with almost all games. Instead, it is a part of the playfield, just raised above where the actual field is. This gives it a cool and unique look that most games don't have. And those two video pinball 2000 games, Mars Revenge, and Star Wars: Episode 1 don't count.

5. The Machine Bride of Pinbot

Of the three "Pinbot" games, I think Bride is the best one. The table actually feels "fair", with how balls are returned to you and the general speed of the table. The goal is to turn the machine bride into a real woman through shooting balls up the ramp as her actual face changes. I'm a big fan of machines that talk to you, and this one does that in spades. It's not as overtly complex as some of the tables on this list, the only real goal is the transformation idea, but that means it doesn't get bogged down with trying to make arcane shots that are usually extremely hard to make (example: Ripley's). It's just a good old fashion table, which is always a nice switch after playing some of the more intense machines out there.

4. Terminator 2

As a machine, Terminator 2 is one of the big ones to come out during the early 90's. Based on the hit movie, the machine took a different tact of being in the future and you trying to bring down Skynet along with the T-800's help. The thing with this machine though is just has a fantastic playfield to actually play on. The outer ramp is a complete loop where you can build up a nice amount of speed on it. The left/right ramps are placed well, especially since they involve the overall mission (breaking into Skynet) and increasing your jackpot bonus. Even the mini-Terminator bust is in a good spot, so you can aim for it to start multiball. The gun-plunger (shared with Indiana Jones) was also fun to use, since it was the key to getting a skill shot. As more balls passed through it, the shot became harder, but with timing, you could learn to hit it every time.

3. Starship Troopers

Like with Terminator 2, Starship Troopers is based on a successful movie licenses. I personalyl just like Starship Troopers, even though I know it's not the most technical table in the world. It has some good main theme music, and pays homage to a lot of the film references: the "Do you know what card it is?", the various planets you can fight on, the bugs you kill, and so on. In some ways, it's actually a lot like Terminator 2 with the general layout of the table: a nice clean orbit, two ramps that are involved in missions, and a big target (almost in the same place) that can guarantee a multiball if you hit it enough. It also has a third flipper, which was pretty unique for a later-model pinball game. I have fond memories of this game also: my college used to have this machine set up in an area with a few other arcade machines, where I would spend some hours on it. They later replaced it with a Lost in Space machine, which I broke accidentally on the first day it was there. Later on, they renovated the entire area, putting in a woman's clothing store that folded after two years. Good thinking, there.

2. The Getaway: High Speed 2

Cars and pinball go well together, for some reason. Over the years, there has probably been a dozen or more pinball tables with either a car theme, or a racing theme affixed to them. Even now, it's popular, with Stern just releasing their Mustang table recently. The Supercharger is the main awesome thing about this table, a ball accelerator that spins the ball around an enclosed loop. The video mode is fun, the atmosphere (running from the cops, picking up hitchhikers) works well, and everything comes together in a good package. High Speed 1 is out on The Pinball Arcade now, but who cares? Get High Speed 2 on there, and I'll be happy.

1. Wizard of Oz

Simply wow. Not only is this my new personal favorite table (on either list), but I think it's the most technologically advanced table on the market today. Where to begin? The beautiful LCD screen, the color-changing LED's with every light on the table, the OLED crystal ball which plays video clips, the design of the table at large, the incredible amount of detail put into it, etc. etc. etc. This is a beautiful table to behold in person, videos show a good approximation of it, but don't do it justice. What I actually like about the table is how scoring works. This is an extremely low-scoring table, by and large. You get a free game if you score over 100,000 points. During the 90's and into the 2000's, pinball score got supremely crazy. Games like Medieval Madness or Theatre of Magic had such ridiculous scores that it failed to mean anything. What does it matter if you score 25 million on a skill shot? Wizard of Oz dials this back completely, basically chopping off six zeroes off the score, from a traditional pinball game. And it works!

My story: At the expo, I did a loop around the room to find the Oz tables, where three were set up. After waiting in line for 20 minutes (the guys in front of me were idiots and wouldn't move), I got to play it. I played for about 8 or 9 minutes and my score ended up being around 123,000, a great score, considering I had never played the machine before (let alone seen it in public). I moved over to shoot the video (below) and the guy behind me said "Wow, that was an impressive score." He then played for around 4 minutes, and his score ended up being 18,000+. Why tell this? Because it shows how truly great Oz is. Even if that guy wasn't there for too long, he still had fun playing it.

Get back to me Jersey Jack, I would happily review this table in my own home.

The Better Half with Liana K

My Favorite 8 Pinball Machines

Pinball is cool. If you don't agree with this, we can't hang out. Great pinball machines combine complexity of design with the simple core idea of hitting a metal ball with a pair of flippers. Pinball is zen. Pinball is love. Pinball is a metaphor for life. ... Okay maybe not really, but it's a lot of fun! Enjoy the list.

8: Phantom of the Opera (Data East, 1990)

I admit, this machine came out at the height of the Phantom of the Opera craze, and I fell for it, because I was a Phantom of the Opera nerd. I also admit that Christine looks inexplicably skanky in the art, and the opening music is weird and vaguely seventies. But then the Phantom theme kicks in and I stop caring about everything that's wrong with it. Okay, it doesn't really do anything all that cool – it's on this list strictly for reasons of nostalgia.

7: Creature From The Black Lagoon (Bally 1992)

Speaking of nostalgia, Creature From the Black Lagoon is a game that almost overdoes it. The sound effects are weird, the music is oddly bouncy, and that cool-looking main ramp so rarely gets used. It's also a game with absurdly high scores, and a fairly complicated rule set, requiring you to spell words to get an underwhelming multiball. However, for some inexplicable reason, this machine is oddly satisfying to play, so I put it on the list.

6: Dr Who (Bally 1992)

Okay so the art on this pinball machine isn't the best, but playing pinball to the Dr Who theme is awesome. And don't freak out: the machine was made in the nineties, when there were only seven doctors. The machine uses those Doctors in an interesting way too: the object of the game was to collect each of the seven Doctors, and after you collect each Doctor, a different rule change is applied. Then there are areas of interest, that... yeah, okay, maybe the rules were a little too complicated. The important things to know are as follows: 1) there is a Tardis on the playfield. 2) There is a Dalek on the top of the backbox. 3) Bow ties are cool.

5: Sorcerer (Williams 1985)

This machine is an example of near-perfect pinball sound. The sounds on Sorcerer are so exciting they make you forget that you're just smacking a ball around with bumpers and paddles. It doesn't need a movie tie-in or gimmick. It's just badass.

4: Funhouse (Williams 1990)

Funhouse understands that ventriloquist dummy heads are creepy, and uses that fact for maximum impact. However, it does not overdo the creepy head factor the way Red and Ted's Road Show does. That game is justtoo creepy. It's like a remake of "The Brain that Wouldn't Die" starring the Thunderbirds. Yech! Oh, cool factoid: the voice of Rudy the creepy head in the Funhouse pinball machine is none other than Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon!

3: Twilight Zone (Bally 1993)

The Twilight Zone pinball machine seems deceptively simple at first, rapidly becomes crazy complex, and is super fun! The "Don't touch the door" build up to the multiball is exhilarating, and the ridiculously high scores make you feel accomplished despite them bordering on silly. The references to classic episodes are combined with some really interesting unique elements, most notably the ceramic powerball that is lighter than the standard ball and non-magnetic. The machine's design values cleverness over gimmicks, and the result is a highly satisfying pinball experience.

2: Black Hole (Gottlieb 1981)

When I was a kid, I thought this was one of the coolest pinball machines in the world, which makes me think I was a creepy little kid. The problem for me was I wasn't tall enough to see through into the internal playfield. So there were a couple of times that I crawled onto the pinball machine to see inside, and I may or may not have drooled and/or snotted on the glass. Good times.

1: Terminator 2 (Williams 1991)

I probably put more quarters into this pinball machine than all other pinball machines combined, mostly because it was at both a nearby arcade and at the drive-in my family went to... back in the days when people went to drive-ins. The ball turret for the multiball was my favorite part, even though I was terrible at it. For some reason, the promise of being awesome was great, even if I rarely actually achieved it. That, and the pinball machine sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger... back before it came out that he was a dirty creep who couldn't keep it in his pants. I miss those days.

Complainer's Corner

Along with my previous lists, I did come up with some games for this second one. Check this column (or the prior one) to get the full effect. Anyways, here: Lord of the Rings, Mustang, Wheel of Fortune, X-Men, AC/DC, Star Trek (new), Sopranos, Baywatch, Predator, Space Shuttle, Shaq Attaq, Johnny Mnemonic, World Cup Soccer, The Shadow, Twister, Terminator 3, Tron Legacy, Judge Dredd, Iron Man, Transformers, Avengers and Dirty Harry.

The General Roundup

There weren't a lot of comments from last week, but I'll discuss a few of them: I don't know if I agree that Arkham City is dramatically better than Arkham Asylum. I think there is more of a twist, but the whole illness thing felt very contrived. I liked it more in Asylum where Batman goes through a ton of crap, because that's what he's there for. Yeah, the Warriors game tends to get a little forgotten, but it dramatically expanded the backstory of the film well, and showed the actual motivations of the characters. Something the film didn't really get into, in the slightest. Also, I never played Cool Spot at all, but I know there's always one or two of you who usually mentions it, so I figured I'd throw you a bone.

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