Tales Of The Arcade – Pinball Rules The World
One of the biggest problems one can have when walking into a big arcade is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. As a kid, I was a pro at ‘casing the joint‘ and trying to figure out what games were ‘quarter hogs’ and what games could give you at least 3-5 minutes of gameplay per quarter. I mean, honestly, no one wanted to drop a quarter and have their session over after barely 30 seconds of gameplay. That’s basically a forced rage quit there!
So, I learned quickly to avoid fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat until I could learn ONE character on my own against the CPU. Light gun games were always a crap shoot. Often times you had to wait until someone else played the game to see whether or not the game even worked right. At times you could get on a light gun game and the reload wouldn’t work or the sights were off or the special attack didn’t work. Any one part of light gun games was off and it was a frustrating ride.
For myself, the one genre that always managed to hold my interest and time were pinball tables. This was true for 2 simple reasons. First off, if you got into a good groove, you could play for quite some time on just one of the 3 balls that you are given. Lastly, the ‘match’ function at the end of the game might possibly work out in your favor. If you don’t know what that is, there was a randomized function that would spin like a roulette to compare against the last two digits of your final score. If it matched, then you instantly got a free game! Just knowing that you had that in your back pocket always made you feel like you’d have some sort of a chance to ‘win‘ something.
Oddly enough, these beautiful machines were typically stashed in the back of the arcade as they often times didn’t have a lot of people playing them regularly. But, they are easily the backbone of any great arcade if you ask me. If I walked into an arcade and there weren’t at least 3 or 4 tables, then I typically didn’t care for that arcade much.
Pinball tables are probably the most versatile genre in the arcade in my opinion. These machines could easily translate into a great game for any movie, TV show, music group, magazines, cartoons, sports, comic books, or even video games for that matter. One of my best memories of arcades was walking to back of the arcade to see the row of tables and see which ones they have that I’d never seen before. I remember playing tables for Jurassic Park, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Terminator 2, AC/DC, The Simpsons, Indiana Jones, and so many more that I’m sure I can’t remember.
Nowadays this is evidenced by Pinball FX/Zen Pinball’s amazing roster of Marvel and Star Wars tables that have done quite well. On those digital versions of pinball greatness, my favorites are without a doubt the Empire Strikes Back, Excalibur, Blade, and Epic Quest tables.
I’ve marveled over how these tables in digital format have really renewed my fever for slapping chrome orbs around the screen for undisclosed-due-to-fear-of-public-judgement-and-opinion hours. The very inventive mini-games in certain modes as well as the experience based adventure style of tables like Civil War and Epic Quest have really peppered in a bit of innovation to the genre.
The biggest thing in pinball tables for me back in the day was trying your best to get the high score by figuring out how to activate and claim the jackpot as well as where the extra ball and multi-ball were. Learn those tricks for any table and you can string along a play session that can last well over half an hour.
One of the most popular pinball machines that my memory can recall was Pinbot. This amazing game captivated even the joystick jockeys’ imagination. This table featured an easy to see and average difficulty to activate multi-ball that was the ‘face’ of a robot on the table. Once activated, the chaos of multi-ball action was a sight to behold (as are most tables). The frantic light flashing and quick clicks of the flippers always drew attention from gamers around the table to see how good this ‘pinball wizard’ was. Hitting that at times difficult jackpot would do a signature sound that was like slamming one of those metal balls against the wood casing of the table really hard. It was an iconic sound that made you feel like you had just kicked this games arse! At times, some players would also jostle (or tilt) the game to get the results from the ball that they wanted but I was never good enough to know when or how to do it without ’tilting’ the game.
Another hot table that comes to mind was called NBA Fastbreak. For me, my love of all things basketball was realized in the vast sums of money dumped into this table. It featured a quirky little system that had you racking up points against various other NBA teams as you played the table. There was even a little net that you could ramp the ball into. There is even a ball and flipper in the back screen that scores goals as well.
(here’s a guy that reviews the table with pretty involved knowledge of pinball tables John’s Arcade Reviews)
Pinball tables are that amazing (almost) lost past time that the younglings of this generation will probably miss out on despite the growing popularity of Zen Pinball. There just needs to be a huge effort from a developer to go back and digitize as many of the past’s pinball tables as possible if for no other reason than to preserve the quirkiness and sounds of them all!
Game on my friends… game on.