10 Must Play Pinball Machines For Guys
The neighborhood video arcade may have fallen into the black hole of progress along with frosted hair tips, acid washed jeans and health care with reasonable co-pays, but the people who long to see its mixed aurora borealis of pixelated lights and neon signs are not going anywhere.
One of the saddest losses in the slow death of the arcade was the pinball machine market. After becoming so popular that politicians actually banned it as a form of illicit gambling in the 1940s, the world literally has one pinball manufacturer left in the universe. Thankfully, a group of hardcore collectors have gathered up the world's few remaining machines, refurbished and polished them from the inside and out and bring them to pinball enthusiasts all across the country.
This past weekend, the Texas Pinball Festival, one of the largest and most popular pinball shows, helped old and young pinball wizards relive what was left of the favorite part of their youth. We perused the gaming floor to find the definitive list of the games you have to play before either you or pinball shuffles off this mortal plunger coil.
1. Twilight Zone (1993, Bally)
This Bally classic from pinball pioneer Pat Lawlor usually tops lists of the greatest pinball machines and arcade staples of all time and for good reason. It’s got a crazy game field that borrows heavily from the original TV series. It makes the player feel like they are being bounced around some bizarre curio shop that serves as the holding center for the twisted playthings controlling Rod Serling’s bizarre, mind-bending universe.
Magnets under the board can make your ball defy gravity and presents one of the more unique obstacles in pinball. It was also one of the first to feature the DCS sound system, which makes the experience more immersive thanks to Serling’s creepy narration, voiced by ‘NBA Jam’ and ‘NFL Blitz’s’ colorful color commentator Tim Kitzrow.
2. Whirlwind (1990, Williams)
It might not have the pixelated score screen or digital surround sound of most newer pinball machines, but its unique gameplay and iconic status in the pinball world makes it timeless.
It puts the player in the path of a heavy storm seeking shelter before one of its twisters pick them up off the ground and carries them off to Oz or, worse, rural Kansas. The unique features of the gameboard are the three spinning discs that can send the ball in any direction as it speeds towards the flippers. It’s got one of the more famous backglass paintings in the business from illustrator John Youssi and a giant fan on top of the backbox that blows cold wind on the player as the storm approaches.
It’s too bad it didn’t come with two hurricane strength fire hoses on either side or it would been the most immersive gaming experience in history.
3. The Addams Family (1992, Midway)
Movie properties and video games haven’t had the best of relationships. When one is based on the other, the end result is usually sloppy or mediocre because it has to tie itself too much to the plot. This is one area where pinball excels over its pixel-laden successor.
This recreation of the Barry Sonnenfeld remake and Chas Addams' comic strip uses the family’s manic mansion to lay out one of the more interesting and fun playing fields in pinball. It uses the show’s more memorable quirks as obstacles from the secret passage to the family vault to Thing popping out of his box and picking up your ball with his hand.
Even though it’s limited to bumpers, flippers and a silver ball, it manages to be very faithful to the movie’s moments and characters by recording the voices of Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston for the game.
4. Taxi (1988, Williams)
Two of the biggest problems with later pinball machines are the game's rules and goals. Sometimes, they can seem more convoluted and confusing than the table of contents to the U.S. Tax Code. This Williams classic makes it simple for even the most inexperienced pinballer to enjoy without skimping on the skill for more experienced players. The player acts as the taxi driver to a series of bizarre passengers including Santa, Dracula and the very familiar looking “Gorby." It also has one of the more unique launchers - a giant “Spinout” bowl at the top that spins the ball to a series of bonus points.
5. PIN·BOT (1986, Williams)
Few faces have as iconic a history as the star jewel in Williams’ once grand crown. Players in the '80s and '90s lined up around the block to challenge this heartless, human spirit-crushing machine. It featured one of the more unique challenges of its time: a row of standup targets that, when struck, opened two kick-out holes to activate the game’s multiplayer mode. It was also one of the first that could talk back to players, even though none of them could understand what it was saying.
6. Kiss (1978, Bally)
Kiss put their name and faces on any and all merchandise from wine bottles to coffins and cremation urns, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they also licensed a pinball machine. However, it has since become a highly sought after collectible for its deep, challenging gameplay, colorful layout and iconic back-glass featuring the band in full makeup and a classic exploding rock stage setting.
7. NBA Fastbreak (1997, Midway)
The late Midway struck gold in the arcade with its high octane basketball classic ‘NBA Jam’ and tried to capture that magic in the form of this pinball classic. It not only brought Kitzrow back behind the mic to voice the announcer of the game, but it turned a simple pinball machine into a new sports experience.
Instead of racking up millions of points on one or two quarters, it scores like a real basketball game as players try to shoot a pinball up a ramp and into a basketball goal. It even adds an extra layer of strategy with a defender trying to reject your shot and a third flipper in the backbox that lets you shoot free throws for bonus points.
8. Cue Ball Wizard (1992, Gottlieb)
This title gives you so much to do with one quarter that it will make you feel like it's broken. Not only are there a ton of drop targets, kick-out holes, slingshots and multiball modes that can help enhance your score, but it also has a pool cue ball and an 8-ball on the upper playing field that you can ram your pinball into to score bigger and better combos.
9. Medieval Madness (1997, Williams)
It sounds like a classic idea for a pinball machine but it takes a simple concept and uses modern innovation to turn it into a very deep, quirky and funny concept for a pinball game. It’s got great characters from evil kings with destroyable castles that literally collapse on the playing field and trolls hiding underneath the floor that pop up and taunt you as it tries to deck them in the face. It’s also got a wide variety of funny voices and characters including some that were voiced by ‘SNL’ and ’30 Rock’ star Tina Fey before she hit the big time (and no, we don’t mean voicing home console games).
10. AC/DC (2012, Stern)
It might sound like total sacrilege to the pinball gods to put a modern pinball game on a list of all-time awesome games, but it deserves angering the deities. This latest title from Stern, the last remaining pinball manufacturer on the market, features a very detailed playing field and backdrop that lets players choose a classic AC/DC song to serve as the game’s soundtrack. It also offers a fun playing field of jet bumpers and targets including a large church bell that “dongs” when the pinball slaps into it and a giant dynamite plunger activated with three “TNT” drop targets. If AC/DC’s fans could stay sober long enough to play it, they would enjoy the hell out of it.