Kineticist invited me to be a part of a fun collaboration with many other pinball content creators. That is to name my current Top 5 pinball games (and also what I love most about pinball). Well, that means I finally have to solidify what I have been thinking over, off and on, for some time now. OK, here we go.
Before I give my current list, there are a number of games that battled to get into the top 5. Here are some of them:
This is the game where cheating can change your luck, pay off well, and even rescue your money from explosive destruction. It is home to one of my favorite multiball modes in all of pinball. Plus, it includes the Casino Run, a mode with a striking resemblance to the end game of a certain slot machine-based game show. Check out what happens when Pin*Bot gets a jazzy, Las Vegas soundtrack.
The Getaway: High Speed II
This shows that you can make a great game with not that many major shots. The Getaway has only 5 of them and a large amount of targets, though some of them get ignored like the red lights you are running as part of this game’s story. It doesn’t matter though when you are shifting gears, looping, and supercharging.
This game melds a group of simple concepts together with heart-pumping sounds and music. You’re never too far away from starting something good. It always feels great to nail the End of Line Jackpot for a big value. It counteracts the feeling of anticipation and stress as the ball heads around the ramp ready to serve you a chance at the progressive value. Will you hit it, or will you miss and go out of control?
World Cup Soccer 94
The first game I ever bought. This is a straightforward game to learn and teach new players about how fun pinball is. Besides, we all like scoring goals.
My favorite American Pinball game. Please note my bias since I work for them. Please also note my joy when I hit a billion-point T-Rex Turbo Boost “game breaker” ramp.
Attack from Mars
A great mix of elementary gameplay and humor, while showing players a straightforward version of the risk-reward concept that is essential to making an exciting game. It is also inherently better than Medieval Madness because you can’t just shoot the alien spaceship all of the time. You had better take that shield down BEFORE you start Multiball.
Number 6: The One on the Doorstep that Almost Made It Into the Top 5:
Listen to that soundtrack! (Can you tell that audio in pinball is very important to me?) Are you ready to go racing?! This sounds like I’m watching an ESPN racing pre-game show. Humming along to music helps me execute those loop combos, and since the combo ends with a VUK into a lock instead of a loop like The Shadow, Indianapolis 500’s loop combo feels like I am nailing the shot. Hopefully, the lock on your game will keep the ball in the VUK more often than bouncing the ball out of it.
I can’t help but say each of the callouts the track announcer gives at the start of some modes. “DUELING DRIVERS!” “TRIPLE PLAYFIELD SCORING!” “SUPER LITE-UPS!” It hypes me up and gets me into what I’m about to do.
Although I have taken the checkered flag for completing laps, race position, and modes, I have never taken the checkered flag for the Liteups achievement. I need to experiment by focusing only on the Liteups to see if I can actually do it.
Number 5: The Shadow
The second game I ever bought, The Shadow is a supercharged dangerous game that demands accuracy, control, and recovery under pressure. This game and Indy 500 do have a similar shot that keeps me coming back, that being the loop combo. Although the scoring on the loop combo in this game can become a crutch and take over everything else, the fact that you can loop it like The Getaway is just too much fun to really penalize the game for having that scoring issue.
However, what put this game over the hump and into my current Top 5, is that The Shadow is one of only two games that put me “in the zone” so deeply that I lost awareness while playing it (the other being the final stage of Tetrisphere for the Nintendo 64). Imagine starting Vengeance mode at about 300 million points, shooting Vengeance ramps and switching Phurbahs rhythmically in time, and getting Super Vengeance awards, and the next thing you know you have 3.6 Billion points. That happened to me years ago, and I will never forget it.
Number 4: Lord of the Rings
This game is complex, but every step of the way is enjoyable, as long as your flippers remain strong and can hit that center ring. If this game is set up on the friendly side, with inlane rubbers on and strong flippers with default settings, I’m ready to settle in and enjoy a marathon game, questing through Middle Earth. If not, I am ready to get my butt summarily kicked up and down the land of Mordor.
The path to Valinor is a journey, just like the movies this game is licensed from. When you get there, you might be just as weary as Frodo was when he finally completed his sacred task.
Number 3: Spider-Man (Original Stern Edition)
Notice that I specifically mention the Original Edition and not the newer Comic Edition. That’s because I prefer the callouts in the original edition much more.
This game is a champion of flow, as it should be to emulate the agility of its titular character. You can chain together many shots in a row where the ball doesn’t show a hint of stopping as long as you don’t miss. However, among all this flow, is the discipline of the right flipper free-throw. In basketball, you have got to hit your free throws to win the game. Indeed on Spider-Man, you must do the same. Anytime you can get control of the ball on your right flipper, you must be able to backhand Doc-Ock as confidently as Michael Jordan would try a foul shot. It would be even better if you could post-catch the ball on the right flipper again so you can take another free throw. This game was number one on my list of current favorites until recently. This little repetitiveness factor is a reason why this game was swapped with the new number-one.
Number 2: Twilight Zone
Hold up! Wait a minute! Someone put another “Start-N-Stop” game among my flow games. How is this possible? This can’t be right. Well, it is if that game is Twilight Zone.
I want to take a moment to recognize how this game helps The Player during multiball. For example: If the other balls are locked away out of sight and one ball is up in the diverter, ready to drop for the jackpot shot attempt, the game will allow you the time to take that jackpot shot with that one ball all on its own, before releasing the other balls back into play. The game will also take any balls that have been shot into hidden areas and hold them to wait for the Jackpot celebration to finish. You can even interrupt another ball that is about to be released back onto the playfield by shooting the right ramp to set up the jackpot shot or the upper right magnet to set up a jackpot relight shot at the camera. It’s these subtle bits of gameplay choreography that make Twilight Zone almost my favorite game.
I really appreciate that this game has a wizard mode that’s reachable by more than just “the 1%” of players, but it’s not easy, especially if your aim isn’t on point. When you get there you will feel like you did some real work under pressure, and you will also think you could get “Lost in the Zone” again.
Number 1: Star Trek (Stern)
I have heard this game referred to as Spider-Man 1.5. Some may think that would be a detriment to this game. However, much like how Rush made the X-Men playfield play like a dream, I see it as making a great thing even better.
One of my favorite memories of Star Trek is a game I didn’t play myself, but one that I did commentary for years ago. Watch as Austin Mackert gives a clinic on this game. The video is set to start as he is about to achieve something very valuable. I love how the game presents what you have earned before the wizard mode starts. Make sure to stick around and see how this gameplay session ends though …
Why I love Pinball:
Pinball competitions are a great way to meet new people and reconnect with players I haven’t seen in a while. Some of the major events are like family reunions, where we are related because of the game we love. Between those reunions, talking about the game keeps us connected.
The pinball scene has progressed beyond being seen as “resurging” and could now be seen as “burgeoning”. Get ready for the number of games that will be asking for your votes on this year’s awards ballot. However, it is still too niche of a market to have real factions. What that means is even those who would be harsh competitors are still working in their own ways to improve and increase the impact of the game around the world, such that their efforts end up helping all pinball fans anyway.
I wrote portions of this article during the 24-Hour Battle at The Sanctum tournament. I might not have been in my right mind for some of this, but writing it helped keep me going. I’d also like to thank fellow competitor, Ron Benoit for allowing me the use of one of his chairs to rest between rounds during the tournament. Always be sitting, whenever you can. Finally, thanks to Kineticist for asking me to be a part of this pinball media collaboration. Keep flipping!