Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Miscellany: Sure Plays a Mean Pinball

The pinball machine has been on the decline for awhile now, stuck in the same downward spiral that's afflicted American arcades since the early '90s. The reasons are pretty obvious; in a video gamer culture obsessed with better graphics, the joy of flipping a small silver ball to score points can seem like an anachronism. Add to that an expensive, high-maintenance physical cabinet that takes up a lot of floor space, and you have a losing proposition for a cash-strapped arcade owner.

It's a real shame, because a good pinball player on a well-designed pinball machine is a sight to behold. The endless thack-thack-thack of solenoid-operated bumbers, the flashing lights, and of course the movements of the player all combine into a rhythmic whole. While the continued success of virtual pinball tables in video game form is heartening, it's still a pale substitute for the real thing.

Here are a couple of my favorite pinball machines. If I ever had enough money to buy a den with enough space to hold them, these are the ones I'd get:

Doctor Who - "Doctor Who" has never fared well in game adaptations, since it's difficult to boil down the series into a simple first-person shooter or even a 3D adventure. The pinball version, though, is a real classic, with a beautiful playfield, a neat (if esoteric) ruleset that captures the haphazard feel of the TV series, and fun gimmicks like a vertically expanding platform in the center and a rotating Dalek head on the backboard.

The Twilight Zone - Another complex pinball machine, with some neat gimmicks and props, the coolest of which was a working mini gumball machine that dispensed balls during play. Strains of the classic "Twilight Zone" opening theme beckoned players, and the numerous references to the series on the cabinet artwork did the rest. I haven't done so myself, but I distinctly remember someone in the local arcade achieving "Lost in the Zone" mode where 6(!) balls are present and all targets are available.


At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Twilight Zone + Gumball = WIN, I think. When you get a swanky den with one of these babies in it, plz stock with those delicious vitamin gumballs. I will come over and crash your pad and become good at pinball so that I may eat them.


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