From Monday, July 22, through Friday, July 26, we will be running articles about pinball in the lead-up to Santa Clara, California’s “California Extreme” video game and pinball expo.
For the next five days, we will take a look at the history of pinball, the resurgence of its popularity, we’ll count down the 60 best machines of all-time and we’ll take a look at pinball games you can play on your computer, game system, or mobile device so you don’t have to venture to an arcade to get the experience.
We will also feature thoughts from various people in the world of video games and pinballs which range from owners to hobbyists to the gamers themselves.
We hope you enjoy it!
In the next few days, we’ll counting down the Top 60 Pinball Tables of All-Time. We will be doing 20 tables at a time and this countdown will take place today, Wednesday, and Friday.
If you’re a pinball veteran, your list might be close to ours. If not, feel free to sound off in the comments about what you believe to be the greatest game you’ve ever played! If you’re a novice to the game and have never played pinball before, welcome!
We hope this list gets you into your local pinball arcade and gets you playing!
60) Total Nuclear Annihilation (2017, Spooky Pinball)
I had heard so many great things about this pin and, while the audio and music is top-notch, I feel like maybe I’m missing something. It’s obviously a homage to the EM games of yore and it has a great 80’s theme with a throbbing 80’s dance beat. The shots are extremely limited and the ramps (all two of them) are difficult to hit. Getting into the middle upper playfield is an exercise in frustration and, when you finally get there, have fun keeping the ball inside there when it ALMOST ALWAYS bounces away from the upper left flipper into the drain and out to the main playfield again. Still, the co-op feature is a great idea here and the presentation is key, with some awesome color (this machine looks killer in a dark room), a nice 80’s theme and music that will have you groovin’ as you play.
59) CLASS OF 1812 (Gottlieb, 1991)
“Class of 1812” is the answer to “What if Gottlieb made their own really crappy version of Williams’ ‘Monster Bash’?” Here, we have Gottlieb upping their game a bit and presenting us with a pinball game where you need to collect “stiffs”, such as zombies and vampires, in order to score points. The other objective is to light high-scoring ramps and targets by hitting drop targets which, like the main objective as well as the multi-ball functions, is far more simple than it should be. If anything, it’s the toys that steal the show: a severed hand, a set of chattering vampire teeth that serves to mock you much like the head in “Funhouse” and a cool “beating” heart. The problem is that none of it really amounts to much and they don’t really have a place in the game. They’re just there to be there. Yay for Gottlieb putting some thought into this one…too bad it wasn’t more fleshed out.
58) Black Knight 2000 (1989)
This is a bit of a remix of the original “Black Knight”, a game you’ll see later on this list, but the game doesn’t play better or sound better then its predecessor. The theming is somewhat futuristic so that the game feels less like facing off against a Knight and more like you’re playing a weird version of Pinbot. The center “sword” has been replaced with a weird light “disc” that lights up in a “spinning” manner as you play. Once again, the upper playfield is back — with one freakin’ flipper which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and makes the upper playfield borderline pointless since there’s no opposing flipper to keep anything in play for long. Once the ball goes downstairs, good luck getting it back up to the top again. The light show, however, is beautiful and it might be rewarding for players better than I. I, however, am not that player. Black Knight is beautiful to look at but feels cluttered and uneven.
57) BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT (Stern, 2008)
You haven’t truly laughed until you hear some voice actor hack yell “JACKPOT! YEAH!!!” in Christian Bale’s insane Cookie Monster Batman voice. It takes you right out of the game…which, to be honest, isn’t much. It’s Stern at its worst: amateurish voice work, sloppy PF layout (with another goofy bunch of faces pasted into multi-colored triangles, reminiscent of those themed Monopoly game boards), crappy, generic music that doesn’t even come close to matching the booming, epic tone witnessed in Christopher Nolan’s three films. The shots aren’t really satisfying and the DMD animations leave much to be desired. I understand that there’s a different audio pack which “fixes” the audio heard here. I have not yet heard this audio. Hopefully, those who swear it makes things ten times better are right.
56) HAUNTED HOUSE (Gottlieb, 1982)
In 1982, we got “Haunted House” from Gottlieb. I can see some of the appeal. The first thing you notice is, holy crap, there are THREE playfields on this sucker. Multiple playfields aren’t a bad thing…but with this game, it is. The lower playfield is just a rehash of “Black Hole” (a game which you will see later) and it’s not clear what point it has and the upper playfield is just a giant “no”. The flippers on that particular field take some getting used to but even when you do, there’s no real flow. The overall “theme” doesn’t even feel like a haunted house. The playfield looks like it belongs in a circus-themed pin and there’s no eeriness to be found except for the one organ tune that plays on repeat just like all of Gottlieb’s early games. There’s a lot going on here. Despite its flaws, it would become the 24th most successful Gottlieb pin.
55) SORCERER (Williams, 1985)
At first, this game aggravates you. It’s simplistic. The playfield and glass art are beautifully drawn — but the color pallet is barf-ugly. There’s a big, open playfield — which is typical of 80’s machines — and it has a ridiculously arbitrary island on the upper portion which is home to a bumper and features a borderline-useless flipper. The soundtrack sounds like somebody firing a machine gun through a kazoo and features a deep voice that taunts you every so often. The gameplay starts off mind-numbingly slow — then picks up. It plays faster than you’d think — though, at times, you feel like an NHL goalie more than a sure-shot winger aiming for the net. This machine makes you work for the shots you want. The main issue is that the shot trajectory seems curiously misaligned with the targets on the table. Attempting to get into that little Gottlieb-inspired “tunnel” in the left corner takes awhile. It takes skill to hit that regularly. The light show you get is built into the playfield floor and it’s pretty cool. This table will either make you or break you. I’d liken it to “Gorgar”…with some of the personality sucked out of it. Still, I like this table.
54) FUNHOUSE (Williams, 1990)
I’m gonna get hurt putting “FunHouse” this low on the list. It looks SO good. It’s colorful. Rudy, the ventriloquist dummy, is incredible to look at even though he’s creepy as hell. The sleep sequence is haunting and the game looks even better with LED lights installed. My gripe is that the flow is off. Shots are near impossible to make save for the two top-left tunnels. That center shot is annoying and is pretty much based on luck. Putting a ball into Rudy’s mouth is fun but that gets old quick. I WISH this game played better. Beautiful game, not much replay value. Notable, however, for having not one, but two plungers, one on each side of you when you play.
53) TX-SECTOR (Gottlieb, 1988)
What to say about “TX-Sector”…first, it’s not the prettiest pin I’ve seen. It’s like the Nostromo from “Alien” and the Golden Gate Bridge had a baby. It’s just…blah. Almost colorless. Industrial, really. The scoring is strange. You have to load up your “power”, then make a shot to…do something. I have no idea. There’s a ramp that, try as I might for five straight games, I have NOT been able to hit. I’ve only gotten the interlink shield down but the ball just won’t go up the ramp when I’ve cleared it. Otherwise, hitting targets is fun, I guess. Neat soundtrack, reminiscent of an 8-bit concerto but I wouldn’t go so far as to say “OMG GREATEST PINBALL SOUNDTRACK EVAR”. Like every other game Gottlieb did, it’s frustratingly limited.
52) IRON MAN (Stern, 2010)
Another licensed te-in from Stern, this time based on the popular “Iron Man” films. Music is decent but the rest of the audio is a mixture of sound clips from the flick haphazardly tossed into the game and played at random much like TRON Legacy. Audio call-outs are just plain odd at times. (Did we really need the line “I’m the one who approved the injunction against you” inserted into a PINBALL GAME?) When you aren’t hearing those clips, you’re getting told to do by a guy with a Southern accent and I’m not quite sure who that’s supposed to be. Also, the rules aren’t particularly clear except for when you’re taking on the Iron Monger which just kinda pops up in the middle of the table and waits for you to hit him, which is easy to do every single time. Other than that, the ramps are your only satisfying shots. Stern and Marvel are capable of better.
51) TAXI (Williams, 1988)
“Taxi” can be fun if you’re looking for a quickie pinball fix and just want to knock the ball through some ramps, so it requires some precision but it’s a fairly easy game to pick up. The entire game is comprised of you picking up famous passengers like Gorbachev, Santa Claus, Dracula, Marilyn Monroe and Pinbot. The game suffers, however, from an over-simplistic set of rules, a puke-ugly playfield, and repetitious audio. Yes, hearing your passengers calling “TAXI” is a riot (especially Pinbot who sounds so amusingly desperate hailing a cab in his robotic voice) but it gets old in about a minute. One plus is the alpha-numeric display which somehow animates “cars” going by complete with a passing car sound. This is a nice touch. Otherwise, the game is decent but not great. Even still, this is a must-have for collectors as it looks great in a gameroom and features some that great early 90’s Williams music twang.
50) SING ALONG (Gottlieb, 1967)
“Sing Along” was a game I had the pleasure of playing at Santa Clara’s big pinball expo, “California Extreme”. It’s simple to understand, yet extremely difficult to knock out. The object is to light up numbers that are strewn across the playfield and then score points by putting the ball in the left center hole which tosses the ball into the rest to score big points. The main issue is that the flippers are tiny which leaves you with a giant hole in the middle that your ball drains out of, so you need to nudge and shake the machine more than you should to get the bounces you want. The other issue is that the lanes and targets are insanely difficult to hit and there are other targets in the way that don’t really help things much. Overall, a decent EM.
49) BLACK KNIGHT: SWORD OF RAGE – Pro Version (Stern, 2019)
The third incarnation in the “Black Knight” series of pinball machines comes from Stern. It’s a massive improvement upon the last entry (“Black Knight 2000”, see above) adding a kick-ass new toy in the knight with the spinning baton and ball and the shield. It also features a Magna-Save feature which is aggravating more often than not — but still a very clever concept. The speed on this game kills. You have to be on your toes to make slap saves and be able to hit lanes with pinpoint accuracy. It still has that frustrating “Stern Curse” where you drain a ball after hitting targets you’re supposed to hit. Beautiful music and art on the table, though. It’s a game that’s in its infancy so it might climb higher up on “Greatest Ever” lists with time.
48) GAME OF THRONES – Pro Version (Stern, 2015)
Far superior to the “LE” version from Stern, but oddly void of decent theming save for a randomly-placed dragon, GOT Pro is comprised of basically hitting a series of ramps, orbits, and tunnels, which help you win “battles” amongst the various “houses”. The issue is that there isn’t much to it beyond the maze of ramps in front of you. The ramps and targets only really provide you with about a half dozen total shots, which limits the fun. That and the same music and audio bits just play over and over with generic voice actors seemingly replacing the actual show actors. Still, the sound is impressive on the machine and it’s awesome when you earn the Blackwater Multiball. The dot matrix animations need an upgrade to a video screen DMD because the animations just don’t translate well. The only thing that saves it is the gameplay which moves a lot quicker than GOT LE. You have to be on your toes when shots at targets come barrelling back at you at the same speed you hit them.
47) THE WALKING DEAD – Premium/LE Version (Stern, 2014)
“The Walking Dead” is another Stern cash-in where you shoot at a barn…and a huge, fat zombie thing in the middle of the table. You also “take out walkers” though I’m not quite sure if that’s done by hitting the barn or the bash toy. I keep being told I’m “killing walkers” each time the ball drains…which is often thanks to cheap drains from pop releases. It also has a big crossbow you can “fire” which is as random as the giant zombie in the middle of the playfield. You don’t need giant toys for a pinball machine, folks. The game play is smooth…when you can hit your targets. Otherwise, it’s aggravating to take cheap drains off the HUGE FREAKIN’ ZOMBIE TOY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PLAYFIELD. The audio is comprised of Rick (I’m guessing here because it sounds nothing like him) saying homespun southernly things like “What a mess!” while you put up with zombies gurgling and the sound of guts being removed which just makes me want to continue playing, lemme tell ya’. The music is the show’s score and theme playing and that’s about it. There isn’t much to it and Stern has made better.
46) SAFE CRACKER (Bally, 1996)
“Safe Cracker” is like “Who Dunnit?” without the charm, wit or smooth gameplay. The concept is really cool but it’s all lost in translation and you get sick of “stop-n-go”, especially when the “stop” doesn’t make much sense: you crack a safe and basically stop a roulette-style safe wheel at a certain number. You’ll get a bunch of cash, a token if you’re lucky, or you’ll get a guard or some sort of robot dog that you have to “defeat”. One of the things I really do like about this game is infinite number of “lives” you get. The object isn’t to give you three chances (or pinballs) to crack a safe, it’s to give you a chance to crack the safe in a given amount of time, period. After you run out of time, you’re arrested. The great thing is there’s a lot to shoot at, despite the much smaller field and flippers. The bad thing is that it’s pretty easy to hit ramps and targets and it feels, at times, like you’re just going in circles until you finally get the shot you want. As for the art…meh. This isn’t the prettiest thing to look at and it’s mostly lights. Props for using the backglass, though. I’m a sucker for stuff like that. Still, this is disjointed and not really for me.
45) X-MEN – LE Version (Stern, 2012)
X-Men drives me crazy. The playfield is basically a bunch of ramps you have to hit…including one that moves around and gets in the way. Those ramps are hard to hit because Wolverine, the table’s bash toy, gets in the way constantly. And Magneto’s the other hindrance. Neither does a damn thing. Wolverine tosses your ball around occasionally and Magneto does the same — sometimes, right into the side drain. The game hates you, draining your ball left, right and center, making nudging a necessity to keep things going. The rules aren’t clear here, either. I guess you have to hit a certain ramp or ramps to grab heroes and occasionally pit them against villains you get from other ramps(?) and it isn’t even clear how you finish those stages. It doesn’t matter because both Wolverine and Magneto always get in the way, even if you’re aiming your shots carefully. It’s beyond annoying and that’s a shame because it’s an otherwise wonderful game with a colorful playfield and audio.
44) THE SOPRANOS (Stern, 2005)
Based on the show if you hadn’t guessed. It’s comprised of a bunch of ramps which includes a really cheap drain from the far left one if you’re not expecting it. The toys just feel placed there and don’t do much — except for the strippers, of course. They’re detailed as hell and they do things. In any case, the playfield is ugly, the “safe” (which you shoot at several times, making it all feel repetitious) looks terrible and the audio is just the show’s theme on repeat which, even if you’re a fan, becomes tiresome two minutes in. The rest of it is Tony asking for “the friggin’ money” every so often. It doesn’t really feel like the show and the theme isn’t all that present. It could be a generic mafia pin for all a gamer would know.
43) FISH TALES (Williams, 1992)
“Fish Tales” isn’t a game I’d play over and over with the intent on conquering it like I do other games. It’s basically a series of ramps which give you combos. The other targets catch you “fish” which add to your score. The game is fine in terms of theme, I supposed. It’s cutesy and revolves around rednecks fishing if you hadn’t guessed. There’s just not much to it and I feel like all I did was hit ramps and lock up balls for multiball. The audio is hit and miss with a GREAT banjo bluegrass tune which sounds beautiful (and seamlessly goes into an ending strum upon ball drain) but the call-outs and other audio remind me of “Creature From the Black Lagoon”: garbled as hell. All in all, a nice piece to have in a collection but, really, it’s only for completion purposes and nothing more.
42) CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Bally, 1992)
Speak of the devil. I like playing this table a lot. It has some really great shots and ramps and a great effect in the “lagoon” where a green hologram version of “the Creature” lurks. Love the 50’s drive-in movie theming. The cons? The audio is AWFUL. Everything sounds like the sound chip was dipped in water. That and the placement of the ramps feels like you’re looking at the McArthur Maze having an orgy. The entrances of certain ramps are hard to make out unless one knows where they already are. That, and aside from the hologram, there isn’t much “story” to this board except for couples making out at a drive-in. Almost nothing here has anything to do with the actual creature, unless you’re counting it being “a drain monster” which it surely can be when shots bounce back at you. Nudging BARELY helps with that, too. Still, a decent game and a lot of fun to play. It just plays fast and ends too quickly. Perhaps the machine I’ve been playing isn’t calibrated correctly.
41) THE MACHINE: BRIDE OF PINBOT (Williams, 1991)
So the company that brought us the brilliant “Pinbot” decided to eschew thoughtful design and a wondrous, colorful space theme…and replace it with a female Pinbot that looks like she’s blowing one of the ramps. The really weird borderline misogyny aside, the sequel to “Pinbot” is nowhere near as good as its predecessor. It’s just shooting the left ramp over and over to accomplish stuff with the main goal being to bring the female Pinbot to life. The flipping “face” at the top of the table is a REALLY cool idea, though when it comes down to it, it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Not a game I’d play over and over unlike the first one.
That’s the first 20 games…join us Wednesday when we continue our countdown!