Curious about what classic pinball machines we’re gonna list? Keep on reading!
Pinball machines have been around for almost 90 years, evolving from shady barroom amusement in the 1930s to pop-culture phenomenon by the ’70s. After a resurgence in the early 1990s, pinball nearly died out by 2000 as the Big Three manufacturers (Williams, Bally, and Gottleib) exited the business or went bankrupt. Amazingly, the game held on and has even flourished, thanks in part to fans who spread their pinball passion online and new manufacturers that have entered the business. Today, you can find pinball-themed bars, arcades, museums — and even laundromats — from coast to coast, where games old and new are just waiting to be rediscovered — or discovered for the first time. Not sure what to play first? We talked to a couple pinball experts for their take on the best games from pinball’s golden era, the early 1970s to the late ’90s. Odds are, you can find some or all of these classics at an arcade near you. Just bring extra quarters; most vintage games now cost anywhere from 50 cents to $1 or more to play.
5 Classic Pinball Machines You’ll Love
FIREBALL (BALLY, 1972)
There’s no missing “Fireball” at the arcade with its demonic red namesake glowering at players from the backglass. Its fantasy-world theme was one of the first games to depart from the traditional sports and guys-and-girls designs of the 1950s and ’60s. And in the center of the playfield was a novel feature that had only been found on a couple of earlier, obscure pinball games: a spinning disc. “That can change everything in an instant,” says Chloe Hansen of the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California. “You think the ball is going to hit the left bumper, then, boom! It hits that disc, spins, and goes right.” The spinning disc, it’s “zipper” flippers (which could “zip” together to prevent a ball from going down the drain) made “Fireball” a hit, and it remains one of the best electromechanical games of the early ’70s. A home version of the game appeared in 1978, and Bally produced an arcade sequel, “Fireball II,” in 1981.
HIGH SPEED (WILLIAMS, 1986)
By the mid-1980s, pinball machines were losing the arcade popularity contest with video games. In response, manufacturers like Williams began adding new features to the playfields and props on the cabinets to make them stand out in a sea of blinking, beeping machines. One of the most distinctive is “High Speed,” a police-chase-themed pinball game with a red emergency light on the top of the backglass that spins during play. “No one had ever done that before,” says Kuntz. It was crammed with fun-to-play features: two ramps, a toy traffic light on the playfield that changed colors as you hit targets, and a novel multiball that could be carried over from one game to another. There wouldn’t be another pinball machine this sophisticated until games like “Addams Family” arrived in arcades. “For five years, this game defined pinball,” he adds. “The light box, the multiball…. ‘High Speed’ sort of invented that.” It also had several technical advances new to the industry, most notably its digital alpha-numeric display, which displayed not just your score but also flashed status updates and point values during play.
FRONTIER (BALLY, 1980)
This Wild West-themed pinball game is a bit of a sleeper hit. Only about 1,000 were produced — far fewer than other classics from the era — and it’s harder to find in arcades today than other games from the same era. But for players and collectors who can track one down, “Frontier” strikes pinball gold. It’s not particularly sophisticated, but it’s got all the elements of a classic-era game, with two banks of drop-down targets that would trigger big point bonuses, thumper bumpers, and rollover targets. “I like games based on the emotional response you get when you play it,” Chris Kuntz says. “And ‘Frontier’ is a really, really good game. The layout, the rules, it’s all challenging.”
THEATRE OF MAGIC (BALLY, 1995)In order to compete with video games, pinball machines in the 1990s morphed into complex creations with multiple goals and outcomes, not to mention ever more outlandish playfields crammed with interactive features. All of it was designed to keep people playing. One of the most engaging and eye-catching, says Hansen, is “Theatre of Magic.” Drop in a quarter and you’re greeted with a booming “Welcome to the Theatre of Magic!” The centerpiece of the playfield, a large revolving magician’s trunk, is one of the era’s most notable “bash toys,” designed to trigger game functions like multiball mode when struck by the ball. Other notable features include ramps that snake around the playfield and a magnetic “magician’s ring” that makes the ball float from one ramp to another. “It gives you so much feedback that you want to keep playing,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite games.”
REVENGE FROM MARS (BALLY, 1999)
At the tail end of pinball’s golden age, the industry had one last trick up its sleeve: Pinball 2000. The gaming system, invented by Williams and licensed to Bally, was a curious hybrid of pinball and video, with a floating screen atop the playfield that created the illusion of computer graphics hovering in space. The graphics were as sophisticated as any arcade video game of the time, flashing an ever-changing sequence of exploding spaceships, attacking aliens, and other displays. “The holographic floating screen and how it interacts with the game below has yet to be surpassed, though augmented reality will ultimately accomplish that someday,” says Nic Schell, director of the Roanoke Pinball Museum in Virginia. Although revolutionary, “Revenge From Mars” wasn’t enough to save Bally or Williams, however. Both of the once-legendary pinball manufacturers ceased making games by the time 2000 rolled around.
And thats the 5 Classic Pinball Machines you should play at least once in your life!
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