Category Archives: Pinball

Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure (Pinball FX3 Team Review)

Indiana Jones. I always knew some day you’d become part of Zen’s lineup. I never doubted that. Something made it inevitable. So, what are you doing here in Pinball FX3?

I learned to hate you over the last two weeks! Those damn house balls. That maddening capture ball lane. That succubus you call a left outlane. Pinball fans have waited for Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure to come home in an official capacity for almost thirty years. I think that has a lot to do with the table practically having an out-of-order sign tattooed on it. It’s a machine infamous for having issues and being unsuitable for routing in locations without a technician on stand-by. It’s a member of the SuperPin line, but it doesn’t feel like it. Some of the concept was done in part by Brian Eddy, but it doesn’t feel like it. Like Twilight Zone before it, you go into Indiana Jones aware that, no matter how much fun you have, it was a doom harbinger for the sport itself. The final table to join the 12K Club, and the second-to-last table to clear 10,000 units sold (Star Trek: The Next Generation was the last to do so). Of course, that’s purely on technical failings that have nothing to do with digital pinball. The Pinball Chick Team universally enjoyed the table, to varying degrees, and we all had different thoughts on it.

Made of Stern-er Stuff
by Angela D. Vice

Of the twenty-two conversions of real tables Zen has done, Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure is the most modern-feeling. Or, at the very least, tied for first with Theatre of Magic. There’s twelve modes, but really, there’s nine shots you need to commit to memory for those modes.

  • The mode start, which also adds a small bonus to every mode and caps off the Streets of Cairo with a 20,000,000 bonus (or you can fire the plunger button to end the mode at any time with a 2,000,000 point bonus).
  • The left and right loops, which are used in Streets of Cairo, Monkey Brains, and Tank Chase.
  • The left and right ramps, which are used in Streets of Cairo, Monkey Brains, and Survive the Rope Bridge, along with Steal the Stones and Three Challenges being tied to the right ramp and Path of Adventure mini-table.
  • The three center stand-up targets, which are used in Get the Idol and Well of Souls.
  • The capture ball, which is used in Castle Grunewald (it’s supposed to be Castle Brunwald).

With an emphasis on the orbits and ramps, not to mention the heavy use of multiballs, you could mistake Indy for being a modern Stern table. Even the fan service aspect, with modes based on memorable scenes from original Indy trilogy and most of the call-outs being samples taken directly from those films, feels much more contemporary than any other table of the 1990s. Frankly, they didn’t make pins like this back then. It doesn’t feel anything like close cousins Addams Family or Twilight Zone, except maybe in the generous amount of extra ball opportunities. The Mark Ritchie-signature cross-ramps don’t feel anything like the ramps of Firepower II, Sorcerer, or Fish Tales. This is a table that should be a relic, yet instead plays like it came from an entirely different era.

Angela: Yes, I’m aware that Stern put out an Indiana Jones table in 2008, but these two tables have nothing in common outside of the theme. The table that my father, myself, and Dave all agreed was the logical evolution of Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure? Stern’s 2004 Steve Ritchie modern-classic Elvis!

Even more remarkable is the fact that every single mode is a true thrill to complete. I get tensed-up with excitement every time Raven’s Bar and Survive the Rope Bridge begin, knowing that I can score an extra ball if my accuracy is on point. Choose Wisely, a video mode variation on the shell game, is an easy 25,000,000 points for everyone but my unwise sister, while the Mine Cart game is one of the most inspired and fun video modes in all of pinball. Even the Path of Adventure mini-table gets in on the action, with two modes utilizing it. Did you previously light the Extra Ball or Pit holes before entering those modes? They’re still lit and waiting for you. The more modes you complete, the bigger your end-of-ball bonus. This is especially valuable using the double-the-points boost in standard mode. If the Pinball Chick team did a ranking of all twenty-two Williams tables by modes, Indy would be a unanimous #1. Of course, that’s assuming you actually get to play the modes with all the house balls this table vomits out.

If You Listen to Me More, You Live Longer
by Dash

Folks, this is a tough call for me. With Indiana Jones being indisputably the most expensive table they’ve released to date. Not TABLE PACK. Just “table” by itself. It’s natural to want to ask, why? The answer is simple. Licensing. A record-setting amount of royalty checks had to be cut to make this re-release a reality.

Now, with Zen tables there are two aspects to consider when it comes to “theme”. The first is the original table they are trying to reproduce and build upon. The second is all the extra bells, whistles, and polish that Zen themselves add to push the original over the top and give it their own “special something”. Let’s start with the tables original theme. The cabinet art is nothing fancy. A silhouette and the Indiana Jones text in proper font. The back-box and playfield sport artist renditions of key actors and locations from the only three Indiana Jones movies that have ever and will ever exist (at least in my mind). The rest is fairly generic jungle art which neither delights nor disappoints. Given how much ground they were trying to cover across three films it was probably their safest bet.

Indy has three very fun video modes. The most important of them is Raven’s Bar, which has a valuable extra ball attached to it. There’s a chance you might be forced to choose between the mode-ending medallion or the EB. Take the EB, even if you’ll die after reaching it.

The original art package presents itself very well on my 40” 4k V-Pin screen. Crisp and clean likenesses of Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Ke Huy Quan, and Kate Capshaw all make prominent appearances in call-outs, DMD animations, playfield artwork, and the backglass. I do wish there were a few more call-outs as the ones included repeat a lot. That said, somehow hearing “You cheat Dr Jones!” (spoken whenever you lock a ball for multiball without fully opening the lock) and “You sure know how to show a lady a good time!” never get old. In the way of toys there are a couple of large planes, a rotating “golden monument” which houses and deploys captive balls and a tipsy turvy mini-playfield. There are three video modes which fit the theme. Especially “Choose Wisely” which has you picking the right chalice from a mixed-up lineup.

Then there is the launcher. Here, like on the real table, it’s a button style auto-launcher that takes the form of a nifty Pistol. On the real table, it’s kinda cool. With every launch, I think back to that epic scene where Indy brings his gun to a sword fight, ending it quickly and comically (a result of Harrison Ford needing to go potty really badly). With time and experience, however, it’s come to fill me with dread because the fixed strength launcher means no way to fine tune your launches to compensate for the dreaded and all too frequent “launch, bumper, straight down the middle” house balls that others have mentioned. On the real table the tradeoff was understandable. For a brief moment standing there, you vs the table, you get to feel like Indiana Jones. Here in digital pinball land, though, you don’t really see that launcher during play. Even when you do see it. It doesn’t pull you in and connect you to the table in the same way and all the house balls it leads to make it more trouble than it’s worth. This table feels like it really should have had a plunger. They chose… poorly.

Oscar on the I-N-D-Y Lights: my main complaint with Zen’s standard physics are the bumpers under the I-N-D-Y lights no longer have a lot of bounce to them, so scoring lights here is significantly more difficult than a real table’s. That’s notable, because lights don’t simply charge up a multiplier. They award bonuses that raise the value of loops, ramps, and other shots. Not only that, but completing the lights four times also lights an extra ball. My second complaint? Well, look at the next photo.

Alright, so other than the launcher, all good on the theme right? I wish I could stop right here and say “yes.” But remember… Zen doesn’t just stop with a faithful reproduction of the original, they also add their own flair and this, for me, is where the proverbial minecart goes off the rails.

First the good stuff. Zen has added a zeppelin toy to the upper playfield. Nice. They also added a tank and the Ark of the Covenant on the apron which both have some simple animations tied to related modes in the game. On the playfield the main Indy art between the flippers switches during some modes to show animated sequences in line with the movie events the mode is based on. Very nice.

In table mode, you can’t see the I-N-D-Y lights. This is really a major problem on a table where those lights are so valuable. They really need to make the ramp transparent where it blocks the lights.

Then… there is the animated Indian Jones himself armed with his trusty whip. He whips and swings around the table constantly. It’s usually not too distracting. That said, he’s rather large and crosses the playfield several times each game. So it’s only a matter of time before you lose a ball or two due to him obstructing your view of the playfield as he swings over the playfield during an active ball! He’s like a bad penny, he always turns up and sometimes he costs you a ball. There is also a rain effect that kicks in during the Castle Grunwald mode that doesn’t use any kind of transparency, so if you have a multiball going, good luck seeing through all the rain. This would be unforgivable if it was an easy table. But this is not an easy table. So extra flair that leads to more cheap drains is absolutely not welcome. Turn the extra flair off and you only have the normal house balls off the launch to worry about. It’s a shame to have to do because the rest of the flair Zen added is well appreciated.

House Balls. Very Dangerous. You Go first!
by Jordi

At first glance, the table seems almost extremely easy. There is a wide variety of modes and video modes, and even multiple multi-balls. It’s also very easy to find the mission start hole to actually play all of these. The video modes are especially easy. Raven’s bar is one which you can master and walk away with an extra ball each time. Mine Cart is quick memorization with a middle checkpoint, and Choose Wisely is not at all hard (tell that to Cathy!). In the Zen’s standard single player mode, you can even use the ball reverse power to cheat at the latter two! Then there’s the mini playfield tilt board, which is just perfect. Any mistake here is your own, and not a cheap loss (at least on standard physics. See the next picture’s caption). So all these combined should mean the table is easy and fun, right?

In the rarely-used (going off the leaderboards) Classic Tournament physics, sometimes you can’t get the ball to even fall down the right side of the mini-table at the start of the table, meaning there’s no way to clear the upper-right light. This is why plug-and-play physics are so hard to do right.

Unfortunately, there’s flaws. Every launched ball is at risk of going straight down the middle (STDM). They must have known this was an issue since ball saves are given at every launch and are easily earned, but still, when you start the multiball from the captive lock, you’re going to lose at least one ball with no fault of your own. The multiball which starts from the idol lock is unpredictable, sometimes balls leave so fast you have no time to react and catch them on the flipper before they drain, especially when other balls are already in play.

Cathy on Zen Effects: I hate them for two reasons. #1: they’re distracting. Look at this actual screenshot from the photo-bombing dogfight airplanes flying over the center of the frick’n play table! #2: creating them and putting them in slows down the release rate of classic tables. Most people I imagine play with these effects off.

Then there is the left outlane. This is a wide body so you’d think balls wouldn’t go there all the time. But, once a gall goes for the left side you have to slam the nudge upwards or lose yet another ball. This is also a table where the Zen visual enhancements aren’t as well thought out. On some camera views, the Indiana puppet will obscure the ball as he swings about, and the air-fights that fly around in the dogfight will do as well. If you’re serious about playing a good round, turn those off! Overall, the difficulty in this table does not come from its modes, but from what I can only consider design flaws. The left outlane is badly designed and there should be a pin between the flippers to prevent cheap STDMs. This table could have been amazing but as it is, I am left wondering if the modes were made as easy as they are because the designers knew the cheap ball losses had to be compensated for.

WARTS AND ALL
by Dave Sanders

Mark Ritchie dislikes wide body games. The telltale sign is that Indiana Jones is a WINO. Don’t bother asking what the tipple of choice is; that’s my shorthand for Widebody in Name Only. Remove the idol and look underneath the (never bettered) tilting upper playfield, and what you’ll see underneath is a fairly conventional two-flipper standard body layout, with none of the shots really utilizing the additional space at the sides. Being a WINO does not automatically a bad game make, especially if you want to retain speed; the trick to a successful one is in disguising it with large diorama gimmicks or other places for the ball to go. Data East Guns N’ Roses is a WINO. My own Full Throttle is a WINO. But if Indiana Jones shoots like a standard, how does it retain the relative sluggishness associated with wide body games? And if you’re going to nickle-and-dime the arcade player after the wild excesses of Twilight Zone, can’t you be more subtle about it than with the bitchiest of bitchy left outlanes, and double-STDM house balls from the pop bumpers off the captive ball rubber?

Oscar on the Capture Ball: the kids have it wrong about the capture ball. It’s a high risk a shot, yes. But, a flush hit on it should fall comfortably within the range of the flippers. The issue is the capture ball’s lane has a slopped wall next to it that has too much bounce to it, and that’s what feeds the drain. Of course, that wall is directly next to bumpers, which will create that bounce at random. This is not an issue Zen Studios created. This happens on real Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure tables. That’s why professionals are mixed on it. It’s a table governed by foibles outside of a player’s control.

And this is the core issue with Williams Indy. When it’s good, it’s very good indeed. But when it decides to be bad it’s awful. As a complete entity it balances out to so ‘basically OK’ that I can’t shift the ennui of not really wanting to stick it on again when there are some three or four designs of my own that I’d much rather be working on. And that’s not what you expect for a single $15 table, the $100,000 license (if the Farsight Kickstarters are any indication) be damned. (Cathy’s Note: We do not know the full license cost but I’m told it’s the most expensive the medium has ever done)

Granted, pinball collectors and tournament goers (the players most likely to pony up the asking price) are a more forgiving bunch than any casuals are going to be. But for a mass-market product that’s already put out the far superior (and cheaper) fan-shot triumvirate of Monster Bash, Medieval Madness and Attack From Mars, this is not a good look for Zen nor a welcome direction to be going down, even if Indy was guaranteed to sell bucketloads by (a) being so hotly anticipated, and (b) not being the Stern one.

For whatever reason, Cathy can’t win this game. “Okay, I’ll follow the grail and OH look at the moth flying around the room!”

Zen does have a ‘solution’ they could implement if they had a mind to, since the engine uses two distinctive sets of physics. If the flaws in this table are so damn obvious, then why not use the regular FX3 game to ‘fix’ them, and reserve the ‘classic’ physics for the way the machine was intended to be with all the niggling flaws still intact? Wouldn’t it please the larger proportion of a player base that you *should* be attracting? I mean, it’s not like a Dark Souls easy mode, it can’t possibly be that controversial to suggest, can it? At least think about it for when you get to Jack*Bot.

Uh-oh. If you’ll excuse me, either I’ve wandered into a Sega Frankenstein or that’s a rampaging mob of purists with pitchforks and torches about to storm my front door.

Ending and Beginning
by Cathy “Indie Gamer Chick” Vice

This is it. The last of Pinball FX3. It’s been a trip. The sad thing is, although Zen Studios gave us many excellent translations of all-time classics, they only did two tables that weren’t part of Pinball Arcade’s lineup, and this is 50% of them. The other, Space Station, was such a random choice that it’s still shocking, well over a year after it dropped. Indiana Jones isn’t that shocking. Zen works with Disney, who owns the Indiana Jones IP, and they’re made of pinball fans. This was their #1 wishlist table to convert. Of course, bringing Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure to their service required more royalty checks than just Disney. That’s how it ended up with a $14.99 price tag.

Oscar on the Ramps: you’ll want to drill these two shots into muscle memory, because half the modes, Path to Adventure, and multiball require them. Especially difficult is the Path ramp, which requires a straight, wobble-free power hit to clear. Don’t be afraid to use multiballs to light the A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E lights. The easiest extra ball to get is on the mini-table, but you absolutely need to make this ramp within a time limit, or you have to relight the ramp. It’s the best shot on the table.

That’s a lot for a single pin, and especially for a pin that nobody would call an all-timer. Do you know the scene from Last Crusade where the Holy Grail is RIGHT THERE, and the Austrian chick falls to her death because she won’t give Indy her other hand? “I can reach it.. I can almost.. reach.. it..” That’s this pinball table, and instead of reaching for the Holy Grail, it’s reaching for historical excellence.. and it can’t.. quite.. reach.. it.

And, you know what? It’s not just the house balls. There’s something incredibly off at all times with Indiana Jones. This is a table with an identity crisis. You can choose your own strategy right out of plunger.. BUT, it’s not laid out like a pick ‘n flick. It’s a brick layer that demands precision, or else.. BUT, it’s not certainly not laid out like like a sharpshooter. It has some of the most violent slingshots and downright deadly outlane rails in the sport.. BUT, it’s not arranged like a kinetic. As Dave said, it’s a SuperPin, but not a traditional widebody layout. It feels like a table that wanted to be driven by modes, but had no plans beyond those.

The most notable difference between a real Indy and this digital one is that, in the standard mode’s physics, the mode start locks in much easier.

It’s a miracle that what’s here is as fun as it is. In a table full of juxtapositions, the most fitting one of all is that Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure is unforgettable. There’s not a single shot I’d describe as “memorable”, with the possible exception of a lit Path to Adventure ramp (even that requires a large, tilting mini playfield to stand out). Instead, the magic comes from building up completed modes and inching closer to the incredible Eternal Life wizard mode. I don’t think Indiana Jones will become anyone’s go-to table that severs as a fitting swan song to Pinball FX3 and a launching point for the new Pinball FX. At least when it doesn’t instantly kill you.

SCORES (Highest and Lowest are crossed-out)

Cathy: GREAT
Angela: GREAT
Jordi: GREAT
Dash: GREAT
Oscar: GREAT
Dave: GOOD
THIS TABLE IS CERTIFIED EXCELLENT BY THE PINBALL CHICK TEAM

Black Rose Sets Sail to the New Pinball FX

The team at Zen Studios has chosen The Pinball Chick Team to announce to the world that Black Rose, the 1992 Williams piracy classic, will be part of Pinball FX‘s launch lineup! When they tapped the six of us for this task, we had a meeting to discuss what highlights of the table. In the debate that followed, we came to realize that Black Rose is one of the most deceptively loaded pinball tables of all-time. It has something for everyone. Thusly, all six of us have something different to talk about! Why should YOU be excited to experience Black Rose on Pinball FX?

A PIRATE’S LIFE FOR ME
by Dash

In the theme department Black Rose is a masterpiece.

But what makes a great theme?

Some might say “call-outs, toys, and artwork! Duh!”

But I would argue those are merely ingredients, and without the right recipe a great theme is not guaranteed.

The right recipe mixes call-outs, toys, and artwork into a package that builds an immersive world around the player and sometimes, even tells them a story. Yes, pinball can do that.

Jordi on the Skill Shot: “The line of Torch targets might be the first thing you aim for on this table, as they’re tied to the skill shot. Successfully score half a million for hitting your target, and you’ll also open the side ramp that leads to Davy Jones’ locker. If you like firing a huge cannon — and who doesn’t — you’ll constantly be looking for ways to open it so that you can lock the ball there and fire that shot.”

Black Rose doesn’t tell a deep story. But it does build an immersive world. You are a new crew member aboard the ship of Black Rose the pirate! Your job is to track down and sink enemy ships with the aid of the primary toy in the game, a rotating cannon. Various bonuses and aids are to be found in Davy Jones Locker which is hidden beneath one of the ramps. Video modes will have you walking the plank and evading sharks, swinging to other ships, and tossing knives. This really does feel like pinball on the high seas! The Zen Pinball FX3 table further builds on this with a 3d modeled and animated Black Rose herself holding tight to the rigging and animated pirate silhouettes swashbuckling in the background. There is even theme appropriate side art blades.

Sometimes Zen can go a bit overboard with the touch ups (Attack from Mars I’m Looking at you!). I’m happy to say that I feel everything in Black Rose is very complementary to the original theme and doesn’t distract at all. Oh, and fans of Brian Eddy will be happy to note that although this was one of his earlier Williams games, if you are paying attention, cows do make an appearance on the DMD. It’s all about the cows.

Black Rose is presented well on Pinball FX3. The visuals totally hold up. Even on a large screen at 4k! And the call-outs are appropriately piratey without coming off as campy, goofy, or overdone. This is about as respectful a take on a pirate’s life as you are going to get. I can’t wait to see what Zen has done with this table on their new FX engine!

Jordi on the Whirlpool shot: “The whirlpool ramp on Black Rose is one of my favorite shots. Not every hit makes it all the way up there and there is some risk involved in that the returning ball loves to go straight down the drain, but when you do hit the switch the bonuses keep coming. Hit it multiple times in a row for a guaranteed million per shot, until the timer runs out and you get that extra ball.”

THIS SHOULDN’T WORK… BUT IT DOES
by Dave Sanders

Black Rose is like nothing else to poke its head out of the Williams table in 1992.

I mean, look at it! It’s a mess. Can you gather at first glance about how this game is going to play? Liar! The pop bumpers are placed… somewhere. The shots go places but it’s going to require multiple plays just to figure out where. The center shot bisects the whole length of the playfield and into the back, making traditional orbits and loop shots impossible.

But, most of all, get a load of those stand-up targets. They absolutely CLUTTER the middle column of the playfield, all the way down. Cathy and her family coined the term “Valley Style” while I call it “The Grand Canyon”. No real care about where the ball will bounce off them to. The worst possible area at the worst possible vertical angles to aim for with the main flippers. It’s like they threw on the broadside and the stand-up targets first, then put the playfield through a hydraulic press before laying down any of the other shots. Granted, the targets ensure that every near-miss to the Broadside or with the cannon will hit something. But still, who would DO this?

Oscar on the Cannon: “Black Rose is the only table in the sport’s history where the signature shot is a gun: the iconic Cannon. All the practice in the world won’t make your hands sweat any less when you’re deep into a run and aiming to sink your fifth ship of the game. It wouldn’t be until AC/DC two decades later that a pinball’s gun felt THIS intense.”

Wait a minute. Cramped playfield? Haphazard object placement? Shots you can’t follow? Art that doesn’t direct the eye towards those shots, making them even less readable? One shtick that the rest of the game, for better or worse, completely hangs around?

THIS IS LIKE A GOTTLIEB GAME!

And yet, Black Rose pulls it off, and successfully demonstrates that a little variety never hurt anyone. The lead designer (John something), didn’t just graduate from the creatively avant-garde school of layout geometry; he practically invented it, so much so that after he changed companies and left his replacements with weird clown-shaped shoes to fill, instead of Gold Wings and Spring Break (games even more crowded than this one, believe it or not), Gottlieb was putting out the likes of Lights…Camera…Action!, Bone Busters, and Big House that were attempting the same conventions, but the results were uniformly horrible. Still, you have to wonder how much of this was grounded by the presence of future fan-layout specialist Brian Eddy. The center shot is undoubtedly his. (Compare as well the shot openings on Black Rose to those on The Shadow, Eddy’s own least-conventional solo design.) But ultimately, Black Rose is going to leave seasoned players with an impression that this is really a Gottlieb machine, only done properly!

HOT SEAT: THE AGONY OF DEFEAT
by Angela D. Vice

Kiri is Cathy’s name to her family and close friends. Either way, Angela would know about the agony of defeat. She didn’t win a single match in Pinball FX3’s standard mode while we played Black Rose for this feature.

You hand off your controller after a well-played go at Black Rose’s hot seat mode. You made your shots. You hit plenty of combos. You almost got an extra ball shooting the whirlpool. You sank several ships. You’re winning! Your lead is massive. You’re up nearly a hundred-million points. Your opponent is on their final ball. Victory is at hand!

The next few moments are pure agony. Your opponent starts with a lit Double Broadside. For the next thirty seconds, every shot locked into the broadside will double the previous score. One million becomes two million, and then two million becomes four million. You cheer as they brick their fourth shot, your eyes never far from the timer. “How come it didn’t countdown that slowly when it was my turn?” you complain. To your utter horror, they’ve regained control of the ball with plenty of time to continue shooting. Eight million scored. SIXTEEN million scored. Your lead is vanishing quickly, but thankfully, their Double Broadside time expired before they could finish you off. You wipe your brow, then glance at the table and realize they need only one more letter to light the cannon to sink the winning ship. It’ll be their second ship sunk, worth 30,000,000 points. That’s enough to win the game. After a multiball played just well enough to light the letters, they load the cannon. You hold your breath.

THEY MISSED!

The ball bounces around the outlanes, and you’re ready to bask in their failure! They’re grinding their teeth! You gasp as the ball just tips down the C lane. They have another chance, which they capitalize on. They hit the jackpot ramp and feed the cannon off the bat flipper. They take their time, the cannon swaying back-and-forth. The moment they fire, you know you’ve lost. With one glorious press of a button, they’ve sunk the ship, and you along with it. You hang your head in defeat, but you don’t say “I can’t believe they came back.” For with Black Rose, the word “insurmountable” doesn’t exist.

A MULTIBALL LIKE NO OTHER
by Oscar Vice

If you’ll allow me a tired cliché: there’s no multiball quite like Black Rose’s. Instead of merely shooting jackpots, you have three main goals: charge-up the S-I-N-K S-H-I-P letters by shooting flashing lanes, collect jewels, and re-lock the two balls into the Pirate’s Cove to convert your two-ball multiball into a three-ball affair. The cramped valley-type layout might seem too crowded to accommodate this, but Black Rose is a table deceptively tailored towards juggling.

Oscar on the Pirate’s Cove: “one of the reasons Pinball FX’s physics make this a better table is you can’t get a lucky bounce into the Pirate’s Cove. You either make the shot or you brick it. Or, you can be like my daughters and use the cannon to make the shot every time, the cowards.”

Remember, multiball is only as chaotic as you allow it to be. For Black Rose, you control the serve of the second (or third) ball entering the playfield. A full-power plunge will clear the Steve Ritchie-like short orbit that is the closed Davey Jones ramp. As long as you remember that one or two more balls will be entering the playfield from the Pirate’s Cove, you should be able to avoid clearing out the multiball. Once you trap the balls, try to get into a juggling rhythm so you can score enough letters to load the cannon for the valuable SINK SHIP cannon shot. Or, you can go for the extra-valuable Hidden Treasure. And don’t forget: the extra ball attached to the Whirlpool is still yours for the taking, and in multiball, you have more shots to beat the timer on it. For players who like to come up with their own strategies, no 90s multiball offers more flexibility to skillful players than Black Rose.

BRUTALITY ON THE HIGH SEAS
by Cathy “Indie Gamer Chick” Vice

As you can see, Black Rose has a lot going for it. It’s one of the most visually-striking tables of its era. It introduced the world to Brian Eddy, who went on to lead the design of Pinball Chick Pantheon tables Attack from Mars and Medieval Madness. It has a uniquely versatile multiball. It’s well-suited for exciting versus matches. It feels like a table that should be more popular than it is. But, I actually get why Black Rose is one of those pins that gets forgotten in the discussion: it’s one of the most truly weird tables of its time.

Or any time, really. 1992 was the biggest year ever for pinball. Addams Family released and set sales records that stand to this day, and Williams had two other 12K Clubbers release (Fish Tales and Getaway: High Speed II). Data East released its only two 10,000 unit-selling tables (Star Wars and Lethal Weapon 3). Gottlieb’s best-selling 90s table released (Cue Ball Wizard). Of the twelve traditional pins released in 1992, Black Rose finished 10th in sales. Only Gottlieb’s Operation Thunder (which operators didn’t buy as it still used the now antiquated alpha-numeric score display) and Al’s Garage Band Goes on World Tour (from flailing start-up Alvin G. & Co, who had no nation-wide distribution) undersold it. It was hardly a bust or anything. To put Black Rose’s 3,746 units in perspective, Gottlieb, in their entire existence, only had four DMD-display tables that sold more units (in order: Cue Ball Wizard, Street Fighter 2, Super Mario Bros., and the truly putrid Rescue 911). Black Rose was successful. It just wasn’t a major milestone for pinball in a year defined by milestones.

Oscar on the Broadside: “There’s a hole in my ship, Dear Liza. If the Whirlpool is the most valuable shot to commit to muscle memory (it has an extra ball tied to it, after all), the broadside is a close second. It launches modes and has modes tied to it. When it’s not a mode-starter, it could also be a hurry-up shot. In multiball, it’s a scaling mini-jackpot. Players even have a puncher’s chance at an extra ball if Polly spits one out for you. A snap shot from the left or right is required, with the timing slightly different for each side. In the annals of thrilling shots, the Black Rose’s broadside might just be the most under-rated.”

Still, you would think that a table that is this gorgeous and has features that were scorching hot at the time, like the still new autogun, would have been an instant classic. But, Black Rose certainly wasn’t that. Arcade goers in 1992 wouldn’t have seen the cannon straight away, and in the pre-Jack Sparrow days, pirates weren’t exactly a lucrative commodity. But, I think Black Rose was forgotten in large part due to the maddening difficulty. The Vice Family alone put an additional twenty-hours of playtime into the Pinball FX3 build of Black Rose while making this feature. Even well into that twenty hours, it wasn’t unusual for games to end in less than a minute  It wasn’t until recently that players started to recognize it for its depth, complexity, and razor-sharp scoring.

Getting good at Black Rose takes time and patience. With the exception of the Jackpot ramp, every other major shot in Black Rose is off-angle and frustrating as hell to drill into muscle memory. Oh, it’s rewarding to do so. Seriously, when you can consistently grind-up extra balls on the Whirlpool, you’ll feel like a world-beater. But, you’re going to need a lot of practice getting to that point. That practice cost players $0.50 a pop in 1992. Sure, there were other vicious pins during this time, but Black Rose is uniquely cruel. It has a fickle ball save that often doesn’t trigger, a primary shot that doubles as a demoralizing death drop if you miss, and one of the most ball-clearing multiballs in the sport. It can be a mean-spirited table. In thirty total Black Rose games played against each-other in Pinball FX3’s Classic mode, only one single game saw one of us break for a hundred-million. It was Oscar, putting up 168,091,440 in his first game. The next highest game didn’t even crack eighty-million. Yipes!

The art direction by Pat McMahon is perhaps the greatest of all time. Originally, Black Rose was to feature dark black pinballs and the table would have been named Black Pearl. But, because McMahon’s darker art direction, utilizing black balls would have created visibility issues. Ironically, “Black Pearl” would go on to be associated with another famous fictional pirate: Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

But, that’s the magic of digital pinball. In 1992, it would have been cost prohibitive to “git gud” at Black Rose. In 2022, you can purchase unlimited plays of it on Pinball FX. You’ll have all the time in the world to develop a strategy for multiball, or to practice the Whirlpool shot, or get the timing down just right for the lucrative Double Broadside mode. Black Rose kind of gets lost in the shuffle among heavy hitters like Attack from Mars, The Getaway, Monster Bash, etc. But, it’s one of our family’s favorite score-settling tables for a reason. It’s always exciting. Fitting for a table based around piracy, Black Rose might be Pinball FX’s greatest buried treasure. When it launches as part of the new Pinball FX, it’ll be one of the tables we keep going back to again and again.

You can wishlist Pinball FX at the Epic Store right now!

Yes, I’m Still Alive

I know I haven’t updated in nearly eight months. The thing is, I am still playing pinball. Playing well? Well..

Ebj6hAUUEAEuRp5I have Parkinson’s Disease, and it’s starting to affect me. My reaction times are slowing, and that affects my ability to play pinball. It was a tough blow to find out I’m going to be affected by this horrible disease. It’s like “great, of course. That tracks.” It looks like, despite being early onset, it won’t be as severe, but it’s still far too soon to know for sure. It’s looking good, but you can’t know until the disease starts working it’s anti-magic on you.

But, I’m done feeling sorry for myself. I have a great life and I still love pinball. And I’m not done yet. Besides, my kid sister, Angela, is going to be the REAL Pinball Chick soon. Despite only being eleven-years-old, she has become the best pinball player of our family, routinely beating Dad and I in duels and setting new world records. Angela is poised for amazing things in film when she’s older, but she wants to also eventually take-over The Pinball Chick. “If I make it in Hollywood, pinball will be what I turn to when I need a break.” She loves the sport, and there’s something reassuring that a kid of the 2020s can still have a passion for pinball.

The whole team is ready to put a new generation of digital pinball through the wringer. We’ll be looking at Pinball FX3’s Indiana Jones Pinball Adventure conversion in March. We’ll be evaluating new Zaccaria tables. And buzz is, Farsight isn’t totally out of the pinball game yet. We’ll be here, ready to shoot jackpots for you.

-Cathy Vice
Indie Gamer Chick

Table Review: Circus for Zaccaria Pinball

20210503224054_1A lot of people can’t fathom just how much time we put into these tables prior to writing any review on them. It’s a big effort that takes part in phases. Before I put my fingers to the keyboard, we always make one final run through each table in a set. In the case of Zaccaria’s 1977 release Circus, it made a massive difference. Originally, we all rated it GOOD except Eala, who fully conceded that childhood nostalgia bumped it to GREAT. If Oscar can get away with naming Firepower #2 of 100 Pinball Arcade titles, we can let Eala slide with that one.

But then, during our final play-through, the rest of us (except stuffy-old Jordi) admitted we underrated Circus. It’s worthy of being Certified Excellent by The Pinball Chick team.

A few things strike me about Circus. #1: it’s a looker. Zaccaria is (in)famous for its generic, broadly-themed tables. Having a name like “Circus” with no flare or pomp is typical of their output, but at least this one looks memorable. It terms of layout, it’s not all that different from some of their other tables, especially Moon Flight. But the bright Blue/Red/Yellow/Green scheme here is distinctive and charming.

#2: The intuitive layout is perfect for introducing people to the late EM era of pinball. Really, Circus is electro-mechanical in-name-only. It flows like an early solid-state. Unlike Aerobatics, there’s a clear driver here: the left spinner lane has a free ball attached to it if you charge-up the value enough. You take aim at either spinner, both laid along primary angles, and the value increases. The challenge comes from gaining control of the ball, as either spinner feeds the roll-overs that lead to the bumpers. The center roll-over doubles the value of the multiplier.

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#3: the Bonus Score Value saucer, laid along a dead-center angle with a backboard to catch the ball, is one of the most difficult saucer shots we’ve had to experience since starting The Pinball Chick. The straight-away angle makes shooting it at the correct speed to not hop over it incredibly difficult. Hitting this shot banks the points you’ve charged-up for the spinners, and resets your progress if you’ve not yet lit the extra ball special. However, you can also get an extra ball if you fully charge the points AND have lit all the C-I-R-C-U-S letters, which lights the special on the Bonus. It’s one of the most surprisingly challenging shots in all of Zaccaria Pinball, and one you’d never see today, where instead a designer would almost certainly make it a cellar instead. It makes Circus a deceptively deep table and one of the best for teaching new players primary angles.

Circus is a ton of of fun. It’s got its problems: the outlanes are absolutely brutal no matter what mode you’re playing in, but that’s typical of Zaccaria anyway. It’s also one of the more sloggy tables, since grinding-up points requires repetitively shooting the same lanes over and over and over, which is to say nothing about dealing with the bumpers when you’re short either the I or U in C-I-R-C-U-S. It’s certainly not going to WOW everyone. Jordi thought the table was perfectly fine, but he wasn’t as impressed by the pair of spinner shots either. But, if you want to hone your Zaccaria EM skills, all the basic shots are on display here. If Zaccaria had any licensing outreach in the 70s, they could have attached the Ringling Bros. name to this and Circus would be remembered as one of the greats of its era. You can say that about a LOT of Zaccaria tables, but in the case of Circus, it feels like it deserved to be remembered more than it is.

20210503221835_1Circus
For Zaccaria Pinball
Nintendo Switch DLC: EM Table Pack 1
Normal DLC: Electro-Mechanical Pack
Certified Excellent Table
Designed by Zaccaria
Released in 1977
Art by Lorenzo Rimondini
Cathy: Great
Oscar: Great
Angela: Great
Jordi: Good
Eala: Great

Table Review: The Addams Family for Arcooda

Yes, Addams Family is one of the many delisted Pinball Arcade titles. But, it’s not GONE gone. At least if you have $499.99 to spare, plus either a dual-monitor digital pinball table or a relatively beefy PC + two monitors, one of which is a wide-screen. If that’s true, The Addams Family is one of the 76 tables included in Arcooda ‘s digital table software solution, and one of many tables where Arcooda’s version absolutely slays the now-delisted standard version. Even the non-Lawlor-loving curmudgeon Oscar had to concede that Arcooda Addams Family is a masterpiece of digital pinball conversions.

The secret-sauce for Arcooda is having subtle changes to Pinball Arcade’s standard-edition layouts, mostly de-cramping the space. Not even portrait mode versions of the tables (which every PC version of Pinball Arcade has) feature the true-to-life dimensions Arcooda offers. While the physics are still the same as Pinball Arcade, with all foibles that come with that (such as live catches being far too easy to pull-off), the actual gameplay of the tables is SIGNIFICANTLY more accurate than it ever has been just by having the dimensions and geometry be less-relative. If you want an example, look at the two pics above. The layout on the left is Arcooda’s build, while the layout on the right is the dimensions for the normal (well, Gold) version of Addams Family. The standard version, even with the ball size changed to compensate, is going to feel squished. Don’t get me wrong: the standard version plays fine. But, the Arcooda version IS the coin-op done digitally.

For our Arcooda reviews, we’re actually at the mercy of having to switch back to the standard version to get close-ups of the tables. Sorry. Anyway, the staircase and multiball/extra ball lane is where you can truly feel the difference. This is a legendary ramp, and no digital version of it feels more accurate than Arcooda’s.

In the case of Addams Family, longtime fans of this, the greatest-selling real table of all-time, will find their muscle memory will be accurate. When playing the two versions side-by-side, we found the real big difference was on the center staircase shot and the center multiball-lock shot, and the graveyard bumpers having more breathing-room (just wait until we talk about how fixed Twilight Zone’s bumpers are). Really, every shot is truer to the real deal, so much so that our games of digital Addams play out not-that different-from real Addams. From the maddening lack of ball save, to the joy of stringing together quadruple combos, to the anger-inducing multiball magnets, to the thrill of reaching Tour the Mansion. While I still firmly believe whatever was the best of 1992’s tables was destined to set all the sales records, I also admit that Addams Family’s success is no fluke. It’s table that offers something for fans of every table type. Sharpshooter fans will find some of the most precise target-shooting of any table from this era, not to mention one of the most punishing of bricked shots. Finesse fans will find a table that rewards flexible strategies and a large variety of modes. Fans of kinetic gameplay will love a table that incentivizes ball control and ultra-quick reflexes. Even pick ‘n flick fans can excel at a table where slowing the action down and grinding up extra balls through shot repetition is a viable strategy. A lot of tables desire to be something for everyone. Addams Family truly is.

Speaking of kinetic, Addams Family’s graveyard has one of THE great risk-reward cluster of bumpers of the DMD era. The bumpers are used to charge up the swamp-shot, also known as the Thing Flip. Many professionals base their strategy around completing this shot, which is often more valuable than the much-higher-risk multiball jackpot. Angela, an absolute dead-eye with bat flippers, used it almost exclusively to defeat Dad and I in a first-to-four series, 4 to 1 to 1. It’s maybe pinball’s most thrilling shot, so much so that I actually hate when it’s done automatically. Especially when Thing misses. Hell, I can miss all on my own, thank you very much.

Addams Family is so popular, so legendary, that many silverball die-hards these days feel obligated to list it as an overrated table. They’ll cite elements like the brutal magnetic field of the multiball experience, or the Seance, which many players choose to just trap the ball and run out the clock on. They might even agree with my hypothesis that arcades were so red-hot in 1992 that whatever was the best table released in the first quarter of that year was fated to be the best-selling ever, and it just happened that Addams Family, releasing in March of 1992, was the lucky one. Exchange Addams for Doctor Who, which released in September of 1992, and Doctor Who eventually claims the record. Exchange Addams for Terminator 2, which released in July of 1991, and Terminator 2 *murders* the record. 1992 was an overall banner year for pinball in general, with FIVE tables selling over ten-thousand units, and it’s not like Addams Family was a box office juggernaut. It did fine, but wasn’t an unfathomable smash-hit.

Purists will probably complain that it can’t be called “true to the arcade” because they had to slightly alter Fester’s appearance (and Pugsley’s too). If it bothers you THAT much, given that it affects the gameplay (checks notes) not at all, you’re officially too shallow for this review to matter at all. Oh and worth noting: if you have a Kinect camera and Windows 10, the glasses-free 3D view is absolutely incredible.

Be that as it may, the pinball table is that: the biggest hit of the sport’s most popular era. As I write this, I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of an arcade goer, circa 1992. I wasn’t even three-years-old when Addams Family released. But, I imagine the familiar toe-tapping theme and gothic look of the table must have been quite the siren call for players. Maybe not creepy in the same way Funhouse’s Rudy was, but instead a more inviting and whimsical party of macabre. And also, let’s face it, Raul Julia’s infectious charisma is on full display. He didn’t phone-in his performance for the pinball machine. He absolutely lets loose and delivers some of the most famous samples in the history of gaming. “It has to warm up.. SO IT CAN KILL YOU!” still sends chills down my spine. “WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU?!” always leaves a smile on my face. Addams Family can be brutal to the point of demoralizing for newcomers, BUT, it really wants you to have fun, even in failure. Hell, even after arcades were dying, Addams Family pinball was considered viable enough that real money was sunk into attempting to develop a port of it for the Nintendo 64. This is six years after it came out. And that project was cancelled because the technology at the time, specifically the N64, couldn’t do it justice. Pinball Arcade came very close, but it’s Arcooda’s software where the digital version lives up to the legend. It’s not the only one. Expect many of their other tables that failed to get perfect scores from us for Pinball Arcade to Mamushka into The Pinball Chick Pantheon of Digital Pinball. Black Hole? It’s making it in. Twilight Zone? Made it. But it’s probably Addams Family that was the most transformed by it. This IS the Addams Family. Well, with easier live catches.

Special Note: YES, Arcooda is still active. Pinball Chick associate Dash, who will be submitting Arcooda scores for our reviews going forward, ordered the $499.99 kit off their website. It arrived just days later. While Farsight is off the grid, Arcooda is active, along with their customer support and service. You can trust them.

The Addams Family
for Arcooda Software
Developed by Bally, 1992
Design & Concept: Pat Lawlor & Larry DeMar
Art: John Youssi
Sound: Chris Granner
DMD: Scott Slomiany

Cathy: MASTERPIECE
Oscar: MASTERPIECE
Angela: MASTERPIECE
The Pinball Chick Pantheon Inductee

Table Review: Cine Star for Zaccaria Pinball

Cine Star is a polarizing dumpster fire of a machine that has one truly breathtaking shot. A true, blue Boardwalk-style table that makes a whole lot of noise, where a good one-third of balls (minimum) will be unplayable by all but the most skilled players. Angela called it “the worst ‘real’ digital table she’s ever played” while Dad called it “thoughtless.” All five of us agreed Cine Star is a one-trick pony. But, for three of us, that one shot is so fun to shoot that it raised what should be a quintuple-PITS occupant into something that’s at least worth a look.

Even if that one shot is so absurdly over-balanced and illogical that it makes Bride of Pin•Bot’s billion-point shot look conservative.

A ball in Cine Star plays out like this: you serve the ball, and it’ll go down one of two lanes and land directly on a bumper. At this point, a small supernova takes place and the ball goes crazy. It’ll almost certain volley back and forth off the bumpers, taking out a few of the twelve star-lights. But that’s not your focus. You just want to gain control of the ball. There’s around a 33% chance the ball will either suicide-plunge down the outlanes in the blink of an eye, or maybe fall lifelessly down the drain. BUT, if you can somehow gain control of the ball, you’ll take a deep breath, take aim, and fire at this:

And it has a duck on it, which caused Angela to call it the Quacker Cracker.

Every spin you manage to shoot scores 10,000 points, with a maximum value of 100,000 points.

At this point, I’ll note that Cine Star only has five digits to track the score. So, if you played a REAL Cine Star, you wouldn’t even know what the score is. Of course, that means the digital version is one of those rare tables that is genuinely better in every conceivable way to owning an authentic machine. At least you don’t have to keep track of every single roll-over in your head.

This one shot, a feast-or-famine shot (we called successful 10-spin shots BINGOs), is the only reason myself, Eala, and Jordi didn’t put Cine Star in The Pits. I’m embarrassed to admit how much fun I had shooting this damn spinner. It’s glorious. Dad and Angela said it was enjoyable too, but the table’s entire layout, luck-based arrangement, and overall poor balance made this among the worst tables we’ve reviewed so far. I agree, but man, that shot is fun. Of course, the rest of the table is dead real estate. If you happen to hit all twelve star lights, the special is lit. The special is tied to the Quacker Cracker and activates about three seconds after you hit a BINGO on it. Of course, if the ball ricochets and drains before the value registers, you don’t get the points OR the extra ball, and that happens maybe one out of three times too. So, whether or not you enjoy Cine Star comes down to how much you’re willing to overlook historically-bad design for one amazingly satisfying shot. Your millage may vary.

Cine Star
For Zaccaria Pinball
Nintendo Switch DLC: EM Table Pack 1
Normal DLC: Electro-Mechanical Pack
Designed by Zaccaria
Released in 1975? 1976?
Art by Lorenzo Rimondini
Cathy: BAD
Oscar: THE PITS
Angela: THE PITS
Jordi: GOOD
Eala: BAD

Table Review: Aerobatics for Zaccaria Pinball

20210503003200_1Zaccaria Pinball’s early efforts are much maligned, and perhaps rightfully so. They started out like the pinball version of Frankenstein’s laboratory, building tables out of spare parts from other tables in order to make clones of popular tables from other companies. Bizarre, but we all have to start somewhere I suppose. But, let it be said, they eventually became a solid, dependable manufacturer of quality pinball machines. The best of their early efforts, at least in this chick’s opinion, is Aerobatics. Unless I bump a table’s status in our final run, it’s the only one of the forty-one digital recreations of real Zaccaria tables I awarded MASTERPIECE status to, EM or solid state.

I can also get why many people wouldn’t think Aerobatics is worthy of that distinction.

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IF there is a driver for Aerobatics, the left saucer would probably get the credit. But, I genuinely enjoyed shooting the top one more. Plus, it starts every single ball with the left special highlighted already, so you have a chance off-the-serve to turn it on. Actually, I think the main weakness of Aerobatics is that the top light resets at the start of every ball. I wish it didn’t. Let’s say you have one of the other three lights on. Having to shoot the spinner to try and light the first step in the specials would have added some much-needed depth. If it had been that way, Angela and Oscar would have gone MASTERPIECE in their rankings, Jordi would have bumped his rating up to GREAT, and Aerobatics would be in the conversation for the best EM conversion in all of digital pinball. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

What makes Aerobatics the one for me is every shot is exciting. All four of them. Okay, so it’s not a deep experience, and there’s arguably no primary target OR even really a genuine driver for the table. In fact, it’s absolutely viable to alternate between shooting the two saucers and letting the crowding of the table and the inevitability of missed shots run its course. The advance-bonus shot on the right wall? You can put up mighty scores using it without ever once taking direct aim at it. Hell, that goes for the three drop targets as well. In fact, while writing this very paragraph, I decided to test that theory by playing the 5-ball arcade mode on Switch and aiming specifically ONLY at the saucers, no matter what. 12,750,100 points later, I’m #2 on the all-time Leaderboard.

“Wait, you were able to circumvent 95% of the table, put up a near world-record, and you’re calling THAT a masterpiece?” Yep, and here’s why: there’s no Zaccaria electro-mechanical table where the art of the nudge matters more. When to nudge and when not to nudge, and which direction to do it. This is especially highlighted in the outlanes.

Mind you, extra-balls earned off specials are limited to one per turn, but I can’t stress enough how much a weight-off it is in any Zaccaria EM when you finally see that EB light turn on. You breathe out a sigh of relief. Every. Single. Time.

Normally, I’m not a fan of open inlanes, but in Aerobatics, they’re arguably the key element in a table that has no true primary shot. Using the spinner, you change which of the five lights for the top saucer are lit. If it’s the second or fourth light, the special for the outlanes lights-up. If the ball drops down the outlane, you get a free ball. But, whether or not a special opportunity is active or not, you have a chance to save the ball. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything. The ball will bounce off the post at the base of the outlane and be put back into play. Sometimes, you’ll need to save it manually. Either way, when do you ever see a table where the outlanes are the most thrilling element? It turns what is already a really fun, energetic table into one of the most satisfying of its kind you can get in modern digital pinball. Aerobatics does a lot right. Fine-tuned scoring and proper risk-reward balance married to fast-paced kinetic energy. Sure, there’s not tons of flexibility for players, but every single shot is a genuine thrill to hit. Even after playing every “real” table Zaccaria has to offer, I still don’t think the little Italian silverball company ever topped this early effort from 1977. It’s fantastic!

Aerobatics
For Zaccaria Pinball
Nintendo Switch DLC: EM Table Pack 1
Normal DLC: Electro-Mechanical Pack
CERTIFIED EXCELLENT TABLE

Designed by Zaccaria
Released in 1977
Art by Lorenzo Rimondini
Cathy: MASTERPIECE
Oscar: GREAT
Angela: GREAT
Jordi: GOOD
Eala: MASTERPIECE

Zaccaria Pinball – Deluxe Table Pack 1 Table Ranking (Xbox One & PS4 DLC Pack, Tables sold Individually on Steam)

Think of Zaccaria Pinball’s Deluxe series as being their take on modern pins like those by Jersey Jack or even Stern’s post-DMD works like Stranger Things. The scoreboard is now an animated LCD screen and modes have explanations and rules given to you. If Magic Pixel’s goal was to create original tables that feel like they could be real, two of the three tables succeeded. I could believe that Red’s Show and Cine Star are real tables. Spooky Deluxe? Probably not. It doesn’t seem like it would physically work. Ironically, Spooky is the best of the set and the first table during our Zaccaria play time that has won an excellent table certification here. Zaccaria Pinball is a solid, genuinely fun pinball set that frustrates me sometimes with the sheer amount of confusing options, but make no mistake, this is a solid pack to introduce yourself to their potential.

But, there’s a few problems with the first three Deluxe tables that have been released on Xbox One (this set is coming to PS4 in August, 2020), and one table we have to temporarily classify as “broken” until the engineers at Magic Pixel fix a target. The major issue is that tables have their scoring shut off during modes, which is so annoying. Of course, this applies to Zaccaria’s “Remake” collection of 27 original creations that a Buyer’s Guide will be created for here at The Pinball Chick. We’ve tried to limit our exposure to them, but in a brief play session with the “Remake” version of Spooky (not to be confused with Spooky Deluxe or the “Solid State” Spooky that are found in other sets in the Zaccaria Pinball collection), the same issue happened: modes freeze scoring for anything but the targets in the mode. BUT, I’ll argue that there, at least the tables are less busy and less prone to bounce AND you get a much bigger time limit that’s within reason. 40

BUT, make no mistake, even with one table that we were forced to classify as “broken” and a lot of frustration, these tables are FUN! And that’s what matters. $4.99 gets you two quality tables, one that WILL be quality upon a bug fix (which they need to get around to doing fast, since these Deluxe tables are going to be their signature DLC series going forward), and probably some of the most uniquely challenging shooting in digital pinball. They’re onto something, and hopefully will only get better with experience.

Zaccaria Pinball – Deluxe Tables Pack 1

Price: $4.99 (Xbox One), tables sold individually or in bundles on Steam (Check Pricing)
Total Tables: 3
Quality Tables: 2
Certifications: Spooky Deluxe (Certified Excellent)
SET RECOMMENDED

THE BROKEN

#3: Cine Star (Would be GOOD)

Remake of Cine Star (Unverified release date)
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#3)
Jordi: Good (#3)

Gutsy to base a table on Indian cinema, but I really dig the non-conventional theme. I wish that Zaccaria’s original tables had better art in general, stuff that looked more like classic pinball art, but it’s visually my favorite of the three tables. (It’s also possible it’s Middle Eastern cinema. The pyramids in the scoring LCD I just now noticed).

Originally, I had Cine Star Deluxe #2 of the three tables in Deluxe Pack 1. While Oscar and Jordi always had the same order, I appreciated the more old-school design with new-school elements that Cine Star offered. Of course, like all the Deluxe Tables in the pack, actually getting balls to consistently enter and flow through orbits is quite the chore and, even after sixty-hours combined on the three tables, we still couldn’t hit shots with the type of consistency that they should be at. “What table are they shooting on that balls rim-out of orbits or brick the rails so consistently?” Oscar, not exactly a slouch at precision shooting, said while playing this. Which is not to say it’s a bad design. It’s not. It’s maddening, frustrating, and bound to be a massive turn-off to all but the hardest of hardcore pinheads. But bad? No. When you get on a roll.. rare for Zaccaria’s deluxe tables.. you’re in for a treat. Unlike Red Show or the upcoming Spooky, Cine Star is a table carried by a signature shot, and it’s a doozy. Behold: The Stunt Tower!

The gawdy Sinbad toy or whatever that’s supposed to be is so distracting from what should be the most spotlighted shot in all of Zaccaria Pinball. I’d be mighty impressed if they end up topping this. Of course, like everything else on Cine Star Deluxe, the potential is greatly hampered by the fact that you can activate all five lights and hit the target, but the accelerators might fail and you might not score the point. And sometimes, when you have some of the lights but accidentally shoot the entrance to the tower, which sends the ball part-way up the ramp, you can no longer get certain lights to work, meaning the fifteen million points it contains are lost to you for the remainder of that ball. It contributes greatly to the “unfinished prototype” feel of this particular table.

The idea is there’s a light switch on on the tower and five lights. Each light corresponds to an accelerator along the ramp. If you light all five lights and shoot the ramp, the ball spirals up the Stunt Tower and you score 15,000,000 points. The instructions say 10,000,000, but it paid 15M every time we’ve shot it. Either way, this is one of the most ingenious centralized targets I’ve seen. A Brian Eddy-style shot that combines rewarding points with a visually-satisfying payoff. I love the Stunt Tower. I’d love it even more if it worked with consistency, but as I noted in the caption, it has a moderately high fail rate, so high that it landed the table in the BROKEN category. Albeit with less anger than Doctor Who: Master of Time of Champion Pub for Pinball Arcade. No, this is a different type of anger. A “I’m disappointed in you” type of anger that will be undone by some patchwork.

It’s not just the Stunt Tower. The rest of the table is much more janky than the other tables. I’m not even exaggerating when I say we didn’t even begin a mode in the majority of the games we played, and not for a lack of trying. Getting anything but the Stunt Tower is a huge waste of time. All other targets essentially shut down during modes in Zaccaria’s deluxe tables. The modes are often based around all the tight squeezes that make me question whether precision shooting is even a viable option. That’s why I guess I liked Cine Star more. There’s two primary-angle shots that you need to use the Stunt Tower, and it’s possible to put up a dynamo score without activating a single mode. Dad’s World Record run had him complete one mode, score the tower once, and hit a few basic combos. It wasn’t that hard. Part of that is because the Xbox leaderboards are scantly populated by truly competitive players. Hopefully coverage here at the Pinball Chick will fix that.

This is not a two-ball capture ball target, like you’d see in Theatre of Magic. It’s actually only a single-ball target. The second ball is my ball and it’s marooned. This is the worst dead zone I’ve encountered so far as The Pinball Chick. In roughly one out of three games played on Cine Star Deluxe, Dad or I would maroon a ball in the capture ball. This slot is too easily accessed. Serves off a plunger can be lethal too, so calling an attendant isn’t risk-free. However, even full strength nudging won’t free a ball from this dead zone. This is commonly hit enough that it should never have made it out of play-testing and contributes to the table’s BROKEN status.

So, just for now, we have to regretfully list Cine Star Deluxe as “broken” because it’s just too damn glitchy. If the Stunt Tower were reliable, it’d be fine. In fact, one solution they may consider is that you score fifteen million (or, again, is it REALLY supposed to be ten million?) by lighting all the lights and then entering the tower’s accelerated run. The points are awarded at the top of the tower. By moving it to the base of the tower, you get the points you earned regardless if the mechanics fail to work. If this were a real table, there’d be an operator option for exactly that. I’ll be putting this #2 if the bugs are fixed. By the way, don’t wait for the fix to play this if you buy the set. Working or not, that Stunt Tower shot has to be played to believe.

THE GOOD

#2: Red Show

Remake of Red’s Show (1975)
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#2)
Jordi: Good (#2)

Red’s Show is visually loud, to be sure. But I really think this is the most pinball-looking of the three tables in Deluxe Pack 1, even if I prefer the less noisy Cine Star.

A busy, flipper-heavy, combo-heavy table, Red Show is somewhat confused on what it wants to accomplish. The super-wide-body layout that’s absolutely over-flowing with targets and modes gives it that mad-scientist vibe, with very little in the way of dead space. The boys disagreed with me and placed this #2, but I felt the biggest issue with Red Show was, once you get the timing down, you can ignore the table’s modes and the relatively higher-risk angles they follow and instead shoot combos for easy points until the cows come home. Combos in Red Show are worth increasing multiples of a million points. For Spooky, they build off 100,000 multiples, which keeps the balance of that table focused on playing modes. I find it absurd that Oscar, a scoring-balance purist, would argue in favor of a table that FUBARed the scoring to the degree Red Show did. His counter-argument is that the orbits are higher-degree-difficulty shots with high potential to clank them. My counter-counter argument is ONE MILLION IS TOO HIGH A MULTIPLE!

I can’t stress enough how ridiculously tight this shot is. Even if you set the ball to the small-size, the margin-for-error is small to the point of demoralization.

All the Deluxe tables have the same issues. Serving off the plunger is absolutely fucking pathetic and sometimes.. not most of the time, but often enough that it’s annoying.. the balls go straight down the outlane. The plungers all do a pussy-shit launch that has no skill shot or anything attached to it and just sorta of clumsily puts the ball somewhere on the playfield with momentum pointing straight at the left outlane. Just inexcusable. Good pinball should NEVER feel like you’re cheated, and the deluxe tables constantly feel like they’re cheating you. So many of it feels like it’s done in a deliberate way that it almost feels the designers are trolling you. “Haha, I wish I could see the look on their faces when they plunge a ball and it immediately goes down the outlane.” A pinball designer’s #1 mindset should be asking “is this a fair challenge” and plungers in all three Deluxe tables are anything but fair. It’s a problem. They also all have too-difficult to activate multiballs. For Red Show, there’s a spinning lock under the base of the giant toy, and at most, we each locked a single ball in it. In several hours playing just this table (which included Oscar setting the World Record high-score on Xbox One for 3-Ball Simulation), we didn’t get a single multiball until we figured out that you basically have to treat that target like it’s a completely different shot with it’s only timing and set-up instead of being a natural part of the table’s flow.

It took us a long, long time to figure out the multiball shot in Red Show. It’s because it’s so unconventional that there’s really no real-life analog to it. The trick is to wait for the ball to settle on the upper-central flipper. Without trapping, the ball will sometimes settle and allow a tee-shot. From there, it’s actually a relatively easily-timed shot that locks the ball. Alternatively, you can do a standard ball trap with the upper-left flipper and do a tap-shot, though if you have the physics set to “arcade” this is very difficult. With “simulation” physics, Dad actually clocked the timing of the tap shot and became able to activate multiball with ease. I confess, I never got the hang of it.

Which is not to say it’s not fun. The front of the table where the entrances to orbits are makes for a pretty good sharp-shooting experience. The issue is the table is too big and has such shallow access points to the upper-tables that actually getting to them is an overly difficult slog. Want proof of this? Try the Challenge mode, which as of this writing, has three people on the Leaderboard, myself included. Shots are too tight, entrances to orbits too small, and the table too large to have a special mode where you have to shoot specific targets. Those are done dumbly anyway. “Hit the spinner” would have been difficult enough. “Spin it 20 times” is flipping the player off. It just is. The third task was locking a ball. Which, again, possibly the worst ball lock in the history of the medium belongs to Red Show. It’s too small a hole with too poor of access and too sharp an angle. Spinning multiball lock? LOVE IT! Spinning multiball lock where they placed it? Oh piss off. It’s not reasonable. But, ultimately, we all three voted “GOOD” on Red Show. The theme is fun, targets are distinct and well spaced from each-other. The upper mini-field is very rewarding. It’s got a great pace and a wonderful sense of reward. If I sound frustrated, it’s because this should have been a slam-dunk GREAT table and it’s not. Orbit access shouldn’t be this maddening. Red Show is fun, but it’s one of the biggest brick layers in modern digital pinball.

THE GREAT

#1: Spooky

Remake of Spooky (1987)
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Great (#1)
Jordi: Great (#1)
THE PINBALL CHICK CERTIFIED EXCELLENT TABLE

Time to talk about the elephant in the room: the Deluxe tables are ugly. That art is total amateur hour. It looks like how a Halloween-themed cake’s frosting would be decorated. A really cheap one you buy from Walmart. I really don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings saying this, but it just isn’t pinballish. And it’s going to prevent a lot of people from trying Zaccaria’s tables, because bad art will be equaled to bad gameplay. So, spread the word that this is well above average table in terms of gameplay, even if it looks like a dollar store Halloween window decal.

Spooky Deluxe is proof that Zaccaria Pinball is digital silverball’s biggest hidden gem. You guys won’t believe the treasures we’ve unearthed in Zaccaria Pinball, which includes official bootlegs (you read that correctly) of tables designed by all-time legends like Ed Krynski or Norm Clark. Spooky Deluxe proves they are worthy contributors to the legacy of the medium. The fun, frantic Japanese Fan design is actually the most conservative of the three tables in Deluxe Pack 1, proof that “less is more.” The bird’s nest of four ramps incentivizes combo-shooting, but doesn’t totally succeed in eliminating wood chopping. I was able to build up a few record-setting scores by abusing the spinner and a couple targets that are worth between two million to five million. Really, the key to success in any Zaccaria Pinball remake table, be it the ones actually labeled “remake” or “deluxe” is to restore the ball save via the lane lights. You can shift the lights left or right, and lighting all four restores the ball save (or scores 2,000,000 points if the ball save is already active) for about thirty seconds. Since the ramps feed the lanes, you can really just keep reloading ball save over and over and over again. You can tell the difference between players who get this and players who don’t on the leaderboards, as there’s usually gaps in scoring range.

Spooky has the Necronomicon just laying around behind the ball lock. Meanwhile, the ball lock sometimes does fail to lock. It’s not as annoying as the Stunt Tower in Cine Star, and I guess it’s hypothetically possible that my shot wasn’t accurate enough. But I swear, sometimes in modes that require you to shoot the lock, the ball fully goes into the cage but doesn’t lock or count.

So, what’s the problem? Well, like other other Deluxe tables, the modes have too short a time limit and disable all other scoring. Forty seconds to shoot four orbits and then trap the ball in a semi-unreliable ball lock is kind of unreasonable. Thankfully, Spooky Deluxe has a pair mini-modes that end as soon as you complete the one and only stated goal (either shoot the BAT target three times or shoot the ball in either ball lock three times) for a cool five-million points. In my world record game on Xbox One (I am, as of this writing, the World Champion in Spooky Deluxe’s five-ball arcade physics mode), I completed exactly ZERO main modes and only one mini-mode. My record setting score was a result of building up the spinner value, along with a successful multiball. I’m also 2nd place in the same mode on Steam, and this time, I didn’t even score the five million point mini-modes even once. Which is not to say the modes are impossible. They just require you to be nearly perfect from the start of the mode, without the ball getting caught-up in a bounce cycle on the slingshot or the bumpers. A few modes I never even came close to finishing. Take for example “Silver Bullet”, which I’ll explain in the caption.

In “Silver Bullet” mode, these are the lights that you have to shoot to move onto the next step of the mode. The thing is, in over twenty-hours of playtime, none of the three of us could figure out a proper shooting angle with either flipper for all of them. The top-most ones can barely be toed off the flipper, but the bottom two especially feel like they only get hit by a lucky bounce. You only have forty seconds, and I assume there’s more to the mode than just clicking off all six lights. Probably shooting the ball lock next to the Necronomicon, since that seems to be the finale to other modes. Making any mode’s target a blind angle that relies on lucky bounces isn’t a good idea. We practiced at this shot as much as humanly possible in both arcade and simulation modes and legitimately couldn’t find any angles that could access all six lights. It’s a blind angle. For a mode. That’s not good design.

Make no mistake, Spooky Deluxe is a very problematic table. But, it’s also a whole ton of fun. It might be the most sloppy of any table we’ve unanimously rated “GREAT” here at the Pinball Chick, which might sound like damning praise, but I consider it a challenge to the Magic Pixel team: you’re going to keep getting better, but you gotta start making these Deluxe tables more player-friendly. Spooky seems to troll players a lot. The BAT light target that activates multiball is positioned at a slight off-angle just above the drain, in a way that causes the ball to do a suicide plunge towards the drain. That’s not adding challenge to the table. That’s adding a luck element. Don’t do that. The designers of these tables have to remember the ultimate maxim of pinball design: the best challenges are the ones players put upon themselves. Have faith that you don’t need to screw players to make a table hard. Did you see how many times I choked away a world record before I finally got it? I’m doing just fine myself, thank you.

Pinball FX3 has a Local-Multiplayer Problem

Before we start, I want to note the irony that, for nine years now, my fans at Indie Gamer Chick have complained that I don’t put enough stock (or any at all) into local co-op when I review some games. What can I say? Maybe if my Daddy had sat me in front of a Double Dragon coin-op instead of a Firepower pinball machine when I was a child, it’d be different. Alas.

I’ll cut to the chase: local multiplayer scores in Pinball FX3 don’t count for online leaderboards. Among the three modes offered for each table, if you don’t play single-player, you can’t chase records. This won’t matter to a lot of people, but it does for Oscar and myself. While I’m not exactly an elite-level player on the majority of tables, I have briefly held a few world records on a variety of tables, including Masters of the Force from Star Wars Pinball on Switch and, no matter how I did it, I am still legitimately the console world champion of Mustang for Pinball Arcade. My Dad is currently a top player a few Zaccaria tables on Xbox and hovers near the top 10% of several Pinball Arcade tables, and has been a top Judge Dredd player for the month a few times in 2020. But, when it comes to Pinball FX3, we have to chase records alone. That sucks for us, because the majority of our video pinballing we prefer to do via duels. Over 80% of the total accumulated playtime (and we’re talking hundreds of hours) spent playing Pinball Arcade for our review was spent competing against each-other. Frankly, we learn way more about tables via a duel than we do playing solo, because it puts a sharper focus on what targets matter and where the scoring balance lays. If Oscar is able to build a lead through sharp shooting and guile only to watch me evaporate it by exploiting a scoring quirk and repeating low-degree-difficulty shots, it proves the table has a problematic rule sheet.

Well, we can’t do that with Pinball FX3, and that really sucks since all our highest scores actually have come in versus mode. It’s really to the point where we don’t even duel at it anymore. Our competitive spirit burns, but we also want to, you know, be on the leaderboards. There’s not a single Williams table, with the exception of Safe Cracker, where we haven’t put up a total that would be the highest of the week. Mostly Dad, if I’m being honest. In fact, the amount of leaderboard spots he’s given up from those times where we do duel is insane. So, I feel like we need to have a talk with Zen Studios. Take a seat, gang, and note the following:

#1: Playing in multiplayer gives no competitive advantage.

In the day of multiball ball-locks that featured a mechanism physically locking a ball in place, with no “virtual” locks, duels in certain tables could result in players stealing locks you shot. This was a common theme when Oscar and I dueled at tables like Swords of Fury in Pinball Arcade or Fathom. Dad and I coined the term “unlocked door” for it. Hypothetically, if you wanted to cheat in a high score, you could play a two player – four player and and use all but the main game to secure the locks, presumably at higher risk, and then use the main game to start an instant multiball. It’s dirty pool, but it could be done. Only, there’s no table in Pinball FX3’s Williams collection that has unlocked doors. If anything, it would be hypothetically harder, because for those tables that do physically lock a ball + use virtual locks (such as Fish Tales), you might not get a plunge when you lock a ball, but instead have to play off a kick-out. Kick-outs are almost certainly higher risk.

#2: You might have to deal with being iced.

“Icing” is a sports term used for deliberately stalling a game in a pressure situation in order to build up the nerves of your opponent. Examples are calling a time-out before a field-goal kick in football, or before crucial free-throws in a basketball game. Competitive pinball players do it too, along with my father and I when we duel each-other. If one of us has an especially high-scoring ball and is hitting their shots at a high clip, whoever goes next is likely to play deliberately slower and more conservative their next ball. There’s also unintentional icing: if you watch a player have a long, prosperous and high-scoring ball, sitting there waiting for your turn could throw-off your game greatly. Combine this with the pressure of having someone you’re immediately competing against, and really..

#3: It’s more impressive to set a world record in a duel!

I mean, it is. Both my father and myself have won multiple weekly or monthly high scores on a few tables or been near the top of the boards. But my Dad’s recent climb to the top of one of Xbox One’s Zaccaria Deluxe tables (Cine Star, 3 Ball Simulation, which granted, need a much bigger competitive field to truly impress) happened while dueling me. That made it more special to him, since he set his record in part because he was beating me in the process. The funny thing is, we were both smoking the targets that game, to the point that it either one of us could have walked away with a world record that match (in fact, my score would have put me third on the board if Dad hadn’t topped it). Hell, imagine if Pinball FX3 had a physical, local-only tournament. It’d be a shame if top players showed up and performed extraordinarily only to not have their scores appear on leaderboards. Who cares if it shows up as the person who owns the machine’s user name? Nobody. Just ask my Dad, who is on top of a few leaderboards under the name IndieGamerChick despite never going by that name. Well, except when he plays fantastic rounds of digital pinball.

The Pinball Chick presents The Pinball Arcade: The Complete Buyer’s Guide & Table Rankings

A project I’ve been working on with my Father and Jordi for the last nine months. It took hundreds of hours of playtime across three platforms and hundreds of hours of writing. The end result is the biggest game review ever written anywhere: The Pinball Chick presents The Pinball Arcade: The Complete Buyer’s Guide & Table Rankings. It’s over 64,000 words long (more than The Outsiders, The Great Gatsby, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), covers all 100 tables (including all delisted tables) and all eight still-available DLC packs. It’s, as far as I can tell, the largest review in the history of video games.

I’ve worked very hard on it, and I also did my best to make it a fun, fast-paced read that’s peppered with factoids, stories, legends, and humor. As a Buyer’s Guide, it’ll be a permanent link at the top of The Pinball Chick, like the Pinball FX3 Williams Buyer’s Guide. I hope you enjoy it. If you find any errors, please contact me immediately so I can correct them.

Please also share the link. It’s pretty much a book-sized review that’s free for everyone. Man, I hope Pinball FX3 gets some more of these tables.

Read: The Pinball Chick – The Complete Pinball Arcade Buyer’s Guide & Table Rankings