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!
If you missed previous articles, you can find them here:
Pinball Week, Day 1: The Top 60 Tables of All-Time (#60-#41)
Pinball Week, Day 2: A Brief History of the Silver Ball
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. The countdown started on Monday and continues today and will conclude 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!
40) IRON MAIDEN: LEGACY OF THE BEAST – Pro Version (Stern, 2016)
I’m not a fan of Iron Maiden. I never was. And I’m a child of the 80’s. I’m not actually a huge fan of Metallica or Aerosmith or KISS either. But I would listen to those last three in a heartbeat if it was between them and Iron Maiden and I’d choose their tables over this one any day of the week. So, right off the bat, the audio is just a turn-off. Secondly, I might be in the minority but I don’t need PS4-level graphics on a video screen. It’s a pinball machine, not a slot machine. It comes across as extremely tacky, especially the whole weird “mummy/WW2 dogfight” hybrid theme it’s displaying. I thought the awful Scooby-Doo-esque visuals on “Aerosmith” were terrible. This is something worse. Lastly, it feels awfully cookie cutter in that it features almost the same ramp layouts as all their other rock tables. That said, “Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast” features a beautiful, colorful playfield, reminiscent of “Metallica” and “Aerosmith”. The game is fast and flows beautifully, despite it being an extremely open space with a series of ramps. The variety of shots and skill required to make them provides for a good gaming experience and it has a nice old school feel. The game sometimes feels like “Sorcerer” and “Gorgar” on steroids, especially with the addition of the two extra flippers up top. The lighting is your usual modern Stern flair which isn’t a bad thing at all. Light shows are excellent and they work in conjunction with the theme and audio. The issue is that this doesn’t feel “different”. At least “Aerosmith” and “AC/DC” had their toys and gimmicks to differentiate. This is just two ramps and not much else. There’s a feeling that without any real “identity” past the A/V or the playfield, this pretty much could be anything with a quick re-code and fresh coat of paint. You can’t say that about “Ghostbusters” or “Aerosmith”, for example. Overall, this is just another Stern rock table.
39) JACK*BOT (Williams, 1995)
This was the third in the “Pinbot” series of pinball games. It’s a better table than the last entry (“Bride of Pinbot”). In fact, “Jack*bot” seems a bit layered in terms of meaning: is it is a response to the cries of sexism in “Bride of Pinbot”, featuring a male robot instead of a female or is it “Jackbot” as in “jackpot”? Nobody honestly cares, I suppose. But while this is better than the second table, that’s not saying much. The game is a virtual carbon-copy of the first game. There’s no originality in the design except that you’re playing in some sort of space casino thing while scoring “Jackbots” every so often. The casino games are just kinda there and there’s no real risk in losing anything since an average player can easily score a billion points without a sweat. I like what I’m seeing but nothing in this series will top the original “Pinbot”.
38) BLACK KNIGHT (Williams, 1980)
I will say this: it’s a better game than its follow-up. It’s more colorful, smoother and a lot more fun. The issue with the game is that it has two playfields and I’ve learned that when you have this feature, you either live or die by the second playfield. It’s difficult to get the ball back up there once it’s downstairs. And when you get it to the upper field (which takes up a good half of the playfield), the shot angles are a bit difficult to make. Other than that, there isn’t much variety here. Beautiful playfield, though. That sword in the center is epic and I love the sound of the Black Knight taunting me as well as the sound of his horse galloping. Very clever. It’s just too bad that there isn’t much to this game.
37) TRANSFORMERS – Pro version (Stern, 2011)
Transformers is fun, if only just a series of ramps you have to hit. The “choose your side” gimmick is clever but there isn’t much going on with the toys in the game, which stay stationary no matter what. It’s all talk and no action. It has the easiest multi-ball in recent memory, which is odd. You can get that mode in about a minute without even trying because the shots are fairly easy to make. The rule set isn’t complicated. It’s by-the-numbers Stern, yet again. They’ve produced far better than this Transformer film cash-in.
34) THE AVENGERS – Pro Version (Stern, 2012)
“The Avengers” looks and feels like your typical Stern/Marvel licensed thing: colorful, with a some neat toys (Hulk “smashes” things with his arms while the Tesseract spins around much like the lamp in “Tales of the Arabian Nights”, cool features which are hampered by Stern’s penchant for using amateur voiceover work and music that has nothing to do with the film. The thing that saves it from being a complete waste is the straight-forward gameplay — even if every shot outside the Hulk is ridiculous to make. In fact, get ready to hear a LOT of Hulk audio because that’s where your ball is gonna hit most of the time whether you like it or not. Grabbing other Avengers is an exercise in frustration (Black Widow is scream-inducing) and, after awhile, you may just throw your hands up and try another game. Still, this is loads better than “X-Men”. The playfield is colorful and well-produced and the presentation is right on. It’s more geared towards comic fans and completionists.
35) FATHOM (Bally, 1981)
“Fathom” is everything “Paragon” wasn’t — a great theme and art but with better audio that goes far beyond “bloop” and “bleep” and much better gameplay thanks to a reduced playfield and the removal of the awful “double right flipper”. This one had interesting “water” or “wave” sounds as you played and a voice that taunted the player as they played. It’s dated as hell but one can tell that effort was put into it with great targets and a rewarding set of shots that actually work thanks to much smoother gameplay. The playfield is an absolute work of art with gorgeous sea-theming. Even in the dark, the lighting makes this table look great in a gameroom with vivid blue coloring and gorgeous ambient lighting.
34) AEROSMITH – Pro Version (Stern, 2017)
Stern’s rock band-themed tables are hit-and-miss. They range from ridiculously fun and clever (AC/DC) to tables with a band’s name on it (Metallica). Thankfully, Aerosmith is the former. Beautiful, colorful, eye-catching playfield, a good soundtrack and a cool little toybox that you can toss your ball into. The multi-ball call-out is really cool and I love the light-show built into the playfield (the “spotlight” effect is very clever). I’m not a huge fan of the the DMD being replaced with a video screen but if this and Star Wars are any indication, that’s probably going to be the norm from here on out. That and the animations played on the screen are goofy and not really reminiscent of the band, really. It’s like watching a 70’s white-guy version of “Fat Albert”. That said, the game is fun to play.
33) ATLANTIS (Gottlieb, 1975)
A great early pin from Gottlieb. The sea-theming is charming (as is the artwork) and the shots are smooth as silk with a good, simple rule set for an EM table. The only downside is that it hasn’t aged well but if you can get past that, the table is worth your time.
32) NO GOOD GOFERS (Williams, 1997)
Want a fun shooter with a simplistic rule set? Look no further than “No Good Gofers”, a game that pretty much sits in the same boat (no pun intended) as “Fish Tales” in terms of goofball humor and gameplay. Your entire goal is to play a round of golf which ends up being a war against pesky gophers who try anything to get in your way. The shot targets are incredibly fun and satisfying (such as whacking the gophers in the face and the famed “Hole in One”) but seasoned gamers might scoff at the cutesy kiddie art and theme.
31) THE MUNSTERS – Pro Version (Stern, 2019)
A recent release by Stern, this is one of their best tables. The table plays ultra smooth, has some nice audio, and features a great light show when you hit the multiball event. The Herman toy is wonderful. The color scheme is deep greens and purples and the table feels like it should belong in an old mansion or in the background on “Creature Features”. The downside is that the game feels too simple. Shots are fairly simple to make so getting to Wizard Mode on the table isn’t a huge chore like it is on other tables. The “Premium” version of the table comes with a lower playfield which is missing in the “Pro” incarnation (something Stern does which irritates me to no end) and the coding on the table is lacking…something ELSE Stern is famous for. The layout is also a touch recycled. Still, I have a soft spot for the show and it’s fairly fun to play.
30) METALLICA – Pro Version (Stern, 2013)
Sparky (the top middle bash toy) getting zapped is pretty much the highlight of this table. That sequence along with the drain sequence is neat. But there really isn’t much to it. You have to basically hit targets about about a dozen times each to hit a “mini-boss” level. Getting to the actual “Wizard Mode” on the table seems a touch repetitive. Being able to choose what Metallica song to listen to before you play is nice. Nothing truly groundbreaking, nothing “different”. Stern’s “AC/DC” is still the end-all/be-all of “rock band pinball” to me. Compared to that table, anything else is just a quickee meant to capitalize on a recurring theme.
29) SPIDER-MAN – Vault Edition (Stern, 2016)
Like Stern’s movie version of “Spider-Man”? Guess what? Here it is again with a new coat of paint. This is the same exact game with a face-lift. Gone is the metallic film look of the first game. In its place is a comic book version of the titular hero. Rules are pretty much the same: capture villains and become New York’s hero. Everything is more colorful, though J.K. Simmons is sorely missed as J. Jonah Jameson. In his place is an actor playing Spider-Man who makes his trademark quips every five seconds (“Hey, Sandman – didn’t you know stripes were OUT this year?”; “Ah…the black spider-suit…cool…and homicidal!”) and that wears on you in the first few minutes of playing. Still, it’s a fun game (I love when the table shakes when you face Sandman) but one can’t really help but feel like Stern didn’t really try much here. Still, this is their best Marvel game.
28) BLACK ROSE (Bally, 1992)
“Black Rose” is a fun, frustrating, game. On the one hand, the scoring is complex and the little side-games (swinging to a ship’s deck, escaping a shark, etc.) are really cool. Shots on this bad boy take skill and precision. The left ramp is fairly easy. The one on the right, no so much. That and it’s a timed combo system so you have like ten seconds or so to hit the next ramp so you can get your points. The fun is really in the center ramp and the use of the cannon to hit targets you normally have trouble with. Even if you’re playing mini-video games on the DMD (which takes away from the pinball game at hand), the games are fun. But what the game lacks in gameplay and scoring, it more than makes up for in style and atmosphere. The table art and layout is breathtaking with ramp railing laid out in such a way that it looks like a pirate ship. Unlike Stern’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” (what COULD have been with that table) this FEELS like a pirate game.
27) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Stern, 2017)
If Stern hadn’t updated the code for this table, it wouldn’t be here. Much like “Deadpool”, Guardians is fairly new. It features great music and a Groot bash toy. The missions are a lot of fun and keeps the table from getting stale. The playfield is typical modern Stern. It’s a cheap copy of other games like “Iron Man” and “TRON: Legacy”. Still, the game is uber-challenging and requires strategy and skill to complete, much like the titular heroes resort to in the film.
26) DEADPOOL (Stern, 2018)
This is one of Stern’s best modern tables. Gone is the tacky Photoshop job from past licensed Stern quickies. The playfield is a WOW with some beautiful art that looks like the artists at Marvel helped design. The kitana on the right side of the table is part of the game is just plain badass. The cute little Deadpool bobble next to it just fits. The shots are rewarding as hell (though sometimes ridiculously simple to make) and the callouts are fantastic. The video display is still an annoyance as Stern ditched your typical DMD years ago, but this is a winner in every sense.
25) WHO DUNNIT? (Bally, 1995)
“Who Dunnit” is an interesting table, much like “Safecracker”. Even though the ramps are easy to hit (you can light up the “Extra Ball” like it’s the 4th of July), the theme is brilliant. Mystery noir with a hard-boiled private detective trying to find various killers throughout the city. The issue with this is that there’s no “logic”. You’re just guessing, really and, 99,9% of the time, you can guess who the killer is simply by listening to a witness literally tell you how murderous they seem. You can also score billions of points blindfolded on this game — but one of the cool catches is that you’re also supposed to be a habitual gambler and you can play slots and roulette as side games as you’re trying to solve cases. This means you could be about 100,000 from being the number one high scorer on the table…only to lose that position because you just lost 900,000,000 points at the roulette table. No, you don’t HAVE to play roulette…but the thought that you could not only be in 1st Place on the scoreboard by over a billion points appeals to your ego, something you have to have if you’re into pinball, AMIRITE? Once you do accurately guess the killer, you have to literally “chase” them across the city. The way this is executed is that lanes are randomly lit and you have to hit them — but they change every few seconds. So you have to hurry and try to get the ball up into the correct lane. If you hit the correct lane at the right time, you have to hit one last lane to “subdue” them and have them arrested. This is followed by a four-ball multiball which gives you a TON of points if you’re really good. The downside to this game is that the gameplay and audio feels more than a bit repetitive with audio callouts repeating every few seconds without fail. If CastleVania: Symphony of the Night were a pinball machine, this would be it.
24) THE ADDAMS FAMILY – Gold Collector’s Edition (Bally, 1994)
Once again, I might get hurt for putting The Addams Family this far down on the list. I played this game on and off for the last few years, never really understanding what the fuss was about. I finally sat down to really dig deep this weekend and, while it’s not my absolute favorite pin (Designer Pat Lawlor would triumph later in his career…but we’ll get to that), it’s a solid table. You can definitely see the influence it had on later tables what with the player having to collect “Mansion Rewards” in order to get to the Table Wizard mode of “Tour the Mansion”. The toys on the table (Thing is absolutely wonderful and the way he helps you out by literally picking up your ball is a WOW) are amazing. The theming makes you smile (love the toxic waste on the right side). The call-outs are fun (LOVE the Mamushka and the SHOWTIME multi-ball sequence) but some shots are insane and tough and require pinpoint accuracy. The magnet mission can also make you pull your hair out. The audio also sounds unfortunately garbled. All in all, the table still delivers.
23) SPIDER-MAN (Stern, 2007)
“Spider-Man” is a good shooter. That’s not to say it isn’t fun to play. Getting “Superhero” on this game is a bit of a chore thanks to a rule set that isn’t very deep. The goal is basically to hit ramps all day and all night in order to “capture” villains like Green Goblin, Venom and Sandman. I list those because they’re the easiest to beat being that Sandman’s “tank” is right in front of you and you can light that sucker up like Christmas. You can practically capture him about ten times per game because the game just doesn’t want to lock him down. I wish it would. It’s aggravating just how many times you’ll nail Sandman and beat him. That said, it’s so awesome to hear J.K. Simmons yack all game long about Spider-Man’s accomplishments. They’re pretty chuckle-worthy. Even when you hit start when you haven’t inserted a coin, he shouts, “What is this?! ‘Superhero on a Budget’?!” Good stuff. The light show is also cool and the multi-ball callouts (especially Doc Ock’s) are awesome. A winner all around.
22) ELVIS (Stern, 2004)
A great music table from Stern. It’s a must-have for Elvis fanatics. For the casual music fan or pinhead, this game still works. The rule set seems a touch random and some modes (Blue Suede Shoes) are ridiculous to achieve. Four-ball multi-ball, however, rocks and you’re handsomely rewarded for juggling that many balls for a long period of time. The artwork ranges from beautifully colorful to collector plate-tacky, depending on your taste and the audio, for the most part, is great when you’re not getting weird space sounds like “pew, pew” and lightsabers being ignited. The ramps and toys are fun to hit and that top playfield takes some timing if you want to hit the Heartbreak Hotel at the top. All in all, one of Stern’s best tables.
21) STAR WARS (Stern, 2017)
Feeling less like a Stern table and more like something Jersey Jack or Dutch would put out, “Star Wars” is an obvious choice for a table. It has some cool toys in the Death Star and Tie Fighter. I like the mini-LCD screen on the playfield, something that was obviously lifted from original virtual tables — but it’s most welcome. There are several missions but only one theme that revolves around the Death Star so missions in Tatooine don’t really feel “authentic”, but that’s not entirely bad. I do love shooting down Tie Fighters with the red firing button placed in the bottom center of the table. Pretty cool idea. I’m not entirely sold on it because I’m not the kind of person who needs more than the flipper buttons but I do like the concept. The table plays smooth and the ball doesn’t drain as much as other Stern tables so that’s a huge plus. The downside is that “Ghostbusters” came out a year prior and feels more inspired.
That’s the middle 20 games…join us Friday when we finish off our countdown with the 20 Greatest Tables of All-Time!