Playmeter Magazine:

Critics Corner

by Roger C. Sharpe

Oldies But Goodies

Playmeter Homepage

Reprinted with permission from Playmeter Magazine: November 15, 1980.

The Big Four scramble and the AMOA rabbit trick

The rumor mills are filled with speculation about who's doing what and when. And, although many of the developments have become common knowledge, there are some new things happening which makes one wonder as to where the industry is heading. Video, of course, is at the top of the news with some unexpected name(s) getting into the act for the upcoming AMOA show. And pinball hasn't been that dormant as witnessed by some gossip of upcoming games that should really provide a test as to where pinball may or may not fit in for the upcoming months.

It is this last-minute scrambling which has always characterized the business as companies try to ready their various rabbits to be pulled out of hats at the AMOA, and I'll be naming names and getting more specific next time around. But, for now, suffice it to say that surprises are going to be the rule rather than the exception as every manufacturer gears up for what each hopes will be the "hit" of the convention. But beyond the gossip, things have stayed much the same as of late.

Admittedly, there are some pins which are holding their own, but for the most part, nothing has come out that's grabbed back the lost business given up to video. One positive note is the increased discussions going on regarding tournaments of varying sizes and formats and, even more important, from this writer's view, is the work done by Gary Marince. You've seen his name and picture in these pages and I'd just like to take this time to commend him on his Quadriplegic Pinball Tournament [see PLAY METER, September 15]. It's just super that someone has taken the time and dedication to find a way for the handicapped to play and enjoy the games, and one can only wish that this type of event would be staged repeatedly around the country and throughout the year. There are so many people in need of help, and here we have a truly noble venture. My congratulations to Gary and may he always be able to provide these special moments for some very special people.

But it's time once again to see how the pinball giants are succeeding or failing at getting and keeping the business. This month includes something for everyone from each of the majors. Interestingly, we're still faced with a fairly flat market, but the flow of games hasn't decreased. In fact, it seems to have picked up, if you take a look at the number of models available for 1980 so far. And even the formats of conventional, "squat" body and that intermediary big-game size, have each continued to be made, and obviously are being sold and played. So the march goes on with a couple of "stars," a sea monster, and the return to those lusty days of Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. Just read on.

Williams' SCORPION

Scorpion The newest wide (squat) body from the people on California Avenue is a fitting follow-up to their heavy hitter for 1980, Firepower. There's multi-ball play with a twist and some of the other basics which have become so much a part of the successful efforts this company has enjoyed the last couple of years.

PLAYFIELD: The top offers three lanes (4-5-6) at the right to start along with a long runway over to the left side and a top spinner as well as entry to the old playfield-within-aplayfield concept. On Scorpion there are two top banks of three drop targets at the left and a set of three targets (1-2-3-) at the far left along with a set of flippers. Over at the right are three thumper bumpers and a chute for getting back to the top lanes. Move a bit down the field and there's a five drop target bank and two targets fronting the opening to that left side "mini-field." At either side are some nicely recessed kick-out holes and the bottom offers the double lanes down to the flippers.

ANALYSIS: One of the better balanced "squat" body machines, Scorpion takes advantage of its size by utilizing a far more effective playfield-within-a-playfield design than some recent efforts by the competition. And along with this comes a far better use of multi-ball play and the inclusion of a backglass timer for increased values on the board, the longer the multiple balls are kept in play. Briefly, some things have changed and some have stayed the same. The top three lanes with the lanechange feature don't control bonus multiplier this time around, but light the thumper bumpers. The bonus multiplier is tied into the five bank drop targets, increasing from 2X to 3X and 5X. The field within a field offers not only a set of large flippers rather than the small ones Gottlieb used on Genie and Circus, but also some very accessible drop targets which increase in value from 10,000 to 50,000 points and special. In addition is a spinner for access back to the top and three side targets for lighting the spinner. But it's at the bottom of the field, where things get interesting. At either side with fairly easy-to-get kick-out holes, locking balls up isn't as difficult as it was with Firepower. In fact, the kick-out holes are always alive unless there is a ball in one. Get both in and the timer starts with values increasing on the board such as the right side back up to the lanes where the roll-over switch can offer 50,000 points, extra ball or special, depending upon the increments of time the balls are kept in play-a novel and exciting way to utilize time on the playfield. Even the outlanes can double the time value when the balls are kept in play long enough. And the shots are balanced with some good reverses as well as long shots back to the top for a rest period.

Scorpion GRAPHICS: Thank God we've gotten a reprieve from space for the time being. This nautical adventure is striking with its two-headed monster and a vibrant use of complementary colors that are even carried through on the playfield. It only goes to show that when everything is space, the themes that depart from the norm can take on a new importance and gain a greater visual impact.

PLAY: Scorpion offers some good build-ups even though the out-hole bonus doesn't mean heaps of points— that's left for other areas on the board. For three-ball play in extra ball areas you should be safe with 250,000 points to start and followed by 450,000 and 700,000 point levels. On free play, you might want to increase these suggested limits by about 100,000 points each depending upon the caliber of play at your location.

PROS & CONS: For a "Squat" body, Scorpion does all that it can with the field dimensions and even adds a bit more because of the multi-play. The time of play is a bit longer than usual on recent pins and that's a positive as well and yet, the game can be taxing to play only because it is as physically draining as it is. However, it's nice to be able to get that involved with a pinball machine for a change, although the result can be that repeat play may be lacking once you've been put through the paces any given time around.

The shots have a wide array of choice and the timer unto itself is something that should be further integrated into future games because of the element of challenge it presents as a true test of machine versus man. On the whole, I think it's one of the better wide body games ever done and should be a winner at most locations, despite a size I personally don't, and have never, cared for.

RATING: ###1/2

Gottlieb's STAR RACE

Star Race The next wide body from Gottlieb offers a bit more crowded playfield design than some recent versions, and some of the company's staples such as vari-targets, which have become trademarks.

PLAYFIELD: Four lanes (1-2-3-4) begin the play at the top and lead down to two widely spaced thumper bumpers. There's a kick-out hole up to the right of this and a lane with two star rollovers further over to the right side. In between this is the first of two vari-targets which controls R-A-C-E depending upon the velocity of the ball hitting the target. There's an upper right flipper here, and over to the center of the field a bank of four yellow drop targets control the bonus multiplier when appropriate values are lit from 2X up to 5X. The left side has its own play with a top "space loop" and a fronting three drop target bank for extra point values and extra ball when lit. Down a bit is a left side alleyway and the second vari-target: this one controlling S-T-A-R. The bottom offers a left side kicking rubber and a two lane run-down to a separated set of double flippers, while the right side offers a fairly long roll down to the right lone flipper.

ANALYSIS: There's almost something for everyone here on Star Race. The top lanes (1 and 4) light respective values for yellow or green in the top right kick-out hole and also activate the build-up for potential bonus multiplier values, from that center drop target bank. Otherwise most of the focus is tied into the vari-targets and in lighting the S-T-A-R or R-A-C-E for potential specials as well as building up out-hole bonus points.

However, the nice touch on the game is the left side loop which can be made from the top right flipper or even better, from the lower right flipper up and around that short little alleyway and up and over the loop. It's a great shot to make and the fact that it increases the value of the drop targets just in front to a possible extra ball, means that it's not a wasted shot made only for the aesthetics. There are some good bouncing angles from the thumper bumpers and that entire top area for the rest of the board; although the primary thing most players will go for it that center bank of targets and not too much of anything else. But to explore the game and really get into it is a rewarding experience not found too often on recent Gottlieb games.

GRAPHICS: For some reason the backglass motif reminds me of Jet Spin and Super Spin, although the colors are darker here. But it is basic Gottlieb artwork with a splattering of color to match on the playfield, and even the use of some flashing lights helps to enliven the game and its swirling space theme.

Star Race PLAY: The scoring, with a countdown at 20,000 in that top right kick-out hole offers the possibility of big ball play, but for the most part, the points are an effort of building up values around the board. On threeball play for free play areas you should be able to get away with 350,000 points to start and followed by 600,000 and 850,000 points. On extra ball a decrease of about 100,000 to 150,000 points for each level should be sufficient.

PROS & CONS: Star Race is one of the better games Gottlieb has done in recent times. There are a number of good shots to make, not too many dead spots or the intolerable drains and roll-downs from access points on the board, although these haven't been totally eliminated from the top loop down past the left thumper bumper and left vari-target. But for the most part, Star Race is a fair playing game. The problem once again, however, with the new games from this company and the wider and longer playfields is the power from the tips of the flippers and the ability for any kind of noticeable power on the limited reverses.

The flippers were always the strong point on past Gottlieb games, especially for their accuracy, but this is no longer the case and hopefully it can be rectified in future efforts, since it is such an integral part of any pinball game. And, unfortunately, it does detract from the overall view and opinions on any game since one isn't able to "play" it the way one thinks one can. Frustrating may be the key word. However, this effort is a step in the right direction for the manufacturer and holds up even as a "squat" body.



Star Gazer Almost impossible to keep up with the many games being turned out by this ever-growing force in the industry, this effort offers some new twists and overall decent play in keeping with the inroads Stern has made and is continuing to make regarding pinball design.

PLAYFIELD: A little looping arc leads down to a thumper bumper and a right side array of six zodiac sign targets. Meanwhile, up at the top left is another thumper bumper and four more zodiac targets that offer an opening at the right, a spinner at the left and a three drop target bank just in front with values from 500 to 100,000 points. Move down and there's another thumper bumper with a three bank of drop targets at the right on a perpendicular angle to the bottom flippers and a left side spinner in addition to the one above. And back over to the right is yet another spinner for access back to the top. Back at the left at midfield is another three bank of drop targets, while over at the right are two more zodiac targets. The bottom is different from most efforts with a scooped-out configuration featuring a roll-over button on either side just above the flippers.

ANALYSIS: Star Gazer is an interesting mix of targets, spinners, and almost non-stop action across the playfield with the right and left side drop target banks meaning bonus multiplier up to 10X as well as the spotting of a zodiac target for a building up to extra ball and special values. The top three drop targets offer their own values lit just before as mentioned previously. For the most part everything is fairly contained and the play is fast, especially with the bottom set up of the scoops which can get the ball caroming away from the kicking rubbers or swooped out from the star roll-over area on pure momentum alone. The bonus values can be held over in the bank from 12,000 to 24,000 points for some heavy scores with the multiplier, but Stern has kept its seven digit scoring which should get a workout on this particular machine. And, gratefully, scoring hasn't been artificially hyped to help as was the case on Cheetah. There are some good reverses and good clearing shots for all the banks on the field, with the rest of the action supplied by the thumper bumpers and a good placement of them throughout the top.

GRAPHICS: An attractive backglass (thankfully not space-inspired) and a catchy use of playfield graphics and lights to match, make this a nice, total package that's eye-catching and appealing with its preponderance of blue tones.

Star Gazer PLAY: The seven-digit capability offers some good settings, or at least the opportunity to space out the limits according to any percentaging you're trying to keep. For extra ball play - keep in mind that Stern now has their "stacking" add-a-ball play, which you may or may not want to retain (personally, I think it's great for the player and hence the operator)—you might want to open with 600,000 points and then jump up to 1,500,000 and 4,000,000 points depending upon whether you keep the stacking ability in. And for free play go with 1 million first level and increase it by 2 million each for the next two limits.

PROS & CONS: The game plays smooth, although there are some problems with that opening and a dead area at the end of the arc leading into the first thumper bumper area. And any shots going straight up to the top, sometimes also come straight down, but the sweep from that lower left spinner up and over past the top drop targets and then between the two thumper bumpers is a nice thing to go for.

Much of Star Gazer is that gun and run approach, and if the legs on the machine are backed up too high, much of the play is lost. By the same token, if the machine is too level, the play doesn't really offer what it could. For the most part, it's an open field and the only real problem is maxing out on the multiplier and the zodiac targets and copping the specials and extra balls and then being left with only spinner shots and that lone drop target bank with its variable values. Somehow it would have been better if the game couldn't get maxed, but then this is a problem shared by all the manufacturers to some extent.

RATING: ###1/4

Bally's VIKING

Viking The new game comes from Bally, and the looks are a bit of this and that from the past with some new additions that make this period piece artistically better and more dramatic improvement over what has been released of late.

PLAYFIELD: The top begins with a center saucer kick-out hole flanked by a lane at the left (A) and a lane at the right (B). Move down to two thumper bumpers and a left side "bidirectional" kick-out hole, while over at the right is a far side lane and three drop target bank (1-2-3). There's a center spinner and for balance a roll-over button and post set-up at the left as well as a target just below this. Move farther over to the left and there's the "Valhalla In-line Passage" of drop targets and a rear target for special values and 50,000 points. Meanwhile, the bottom offers a thumper bumper inset into the plastic at either side and leading down to a departure for the bottom of lanes and kickers down to the flippers with the outlanes offers a post at the bottom for bouncing back up to the flipper for a variation on the old Flip-Flop and Quarterback machines Bally made a few years ago.

ANALYSIS: Well, if you liked Mata Hari and Playboy, you'll probably like Viking, since the basic design of the field and even the shot selections are remarkable similar. Here, there have been some refinements and improvements on the originals with the inclusion of memory sequence drop targets at the right which increase in value up to 10,000 points with the potential of 10X-ing that value when the targets are hit down in order. The other part of the game is its random use of time (once again, becoming a major factor of pinball). The spinner is locked in on time for getting bonus point values and so is the top left kick-out hole for activating a collect bonus feature when the right side lane is gone through and it's lit, or when the A and B lanes are hit. In addition, a 50,000 point target just below that left side roll-over button and post set up (which offers extra ball and special similar to Playboy) is on a timer as was the case on Space Invaders with that right side target at mid-field.

The angle for the in-line drops is steep, but it shouldn't be a gimme anyway, and the bottom offers some extra play in trying to keep the ball from draining out, although it has cut down on the roll down to the flippers.

Viking GRAPHICS: Viking is a good-looking game that picks on a workable theme and carries it through with some strong colors on both the backglass and playfield for a very favorable effect, again, away from the space motif. And, as always, the Bally style is bold and realistic, although there isn't as much detail work.

PLAY: The points are on the board in terms of what's possible, but for the most part, your settings are probably going to be a bit lower than on other games. For extra ball areas a 150,000 start is fairly safe and follow it with 360,000 and 550,000 point levels. On free play you should be alright with increases of about 100,000 to 150,000 for each limit.

PROS & CONS: All the things that were the case with its predecessor are the case with Viking. There are some incredible drains from the center saucer on through the spinner and down past the flippers. A check of the kick-out hole for the direction the ball is going is very important. The bi-directional kick-out hole is novel but a waste of energy for the ball being sent back down to the field rather than up and over, while the roll-down from the left side in-lines can also be a real killer. The use of the memory sequence targets is super and is maximized nicely with the bonus value on the incremental build-ups. And the bottom is okay, although I've never liked a physically-demanding feature like this on pins, because some places keep such stiff tilts on their games. But the drains are incredible on this Fame where the gap between the flippers seem like a gulf. However, it's nice to see something different from Mystic and a few others, and this is a better game for Bally, though dulled a bit by the familiarity of games so recently past.

RATING: ##3/4

This has been a look at some of the newer games around and an indication of where the industry is going with its use of time, timers, etc. Next month some more biggies hit the scene as we ready for the AMOA. It will be preview time for what to expect from all the companies, plus some extra surprises regarding pinball in general. Everyone seems to be pulling out all stops and there are some machines to be reckoned with on the horizon. Also from this writer, my annual look at Chicago and some things to do, places to go, and how to survive your weekend visit.

A reminder here to those wanting my "Pinball!"book. Soft cover copies are still available for the holiday season. Autographed and mailed to you directly, all that's needed is a check or money order for $8 complete to my attention at 250 West 27th Street, Apt. 5-C, New York, NY 10001 and I'll see that you get it right away. And until next time and some discussions about the Bulls with their addition of Larry Kenon; the beautiful Bears and Black Hawks....Be well and prosper.