games / Columns

The 8 Ball 12.25.12: Top 8 Pinball Machines

December 25, 2012 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Welcome to the Christmas edition of The 8 Ball. I’m going to be talking about one of the things that is nearest and dearest to my heart, the Top 8 Pinball Machines to have existed. I should preface this by saying that this isn’t the “end all and be all” of what are the best pinball machines. I’ve strayed away from anything that is either really old (pre-1980’s) or really new (anything past 2000). This is also just my own personal list so take that for what it’s worth. Pinball is still one of my favorite past times, despite it largely dying out since the late 90’s, especially with arcades being done with, and only Stern making tables these days. Regardless of that, let’s begin the break-down:

8. Doctor Who


Doctor Who as a basic table is a bit simple, at least from a ramp’s perspective. It does have a ton of personality though and some interesting action. At the off set, you pick a Doctor (Doctors 1-7) which gives you special bonuses. You then do normal things, hit targets and the like, but the two interesting parts was to do the video mode, and then to “Activate the Time Expander”. The video mode is a Canabalt-style running game, where you have to jump over obstacles to get to the Tardis. The Time Expander was the ball-lock mode, getting two balls into it, it rising, and then you hit the targets to raise it again. Then you can battle Davros and the Daleks which nets you a huge score, as well as the multiball function. The ambience though (music, sound, voice work) is what sells this game though, especially in light of Doctor Who’s resurrection into the mainstream. Plus, early models of the table featured a rotating, light-up Dalek on the top, which was awesome.

7. Jurassic Park


Coming out the same year as the film itself, Jurassic Park was an extremely well-made table that had tons of callbacks and nods to the film it was based on. While there were tons of movie-based tables that came out around this time, Jurassic Park just went above and beyond with all the Dinosaur bits included in the game. There were a ton of missions to do, some nice voice work, and a “Smart Missile” button that activated all the lit up shots on the playfield. The best thing though was the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the upper left corner that would actually “eat” the ball, when you had the ball in the slot. The game also featured a nice voice loop of Dennis Nedry going “You didn’t say the magic word”, which only made you hate him more.

6. Star Trek: The Next Generation


Continuing the list of “Great pinball machines based on great properties/licenses”, we come to Star Trek: The Next Generation. This was just a fantastically laid out table that had a great sense of speed with all the loops you could do. It’s actually pretty reminiscent of the Terminator 2 table, only this one had actual goals and missions for you to accomplish. It had a good level of progression, from having your Warp Factor, and own rank to increase as you were able to pull off specific shots. The innovative part of this table included two arms on the left and right bumpers. Certain missions had the ball going into an arm and it rotating around until you fired it. It was and still remains the perfect machine for Star Trek fans to enjoy.

5. The Addams Family


Addams Family might be lower on this list then people might want but it was a table I never really got into, personally. Still, I can at least academically appreciate its importance in Pinball history. The Addams Family was a huge success on release and helped usher in the 90’s era of high-quality tables based on properties. The custom speech from Raul Julia and Angelica Huston added to the atmosphere, as did the “Thing Flip” function to grab the ball at certain times and try and make a shot. This is still a much-beloved game for many pinball fans; I was just not particularly great at it whenever I encountered it (which was when I was about 9 years old).

4. Scared Stiff


The second of the big Elvira-themed tables, this one was a *lot* more fun than the prior table, Elvira and the Party Monsters, Scared Stiff practically obliterates that table. The thing that made Scared Stiff so much was fun was just the Elvira sensibilities contained within it. The game is just straight up funny, from the “Deadhead” family album, to the “Bony Beast” ramp, to the “Stiff-O-Meter”, everything is pretty hilarious about the game. The game is less cluttered then other machines which makes it deceptively simple, but it’s a nice challenge for anyone who tries to get Elvira to scream.

3. Theatre of Magic


Theatre of Magic is still a (pardon the pun) magical game to explore and play. It just has a great setting full of neat tricks, like the spinning cube, the captive ball, and the overall atmosphere of the table itself. The female announcer is great, and extremely energetic in her delivery. The music is fantastic, as are the sound effects. It’s a good table to keep combo’s going as well, especially with the mid-center orbit that is easy to hit. The game had a lot of good objectives for you to try and master but was incredibly easy for you to pick up and do impressive-looking things in it. And always remember that “you have the magic”.

2. Funhouse


Funhouse is actually my all-time favorite pinball machine of all time. Its number two on my list just because it’s less advanced then the number one table, but make no mistakes, Funhouse is my person favorite. A life goal of mine is to actually own this table one day. The biggest draw is that there is a quasi-Ventriloquist head in the upper right corner that is the boss of the table. Yes, Rudy has taken over the carnival and it’s up to you to stop him. This means advancing the clock to midnight then when Rudy falls asleep, shooting a ball into his open mouth so as to start multiball. Then you need to flip the ball into the secret passageway so as to banish Rudy from the carnival. Rudy is a great villain to hate, especially when he is voiced by Ed Boon (of Scorpion/Mortal Kombat fame). It ranks right up there for me personally, and is such a fun table as to be instantly memorable.

1. The Twilight Zone


Yes, The Twilight Zone, could there be anything else then at the top of this list. This game actually shares a weird spot as The Addams Table for me, but the reason this game is higher is that it’s way more fun and crazy than Addams Family. It had two completely insane things in it that really help to draw attention to it. The first is the ceramic ball. This was the “powerball” that was lighter than a regular boss, non-metal, and generally more bouncy on the playfield. The idea of having different balls made of different materials was something that I don’t think was ever tried before, or since. The second was the gumball machine that would spit out balls in when it was loaded. I actually remember one machine that *had* wired the gumball machine up to actually give you a gumball (when triggered), but that was apparently just a modification to the table and not part of the real set. I love the atmosphere of this table though; mainly that it wasn’t trying be about any specific Twilight Zone episode. It was more about just the common tropes that existed in Twilight Zone as a whole; the hitchhiker, the evil doll, the camera, the robot, the “evil power”, things like that. One last thing is the voice acting in the game. Tim Kitzrow (of NBA Jam/NFL Blitz, other Midway games) did an amazing job going for a Rod Serling impersionation. It remains one of the best pieces of voice work in a pinball table. And The Twilight Zone remains the best pinball table of all time, period.

Complainer’s Corner

Here’s a list of the Pinball machines that someone is likely outraged isn’t on this list. The most probable reason is because I never played them to begin with. There’s a large amount of pinball machines out there, and I’ve probably only played about 30% of them, total. Or else the machine just wouldn’t fit on a list of “Top 8” to begin with. Anyways, here’s what I came up with: F-14 Tomcat, Highspeed, The Getaway: Highspeed 2, Starship Troopers, Medieval Madness, Indiana Jones, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Terminator 2, Goldeneye, Apollo 13, Space Jam, Lost in Space, Tales from the Crypt Attack from Mars, Red & Ted’s Road Show, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Flash, Star Wars, Corvette, and finally Monopoly. You’ll note the absence of anything past the year 2004 (which is when Ripley’s came out), for the simple reason that I’ve not personally played any newer machine past that.

The General Roundup

From last week’s column, a few people mentioned Catherine as a great puzzle game. I never played it but from most accounts the puzzle portions of that game was the bad part. The good parts were the dating sim/bar stuff. I guess I also don’t really see Bejeweled as a puzzle game, as such. I view it more as a “casual” game (to define it), with it having a large element of randomness that can really screw you up. I’d consider Puzzle Quest 1 or 2 much more indicative of a puzzle game structure. There also seemed to be a lot of love for Tetris Attack, which I never played. If I was going to name a variant of Tetris that could be on a list, it would have to be Tetris Battle Gaiden.

I thought I might do a round-up of three prior topics that didn’t make the cut. So I thought I’d bring three back and see what wins.

What do you want the 8 Ball to be about next week?

Top 8 Sonic Games
Top 8 “Metroidvania” Games
Top 8 Square Games


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Marc Morrison
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