games / Columns

The Top 8 Modernish Arcade/Pinball Games

September 15, 2020 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Luigi's Mansion Arcade

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! Recently, I had a chance to visit a good-sized arcade that had some newer machines for play. I haven’t really explored a lot of newer stuff, particularly arcade machines, so it was interesting to give some of these post 2000 games a shot. The one thing not on here is Jersey Jack’s “Wizard of Oz” pinball table. That is easily my favorite new pinball machine, but that’s a cop out since I talk about it a lot already, so I excluded it. Let’s begin:

#8: Stranger Things (Pinball)

I’ll talk about Stern pinball as I mention my pinball picks below but Stranger Things was pretty interesting. The version I played (Limited Edition, I think) had a little movie projector screen on the playfield with targets below it. Once you hit the ride mode, the screen would flip down and there would be some Graboid-looking monster (Sorry, I know nothing about actual Stranger Things) that you would have to shoot balls into to vanquish it. The theater screen was its own actual video screen and had stuff playing on it as you played the table. That was an altogether technically impressive feat, I have to say. I wasn’t able to play a lot of it though, because the machine I was on kept double-ejecting balls, but it was still nice to look at.

#7: Transformers: Human Alliance

Arcade games in today’s world generally boil down to: on-rails shooter, racing, physical activity, and fighting. The most popular on-rails shooter seems to be Halo: Fireteam Raven, which I played and is god-awful. It is WAY too long, the enemies are too tough, and it’s just not fun. It’s only popular because of the Halo branding. Well, I don’t care about Transformers license but I actually enjoyed Human Alliance. It’s not too long, only about 4 stages or so, and has plenty of evil robot-destroying gameplay for you to enjoy. The gunplay feels decent although there is a slightly janky mini-game with a joystick that you occasionally do. Still, I liked this quite a bit, even if I don’t give a fug about the Transformers movie license.

#6: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Pinball)

Hey, remember that 1991 Data East pinball table? Well, Stern kind of copied parts of it and added a video screen. It even has the same rotating pizza spinner thing, which the old table had. As a table this one actually isn’t too cluttered, which is what a lot of Stern tables end up being. This one does have some stuff going on, but compared to other Stern tables, is fairly docile, which makes it easier to actually focus on the pinball action. The one criticism I really have is the video art is bad/the voice actors for the Turtles are poor, but that’s really about it.

#5: Star Wars Battle Pod

Another on rails game, the second of three on this list, but with a partial twist. This isn’t a typical gunner game, per se, as you also have to contend with your vehicle speed and you do have some very light control over what is going on. The impressive thing about this game is that unlike most shooters, it is more immersive due to the cabinet construction. Like, the joystick and throttle are fun to use but being in this black, plastic thing, it largely cuts you off from the world and helps you get into the Star Wars action. Also, the actual gameplay of this thing is fast and it can be really chaotic and fun trying to take down the Empire space craft.

#4: Willy Wonka (Pinball)

Because I can’t put Wizard of Oz on here, I’ll pick the next best Jersey Jack pinball table: Willy Wonka. It has the same great visuals/audio that Jersey Jack is known for, the playfield is good, it’s relatively fair, and so on. It has some great little nods to the Willy Wonka movie, like the Everlasting Gobstopper spinner, the TV screen with Mike walking around, or the Everlasting Gobstopper plunger. I’ve yet to play Dialed In or Pirates, and didn’t like their Hobbit table, so I’d say that their Willy Wonka table is the second best one they’ve made.

#3: Taiko no Tatsujin

Tatsujin has actually been around for almost 20 years as a franchise, hell, there were PlayStation 2 ports of it, if that tells you anything. But it’s almost been a strictly Japanese/Asian franchise, barely being released in America. Well, I was able to play a machine finally, and I enjoyed it. There are two different colored beats, red and blue. Red notes have to be struck dead-on the drum surface but blue ones, you have to hit the rim of the drum for it to register. The drum itself is very responsive, even if the one I was using didn’t work 100%, the sticks have a good impact on the drums and it’s just a lot of fun. The machine I played was clearly imported from Japan, but I’ve seen it in other arcades and wondered if there actually is an English version or not over here. It’s also give me some thought about trying to import a Switch or PS4 copy to play on my own, that’s how much fun it actually is.

#2: Luigi’s Mansion: Arcade

The last of the on-rails game, and the best one actually that I played. Luigi’s Mansion has you stunning the ghosts with your flash bulb then sucking them into Poltergust 5000 vacuum cleaner. Once you start sucking them up, the stronger ones will fight you so you have to move your gun around in the booth to weaken them more. There are also different types of ghosts, ones that shield themselves from your bulb, ones that split up once they are frozen, ones that really fight you and so on. The actual feel of holding the gun is great, it has a nice heft to it and has a motor to simulate a sucking action. Also, this game is somewhat challenging but is actually pretty quick, only having three levels in it. Arcade might actually be my favorite Luigi’s Mansion game, since you feel like a Ghostbuster when playing.

#1: Game of Thrones (Pinball)

I was legitimately shocked when I played the Game of Thrones pinball table. It was actually good! In fact, it made me think of the golden age of pinball which was like 1991 to 1997, with companies like Sega, Williams and Data East putting out machines. It didn’t have any overly complicated setups, it had good, clean lines and ramps, and was just fun to play. It’s attached to a license I’m pretty neutral on but it still made me interested in playing it. This is, hands down, Stern’s best table they made.

For comments, list your favorite recent arcade and pinball games and why.

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