Pushy and Pully in Blockland (Review)

Ask twenty retro gamers what 80s/90s game Pushy and Pully in Blockland looks like and you’re just as likely to get twenty different answers. It does mimicry of that early 90s arcade look and sound and feel better than the overwhelming majority of neo-retro games do. The allegory I can come up with is being impressed hearing an impressionist do a ton of different voices that sound like they should be accurate even if you’re not quite sure who exactly is being impersonated. A single player or co-op action-puzzler where you shove three different block types into enemies to kill them. It’s like Bubble Bobble or Dig Dug where the levels end once all the enemies are cleared. There’s fifty levels, five of which are boss fights that range from “extremely satisfying” to “I’m going to tie the developers to a chair and make them watch as I turn their pets into foie gras” maddening. There’s also five “puzzle rooms” though honestly one of them isn’t really a “puzzle” at all and the only four’s puzzle-logic is destroyed completely in the co-op mode.

At this point, we’re used to neo-retro indies looking good. So I think it’s saying something that I was very impressed that there was no “seams” to Pushy and Pully’s appearance. Even the best pixelated games usually have something off about their look and sound that gives away you’re playing a modern game. Not this time, and that’s a good thing.

We sort of figured that, in co-op, one player would push and the other would pull. Because without it, the name “Pully” in Pushy and Pully makes no sense. But if there’s a “pull” mechanic I never figured it out. Perhaps it was part of the game sometime, but was ditched along the way. Sort of like “Micro” part of “Microsoft” which, these days, is actually very big. Either way, Pushy and not-Pulling Pully is all pushing, all the time. The single-screen levels have a variety of blocks scattered about them that you use to take out enemies. You can only push one block at at time, so if you push a block that’s directly next to another, you destroy it. Whatever blocks are on the screen for each stage are what you have to work with. Except for boss battles, you don’t get more, though this only really factored into “puzzle stages” and one level (shown in the tweet below) for me where I actually ran out. There’s a problem: there’s no “suicide” button. So, if you do run out of options, you have to walk into an enemy or their projectiles. That’s of very minor concern, as Pushy & Pully is one of the most polished, professional games of its breed.

It’s absolutely uncanny how well this game is made.. for the most part. The controls are rock-solid. The simple mechanics offer exactly enough variety to never get boring, and the game ends when those ideas we do get are stretched to their fullest potential. It’s a short one. In fact, there’s an achievement for beating the game in under an hour. But that’s actually fine. It contributes to that authentic “previously undiscovered” arcade experience the gang at Resistance Studio was aiming for. It’s not exactly perfect. The variety of enemies leaves a bit to be desired, the difficulty curve spikes violently after a relatively breezy first couple worlds, and I sort of wish there were more blocks. There’s three types, but only two of them create power-ups you can use when you match three-or-more. There’s also no advantage for matching 4 or 5 blocks. It doesn’t make the weapons more powerful, nor do you get more than one weapon. On the plus side, this leaves their options wide-open for potential DLC or a sequels.

These flowers are absolute bastards. Trust me.

The biggest flaws really come down to being married to the era. A lives system is especially pointless. On Xbox One, the game already incentivizes not dying with achievement points, which is absolutely the way to use lives in the modern age. It’s especially annoying in co-op, because if one player game-overs faster than the other player, they have to wait to for their partner to game-over before they get to play again. I played with my sister Angela, who is literally just starting her gaming life. She died quickly getting the hang of things, which left me to pretty-much clear the first world out on my own. That’s not exactly a system set up for harmonious family-fun. It’s at this point she wants to point out she ended up with a higher score than me when we beat the game and struck the final killing blow on the last boss while I was dead. You know, the polite thing would be to not rub it in, Angela.

Co-op is fun, but it also completely negates the challenge of puzzle levels. In co-op, players can act as stoppers for the boxes. This is awesome and, if you work well with your partner (we didn’t), you can probably beat levels easier than we did. But, the consequence is that the elaborate solutions for “puzzle rooms” can be ignored in favor of just having your partner stand in the right place. A solution that requires planning and problem solving can be circumvented completely. And hell, while we’re on the subject, there’s only five such rooms, one of which isn’t even remotely a puzzle at all but rather just a regular level, while the four “true” puzzle levels break the flow of the game horribly. Either do an arcade action-puzzler or a logical puzzler. Don’t mix both together. Not that the puzzles are bad in single-player, but if you’re going to do that, do two different modes where the arcadey stuff and brain bender stuff is kept separately.

Pushy and Pully is actually fantastic and I do recommend it. As I said, the mechanics we’re given feel like they were used to their fullest potential, a rare achievement indeed. But, I also feel that the idea of Pushy and Pully didn’t quite live up to its fullest potential. It seems like you should be able to do more with the shoving and block-matching thing. Plus, the difficulty spike that begins with the 4th boss provided my kid sister with multiple chances to learn proper cussing and controller-throwing-pantomiming. The last boss, especially, took us an hour to beat, has far too-short a time limit, and often instakilled us in ways that we genuinely feel were unavoidable. The polish that carried the game up to this point feels gone and we came very close to rage quitting. Mind you, the blocks (including unpushable X blocks) spawn randomly during boss battles. With a short time limit, we were often presented with situations where the boss wasn’t open for attack, as that short timer counted down. There were also so many cheap deaths that survival often felt random. When Angela got lucky and struck the killing blow, she was barely excited enough to run and tell our parents that she totally pwned me. But, everything up to that point never got boring. In fact, Pushy and Pully is a LOT of fun. I’m not sure I totally buy the “better in co-op.” It’s not better or worse. It’s fun solo or with someone to play with. Even if the last boss can shove it.

See what I did there? Shove it? It’s a game about shoving blocks.

Pushy and Pully in Blockland was developed by Resistance Studio
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Steam, PS4 (Coming Soon), Nintendo Switch (Coming Soon)

$9.99 pushed on a pull door in the making of this review.

Pushy and Pully in Blockland is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

The Pinball Chick: Williams Pinball Volume 5 (Pinball FX 3 Review)

Zen Studios is running out of Williams/Bally dot matrix display tables they can convert for Pinball FX 3. At least without paying license fees. In fact, following the release of Williams Pinball Volume 5, they’re down to three such tables: WHO Dunnit, Jack*Bot, and Cactus Canyon. Of course, if they can tap into the extensive Williams/Bally alpha-numeric display library, they’ll have a LOT more classic pinball machines to pool from. Or if more people buy these sets enough to justify the licensing costs, so we can get Twilight Zone, Addams Family, and more. I expect we’ll probably soon be paying $14.99 for sets of three, or $4.99 for individually-released licensed tables. Honestly, as long as we get them, I don’t care how it happens. The really strange thing is how there’s seemingly no rhyme or reason to which tables Zen packs together. Two of today’s three tables are the works of John Popadiuk. Want to hear a joke? What do pinball fans who give thousands of dollars to garage engineers for custom pinball tables and get shafted desire to do? Pop a dick. Hah, get it? Wacka Wacka Wacka!

You ain’t never had a fiend like me. Yes, fiend, because I’ll steal more balls than Ralph’s Discount Pet Neutering.

Anyway, Zen could have just as easily swapped out No Good Gofers for Theatre of Magic in Volume 3 and made Volume 5 the three most famous works of Popadiuk. It’d made total sense. But, instead we get Pat Lawlor’s odd-ball (possibly half-assed) golf table thrown in with Cirqus Voltaire and Tales of the Arabian Nights. Besides the Universal Monsters pack, it seems like the three tables in Volumes 1 – 4 were paired at random. Though, to Zen’s ultimate credit, all four sets up to this point have been worth the $9.99 purchase price. It should be no surprise that Volume 5 joins their company. Not only that, but it becomes the second set of three tables where all three scored a “good” or better rating from me, putting the price per a quality table at $3.33. Only Volume 1 can also say that. Initially, I had Arabian Nights slightly over-rated, which made the debate on whether Volume 5 or Volume 1 was the better set an actual debate. Then I dropped the ranking of Arabian Nights from “Great” to “Good” and ended the debate. Volume 5 is the second best set, even if it’s lacking a masterpiece-caliber table. It’s just a sure-fire bet. You’re bound to feel you got your money’s worth, no matter your taste in pins. Just have your high blood pressure medication nearby for Tales of the Arabian Nights.

So, I guess since I’m here to review tables, there’s really not much more to talk about. Except one thing: Zen Studios actually sent me codes for all three console platforms. And, since I’m in a household that (1) never learned to share and (2) is overflowing with people gaga for pinball, fuck it, I used all three (to account for my “pay for everything” rule, my Dad bought Volume 5 on his Switch out of pocket. He’s my Dad. It counts). And it got me thinking: what console has the best set-up to play video pinball?

It needs to be said: No Good Gofers is Pat Lawlor’s ugliest table. It lacks the intimidating beauty of his other work.

Well, duh..  Switch. You can play in Tate Mode using it, which works wonderfully but completely changes the look and feel of the tables. It’s almost like using an entirely different pinball engine. If you have the Flip Grip, it’s even better. But, even if you don’t, you can lay the Switch on your lap or on your bed and play it that way, hunched over it like a vulture. Even if you ignore Tate Mode, the Switch’s Joycons allow you to space your arms out like a real pinball machine. You’re never going to come closer to replicating an authentic pinball feel with a standard game console. You’re just not. The real debate was between the PlayStation 4’s Dualshock 4 and the Xbox One controller. It wasn’t even close there either: I preferred the elegant triggers of the PlayStation 4 to the Xbox One. Make no mistake: if you own all three consoles, the Switch is the biggest no-brainer of the three platforms. Also, if you happen to own a Switch Lite, I’d consider it dead last. Its less than satisfactory shoulder buttons are not suitable for pinball (or driving for that matter.. I can’t imagine playing Mario Kart on a Lite now). But, regardless of your platform, Pinball FX 3 is tons of fun and very playable. With Williams Pinball Volume 5, they have another winner.

Be sure to read the full Pinball Chick: Williams Pinball (Pinball FX 3) review, which I’ve updated to rank these three tables alongside the fifteen previous ones. Where did they land? See for yourself!

Pinball FX 3: Williams Pinball Volume 5 was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$9.99 looks forward to having Who Dunnit in Volume 6 in the making of this review.

Williams Pinball Volume 5 is Chick-Approved and will be ranked on the upcoming Pinball Chick Leaderboard.

 

Table Rating Index

Pinball FX 3: Williams Pinball Volume 5 ($9.99)
Total Tables: 3
Great: 2
Good: 1
Total Quality Tables: 3
Price per Quality Table: $3.33

The Good

#3: Tales of the Arabian Nights
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 5
Designed by John Popadiuk, 1996
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Above Average

Every single primary angle has a high degree of risk. There’s not a lot of tables that can say that.

John Popadiuk’s most difficult table by a long shot, Tales of the Arabian Nights shirks the idea of calculated risk entirely. Both primary targets of the table are high-risk shots that spoon-feed the drain and necessitate quick tilting reflexes to truly master. Frankly, I never could get the hang of tilting. As a result, I probably said either “are you fucking kidding me?” or simply moaned in agony dozens of times while playing Arabian Nights. It’s just too damn hard a table to truly be great. That you can’t even shoot main targets without risking the ball draining out can cause great rounds to end suddenly and very, very painfully. Arabian Nights is probably the most difficult good table of all the Pinball FX3 William recreations. That difficulty is not tempered with reasonable scoring balance. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun to get tons of spins of the lamp, which can end up racking up massive points. The problem is you really can just fap about shooting at the lamp if you can charge its value up enough. The bumpers, ramps, and other shots don’t pay off enough. Tales has horrible scoring balance issues. Not as bad as Theatre of Magic, but then again, it’s not as fun either.

And, frankly, I think it needs a little more time to cook. On a real Arabian Nights table, the magnetic field in front of the genie really shouldn’t lead to an instakill drain-out on players. In the Pinball FX3 version, you have about a 10% chance of a houseball when activating any mode. That number seems to increase when you begin multiball, as over half the time, at least one of the three balls (usually the first one) was unplayable upon being served. That’s especially damning on a table with an already extremely hungry drain and no ball-save for multiball. Arabian Nights also features some tight squeezes among its very cluttered layout. Shots based around using the lower portion of the flippers are among the most difficult shots of the solid-state era. And, again, they don’t really pay off enough to justify it. Arabian Nights is a legendary table, and while it still can be fun (and potentially more fun if the magnetic stuff is stabilized), the prohibitive difficulty muffles the enjoyment. Sometimes legends don’t live up to their reputation. Tales of the Arabian Nights is that type of legend.

Great

#2: Cirqus Voltaire
Featured in Williams Pinball: Volume 5
Designed by John Popadiuk, 1997
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average

“Let’s give the most expensive table ever a generic circus theme. And we’ll have the bonus points be themed like judges giving scores like in the Olympics, because we don’t know what a circus is. CAN YOU BELIEVE THE PINBALL DIVISION IS LOSING MILLIONS FOR MIDWAY?”

When you play the work of John Popadiuk, you could totally understand why silverball enthusiasts would give him money to make a limited edition table.. and then be crushed it didn’t live up to their expectations (and what they got wasn’t remotely close to finished) because it turns out it’s hard to build and release tables when you don’t have a big ass company like Midway actually supplying materials and facilities for it and a continuing paycheck depends on you actually finishing your work. I get it. Dude made some amazing tables when he worked for Midway, parent of Williams/Bally. Theatre of Magic, World Cup Soccer, Tales from Arabian Nights. All ambitious, and often wonderful pins. He even got tapped to do one of the holographic tables in the Pinball 2000 line: Star Wars Episode One. A case could be made that it was him, and not Pat Lawlor (or Brian Eddy, though I think he’s out of the running by virtue of only having three tables), who was the greatest pinball craftsman at the end of the arcade era of pinball.

Personally, I prefer the white-knuckle challenge of Lawlor’s work or the sheer elegance of Eddy’s catalog to the kooky mad scientist vibe I get from Popadiuk. But, gun to head, if I had to convince a non-pinhead that there’s more to pinball than meets the eye, I’d probably use Popa’s work first. And with Cirqus Voltaire, you can totally see (1) why he’s so cherished and (2) why Williams cratered around this time. Adjusted for inflation, Cirqus Voltaire is the most expensive traditional pinball table designed to be routed (earn quarters) ever made. But, like so many post-Addams Family tables, it was prone to breaking down, and OUT OF ORDER signs earn no money. I’ve encountered exactly two Cirqus Voltaire machines in the wilds of the San Francisco Bay Area in my lifetime. Both were unplugged and wearing such signs.

I have to believe Cirqus Voltaire originally started life under a different theme. My Dad said he heard it was originally going to be themed around the 1996 Olympics and the Ringmaster would be Izzy, the Atlanta Games mascot. But, I couldn’t find a single thing on that on Google. All I know is the Ringmaster toy IS memorable, but still somehow generic. How is that even possible?

That’s why you have to love Pinball FX3, and really the entire digital conversion revolution as a whole. While Cirqus Volatire is THE dream table many fans of silverball would love to own for real in their homes, it’s also a massive investment. In near-mint condition, CV will run you over $10,000, and if you lack engineering skills, you’ll be spending even more due to issues with the Ringmaster toy breaking down. Which it will. I imagine many a pinball dream has turned into a nightmare with a Cirqus Voltaire investment. It’s why owning Pinball FX3 makes sense to even the most starry-eyed would be pinball owner. 98.5% of the fun, only that missing 1.5% means you won’t ever spend hours giving a deep cleaning and waxing to a table, nor will you start banging your head on the glass when an inevitable mechanical failure happens.

Speaking of which, like many late Williams tables, Cirqus is based around a primary toy target. In this case a green Ringmaster that, I swear to God, looks just like Flabber from Big Bad Beetleborgs. If you use the enhanced visuals, you’ll have the theme song to the song stuck in your head. Unlike Attack from Mars or Medieval Madness, the Ringmaster is off-center with a short orbit behind it. In theory, it should make for a faster-running experience. Instead, the opposite is true: Cirqus Voltaire is actually a slow, deliberate table based around simple angles and lots of multiball modes. And, it’s fun. There’s some weirdness I don’t get. The large ball on the left of the table feels gimmicky and just clutters an otherwise immaculate playfield. Of all Popa’s work, this one feels the least wacky and most simple. Like the rest of his resume, there’s also scoring balance issues that are further compounded by Pinball FX3’s boosts. But, really great table. One of the better recreations in Pinball FX3.

#1: No Good Gofers
Featured in Williams Pinball FX3 Volume 5
Designed by Pat Lawlor, 1997
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average

Why not just spring for the Caddyshack license? It couldn’t have cost THAT much by 1997?

Pat Lawlor’s work isn’t exactly known for being newcomer friendly. No Good Gofers, his final table of the arcade era of pinball, is one of his more difficult tables, but also feels like his least inspired work as well. The whole situation is bizarre, because both Gottlieb and Williams made extremely similar tables based on golf that had gophers because they were trying to stoke a Candyshack vibe. No Good Gofers came out four years after Gottlieb’s Tee’d Off and is clearly the better table in every single way. But still, I get a strange “this isn’t really what I want to be doing” vibe from Gofers. Lawlor was coming off Safecracker, which had been designed to be based on the board game Monopoly until Williams dropped the license and he had to switch the theme around at the last second. I always got the feeling Gofers was a rebound table, like he was coming off the disappointment of Safecracker being unpopular with operators and not resembling his original Monopoly vision and his heart wasn’t into it. Plus, there’s been a persistent rumor (completely unverified) that Gofers originally had a large, animatronic gopher toy in the center that was vetoed halfway through development as a cost-cutting measure. If true, that means he dealt with two straight tables that got the screws put to them by Williams.

Whether it’s true or not, No Good Gofers is still a really fun table. Maddening, like any Lawlor pin tends to be, but fun nonetheless. It’s probably one of his faster tables, as evidenced by a VKU throwing the ball at the flippers like a baseball pitcher. But, the absurdity that a golf-based table would play very fast actually works. Even better, the difficulty is tempered with a lot of safeguards to assure fairness. Gofers has one of the more generous kickbacks of the late Williams era and frequent ball save activation. It’s a hard table that goes out of its way to be enjoyable, which is, frankly, the hallmark of Lawlor’s body of work. Well, that and modes. Lots and lots of modes. Do you know what the problem is when you make extremely mode-heavy tables? All but a small handful of them tend to make you wish you were playing the more scoring-heavy ones. It throws an otherwise balanced table’s scoring out of whack. This is further compounded by Pinball FX3’s scoring and mulitball boosts. It’s also one of his least pretty tables, in terms of layout and placement. Gofers is a lot of fun, but it also feels slightly phoned in and an underwhelming swan song for Lawlor. He was supposed to have the first of the holographic Pinball 2000 tables, but his Magic Blocks project was cancelled to devote resources to Revenge from Mars and Star Wars: Episode One. The man deserved to go out on a higher note than Gofers.

IGC Retro Odyssey: Disney Classic Games – Aladdin and Lion King (Review)

As someone who grew up with no nostalgia for any of the games featured here, I think maybe today’s gamers need a review like this. Because Aladdin (Genesis) and Lion King (SNES/Genesis) are not great games. But a lot of gamers from the 90s remember them as such. Kinda. I mean, the #1 memory of Lion King seems to be of children unable to beat it, even on easy mode. And really, that’s such a common story for so many licensed games of the era (especially on SNES it would seem) that I don’t really find it all that interesting. Aladdin has a little bit more going for it, but that’s by virtue of what’s not included in this package: the Super NES version. Oddly enough, I have played that one extensively. It was one of a handful of SNES titles we had in my house that I could go back to after 1996, when Santa Claus brought me a PlayStation and planted the seeds for my gaming life. In fact, it was probably my favorite of those. Besides Zombies Ate My Neighbors, which I didn’t like so much as seven-year-old me was *terrified* of that game and would play it while peeking out from under many, many blankets. Hey Konami, I have five or six excellent indie devs on standby to bring that series back. Call me!

So, Genesis Aladdin. It’s weird. Whereas the Capcom Aladdin for the House of N featured traditional hop-‘n-bop type of gameplay and was based around jumping on enemies and swinging off pegs, the Genny Aladdin opts for sword-based combat, and it looks great. Nice use of colors. Good animation. But, even the “final cut” version (which is the ONLY version you should play, take my word for it) has flimsy combat and confusing platforms. It’s often not clear what you can jump on, or how far platforms go. I had to turn to Twitter once because I couldn’t figure out how to outrun a boulder. It turns out, I was jumping too soon. You’ll forgive me, but where I come from, when the game shows the platform has ended, I don’t assume I can keep running past it before jumping. I’m weird like that. People say they could still see the platform. Let me ask you something: do you?

The issue here is that the shading for the rock changes but it does so in a way where it’s abrupt and you can’t tell it’s one continuous platform. Dumb.

See?! That’s ridiculous. But that kind of design is all over Genesis Aladdin. Now, I’ll concede that the game had a short, very rushed development cycle. Fun story on that: it was originally going to be made by BlueSky Software. There’s an irony there: BlueSky was who Sega gave the Joe Montana football series to after their original choice, a company called Mediagenic (who was the linear continuation of the Atari 2600 era Activision) lied to Sega about the progress they’d been making on the game. Sega had Electronic Arts finish the first Montana game while actively searching for who would do the remaining games on Montana’s contract, and BlueSky got the call. Years later, Disney and Sega were so unimpressed with BlueSky’s work on Aladdin that they turned to Virgin Games with 99 days to go before the game had to be finalized in order to be manufactured and ready to launch alongside the VHS release of the Aladdin film. Why? Because 10,000,000 flyers for the game had already been printed and would be included with the home release of the Aladdin movie.

The fun continues with the Montana story: EA was launching their first Genesis Madden game ON THE SAME DAY as the game Sega had hired them to make to compete with their own product. While that didn’t end up happening and Joe Montana instead came out a month later, you still have to think about it: it’d be like McDonalds paying Burger King to open a location next to theirs. But EA wanted a good relationship with Sega so they decided to make a more casual, arcade-style football game with Montana to counter their more simulation-like Madden title. But, get this: the Montana game they made in short order (around four months) was universally regarded at EA as more fun than their own Madden game, so right before they sent it back to Sega, they deliberately went back and made Joe Montana Football worse. Golly, the 16-Bit era produced some insane stories.

So yea, Aladdin had the development cycle from hell. But, I can’t factor that in to the review because it doesn’t make the game more fun. Just more technically impressive. Plus, that boulder thing above is just the tip of the iceberg. Unavoidable projectiles come from off-screen. Enemy placement can result in seemingly unavoidable damage. And then there’s the combat. The primary cited difference between the SNES and Genesis Aladdins is the Genny game is based on sword combat. My major combat pet peeve.. beyond controlling well, at least.. is that combat in games has to feel like there’s real world weight in it. I put so much stock into this that I gave Urban Champion, one of the most hated Nintendo games ever, my Seal of Approval, because I had fun throwing punches that felt like they were connecting. My expectations were high for Aladdin’s sword combat. It’s the third best selling Genesis game ever. For real. Only Sonic 1 & 2 sold more. It more than doubled the SNES version in sales. This HAD to be awesome, right? And then I swung the sword at an enemy, and nothing happened. I swung a bit more, and the enemy disappeared. Womp womp.

I think the main problem with it is there seems to be a system where enemies “open themselves to attack” that you have to wait for. But the problem is the enemy character models and stances they show don’t appear defensive in nature. They just look like cartoon characters sneering or looking left to right. There are statues that attack you that you can swing away at, but you can only actually hit them if they’re in the act of throwing something at you, and there’s nothing that really shows this. Because when they’re just standing there, it’s not like they look like they’re guarding at you or anything. And when you do defeat them, again, it’s like you wave a sword in front of you and they just sort of disappear into a puff of smoke. I’m not saying I want or expect blood & guts in a Disney game. But you don’t need those things to have combat feel like physical, living beings swinging sharpened metal at each-other. Hell, look at the original 1987 Legend of Zelda. When you hit an enemy there, it feels like you’re hitting SOMETHING. It doesn’t feel like you’re hitting anything in Genesis Aladdin, but merely doing a magic trick that blinks an enemy out of existence.

The real reason the Genesis version outsold the SNES version 2 to 1: no monsters that suck your brains out with their dicks. Nintendo sanitized everything back then.

Aladdin didn’t “do it” for me, and that’s a shame because there’s some nice level design elements and I happen to be a fan of the movie. I literally can’t believe that this was part of the “Genesis v SNES” debate. The only plausible explanation is that Genny Aladdin owners never played Capcom’s take. The single worst 16-bit sword combat I’ve ever seen, boring bosses (seriously, the boss fights are just awful), frustrating platform identification. Virgin’s Aladdin is pretty horrible. It still has fans, and frankly, those fans have made me repeat the line “have you played it lately?” more than any retro game I’ve ever done as Indie Gamer Chick. I don’t get it at all. This was a terrible game.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t familiar with Lion King at all. Like Aladdin, it had a short, cash-in development cycle. Its main claim to fame is that the character sprites were all done by “real artists” at Disney. Instead of those lowly video game artists. That this was apparently used for marketing reeks of elitism within the entertainment industry. Like video game artists had no clue what they were doing and to make sure they didn’t totally embarrass the integrity of the brand, the REAL artists of Disney made sure to do the heavy lifting for them. Weird, they didn’t do Aladdin and yet Aladdin looked like Aladdin. Amazing how that worked. And the really funny thing about it all is that they don’t look any better or worse than you’d expect. I mean.. it looks like Simba to me. I wish I had something more interesting to say about Lion Kong besides bitching about their marketing angle, but it’s just so damn bland. The primary novelty (besides playing as a lion) is a ROAR mechanic, which really only stun-locks enemies and takes too long to charge up. I found the Roar to be so worthless after the first stage that it was almost a detriment to use it because of how long it takes to activate. It really doesn’t help that, in later levels, enemies are so spongy that it feels like they’re taking pity on you when you finally beat them. Oddly enough, my favorite part of the entire game was a maze of monkeys that throw you around like the barrels in Donkey Kong Country. Apparently everyone but me hates this part. I liked it! I wish they’d build an entire game around it!

The only part of Lion King that I found truly offensive was this waterfall section. An overly tall climbing section that took me a solid half-hour to finish, even with rewinding. Now granted, my reaction time isn’t great while I recover from recent health issues, but I don’t think that factored in given how much pain my older Twitter fans underwent just from their memories of this section.

Lion King never truly shits the bed (except the above waterfall) but it’s rarely better than bland and boring either. And it makes many the same mistakes that Aladdin does, like taking unavoidable damage from enemy placement or from having projectiles fall from the ceiling so fast you can’t avoid them. Truth be told, I haven’t ran into too many people who fondly remember Lion King. It’s just not good. I don’t believe reviews should award actual points towards a recommendation for extra circumstances, since those don’t make the final product any more or less fun. But I think it deserves at least some respect.. from a safe distance away from actually playing the games.. for what it achieves. The team that made it only had roughly a week to draw up a gameplay concept, pitch it, and then around six months to develop a fully fleshed-out game. Yeah, a short development cycle that banks on name recognition is cynical, but that’s not on the actual game makers, because what’s here is playable. Of course, they took the safe route and didn’t get ambitious like Howard Scott Warshaw did with ET on the Atari 2600. That’s why I believe Lion King was doomed from the start, no matter who drew the sprites for it.

There are things that frustrate me Disney Classic Games. Why did it crash so much when I took media using my Switch? Why weren’t more Virgin Interactive Disney games included? Hell, why wasn’t Jungle Book included? It was made by Virgin Interactive and critically acclaimed. Uh, which is sort of the situation these two games were in, come to think of it. Because these were, and still are, pretty popular. I’ve said dozens of variations of “Aladdin sucks” on Twitter and gotten dozens of “no it doesn’t” variations back. But I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. Well, I guess “have you played it lately?” is doing that, but that’s not the point. Frankly, these might have been good for their time (except the Game Boy versions. I can’t imagine those were ever considered good). The really weird thing is the Final Cut version of Genny Aladdin doesn’t represent a later patched version of the cart, but rather a brand new version that re-balances combat damage (but doesn’t add weight to it) and smooths out scrolling, but doesn’t fix the biggest problems, like platform visibility. Had it not been for the package having Infinity Gauntlet of Emulation features like rewind or save states, I’d certainly not finished either game. I wouldn’t have had the patience.

The Game Boy/Super Game Boy (?) versions included are both among the worst games I’ve ever played in my life. Sluggish, unresponsive, and terrible in every single way imaginable. Chalk this up to them, instead of doing their own thing, trying to be shot-for-shot remakes of their 16-bit cousins with the same combat and same level design. What a dumb idea.

At this point, I do want to give a massive shout-out for Disney Classic Games featuring the coolest feature in all of retro gaming: like SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, there’s full play-through videos of some of the games, which you can pause at any time and take over the controls from that point in the video. This needs to be in EVERY retro gaming package. Among other things, when I’m wrapping up my reviews, it allows me quick access to go back and replay sections like the Scar battle at the end of Lion King to figure out if he was overly spongy or if I could beat him in mere seconds. The answer? Mere seconds. That feature saves me from sounding like an idiot more than my family hovering over me saying “don’t say that, check it again first” does.

The only thing I found of value in the set was the extensive making-of featurettes. And, surprise, they’re really nice to watch! Well, except the Lion King Breakfast, which is basically like a mini E3 style press conference just for the game, though it does make for an effective sleeping aid. Still, everyone involved is passionate about their work and excited to tell people about how these games came together. I hate that I didn’t like their games because they all seem so gosh darn nice and accomplished a lot for games with development cycles straight out of nightmares. But sadly, I do. Aladdin is bad. Lion King is bad. The Game Boy versions (which, to be fair, are included as bonuses) are among the worst games I’ve ever played. I do think there’s value in Aladdin for game developers, but for all the wrong reasons. Lion King offers no thrills and is so vanilla that it’s almost a chore to play, but in a completely competent way. Gaming history fans will appreciate the behind-the-scenes stuff (though it looks like most of it has been uploaded to YouTube) but it’s hardly worth buying a pack of two mediocre-at-best games to get them. And yes, I did test these games on the target age range and, in fairness, the kids (age 13 and 9) enjoyed Aladdin more than me. Lion King they were pretty much as bored as I was. That to me sums up the legacy of these titles.

Aladdin: still good for kids, badly aged, needs more work.
Lion King: never had a chance at being good. Flawed from the start. Sort of like the live action Lion King, only this didn’t gross 1.6 billion dollars.

Total Games: We’re calling it 4 (Final Cut Genesis Aladdin, Game Boy Aladdin, SNES/Genesis Lion King, Game Boy Lion King)
IGC Approved Goal: 2
IGC Approved: 0
**SET FAILS**

Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King were published by Disney Entertainment
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$29.99 are working on their roar in the making of this review.

A review copy was supplied by Disney Interactive. A physical cart was purchased so that money was paid for the game.

The Pinball Chick: Williams Pinball (Pinball FX 3 Set Reviews & Table Rankings) UPDATED to Include Volume 6!

Welcome to The Pinball Chick Complete Buyer’s for Pinball FX3’s Williams Pinball Collection. We’re going to keep recreations separate from original tables at The Pinball Chick. This guide will be updated as quickly as possible (about a week or so after each set releases) to add every new Williams pinball table. This guide will NOT include the 1up Arcade Attack from Mars stand-alone 3/4 Scale Tables. That will be reviewed separately. Each judge considers the best version (Single Player Zen or Classic Physics) in their rankings.

Please do not copy or reprint this guide. This was the work of nearly a year and hundreds of hours spent across multiple platforms. Passages may be quoted, but otherwise, please link directly to ThePinballChick.com Pinball FX3 Complete Buyer’s Guide to Williams Pinball page, and not the IndieGamerChick.com post you’re reading now.

To all Indie Gamer Chick Readers: please be sure to check my new site, The Pinball Chick! If you like this guide, please check out our 100 table guide to The Pinball Arcade!

Pinball FX 3 Williams Pinball Collection DLC Pack Ratings

Based on the Average Rating of the Tables between myself, Oscar, and Jordi. All reviews are done by me, Cathy, the Pinball Chick.

#1: Williams Pinball Volume 1

3 Tables for $9.99
Certifications: Medieval Madness (Pantheon Certified), The Getaway: High Speed II (Pantheon Certified)
BEST TABLE
Cathy: Medieval Madness (#1 of 21)
Oscar: The Getaway: High Speed II (#1 of 21)
Jordi: The Getaway: High Speed II (#3 of 21)

Welp, this is awkward. Since I previously had Getaway listed as “Good” (not even Great), Volume 1 rested in the second spot, behind the Universal Monsters Pack. I’ve since put a lot of time into Getaway and come to see that I wasn’t just wrong, but not even in the ballpark. My revised rating is Masterpiece, putting it as one of three Pinball FX3 Williams tables in the Pinball Chick Pantheon of Digital Pinball, along with Attack from Mars and Medieval Madness. Speaking of which, it’s here and it’s my #1 ranked table. Weighing the set down is novelty table Junk Yard, which Oscar considers the worst table not named “Champion Pub” in all of Pinball FX3. Neither Jordi nor I hated it that much, or at all. It’s different, but we think it’s neat. Really though, the headline here is “TWO Pantheon tables for $10.” Yep, that’s why this is #1.
SET RECOMMENDED

#2: Williams Pinball Volume 6

3 Tables for $9.99
Certifications: All three tables are Certified Excellent.
BEST TABLE
Cathy: Funhouse (#4 of 21)
Oscar: Space Station (#2 of 21)
Jordi: Funhouse (#5 of 21)

The first alpha-numeric table pack, and the first pack from Zen Studios that has a table never before (officially) converted digitally, William Pinball 6 statistically has the same scoring average (4.11) as Volume 1. Really, both packs are so good that you can’t go wrong buying either of them if you can only get one set. Me personally? Give me two historically amazing tables versus three simply great tables any day. Historically amazing is much harder to come by, let alone getting two in one $10 pack. Volume 6, meanwhile, has no agreed-upon weak links. I nearly dropped Dr. Dude to “Good”, but nearly isn’t doing. This is the only three-table pack where all three tables are certified excellent. Funhouse is worth the price alone, and while I’m not sure you can say that about Space Station or Dr. Dude, the boys might disagree with me. It’s your call whether historically excellent or all-around excellent is your cup of tea. It’s MY site, so #6 has to settle for 2nd place.
SET RECOMMENDED

#3: Universal Monsters Pack

2 Tables for $9.99
Certifications: Monster Bash (Certified Excellent)
BEST TABLE
Cathy: Monster Bash (#2 of 21)
Oscar: Monster Bash (#6 of 21)
Jordi: Monster Bash (#2 of 21)

Not having a third “drag” table almost certainly elevates the Universal Monster Pack, but actually, I feel it’s deserving of a top spot regardless. Would *I* put it #1? No. But it does score a 4.0 among us. Given our wide variety of likes and dislikes, it’s saying something that these two tables scored well across the board. The highlight is Monster Bash, George Gomez’s genuinely heartfelt send-off to an entire era of Bally Pinball. Monster Bash is a table that anyone of any skill level can enjoy, perhaps uniquely so among late arcade-era tables. Creature from the Black Lagoon is a decent, unspectacular, somewhat over-rated bonus.. BUT a great table to practice low-angle shots on. In fact, that’s probably the best thing I can say about the Universal Monster Pack: veterans can enjoy it, but it’s a tremendous introductory pack to pinball as well. Come for Monster Bash, and enjoy your complementary Creature.
SET RECOMMENDED

#3: Williams Pinball Volume 2

3 Tables for $9.99
Certifications: Attack from Mars (Pantheon Certified)
BEST TABLE
Cathy: Attack from Mars (#3 of 21)
Oscar: Attack from Mars (#3 of 21)
Jordi: Attack from Mars (#1 of 21)

Another pack that split our team. Attack from Mars is an incredible table. In fact, it’s the only table I describe as “perfect” even though I don’t have it ranked #1 (but Jordi does). I just can’t find anything wrong to say about it. The other two tables make for a much more interesting debate. Jordi and I disliked The Party Zone, with me rating it the second worst table. Dad actually liked it, saying that, yea, the game can be limited to two simple, forgiving shots. BUT that you’re rewarded for voyaging away from them to attempt higher risk stuff. Dad also thought Party Zone had educational value, teaching new players the need to nudge to get ahead.

Black Rose fared better. An incredibly tightly-packed table that introduced the Brian Eddy signature “centralized target”, it’s also one of the tables that debuted in Pinball Arcade but wasn’t done justice until Pinball FX3. The better physics makes this table such a joy to play. That is, when the outlanes don’t swallow up your multiballs right off the bat. Overall, this is one of those “buy the masterwork, get the other tables as a bonus” type of deals. How much you like that bonus depends on if you like the absurdly overly-simply Party Zone or the potentially fun but often unfair Black Rose. Anyone should feel perfectly fine with just Attack from Mars.
SET RECOMMENDED

#4: Williams Pinball Volume 5

3 Tables for $9.99
Certifications: None
BEST TABLE
Cathy: No Good Gofers (#9 of 21)
Oscar: Cirqus Voltaire (#12 of 21)
Jordi: Tales of the Arabian Nights (#11 of 21)

A solid pack with a variety of tables that lacks a particular “highlight” but has not a sinker in the bunch, either. No Good Gofers isn’t much to look at, but the variety of shots and frantic modes make it a lot of fun, even for the Lawlor haters among us (ahem, Daddy). Cirqus Voltaire makes its digital pinball debut in a non-busted way (the Pinball Arcade version saw the ball skip rails) and can be fun when it’s not a grinding, frustrating slog. Finally, Arabian Nights is just a perfectly decent table that’s main complaint is unbalanced scoring. Volume 5’s main weakness is having two John Popadiuk tables and one Pat Lawlor table, meaning there’s nothing really here for the more conservative pinball fan. Or not. The fact that we all picked a different table for best-in-set really speaks volumes to the sheer variety offered in Volume 5.
SET RECOMMENDED

#5: Williams Pinball Volume 4

3 Tables for $9.99
Certifications: None
BEST TABLE
Cathy: Red & Ted’s Roadshow (#8 of 21)
Oscar: White Water (#5 of 21)
Jordi: Red & Ted’s Roadshow (#8 of 21)

With Volume 4, we welcome you to the more polarizing sets from Zen Studios. Williams Pinball Volume 4 barely squeaked by with a 3.0 or “GOOD” average. This mostly owes to controversial White Water, which both Jordi and I rated BAD while my father, Oscar, went with GREAT. It’s on the top ten list for the Internet Pinball Database (then again, so is Tales of the Arabian Nights and Scared Stiff, neither of which are worthy of top ten all-time status). White Water’s issue is it’s one of the most prohibitively difficult tables ever made. One feature I wish Zen Studios had was the ability to access the “coin door” to mess with the features so my Dad and I could duel under our silly “Galactic Rules” (ten balls + ten potential extra balls + all hurry-ups and modes set to extra easy). Without that, all we have is a table that feels like it’d have a lot of potential if it had less bouncy slingshots, less hungry outlanes, and wasn’t so damn crowded. Roadshow’s sheer girth as the only SuperPin converted to digital by Zen Studios is a marvel, but the complicated rules might turn off many players. Hurricane actually has legitimate value as a table to practice shots on, but it’s also a bit of a slog. Nothing outright offends, and your mileage may vary on White Water. Volume 4 is worth getting but not as a priority.
SET MILDLY RECOMMENDED

#6 Williams Pinball Volume 3

3 Tables for $9.99
Certifications: The Champion Pub (Certified Turd)
BEST TABLE
Cathy: Theatre of Magic (#5 of 21)
Oscar: Safe Cracker (#18 of 21)
Jordi: Theatre of Magic (#9 of 21)

By far the lowest rated set by our three-person panel, Volume 3 is the only set that failed to clear the “good” average and thus fails the recommendation of The Pinball Chick as a site. As an individual, I think Theatre of Magic is terrific and rated it a “Masterpiece.” That sentiment was not shared by my team. Jordi rated it “great” while Dad, not a fan of the works of John Popadiuk, considers it his worst table and awarded it BAD based on its lack of balance. Theatre is still by far the highlight of this set, which also features our unanimous choice for worst table in Pinball FX3 (and Pinball Arcade, for that matter) in Champion Pub. A table with literally no redeeming value, unless you want to stare at the pretty artwork. Safe Cracker is also here, and despite being perhaps the most bizarre Williams/Bally table of the DMD era, it’s actually pretty horrendous and didn’t earn a single positive vote from our team. Volume 3 is all about Theatre of Magic, and if you don’t like it, this is the easiest pass you’re getting in Pinball FX3’s Williams Collection and the only set that didn’t win us over.
SET BARELY NOT RECOMMENDED

The Pinball Chick’s Pinball FX 3 Williams Pinball Collection Table Rating Index

Pinball FX 3: Williams Pinball Season One + Universal Monsters Pack + Volume 5
Total Tables: 21
Masterpieces: 5
Great: 6
Good: 6
Bad: 2
The Pits: 2

Special thanks to Steve Da Silva for his guides, which were very helpful. I’ve linked to them all.

THE PITS

#21: The Champion Pub

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Type: Pick ‘n Flick
TABLE FACTS
1998 by Midway Manufacturing, 1,396 Units Sold
Based on a concept by Pete Piotrowski
Art by Paul Barker & Linda “Deal” Doane
Music & Sound by Rich Carle
TRIVIA
-Along with Cactus Canyon, one of two tables that had its production cycle halted by Midway as they transitioned to the Pinball 2000 system.

REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: The Pits (#21 of 21)
Jordi: The Pits (#21 of 21)
THE PINBALL CHICK CERTIFIED TURD
Link to Strategy Guide

The Pinball Chick team disagrees often on a wide range of pinball topics. So, it really is telling that Champion Pub has twice now been our unanimous choice for the worst table in a collection of recreations. Champion Pub was ranked #100 out of 100 tables by all three of us in Pinball Arcade as well.

Sometimes you hear the concept of a game or a pinball table and you say to yourself “gee, that sounds amazing! I can’t wait to try it!” And then you actually play it, and you realize that what sounded amazing to you (and those who made it) could never actually work when done for reals. The Champion Pub is probably the best pinball example of it.

The Champion Pub has one of the most bizarre development cycles in pinball history. It has no lead designer, and the primary concept came from an engineer by the name of Pete Piotrowski. Piotro Pete was awarded several patents still in use in pinball today, but he wasn’t a game designer by any means. So the people of Williams came together to bring this idea of his to life. The result is one of the worst tables I’ve ever played, and one of the most notorious for breaking down. You don’t have to worry about that in the digital version, though there is a prominent dead zone smack dab in the middle of the table where marooning balls is a common hazard. In real life, you’d have to call an attendant to un-stick the ball, or accept a TILT in order to shake the ball loose. In Pinball FX3, the ball magically teleports to the chute to be auto-launched back onto the field. That’s nice, I guess.

At one point I launched a ball so hard off the ramp that shattering the glass would have been in play.

Pub is such a bad table. The layout is garbage. The fighting concept is extremely poor in execution. I landed head-shots that counted as body shots so many times that the boxing gimmick fails completely. This is also extremely unstable in Pinball FX 3. More than once, the game credited me with starting a multiball despite not having done so, giving me XP for doing so and even leveling-up the multiball boost. This happened once *after* I’d already gamed over and was entering my initials. Like the real table, there’s a gap that allows you to land live balls back into the starting chute, and this seems to trigger the multiball glitch. Since you can use a boost that gives you extra points while in multiball, it’s never clear if you’re scoring based on what’s really happening or what the engine THINKS is happening. Sometimes the camera wouldn’t do a close-up of the jump-rope or speed-bag minigames, and other times it would. It was never consistent.

Signature Mode: The Champion Pub’s boxer toy is a very ambitious concept. Too ambitious, as it turns out. Even on real tables, the censors couldn’t detect several direct hits that should count. Champion Pub didn’t get proper route-testing either, as Midway was nearing the end of manufacturing traditional tables. It begs the question: with holographic tables on the horizon, why wasn’t this idea saved Pinball 2000?

I feel horrible about this because Champion Pub has fans out there, and having a digital version of a rare table that’s hard to find in working condition (and would breakdown if you got it anyway) sounds like it should be awesome. In theory, this version should be better than a real table. All the fun of the original without any of the mechanical failure bullcrap. But the digital table is every bit as unstable and broken as a real Champion Pub machine. It’s the worst of the Williams tables, easily.

#20 The Party Zone

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Type: Pick ‘n Flick
TABLE FACTS
1991 by Midway Manufacturing, 3,862 Units Sold
Designed by Dennis Nordman
Art by Greg Freres & Jerry Pinsler
Music & Sound by Dan “TOASTY!” Forden
ALTERATIONS
-Licensed music has been removed.
TRIVIA
-Characters and references from previous tables Party Animals, Elvira & the Party Monsters, and Dr. Dude and his Excellent Ray are all present.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#15 of 21)
Jordi: Bad (#18 of 21)
Link to Strategy Guide

The Party Zone can booked at as part of an unofficial series of tables by Dennis Nordman that all have similar layout-concepts. Nordman specialized in the “Valley Style” where key targets are off to the side while the central playfield is empty. Party Zone’s twist on that concept is having a gigantic head plug up the center that may or may not insta-drain your ball. Well, that’s.. different.

Dennis Nordman is NOT my favorite designer, but he’s actually made some truly inspired works. Party Zone isn’t among those. In fact, Party Zone is the weakest Nordman you can get in Pinball FX3. The problem is you’re not truly incentivized to be bold or daring while playing it. Games of Party Zone can really come down to repeating two shots until the cows come home (the cows presumably have gone elsewhere to play a better table). One of those two shots is INCREDIBLY forgiving, to the point that you almost forget that there’s a completely unfair toy smack-dab in the center of the table that has a good chance of insta-killing your ball.

Signature Shot: Captain B. Zarr’s “select-a-song” has a novel, jukebox-ish feel to it. But, the kicker might throw the ball straight down the outlane or drain with no hope of recovery. The shot isn’t worth a lot of points, either. Shamefully, Party Zone’s signature shot is one you’re better off avoiding.

I’m sorry, but I’m of the belief that if you lock the ball on a target designed to score points and the lock throws the ball down a drain or outlane, that’s straight-up robbery. These were designed to cost $0.50 a play, after all. If you’re going to cheat players out of their balls, Nordman might as well of dressed-up like the Hamburglar and beat up school children for their lunch money with crap like that. And what’s actually here isn’t really that good. There are targets in the upper corners that are actually fairly easy to hit, especially the right one which triggers most of the modes of the game. In fact, the “comedian” shot has one of the most forgiving margins for error in DMD pinball. Really, Party Zone’s biggest crime is that it’s a lumberjack table. You can try higher risk shots, but the wood-chopping ones pay off enough that world records could be set just by repeating the same shots over and over and over and over and you get my point.

THE BAD

#19: White Water
Member of the 7K Club

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Type: Kinetic
TABLE FACTS
1993 by Williams Electronic Games, 7,008 Units Sold
Designed by Dennis Nordman
Art by John Youssi
Music & Sound by Chris Granner
TRIVIA
-The Bigfoot is modeled after designer Dennis Nordman’s appearance.
-The truck seen on the backglass was based on Nordman’s 1952 Dodge.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Great (#5 of 21)
Jordi: Bad (#17 of 21)
Link to Strategy Guide

This is the one that gets me blown-up like Robert De Niro in the beginning of Casino.

Our resident curmudgeon Oscar disagrees with Jordi and me. He was delighted with White Water’s brutal, no-holds-barred take on the finesse-type table. Suddenly, all that leather and whips I found in Mom’s closet makes sense.

There’s two types of pinball tables: operator’s tables and player’s tables. White Water is an operator’s table. It’s designed to look pretty, lure in players, make money, and then kick players to pay up for more or let the next idiot pony-up. I consider myself a reasonably skilled player and even after putting a few hours into White Water alone, I still frequently had games that lasted under a minute. For all three balls. There’s no ball save unless you literally score no points. The left outlane is one of the most hungry I’ve ever seen. The orbits are narrow and too steep. In the normal Pinball FX 3 mode, most shots done towards an orbit will result in a straight-down-the-middle instakill if it’s anything but a full-strength hit. This is the one Williams table where I actually preferred Classic mode more. The physics aren’t as punishing. Plus, I’ll give credit where it’s due: the scoring is relatively balanced. Assuming you can, you know, actually keep the ball alive for thirty seconds.

Signature Shot: the iconic upper-right flipper shot is one of DMD pinball’s most notoriously difficult-to-master shots. That’s going to be especially true here, because Pinball FX3, like most digital pinball, has not quite mastered the plunger as of yet. My kingdom for a plunger accessory!

And the crap thing is, this SEEMS like it should be a fun idea. White Water rafting! Wavy ramps! Whirlpools! Robin Williams.. oh wait, that’s bigfoot. Bigfoot!! But, like The Party Zone, White Water is designed to look great but game over quickly. Dennis Nordman must have been an all-star with arcade owners for as often as he cranked out brutal but irresistible tables. It was suggested to me that you had to use the tilt on this table more than any other, but I *was* tilting and it didn’t matter for drain-shots. The problem is, Pinball FX3 has relatively weak tilting. Sure, it’s powerful enough to save from the outlanes. But there’s also a limit for how many times you can use that. Plus, many times I’d start a multiball only to have the VKU feed an unplayable house ball straight down the drain. White Water not having ball save is a crime against humanity. After a certain point, you just have to concede that a table isn’t fun, was never supposed to be fun, and move along. White Water should never have been ported to Pinball FX 3. It’s a table designed to cheat players out of quarters, and nothing more. Easily the most over-rated machine of the solid-state era.

#18: Safe Cracker

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Type: Kinetic
TABLE FACTS
1996 by Midway Manufacturing, 1,148 Units Sold
Designed by Pat Lawlor
Art by John Youssi
Music & Sound by Dan “TOASTY!” Forden
TRIVIA
-Safe Cracker was developed under the assumption it would be based on the board game Monopoly.
-Designer Pat Lawlor later did do a Monopoly-themed table for Stern in 2001.
-The only “small body” table done by Williams/Bally in the solid state era.
-Despite the flyer advertising 10 unique “Magic Tokens”, twenty different ones were made.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Bad (#18 of 21)
Jordi: The Pits (#20 of 21)
Link to Strategy Guide

“Let’s have a smaller table, but let’s pack as much crap into that smaller table as we would a normal table.”

Safe Cracker has its fans because it’s just so weird, but I really was just bored silly by this table. And that’s heart-breaking for me because Pat Lawlor is my all-time favorite designer. But, not every idea is a home run. Clearly Safe Cracker wasn’t, as operators weren’t inclined to order it. At 1,148 units, it’s his lowest-selling table (at least from his Bally era). In part because the table is significantly shorter than other tables, which makes it look kind of dumb when displayed near other tables. The other reason is because it runs on a timer instead of having three balls. Safe Cracker is a anomaly among pins. As one reader of mine put it, a niche of a niche. Combining pinball with a board game.. a very slow, very basic board game.. the primary draw to players was the idea that you’d win real collectible coins by playing well. Of course, that novelty is lost in a digital translation.

Signature Feature: The board game is extremely limited and based on chance. When I finally got to the center and got my first non-existent token, I didn’t feel accomplished. I felt like luck finally played out for me. I’d played rounds where I’d added tons of time extensions, but because the dice rolls didn’t work out for me, I didn’t make it to the center. The time I did happened during one of my less well-played rounds. By the way, getting the achievement for this table requires you to get all twenty magic tokens. It took me a full day of playing nothing but this terrible table to get that. On the plus side, I ended up #14 on the global leaderboard.

All that remains is a basic, bland, overly crowded table with nubby electro-mechanical era flippers. Safe Cracker feels like one of those higher-end toy pinball tables you spend $200 for at Christmas.. nowhere near arcade quality, but kids are dumb and won’t realize it.. then you watch in horror as your kids play a couple rounds, then never touch again. I’m not even exaggerating. It feels like a toy pinball table. The point of the table is really to move the action to the backglass, where the board game takes place. You roll dice, move spaces, and if you can make it to the center of the board, you win a real life coin. Only you don’t here. An animation of a fake digital coin falls and that’s it.

Signature Mode: “Magic Tokens” earned by reaching the center of the board (and very rarely via special rewards on the main table) can be spent on “Assault the Vault” mode, a timed multiball mode with a relatively complex scoring system. This opens up TONS of problems. Safe Cracker is too small and too packed to accommodate a four-ball multiball mode. Also, Pinball FX3 doesn’t segregate standard scores from Assault the Vault scores on the leaderboard. Thus, the only way to compete at all is via Assault the Vault, which makes the standard play a slog you work through only on the off-chance you MIGHT win a Magic Token. You can’t actually control winning or losing Magic Tokens no matter how well you play since the board game aspect is pure random chance.

I could totally get why this table would be so memorable to arcade-goers from the 90s. Not a lot of games rewarded you with actual, corporeal keepsakes you got to take home with you. The only possible reason to want to play Safe Cracker can’t translate to a digital recreation. So, like, why bother? This table sucks without it.

THE GOOD

#17: Hurricane

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Type: Pick ‘n Flick
TABLE FACTS
1991 by Williams Electronic Games, 4,400 Units Sold
Designed by Barry Oursler
Art by John Youssi & Python Anghelo
Music & Sound by Paul Heitsch
TRIVIA
-The concept of a ball being transported via a basket contained in a reel (as seen in Hurricane and prequel Cyclone’s Ferris Wheel) dates back to 1935’s Barrel Roll. It works functionally the same here as it did 85 years ago.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#11 of 21)
Jordi: Bad (#19 of 21)
Link to Strategy Guide

Hurricane is probably one of the better tables to build primary angles into your muscle-memory. Whether or not the clown will scare newcomers away, I’m not sure.

The finale of Oursler’s Roller Coaster Trilogy (following 1985’s Comet and 1988’s Cyclone) and, in my opinion, the weakest of the three. Hurricane is a good table, but in Pinball FX 3, it’s not a great one. Many Pinball FX 3 tables feel like the slope is too steep or the gravity is too strong in the standard mode with the specialized PBFX3 physics. That stood out so much more in Hurricane than any other table. I own a real Hurricane table. It’s not even remotely this hard to get the balls up the ramps or clearing orbits. I’d made flush hits that should have easily had sufficient enough force to climb the front ramp, only to see the ball stop just short of the top and come back at me. But, here’s the weird thing: EVERY ramp had this “YOU ALMOST HAD IT” phenomena going for it. Accessing the Ferris Wheel? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! Accessing the Hurricane roller coaster? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! Accessing the Juggler? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! It got to the point where only trapped tee-shots could ever hope to get the correct force needed. It didn’t feel on the up-and-up. Yea, this isn’t present in Classic mode, but (1) the physics are TOO rubbery-bouncy in any table’s Classic mode for my tastes and (2) you don’t get XP, boosts, or super powers in Classic.

Signature Shots: the Cyclone and Hurricane ramps are both hated by professionals for their ability to chop-wood on, but ideal for newbies wanting to drill commonly-used angles into their muscle memory. The Hurricane shot is actually deceptively difficult and mastering it is almost a rite-of-passage.

And, while we’re on the subject, you can’t post any high scores online playing in multiplayer. And that’s a damn shame because it means my Father (known here as Oscar) and myself are both global-leaderboard contenders, so we can’t duel each-other traditionally. Instead, we have to watch each-other play a full game. There’s really no reason to not have that. Heck, make a Hot Seat leaderboard if you have to.

Hurricane is one of the tables where you can’t really see the back of the table at all unless you use one of the cameras that follows the ball. I wish there was a better top-down view to practice on.

Anyway, it speaks to the potential quality of Hurricane that, even with YOU ALMOST HAD IT syndrome, the table is a lot of fun. Heavy on toys and gimmicks but with a layout optimized for casual fun. Professional pinballers (yes, they exist) hate Hurricane because you can easily “chop wood” (repeat simple shots and grind up points) and draw out matches. Also, Hurricane is easily the table that you’ll want to use the Skillshot boost on the most. You can post a top 500 global score just by having it, the Score boost, and hitting the skill shot all three balls. It worked for me.

#16 Creature from the Black Lagoon
Member of the 7K Club

Featured in Williams Pinball Universal Monsters Pack
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1992 by Midway Manufacturing, 7,841 Units Sold
Designed by John Trudeau
Art by Kevin O’Connor
Music & Sound by Paul Heitsch
TRIVIA
– The concept for basing the table on Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon was chosen after the decision was made to incorporate a hologram.
ALTERATIONS
-Mortal Kombat characters have been removed from the Pinball FX3 version.
-Licensed music has been removed.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Great (#9 of 21)
Jordi: Good (#12 of 21)
Link to Strategy Guide

Thankfully, I can praise the art direction without feeling like I’m propping up a convicted pedophile. Yeah, Creature from the Black Lagoon is a looker. I absolutely adore the clashing, dulled colors. If there’s such thing as a technicolor table, this is it.

Combine one of the most clever themes with one of the most maddening layouts ever and you get Creature from the Black Lagoon. Designed by John “Horrible Human Being” Trudeau, my main problem is the right lane is blocked by a “transparent” whirlpool that’s isn’t actually transparent. I play the game muted and thus get no cues on when balls are being VKUed to the right flipper, so I’m kinda screwed by this choice. And what am I being screwed by? A feature that’s barely used. In dozens upon dozens of rounds, I only once was able to get into the whirlpool. Granted, doing so paid off huge and single-handedly gave me table mastery status and (at the time) a top 100 global score, but still, it’s a high visual price for a relatively barren feature.

My team struggled to agree on what, exactly, is the signature shot of Creature. Hypothetically, the multiball is it, but it’s universally agreed upon to be among the weakest two-ball multiballs in the sport. Move Your Car is easily the most exciting and white-knuckle, but the table isn’t driven by it. Really, Creature stands out by being so different from other tables of the era. It’s the only “anti-flow” table that actually kind of works.

You get there via a two-ball multiball that has no ball save attached to it. Activating multiball was no problem for me. But, the mode would pretty much end in under three seconds every single time I did so, with the very first ball taking a trip down an outlane no matter how I hit it. Creature has too many brickable shots to keep up with such an unforgiving setup. You CAN restart multiball once but that requires hitting the snack bar within a limited time. Damnit, I don’t want to get mad at this table. It sure seems like it should be tons of fun. But the drain is so huge it could be legally be described as a canal, the outlanes are too hungry, and Creature just plain frustrates too much. Good table, over-rated, next.

#15: Black Rose

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1992 by Midway Manufacturing, 3,746 Units Sold
Designed by John Trudeau & Brian Eddy
Art by Pat McMahon
Music & Sound by Paul Heitsch
TRIVIA
-Prototypes used black pinballs, but this idea was abandoned due to visibility issues.
-Artist Pat McMahon created X-rated backglass art for less prudish European markets, but the art was never used.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#13 of 21)
Jordi: Great (#6 of 21)
Link to Guide

Change what I said about Creature from the Black Lagoon: THIS is the prettiest table in Pinball FX 3.

Yep, this is a John Trudeau table. Yes, the man is a disgusting creeper. Developed alongside Creature from the Black Lagoon, Black Rose has all the hallmarks of a Trudeau design: maddening mulitballs that are designed to drain out before you get a chance to play them. A wide drain. Starving outlanes. But, Brian Eddy (Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness) co-designed it, and his design signature (a prominent central target) is along for the ride. Like the Darth Vader table in Star Wars Pinball, Black Rose is really notable for being a valley-style table, with an empty center for a playfield that runs the length of the board, with the primary target against the back wall and all other targets off to the sides.

Signature Shot: Black Rose’s broadside shot is the prototype for all Brian Eddy designs to come. It’s a low-percentage survival rate if you miss, but the concept works wonderfully and direct hits reliably feed the right flipper for a trap. Oddly enough, the broadside doesn’t drive the table’s scoring though. It feels disconnected from the rest of the flow.

And that primary shot is absolutely maddening. It’s crowded, but in one of those logical pinball-type of ways. Hitting the target spoon-feeds the right flipper the ball (just hold it for a trap and you’ll be delivered the ball safely every time). But, the wide drain and sharp angles makes nearly every other target super high risk. Actually, I kind of love it, but I don’t think it loves me back. Combine it with one of the most impossible video modes I’ve seen (walking the plank, which requires you to pump the action button, which nobody in my house could successfully pull off) and a cannon that, I swear, misses manage to drain out every time. Plus, there’s absolutely no semblance of risk/reward balance. Easy shots pay off huge. Difficult shots aren’t worth anywhere near as much as they should be. Black Rose has a fun swashbuckling theme, but I can’t help but wonder if this table would had instead been a 1995 – 1998 Brian Eddy design that had the same fine-tuned scoring balance his other works had.

#14: Tales of the Arabian Nights

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 5
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1996 by Williams Electronic Games, 3,128 Units Sold
Designed by John Popadiuk
Art by Pat McMahon
Music & Sound by Dave Zabriskie
TRIVIA
-Tales of the Arabian Nights is the first pinball table with a vertical magnetic diverter, which is used for the Genie shot.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#17 of 21)
Jordi: Good (#11 of 21)
Link to Strategy Guide

Every single primary angle has a high degree of risk. There’s not a lot of tables that can say that.

Much like John Popadiuk’s soccer-themed nightmare World Cup, Tales of the Arabian Nights shirks the idea of calculated risk entirely. Both primary targets of the table are high-risk shots that spoon-feed the drain and necessitate quick tilting reflexes to truly master. Frankly, I never could get the hang of tilting. As a result, I probably said either “are you kidding me?” or simply moaned in agony dozens of times while playing Arabian Nights. It’s just too damn hard a table to truly be great. That you can’t even shoot main targets without risking the ball draining out can cause great rounds to end suddenly and very, very painfully. Arabian Nights is probably the most difficult good table of all the Pinball FX3 William recreations. That difficulty is not tempered with reasonable scoring balance. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun to get tons of spins of the lamp, which can end up racking up massive points. The problem is you really can just chop wood by shooting at the lamp if you can charge its value up enough. The bumpers, ramps, and other shots don’t pay off enough. Tales has horrible scoring balance issues. Not as bad as Theatre of Magic, but then again, it’s not as fun either.

Signature Shot: while I think most would agree that the lamp is the most satisfying shot of TOTAN, the Genie drives the entire table. Unfortunately, it also often drives the ball straight down the drain with no possible hope of saving it. This is one of the few tables with Pinball Arcade’s version is superior. You can save the ball with a nudge so much easier.

And, frankly, I think it needs a little more time to cook. On a real Arabian Nights table, the magnetic field in front of the genie really shouldn’t lead to an instakill drain-out on players. In the Pinball FX3 version, you have about a 10% chance of a houseball when activating any mode. That number seems to increase when you begin multiball, as over half the time, at least one of the three balls (usually the first one) was unplayable upon being served. That’s especially damning on a table with an already extremely hungry drain and no ball-save for multiball. Arabian Nights also features some tight squeezes among its very cluttered layout. Shots based around using the lower portion of the flippers are among the most difficult shots of the solid-state era. And, again, they don’t really pay off enough to justify it. Arabian Nights is a legendary table, and while it still can be fun (and potentially more fun if the magnetic stuff is stabilized), the prohibitive difficulty muffles the enjoyment. Sometimes legends don’t live up to their reputation. Tales of the Arabian Nights is that type of legend.

#13: Junk Yard

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Type: Pick ‘n Flick
TABLE FACTS
1996 by Williams Electronic Games, 3,013 Units Sold
Designed by Barry Oursler & Dwight Sullivan
Art by Paul Barker, Pat McMahon, & Linda “Deal” Doane
Music & Sound by Kurt Goebel
TRIVIA
-Junk Yard is the final table of Barry Oursler’s career.
-Contains modes from other Williams/Bally tables Creature from the Black Lagoon, Attack from Mars, Addams Family, and Terminator 2.
-References other tables such as Earthshaker, Dr. Dude, Safe Cracker, Who Dunnit, and The Getaway: High Speed II.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: The Pits (#20 of 21)
Jordi: Good (#14 of 21)
Link to Guide

I can just hear the pinball community now. “YOU MURDERED WHITE WATER BUT PUT JUNK YARD #7? JUNK YARD?!” What can I say? Guilty pleasure.

Junk Yard is based mostly around a single gimmick: a second ball that’s suspended by a chain that you whack to hit other targets. At first, a person might think the wrecking ball is all Junk Yard has going for it. And yeah, this is a pretty limited table. There’s no secondary flippers. It doesn’t have orbits to shoot combos. It doesn’t even have bumpers. From what I can gather, it’s one of the least popular tables among professional players, where matches end up slogging and players resort to chopping wood (shooting low-risk targets to grind up scores). Skill shot, extra ball, and Time Machine mode are all shared by a single, easy-to-hit target. It sort of has to, since the rear of the table needs enough room to make the wrecking ball gimmick work. This table shouldn’t be good.

Signature Shot: The wrecking ball is dumb fun. Yea, I totally get why pros hate Junk Yard, but this was easily the most popular Williams Pinball FX 3 table in my house among the less hardcore pinheads in the Vice family. At least until Funhouse came along.

But, I like it. In a guilty pleasure sort of way. Easy to get multiball, easy to get jackpots and super jackpots. A few video modes. A few roulettes. Even the backglass comes into play with random chance prizes that don’t totally destroy the balance. Is Junk Yard a finesse table? No. But it wasn’t meant to be one. This is a rare pinball table from the era where it feels like they knew the end was near and decided to just make the most wild designs imaginable because they might not get another chance to. As the finale to Barry Oursler’s esteemed career, he could have done worse. Well, unless you’re my father. Oscar absolutely hates this table. “Junk Yard is so bad that you have to believe Champion Pub could only be worse if it was trying to be, deliberately.” Ouch.

THE GREAT

#12: Dr. Dude and His Excellent Ray

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 6
Type: Sharpshooter
TABLE FACTS
1990 by Midway Manufacturing, 3,983 Units Sold
Designed by Dennis Nordman
Art by Greg Freres
Music by Chris Granner
TRIVIA
-Dr. Dude is the first table to offer a “family setting” in the operator’s mode specifically to tone down the language and themes.
-Dr. Dude is rumored to have started life as a laboratory-themed sequel to Elvira & the Party Monsters, but it was felt it was too soon to release a sequel to table that would then compete against a table still being sold.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Great (#7 of 21)
Jordi: Great (#7 of 21)
THE PINBALL CHICK CERTIFIED EXCELLENT TABLE

Come on, guys! The Bill & Ted license was right there and would have pushed Dr. Dude over the 10K mark for sure.

God, this one hurts.. in more ways than one. I rated Dr. Dude “Masterpiece” for Pinball Arcade, one of the true surprises in the 100 table collection. In fact, Dr. Dude finished #11 out of 100 there. Here, it’s #12 of 21 as of this writing. Why the drop? Well, because the central channel in this valley-style table is, for lack of a better term, evil. Hmmm.. actually, maybe genocidal is a better term. You absolutely HAVE to shoot at both the R-E-F-L-E-X lights AND the “I” Exam, but any and all of those have a huge chance of the ball going limp and falling straight-down the drain. These shots go beyond merely high-risk. Without a proper defense nudge (which Pinball Arcade has and Pinball FX3 lacks), these shots are downright suicide missions. Ones you, again, MUST DO in order to play Dr. Dude well.

Signature Shot: The infamous parody of Bride of Pin*Bot’s billion-point shot, Dr. Dude’s Gazillion Point Shot is tied to an out-and-back ramp that feeds into a caged spin-disk called the Molecular Mixmaster. It’s a satisfying shot, but like every other shot in the Pinball FX3 version of Dr. Dude, it punishes you. Dr. Dude is second only to White Water as the most difficult recreation Zen Studios has done. It’s so hard that it’s almost mean-spirited.

Dr. Dude is still really fun, because there’s nothing quite like it. It’s a Sharpshooter on the basis that precision is rewarded above all, but the speedy, bouncy balls also make it flow like a Kinetic (you can’t even trap balls fed off VUKs) while allowing enough flexibility in strategy to feel like a Finesse table. It’s so weird, but kind of brilliant. The scoring system is unique and, yeah, you can chop wood. That is, if you want to chop the most dangerous, high-risk wood in pinball. Sure, go for it. What keeps it from masterpiece status for the whole team is the lack of defensive options and the tendency of multiballs to clear each-other out instantly. Dr. Dude and his Excellent Ray is excellent, but it should be historically so, and instead it’s merely exceptionally so.

#11: Cirqus Voltaire

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 5
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1997 by Williams Electronic Games, 2,704 Units Sold
Designed by John Popadiuk & Cameron Silver
Art by Linda “Deal” Doane
Music & Sound by Rob Berry & Dave Zabriskie
TRIVIA
-Cirqus Voltaire had the highest production budget of any standard Williams/Bally table, in part because mechanisms used in it were being tested for the Pinball 2000 initiative.
-The only Williams/Bally table to have the Dot Matrix Display inside the cabinet, and only the second table overall (Capcom’s Flipper Football was first in 1996).
-Cirqus Voltaire is the first solid state table with a disappearing pop bumper, though this feature existed as far back as 1958 with Williams’ Gusher.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#12 of 21)
Jordi: Good (#13 of 21)
Link to Strategy Guide

“Let’s give the most expensive table ever a generic circus theme. And we’ll have the bonus points be themed like judges giving scores like in the Olympics, because we don’t know what a circus is. CAN YOU BELIEVE THE PINBALL DIVISION IS LOSING MILLIONS FOR MIDWAY?”

When you play the work of John Popadiuk, you could totally understand why silverball enthusiasts would give him money to make a limited edition table.. and then be crushed it didn’t live up to their expectations (and what they got wasn’t remotely close to finished) because it turns out it’s hard to build and release tables when you don’t have a big ass company like Midway actually supplying materials and facilities for it and a continuing paycheck depends on you actually finishing your work. I get it. Dude made some amazing tables when he worked for Midway, parent of Williams/Bally. Theatre of Magic, World Cup Soccer, Tales from Arabian Nights. All ambitious, and often wonderful pins. He even got tapped to do one of the holographic tables in the Pinball 2000 line: Star Wars Episode One. A case could be made that it was him, and not Pat Lawlor (or Brian Eddy, though I think he’s out of the running by virtue of only having three tables), who was the greatest pinball craftsman at the end of the arcade era of pinball.

Personally, I prefer the white-knuckle challenge of Lawlor’s work or the sheer elegance of Eddy’s catalog to the kooky mad scientist vibe I get from Popadiuk. But, gun to head, if I had to convince a non-pinhead that there’s more to pinball than meets the eye, I’d probably use Popa’s work first. And with Cirqus Voltaire, you can totally see (1) why he’s so cherished and (2) why Williams cratered around the this time. Adjusted for inflation, Cirqus Voltaire is the most expensive traditional pinball table designed to be routed (earn quarters) ever made. But, like so many post-Addams Family tables, it was prone to breaking down, and OUT OF ORDER signs earn no money. I’ve encountered exactly two Cirqus Voltaire machines in the wilds of the San Francisco Bay Area in my lifetime. Both were unplugged and wearing such signs.

Signature Shot: People remember Cirqus most for its Ringmaster. Well, that and lots and lots of neon. Dad heard that Cirqus Voltaire was a “fill-in-the-blank” concept that could have been tied to the 1996 Olympics, but a deal wasn’t reached.

That’s why you have to love Pinball FX3, and really the entire digital conversion revolution as a whole. While Cirqus Volatire is THE dream table many fans of silverball would love to own for real in their homes, it’s also a massive investment. In near-mint condition, CV will run you over $10,000, and if you lack engineering skills, you’ll be spending even more due to issues with the Ringmaster toy breaking down. Which it will. I imagine many a pinball dream has turned into a nightmare with a Cirqus Voltaire investment. It’s why owning Pinball FX3 makes sense to even the most starry-eyed would be pinball owner. 98.5% of the fun, only that missing 1.5% means you won’t ever spend hours giving a deep cleaning and waxing to a table, nor will you start banging your head on the glass when an inevitable mechanical failure happens.

Signature Feature: technically called the “BOOM! Balloon”, Dad calls this the “whammy bar.” Which shows the old age is getting to him, as this is NOT a bar. Actually, this is an example of perfectly placing a potentially chaotic element. Despite being a tarted-up pop-bumper, you’re unlikely to die using the BOOM! It also is finely turned in terms of scoring, and the extra ball you can use for it feels like something that’s difficult to earn. One of the last truly great features for any Williams/Bally table.

Speaking of which, like many late Williams tables, Cirqus is based around a primary toy target. In this case a green Ringmaster that, I swear to God, looks just like Flabber from Big Bad Beetleborgs. If you use the enhanced visuals, you’ll have the theme song to the song stuck in your head. Unlike Attack from Mars or Medieval Madness, the Ringmaster is off-center with a short orbit behind it. In theory, it should make for a faster-running experience. Instead, the opposite is true: Cirqus Voltaire is actually a slow, deliberate table based around simple angles and lots of multiball modes. And, it’s fun. There’s some weirdness I don’t get. The large ball on the left of the table feels gimmicky and just clutters an otherwise immaculate playfield. Of all Popa’s work, this one feels the least wacky and most simple. Like the rest of his resume, there’s also scoring balance issues that are further compounded by Pinball FX3’s boosts. But, really great table. One of the better recreations in Pinball FX3.

#10: Fish Tales
Member of the 12K Club

Free to Download with the Pinball FX3 Launcher
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1992 by Williams Electronic Games, 13,640 Units Sold
17th Highest-Selling Solid State Table
Designed by Mark Ritchie
From a concept by Python Anghelo & Pat McMahon
Art by Pat McMahon
Music & Sound by Chris Granner
TRIVIA
-One of four tables (along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Popeye Saves the Earth, and Doctor Who) with “Lightning Flippers”, 1/8 inch smaller flippers.
-Fish Tales is the highest selling table converted to digital by Zen Studios so far.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#7 of 18)
Jordi: Good (#8 of 18)
Link to Guide

Simple elegance. They really couldn’t have chosen a better table to be the freebie.

Designed by Mark Ritchie (kid brother of the legendary Steve Ritchie, designer of Getaway: High Speed II), Fish Tales is free for everyone as the sample Williams recreation table for Pinball FX3. Probably a good choice for it, too. It’s one of the best selling pins ever, at over 13,000 units made. I joked that Fish Tales was required to be installed in every tavern as part of their certification. I can’t imagine children of the early 90s would be interested in a fishing pinball game. Then again, one of my favorite launch-window Dreamcast games was Sega Bass Fishing. And I did basically use Animal Crossing as a fishing game..

Okay, point taken.

What strikes me most about Fish Tales is how simple it is. Clean layout. There’s no supplemental flippers. There’s no skill-shot with the auto launcher. There’s no complex step-by-step objectives. The targets are simple, the ramps and orbits have clear, easy shots. Maybe too easy in the case of the ball lock. It got to the point that I could very easily shoot three consecutive shots into it without breaking a sweat. Not that the rest of the table is easy. In fact, I died as a result of the multiballs that lock triggers. Still, Fish Tales feels like a table that brings the best qualities of the early 80s through the early 90s without any of the confusing, overly elaborate excesses.

Signature Shot: The boat’s horseshoe leads into one of the most intense but simple combo-shooting experiences in PBFX3.

The result is a pretty dang good game. And, like most other Pinball FX3 recreations, this is a solid port job. The biggest flaw in Fish Tales is that Mark Ritchie designed the table to use standard flippers, but the machine shipped with the infamous “lightning flippers” that are very slightly smaller than normal flippers. This was done at the request of UK operators who were pissed that players lasted three minutes at a table instead of under two. Many owners of real Fish Tales tables change over to standard sized flippers, since that was Ritchie’s intent and all the angles were based around them. But, Pinball FX3 offers no such option, and uses the Lightning Flippers despite them being a last second addition to the game to cave in to the demands of bitchy arcade owners. Do the right thing, Zen: give us normal flippers.

#9: No Good Gofers

Featured in Williams Pinball FX3 Volume 5
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1997 by Williams Electronic Games, 2,711 Units Sold
Designed by Pat Lawlor & Louis Koziarz
Art by John Youssi
Music & Sound by Vince Pontarelli
TRIVIA
-Rumors persist that a prototype that featured a gopher popping out of the center of the playfield existed, but no tangible evidence for it has ever been found. The whitewood (undecorated prototype) lacks this feature, and no function for the gopher exists in the scoring code. However, it is insisted by insiders that fifteen prototypes with a third gopher exist.
-The Hole-in-One is the highest open-ramp shot in pinball.
-Pat Lawlor’s final table for Williams/Bally.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#16 of 21)
Jordi: Good (#16 of 21)
Link to Strategy Guide

Why not just spring for the Caddyshack license? It couldn’t have cost THAT much by 1997?

Pat Lawlor’s work isn’t exactly known for being newcomer friendly. No Good Gofers, his final table of the arcade era of pinball, is one of his more difficult tables, but also feels like his least inspired work as well. The whole situation is bizarre, because both Gottlieb and Williams made extremely similar tables based on golf that had gophers because they were trying to stoke a Candyshack vibe. No Good Gofers came out four years after Gottlieb’s Tee’d Off and is clearly the better table in every single way. But still, I get a strange “this isn’t really what I want to be doing” vibe from Gofers. Lawlor was coming off Safecracker, which had been designed to be based on the board game Monopoly until Williams dropped the license and he had to switch the theme around at the last second. I always got the feeling Gofers was a rebound table, like he was coming off the disappointment of Safecracker being unpopular with operators and not resembling his original Monopoly vision and his heart wasn’t into it. Plus, there’s been a persistent rumor (completely unverified) that Gofers originally had a large, animatronic gopher toy in the center that was vetoed halfway through development as a cost-cutting measure. If true, that means he dealt with two straight tables that got the screws put to them by Williams.

Signature Shots: the circle is Gopher’s iconic hole-in-one shot, which is technically the tallest open ramp shot in pinball. The star is the “putting green” which you tap in off a bat shot. Mastery of both these is essential to playing No Good Gophers well.

Whether it’s true or not, No Good Gofers is still a really fun table. Maddening, like any Lawlor pin tends to be, but fun nonetheless. It’s probably one of his faster tables, as evidenced by a VKU throwing the ball at the flippers like a baseball pitcher. But, the absurdity that a golf-based table would play very fast actually works. Even better, the difficulty is tempered with a lot of safeguards to assure fairness. Gofers has one of the more generous kickbacks of the late Williams era and frequent ball save activation. It’s a hard table that goes out of its way to be enjoyable, which is, frankly, the hallmark of Lawlor’s body of work. Well, that and modes. Lots and lots of modes. Do you know what the problem is when you make extremely mode-heavy tables? All but a small handful of them tend to make you wish you were playing the more scoring-heavy ones. It throws an otherwise balanced table’s scoring out of whack. This is further compounded by Pinball FX3’s scoring and mulitball boosts. It’s also one of his least pretty tables, in terms of layout and placement. Gofers is a lot of fun, but it also feels slightly phoned in and an underwhelming swan song for Lawlor. He was supposed to have the first of the holographic Pinball 2000 tables, but his Magic Blocks project was cancelled to devote resources to Revenge from Mars and Star Wars: Episode One. The man deserved to go out on a higher note than Gofers.

#8: Red & Ted’s Road Show
Member of the 6K Club

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Type: Sharpshooter
TABLE FACTS
1994 by Williams Electronic Games, 6,259 Units Sold
Designed by Pat Lawlor, Dwight Sullivan, & Ted Estes
Art by John Youssi
Music & Sound by Chris Granner
TRIVIA
-The final member of the SuperPin line, and the only one not based on a licensed property.
-Red is voiced by Carlene Carter, daughter of June-Carter Cash and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash.
-Rumors persist that Earthshaker originally was going to feature a construction worker’s head where the Earthquake institute was located, but Williams made designer Pat Lawlor choose between the shaker motor or the head, and he chose the motor while moving the talking head concept to his next table, Funhouse. Red & Ted acts as a sequel to Earthshaker and features two heads AND a shaker motor.
-Briefly held the record for most expensive pinball production until being replaced by Stargate (1995 Gottlieb).
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Good (#14 of 21)
Jordi: Great (#8 of 21)
Link to Guide

I’ve always wondered if this was originally supposed to be based on a licensed property and the construction stuff was added when negotiations for something broke down.

1993’s Twilight Zone is wide(bodi)ly considered the greatest pinball table ever. Red & Ted’s Road Show is Pat Lawlor’s follow-up to it, and you’ve got to feel for him in the same way you feel for Francis Ford Coppola every time someone talks about anything he did after the Godfather or Godfather II. Once you’ve made anything that’s, according to fans and many peers, “the best ever“, you can’t possibly live up to that prior work again. Road Show doesn’t remotely try to feel like Twilight Zone. The only similarities are being part of the SuperPin line of gigantic wide body tables (in fact, Road Show is the final of the series) and being a mode-heavy experience. Lawlor has a reputation for making the most complex pins imaginable. This one might be more convoluted and confusing than even Twilight Zone.

Signature Shot: Ted (on the left) drives the table, and also drives you mad with their inane chatter. While the characters are supposed to stir memories of Rudy (from Funhouse), the way the Red & Ted heads are used just isn’t remotely interesting.

More than any other Williams Pinball Season 1 table, Red & Ted’s Road Show requires a time investment just to get a feel for what you’re supposed to be doing and how the massive volume of modes work. There’s over twenty, mostly named after cities. There’s a vast, wide open playfield with two nightmare-fuel ventriloquist heads that serve as the primary targets, but most of the modes are activated by shooting ramps and targets behind them. You know what? Just watch this video courtesy of Bowen Kerins and the Replay Foundation. It’s 33 minutes long. Yea, it really requires that much time to figure this thing out.

Did you watch it? LIAR! You did not! And you really should, because you’ll be expected to do all that. Is it fun? Well, yeah. I mean, obviously. I have it ranked as “great.” But Red & Ted has issues. The scoring balance is wonky, with some of the easier modes worth more points than harder ones (and hell, that’s before you factor in Pinball FX 3’s boosts). My Dad’s been on my case all year for rewarding tables that FUBAR the risk/reward balance, especially since that was the main complaint of my Nintendo’s Pinball review. Yea, that’s a legitimate complaint. What can I say? Nintendo’s Pinball isn’t fun. Red & Ted is. Theatre of Magic is. And there’s something about the SuperPin line that makes hitting high degree-of-difficulty shots feel so much more satisfying. My biggest issue with Red & Ted is there’s simply too many things to keep track of, with too many important elements based on chance. Multiballs have an uncanny knack for clearing each-other out. Maddening table, but oh so fun too. Also, I’m going to go ahead and say it: worst launcher/skill-shot ever.

#7: Space Station

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 6
Type: Sharpshooter
TABLE FACTS
1987 by Williams Electronic Games, 3,804 Units Sold
Designed by Barry Oursler
Art by Tim Elliott
Music & Sound by Brian Schmidt
TRIVIA
-Space Station is the first digital recreation by Zen Studios that has never had an official digital conversion.
-This sequel to 1984’s Space Shuttle was a huge flop for Williams due to high production costs of the Space Station toy.
-Prototypes featured a drop-target that was removed to shave costs from production. The target would have virtually been a blind-angle anyway.
-At the moment artist Tim Elliott was drawing the space shuttles for the backglass art, he looked up at his TV to see the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Masterpiece (#2 of 21)
Jordi: Good (#15 of 21)
THE PINBALL CHICK CERTIFIED EXCELLENT TABLE

Nobody at Williams said it out loud, but let’s be real: arcade operators didn’t order Space Station because of the Challenger. Really, they should have re-themed the table, keeping the Station concept but adding Sci-Fi elements. The shuttles were probably depressing for arcade goers looking for escapism in 1987, even if it was released 23 months after the disaster. For many young people, it was their JFK moment, where the world got too real. Who wants to be reminded of that when you’re in an arcade?

While 1984’s Space Shuttle wasn’t an unprecedented hit by any means, its success bought the pinball industry valuable time and convinced arcade owners the medium wasn’t done yet. Williams especially had suffered a string of catastrophic commercial flops, with some of their tables outright hated by operators. Space Shuttle might have attracted players with a cheap plastic space shuttle toy, but it wooed players back to Silverball with its absolutely stellar gameplay. Without question, Space Shuttle saved pinball.

Signature Feature: while many would argue the Space Station ball-lock is the main feature, I’d argue that the stacked roll-over lanes are the key to successfully utilizing the roll-overs. The bottom U-S-A lights on the bottom multiply the value of the Stop & Score, aka the the hurry-up drop target & ramp that leads to the station. The 1-2-3 lights on top increase the bumper value AND re-activates the locks for multiball. Space Station is the ideal table to practice lane-switching since it features the best roll-overs in all of Pinball FX3. There, I said it. Someone had to.

The sequel would have nearly tanked it again, had Williams not just run off a string of global hits like High Speed, Pin•Bot, Comet, and F-14 Tomcat. Tables that feel like they’re taking gigantic steps towards what the sport would become during the DMD era. Space Station, in many ways, feels like it’s deliberately trying to slow the medium down and catch its breath. Hence, Space Station takes on the feel of an early-80s sharpshooter, with the focus being tight, precision shots and lots of lights and targets. The focus instead is on taking the target-shooting and refining the scoring to be as razor-sharp as humanly possible. Incredibly, a 1987 table thus manages to somehow feel like it’s paying tribute to a bygone era. Weird.

Notice something missing? Well, if you’ve ever cursed annoying inlanes, this is the table for you!

Speaking of weird, Oursler wasn’t totally against outright experimenting. Throwing players of all-stripes off balance is the fact that Space Station has no inlanes. Instead, the slingshots actually buffer the small outlanes. It makes a precision-shooting table dip its flippers to test the Kinetic waters. It never succumbs to outright chaos, but it puts it all on the player to prevent it from happening. So actually, this old-school feeling table takes quite a bit of getting the hang of. In the case of Space Station, it’s a successful experiment, though a lot of players hate it, and I can totally understand why. Multiballs are incredibly hard to keep alive and tend to clear each-other out, especially if you’ve already lost your kick-back. But, brave the lack of stabilizing inlanes and you’ll find one of the most inspired and fine-tuned tables of an entire generation. What generation that is, I’m not quite sure.

THE MASTERPIECES

#6: Theatre of Magic
Member of the 6K Club

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1995 by Midway Manufacturing, 6,600 Units Sold
Designed by John Popadiuk
Art by Linda “Deal” Doane
Music & Sound by Dave Zabriskie
TRIVIA
-Originally the table was going to be based around famous magician David Copperfield and production started before even finding out if he was interested. Copperfield allegedly wanted too much money, but the concept didn’t require a famous name attached to it.
-Theatre of Magic originally had a disappearing drain post, but arcade operators complained that posts led to extended play times and Midway mandated they not be used anymore.
ALTERATIONS
-Mortal Kombat references have been removed.

REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Bad (#19 of 21)
Jordi: Great (#9 of 21)
Link to Guide

Not to be confused with Capcom Pinball’s Magic. Speaking of which, Zen Studios has worked with Capcom in the past. God willing, we’ll get a Capcom PBFX3 pack that contains Pinball Magic, Breakshot, Big Bang Bar (less than 10 units made it into the open market), and Airborne. I’d pay $19.99 for that four pack. Are they any good? I don’t know. I’ve never played any of them. Even Breakshot. Here’s hoping!

While John Popadiuk’s story once he left Williams was, ahem, less than inspirational, Theatre of Magic has left its mark on pinball as one of the most popular and influential tables ever. I’m surprised operators allowed this to become such a big hit. A relatively easy (by the standards of the era) table based around shooting combos, Theatre of Magic is built for fun, with any quarters it ate being secondary to that. Theatre utilizes the magic gimmick to its fullest potential. This includes a heavy use of magnetic areas, including magnets that save balls from outlanes. It’s ambitious, and it works.

Signature Shots: Theatre of Magic’s tri-orbital layout drives the flow of the table while the magic box activates modes and contains the jackpot. It’s a high-risk, high reward design that changes as the game goes along. Both the magic box and right staircase reveal key shots. This is a table that begs to be explored. The most finesse-heavy of Pinball FX3’s finesse tables.

Theatre of Magic is a player’s table, and a genuine masterpiece. But, it’s hardly perfect. In fact, my ranking of it at #4, in the masterpiece category, was the source of controversy in the Vice household that led to a full-blown shouting match. I felt the the biggest flaw is the high-risk center orbit that, depending on the angle the ball enters it, can lead to a no-hope (even if you attempt to tilt it) instakill drain-out. My Dad, a pinball purist, felt that an instakill orbit was nothing compared to the utterly broken scoring balance. Simple orbits pay off too much. The multiball is too easy to trigger (even average players should be able to activate it every ball) and jackpots are too easy to come by. The biggest rewards in Theatre come from relatively easy shots. Also, there’s a video pinball mode on the dot matrix display that’s possibly the worst video pinball ever made. Why would you do a video pinball mode that bad on any real pinball table? Come to think of it, once we’re doing a video pinball mode on a video pinball game, we’re sort of through the looking glass. Ugh. But ultimately, it feels like a table designed primarily to be fun, not to make money. I can’t justify ranking Theatre of Magic this high, except to say that it’s insanely entertaining. Isn’t that why we’re all here?

#5: The Getaway: High Speed II
Member of the 12K Club

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Type: Sharpshooter-Kinetic
TABLE FACTS
1992 by Williams Electronic Games, 13,259 Units Sold
18th Highest Selling Solid State Table
Designed by Steve Ritchie
Art by Doug Watson & Mark Sprenger
Music & Sound by Dan “TOASTY!” Forden
TRIVIA
-High Speed and Getaway were based on the designer Steve Ritchie’s 1979 experience leading California police on a high-speed chase in a Porsche.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Masterpiece (#1 of 21)
Jordi: Masterpiece (#3 of 21)
THE PINBALL CHICK PANTHEON OF DIGITAL PINBALL MEMBER
Link to Guide

Getaway is yet ANOTHER table that was notorious for breaking down in real life. Getaway had one of the worst fatal-flaws in all of pinballdom. Balls would get stuck under slingshots, which would short-out the MPU. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the owner’s manual had a misprinting that instructed operators to use a 48 volt lamp light instead of a 20 volt. Smart.

I didn’t get Getaway at first. I’d never played High Speed, the industry-altering table this is the sequel to. Frankly, Getaway’s design made little sense to me. It’s a sharpshooter-style table, no doubt about it. You absolutely NEED precision to hit targets and string together combos and make tight squeezes through orbits, or shoot the Ritchie-signature short-orbit loop. Great, it’s a sharpshooter! Duh! But, no sharpshooter ever has had such a live ball. In fact, while the target placement and scoring system are exactly what you’d expect from a sharpshooter, Getaway feels like a kinetic. Even accurate shots go flying, and missed shots could go anywhere! Not only are the balls lively, but they move so fast and test your reaction times. I suppose that’s keeping with the car chase theme, but still, it felt like the two styles clashed too much.

Signature Shot: Getaway’s supercharger is really a fancy temporary ball lock. But it also leads to some of the most thrilling moments in DMD pinball. To get jackpots, you have to put one or more balls in the super charger, which lights the multiball lock, now tied to the jackpot. It’s genius.

Having put dozens more hours into The Getaway since I first wrote this review, I’m not too proud to admit it: I was wrong. The Getaway II is absolutely stellar, and worthy of being the sequel to a table that brought pinball design into a new golden age. But, I also think it’s safe to say that many players, even good hardcore pinheads, might need time to “get” Getaway. It’s a difficult table where many of the targets that are necessary towards driving the score are extremely high risk. Well, assuming you miss, hence the necessity for precision.

The pace of Getaway is the stuff of legends. Shooting the orbits charges up your RPMs and also lights the Burn Rubble reward, which is surprisingly balanced as far as random awards go. I mean, besides the two random chances at extra balls, once of which can be snatched from video mode. Speaking of which, even notoriously anti-VM grouch Oscar gives props to Getaway’s video mode for being simple, easy to understand. I’m not totally sold on this being #1, and frankly, I’m stunned my scoring-balance loving Daddy can forgive the completely ridiculous Redline scoring. Nonetheless, the boys were right and I was wrong: Getaway is one of the best tables in Pinball FX3. There, happy?

#4 Funhouse
Member of the 10K Club

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 6
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1990 by Williams Electronic Games, 10,751 Units Sold
27th Highest Selling Solid State Table
Designed by Pat Lawlor & Larry DeMar
Art by John Youssi
Music & Sound by Chris Granner & Jon Hey
TRIVIA
-Rudy is voiced by Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon, who also voices Scorpion, Shang Tsung, and others in those games.
-The clock featured in 1993’s Twilight Zone table was originally designed for Funhouse, but the feature couldn’t be finished in time and was held over for future use.
-Funhouse is actually a remake of a 1956 table “Fun House” designed by Williams founder Harry Williams that featured unique “trap doors” under the gobble holes.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Great (#8 of 21)
Jordi: Great (#5 of 21)
THE PINBALL CHICK CERTIFIED EXCELLENT TABLE

Golly, Zen Studios keeps getting better and better. By the next generation, I expect the smell of Windex on the glass will be present.

There’s tables that sold more than Funhouse, and there’s tables from it’s era that are more remembered than Funhouse, and yet, no table from it’s era produces the warm feelings of nostalgia and a more innocent time quite like Funhouse. It’s the comfort food of the pinball universe. Which is kind of funny because Rudy, the giant ventriloquist dummy head voiced by Ed “GET OVER HERE” Boon, is one creepy S.O.B. But seriously, there’s no table that Gen Xers collectively celebrate as much. A table where they can list off exactly when and where the Funhouse they dropped their quarters in was. There’s always a sense of warmness in their cadence too. No other table does that to people. It’s warm and fuzzy in that sense.

So, no pressure in converting a table that does all that to digital, Zen Studios!

Signature Shot: Rudy is as iconic as any shot in pinball gets. But, this is one table with a famous shot that withstood the test of time. The bat shot to Rudy’s mouth is among the most challenging and rewarding in the sport. Plus, hearing the mouthy butthole scream “ahhhhh!” when you smack him is so satisfying. Then again, 9-year-old me was terrified of him, so he has it coming. The switch our tables were plugged into turned them all on, and once I stood at another table only to glance over and have Rudy talk at that moment.. let’s just say it was years before I was alone in that room again.

Well, congrats: you guys did it! Funhouse is one of the few early 90s tables that lives up to a towering reputation even in digital form. It has a high degree of difficulty and deliberately stresses players with one of the most maddening multiball drops in the sport. Yet, connecting on shots is breathtaking and pulling off the incredibly-difficult jackpot while keeping the other balls alive is a thrill like few other tables have. There’s something primal about mastering Funhouse, and my family got to experience that together. Myself, my father Oscar, and my 10-year-old sister Angela, traded the world record for Pinball FX3’s Five Minute Challenge Mode in the game several times. Dad beat the previous champion first (his first Pinball FX3 World Record), then I beat him, then Angela beat me (her first ever pinball World Record) before Dad regained his title. Finally, I took it back for a second time and have kept it ever since. Angela, meanwhile, has the highest five minute score recorded on a Switch. All of this in a 24 hour span, mind you, and all of us scoring MUCH higher than all other global competitors while my Twitter followers watched in disbelief. “How can you guys be so good that you’re trading world records AT WILL?” Well, we’ve played a lot of the real table. Still, it was magical while it was happening.

Surprisingly, we’re still the champions nearly a week later. I’m sure these won’t last much longer, but the 24 hours we spent playing hot potato with an actual world championship will stay with me forever. Thank you, Zen Studios.

Of course, that type of experience isn’t one that’ll be common among other players. But, what will be is the sheer elegance of Funhouse’s design and surprisingly fine-tuned scoring. The biggest knock I have is that Funhouse relies a lot on the plunger, but Pinball FX3 hasn’t exactly gotten the mechanics of the plunger properly adjusted to analog controllers. There’s a strong chance that Funhouse could move into the #2 or #3 spot on one of Arcade 1Up’s upcoming digital pinball tables that they’ve partnered with Zen Studios with, assuming they properly map the plunger. Funhouse would have passed Attack from Mars, at least in my view, with a proper plunger. The Steps shot is nearly impossible to clock without it, especially on Nintendo Switch. But that’s literally my only major complaint. Rest assured, gen-Xers: your favorite table is back and it’s still amazing.

#3 Attack from Mars

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Type: Kinetic
TABLE FACTS
1995 by Midway Manufacturing, 3,450 Units Sold
Designed by Brian Eddy
Art by Doug Watson
Music & Sound by Dan “TOASTY!” Forden
TRIVIA
-Attack from Mars is the first electronic game with an epilepsy warning.
-Despite what you’d think, Attack from Mars was not inspired by the Tim Burton film Mars Attacks!, which exactly a year after the table hit arcades. Nor is it inspired by the 1962 trading cards the film is based upon.
-Attack from Mars and sequel Revenge from Mars were developed into a successful line of slot machines in 2011.
-Artist Doug Watson also provided the voice and script for the Martians.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Masterpiece (#3 of 21)
Jordi: Masterpiece (#1 of 21)
THE PINBALL CHICK PANTHEON OF DIGITAL PINBALL TABLE
Link to Guide

The real life table was the first pinball machine (and one of the first arcade games in general) that came with an epilepsy warning. My family has an Attack from Mars in our collection that has the strobe lights removed. Besides roughly eight-dozen tables not yet included, my #1 wish-list item for Pinball FX 3 is being able to turn off certain flashing lights. Epileptic people can’t play real tables if they have strobe lights (unless we buy our own), nor can we just go up to the operator and ask if they’re unscrew the lamp lights just for us. They’d be annoyed by it. Video pinball should be their ticket to pinball heaven, but nobody is including options for us. Yet, at least.

Brian Eddy is one of my favorite pinball designers, but the man only really led the design on three tables: Medieval Madness, The Shadow (based on the Alec Baldwin movie, itself based on an old pulp magazine), and this. All three are masterpieces in the annals of silverball. That the medium faded out just as Eddy was hitting his stride is one of the great tragedies of gaming. Attack from Mars is a wonderful table. One of the fastest, high-thrills pinball machines ever made. And one of the best in terms of layout. A clean, simple design with clear targets and simple angles. The challenge comes not from impossible shots but relying on players to feel the pressure of a high score as it draws near. Eddy understood that the best challenges in pinball are ones players put upon themselves.

So, what’s the problem with Attack from Mars? No seriously, I’m asking you. Because I left this part of the review blank for days while I finished off the other tables. I’m here right now trying to figure out a negative thing to say. I can’t. Attack from Mars proves perfection isn’t unobtainable. The scoring balance? Rock solid (even if the “count by hundreds of millions” shtick feels forced). The modes? Easy to grasp, difficult to master, with a perfect tempo. The theme? So much fun. I’ve heard player after player who has been buying these sets tell me that, going in, they thought it’d be Medieval Madness or Theatre of Magic they’d keep returning to, but it turned out that Attack from Mars was that game instead.

Signature Shot: the Saucer is one of the great targets in all of pinball. A brilliant concept executed to perfection. Attack from Mars is a close cousin of Medieval Madness. Replace the alien invasion theme with sword and sorcery and really, the two tables aren’t that different.

I hear you asking “so, why isn’t it #1?” Simple: there are two tables more fun than it. While Attack from Mars is genuinely flawless (one of only four games I feel you can say that about, along with video games Tetris, Portal, and an NES Homebrew game you’ve never heard of called Böbl), and one of the best pinball machines ever made, I feel, even at its fullest potential, Medieval Madness and Monster Bash are just more fun. I can’t stress enough: Attack from Mars is the perfect table. In fact, it should be the first table that everyone learning the in’s and out’s of modern pinball practices on. I just watched my nine year old niece get her first wizard mode. Brings a tear to my eye. But Attack from Mars also proves you can be perfect and still not the best.

#2: Monster Bash

Featured in Williams Pinball Universal Monsters Pack
Type: Finesse-Kinetic
TABLE FACTS
1998 by Williams Electronic Games, 3,361 Units Sold
Designed by George Gomez
Art by Kevin O’Connor
Music & Sound by Vince Pontarelli
TRIVIA
-The final traditional pinball table to carry the Williams brand name, and the final traditional table completed in the Williams/Bally family (Cactus Canyon had development and production halted).
-Released on the 9th birthday of Cathy “Indie Gamer Chick” Vice (aka The Pinball Chick, aka ME!). Hey, it doesn’t get more trivial than that!
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Great (#6 of 21)
Jordi: Masterpiece (#2 of 21)
THE PINBALL CHICK CERTIFIED EXCELLENT TABLE
Link to Guide

It’s worth noting that the art for these tables aren’t 100% arcade authentic. Changes were made in order to assure an E rating, which in some cases Zen Studios was likely under contractual obligation to do.

Initially, I had Monster Bash #1, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt Medieval Madness is the most purely fun, perfectly-balanced real table recreated by Pinball FX3. It’s the table I’ll be going back to the most. And thus, Monster Bash wins Miss Congeniality, by a razor thin margin. It really only comes down to how darn precisely measured the scoring for Medieval Madness is. Monster Bash is slightly more chaotic, based around stacking modes, though unlike Medieval Madness, most of those modes don’t center around wacky multiball. Modes are super easy to trigger, and really, this is one of those zany fun tables Midway (under the Williams label) was cranking out at the end of the 90s. Like Junk Yard, there’s a sense of finality to it. The knowledge that Pinball 2000 is going to be the future, and win or lose, traditional pinball was dead for Midway. Monster Bash feels like George Gomez is personally thanking every fan of the sport for their loyalty with a balls-to-the-wall experience that simultaneously feels like every late-era table, though done in a way that feels one-off and totally original even twenty-years-later. Just.. wow. How the hell did he pull that off?

Signature Feature: Monster Bash is based around tons of stackable modes. In this picture alone, you can see the entrance to the Frankenstein multiball, the Mummy shot, the Bride of Frankenstein’s ball & chain orbit, and the Wolfman’s shots. Just off picture are two more monsters: the Creature from the Black Lagoon (a surprisingly difficult off-angle shot) and Dracula’s casket. Every single mode is huge fun, except maybe Wolfman’s. That almost NEVER happens in pinball, where there’s no stinkers in the bunch.

My top two tables have a lot in common. They’re player’s tables that feel like a love letter to every eccentric pinball trope. And stacking modes. Lots and lots of modes. Monster Bash is toy-heavy and built around triggering Monster Bash mode, where every single toy becomes active. If you’re playing in the standard mode and have unlocked the scoring boost, you’ll want to save it for this (and stack it with the multiball boost). And by God, this mode alone is probably the greatest multiball of all-time. Monster Bash isn’t perfect. Monster Bash mode is so central to gameplay that everything leading up to that feels more like an arbitrary checklist. I don’t get excited for the other modes the same way I do for starting anything in Medieval Madness, though they’re still all fun just as experiences. Also, that Phantom Flip is a pain in the butt. Not only does it often miss, but those misses can easily drain out. Call the Ghostbusters! Having said that, the edge still goes to Medieval Madness. The greatest mode doesn’t make the greatest table. But don’t let that scare you off. Bash is good enough to be worth the $9.99 pricetag of the Universal Monsters Pack alone.

#1: Medieval Madness

Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Type: Finesse
TABLE FACTS
1997 by Williams Electronic Games, 4,016 Units Sold
Designed by Brian Eddy
Art by John Youssi & Greg Freres
Music & Sound by Dan “TOASTY!” Forden
TRIVIA
-Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live fame provides voices for The opera and cockney princesses.
-Brian Eddy didn’t work on another pinball table until twenty-three years later, when Stern tapped him for their 2020 Stranger Things table.
ALTERATIONS
-Some artwork has been toned-down or removed in order to secure an E rating.
REST OF THE TEAM
Oscar: Masterpiece (#4 of 21)
Jordi: Masterpiece (#4 of 21)
THE PINBALL CHICK PANTHEON OF DIGITAL PINBALL TABLE
Link to Guide

The best of the best. At least until Zen ponies up to do Twilight Zone. Well, assuming it’s even possible to do Twilight Zone justice in digital form. Pinball Arcade didn’t even come close, with their version finishing #26 of 100 tables (Great/Great/Great from the Pinball Chick team, for a table that is universally recognized as the best ever). No pressure, Zen!

What can I say about Medieval Madness that hasn’t been said? It’s one of the all-time greats. It’s one of the last great Williams/Bally tables. It’s designed for chaotic, flipper-mashing mayhem. It guest stars Tina Fey (no joke). This is a wonderful table. Like a more refined, idealized version of Attack from Mars that slows the action down (changing the table style from a Kinetic to a Finesse) with a Dungeons & Dragons theme. Which makes sense, since both are Brian Eddy designs. Same basic concept, really. There’s a large, primary target in the center of the field that you chip at. There’s simple orbits on the sides with easy-to-access loops. There’s tons of quick-to-activate modes. Really, it’s Attack from Mars on steroids: bigger, stronger, and slower. But slower in a good way. Really, Medieval Madness couldn’t have handled being as fast or as bouncy as Attack from Mars. It would have ruined the table.

Signature Shot: Medieval Madness’s drawbridge/castle shot is the last truly iconic shot the Williams brand would ever have. But, don’t mistake this for being a rerun of the saucer from Attack from Mars. While the concept is functionally the same, the actual drawbridge is every so slightly angled and it’s crowded by two absolute bastards of rails that completely change the risk/reward dynamic. You need to successfully destroy four castles to get the necessary-for-high-scores Battle for the Kingdom wizard mode. But, every single drawbridge shot will have you clinching your teeth hoping you didn’t wiff the shot just enough that it’ll fall straight down the drain. Medieval Sadness 😦

Medieval Madness’ greatest strength is that there’s no wasted room. Every single successful shot feels like the player is getting something out of it. Multiball modes stack. You can cycle through progress of different modes. The biggest issue by far is that the table’s primary target, the castle gate, is designed in a way where the ball has about a 30% – 50% chance dropping straight down the middle from a variety of angles. Which, frankly, is the exact same issue with Attack from Mars. There’s “smart angles” that you can take shooting it, but the margin for error of those angles is razor thin. Also, the super skill shot (which you do by holding the left flipper) is worth less for skilled players (irony) than a standard skill shot because it doesn’t give you multipliers for making it, and multipliers are a bit harder to come by than the points you get from the super skill. But, like I said, nit-picky, as you can tell from the ranking here. Any would-be pinball designer should study Madness in laboratory conditions just to learn how you properly balance risk-reward. Let it be said: no table of the dot-matrix-display era handles scoring better. Medieval Madness is a legend for a reason, and the best real table on Pinball FX 3.

The Pinball Chick: Williams Pinball: Universal Monsters Pack (Pinball FX 3 Review)

Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster Bash are legendary tables, but I’ve barely gotten to play either. And that’s really weird because Creature from the Black Lagoon was in my family’s personal collection for years, but the fucking thing never worked. It was like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Apparently whoever had it before us had issues with it too and in attempting to repair it (and also follow mod guides despite having no engineering background), he actually did more damage to it. In 2016, we traded it along with a few other tables that were, ahem, problematic for some working ones. I’d like to think the guy who ended up with ours went on to have wacky adventures with his Creature from the Black Lagoon table. Maybe he had to travel into the heart of the darkest jungle to retrieve the magical power supply or replacement ROMs to get it running. Maybe it was like that frog from those Looney Tunes shorts and it drove him to the streets, just him and his broken table. Maybe we’ll be reunited someday and it’ll fail to register targets for old time’s sake. Or maybe I’ll just get another off Craigslist. One that’s been fully cleaned and shopped wink wink. You’re not actually supposed to type wink wink in a Craigslist ad but, God, it would be so helpful if sellers did.

Or, I can skip all that shit and just buy the Pinball FX 3 Universal Monsters Pack for $9.99 and enjoy my 99.9% discount on a real table.

UPDATE: My father found the gentleman we traded our Creature from the Black Lagoon to. The table was fully restored and sold to an owner who was very happy to get it. Aww, I always tear up for happy endings.

Yes, yes, the hologram is there and works like a hypothetical working table would. I’m convinced it’s the sole reason the table is “legendary” because the gameplay is just alright.

By the way, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the actual pinball machine, is one of the most notoriously difficult tables to repair. In-part because getting replacement parts for faulty components is difficult. ESPECIALLY if you’re anal about “authentic parts”. The famous green hologram on the table? Yeah, it wasn’t made to still work decades later and many have since rotted into an non-functional sludge-blue. But hell, even replica parts can run you hundreds of dollars, and those parts don’t install themselves. There’s entire guides dedicated to do-it-yourself replacement kits and work-arounds and modifications and homemade solutions just for this table. If you genuinely love this Creature from the Black Lagoon pinball but lack any semblance of engineering skills, you’d be a fool to spend the thousands of dollars (hell, up to $15,000!) on a real Black Lagoon pinball table (or ANY real table, because ALL need repairs at some point). Even if you got a mint condition, rarely (if ever) routed table, it’ll eventually break down. You’ll need to fix it, and if you can’t, you’re stuck with a gorgeous but large and expensive paperweight. Hell, my Dad DOES have engineering skills and still couldn’t fix ours. Shit, $9.99 for a very well-made digital approximation of the same table is sounding pretty fucking sweet right about now.

It’s worth noting that Creature from the Black Lagoon is hardly alone in being a white elephant. I can’t stress enough to people who’ve imagined owning a real pinball machine of their own: unless you’re truly passionate about it, don’t do it. Stick to recreations. Go to Craigslist and look at all the non-professional dealers selling their tables. They were you once.

Anyway, we have two new Pinball FX 3 tables released in time for Halloween that required the Universal license, which Zen Studios already had. They have a set based on Jurassic Park and another based on miscellaneous Universal movies ET, Back to the Future, and Jaws. I was hoping for a fourth table based on Schindler’s List. Or, maybe one based around Sid Sheinberg’s ego, but it’d probably require a 200GB file size. There really were tables based around Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, but those were done by Data East and Sega Pinball, both of which still exist today as the modern Stern, which has a deal with Pinball Arcade. So, sadly, it’s unlikely we’ll see them recreated anytime soon.

And the sadness continues, as two tables that would have fit perfectly with the theme that were hypothetically available (they were by Midway under the Bally license) couldn’t be used. 80s B-Movie hostess Elvira is actually something of a legend in pinball circles because she was the theme of two iconic pins: Elvira and the Party Monsters and Scared Stiff. I think Party Monsters (which, believe it or not, was digitally recreated for Atari Lynx) was a little overrated while Scared Stiff is every bit as deserving of its reputation (and wallet-busting $8K – $11K price-tag on the second-hand market) as it gets. However, Elvira signed on to do a third table with Stern recently, and Stern is partnered with FarSight Studios to do The Pinball Arcade/Stern Pinball Arcade. I prefer Pinball FX 3 to FarSight’s pinball engine, but I really just want these tables recreated regardless. Maybe the two companies can work out some kind of trade: the 90s Universal tables (Back to the Future/Jurassic Park) for the two Elvira tables. Call me guys. I’ll negotiate it for you.

Monster Bash is a truly fun, thrilling table and a great way to introduce players to stacking modes. It’s a table that feels like a last-hurrah for the golden age of solid-state pinball.

So, two tables for $9.99. Is it worth it? Well, frankly, Monster Bash is worth it by itself. It’s the best of the recreated Williams tables I’ve played yet. Creature from the Black Lagoon is vastly overrated historically. Which is not to say it’s bad. Overrated doesn’t mean bad. It means overrated. It’s not an all-timer. It’s just a solid, maddening table that simply has one of the best themes in pinball history: a loving tribute to Drive-Ins. It’s also the work of a truly reprehensible human being, so your mileage may vary on how much enjoyment you can get out of it. I’ll be giving full reviews to the tables by themselves in an upcoming Indie Pinball Chick post that rates and ranks all fifteen Williams tables in Pinball FX 3. Until then, just know that I absolutely recommend this set because both tables are worth preserving and fun. Creature from the Black Lagoon, for its extreme difficulty, is still alright. Monster Bash, on the other hand, is absolutely deserving of its legendary status. I look at the Universal Monsters Pack as paying $10 for Monster Bash and getting Creature from the Black Lagoon as a throw-in bonus with it. And hey, at least their version works!

Pinball FX 3: Universal Monsters Pack was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Steam

$9.99 did the Monster Mash in the making of this review.

Universal Monsters Pack is Chick Approved.

A review code for the Switch version was supplied by Zen Studios. We bought it on Xbox One.

Table Index

Williams Pinball: Universal Monsters Pack (Pinball FX 3)
Total Tables: 2
The Pits: 0
Bad: 0
Good: 1 (Creature from the Black Lagoon)
Great: 0
Masterpiece: 1 (Monster Bash)
Total Quality Tables: 2
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

 

Arcade Archives: Kid Niki: Radical Ninja and Arcade Archives: Elevator Action (Review)

Arcade Archives: Kid Niki: Radical Ninja was developed by Hamster ($7.99 said “tubular, dude” in the making of this review)

I’ve found the most generic, uninspired, bland, yet still playable game ever made. It’s called Kid Niki: Radical Ninja. I’m not sure what the story on it is, though it feels like something made to cash in on Dragonball back in the day. It’s a typical post-Mario platformer with the “twist” being you spin a sword in front of you to slay enemies. And, well, that’s pretty much it. Run right, and hit the attack button as needed. You can jump, and it’s works and doesn’t feel crappy. The controls are responsive. It’s not a badly made game. And hell, maybe for its time, it was a little more special. Probably not, since my play session with it wasn’t met with dozens of squealing retro gamers going OMG KID NIKI, HEART! In fact, hardly anyone recognized it at all. Maybe one or two people noted they rented the NES version of it back in the day. I’m used to having my older followers unleash the gushing for these titles. Not even a sniff of that here. So Kid Niki is truly lost to the ages despite being available in 2019 on Switch and PS4, and it’s not hard to see why. Every single aspect of it, from its look to its sound effects and action make it feel like you’re playing a fake video game being shown in a bad sitcom. It’s so typically 80s gaming that it’s like a joke game.

I had to abuse the interrupt save states to beat Kid Niki. The normal run-of-the-mill enemies are not a challenge at all. The same can’t be said about the bosses. Especially the last one, which is one the most unfair, impossible encounters ever. I had to save hit-to-hit because, during one phase, bubbles rise up from the floor so fast and so randomly that it’s really sheer luck to not get hit by one. If anyone gave a shit about Kid Niki, it’d be in the discussion for the worst boss in gaming history. I’d show you a clip but it has video capture disabled. Likely because the game sucks so badly.

Probably the best thing it has going for it are its boss fights. The tone, ahem, RADICALLY changes. The game does a neat thing I’ve never seen before, where hitting the boss inflicts damage upon it but causes your sword to go flying behind you, where you must retrieve it. Mind you, this doesn’t happen while making your way to a boss. It’s a neat mechanic that actually works to add tension and nuanced challenge to an otherwise bland game. I wish it did more things that changed up the formula like that. I think if Kid Niki had been remotely creative in its level design, enemy design, or play mechanics, the bosses would have gone down as some of the most memorable in classic gaming. They’re grotesque, they’re legitimately frightening, and pretty fun to battle. And that’s the travesty of Kid Niki’s mediocrity: that these quality boss encounters are lost to history.

Maybe it’s just me, but Kid Niki checks off so many gaming 80s gaming stereotypes that it almost seems like a movie prop.

If Kid Niki is the poster child for being less than the sum of its parts, Elevator Action is the poster child for being more. Unlike Kid Niki, my fans largely recognized it, which, duh. Of course they did! The franchise had legs. As I was typing this, I discovered Kid Niki actually was a franchise, at least in Japan. It had two Famicom sequels and a Game Boy spin-off. Who knew? Well, very few outside of Japan did. On the other hand, Elevator Action was at least well known enough to get a global sequel and a slew of remakes. I had one on my PlayStation 3 and it was the shits. But you have to be at least X amount recognizable to get a modern remake, so Elevator Action was remembered as a classic.

What’s really weird is Elevator Action isn’t a particularly good game if you focus on it mechanically. It’s slow, often feels unresponsive, and movement is pretty clunky. And yet, the fundamental gameplay is fun and genuinely exciting. Plus, for a 1983 game, it sure has an air of violence. What can I say? I love violence, and Elevator Action has this macabre vibe about it. When you fire a bullet at someone and it hits, it makes this incredibly satisfying popping sound that never failed to put a smile on my face. Also, I might have something wrong with me.

I actually played this in early September and deleted all my media for it. Whoops.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Elevator Action is a borderline bad game. It just does so many things wrong. You can’t duck in elevators because.. reasons. There’s too much waiting around for one of the slow-moving elevators to come to the floor you’re on. The level layouts can be so bad and nonsensical that they kill the pace of the game dead. And, frankly, I got fucked by unavoidable deaths more than once. So, why is Elevator Action fun? It really shouldn’t be. It’s a very badly made game.

It’s not exactly Mortal Kombat, but the murders in Elevator Action feel like murders, and that’s good enough for me.

I think it’s a matter of the concept is so smart and so immersive that you really only had to get the bare minimum working to create something worthwhile. Which is not to say the concept just works, period. Elevator Action Deluxe, the aforementioned PS3 game, was terrible. But what is here does feel like you’re a real spy really shooting bad guys. I’d love to see the exact same concept redone today with sharper controls and a little bit of blood. Make it feel like a real, white-knuckle espionage via elevator arcade experience. But what we got here defied all my beliefs that a retro game needs to handle well to be fun. Elevator Action plays like shit. Elevator Action feels sloppy. And Elevator Action is kinda, sorta, just a little teeny tiny bit fun. Well, fuck me.

Arcade Archives: Elevator Action was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4

$7.99 legitimately giggled at shooting bad guys in the balls in the making of this review.

Elevator Action (and not Kid Niki) is Chick-Approved and will eventually be ranked on the IGC Arcade Retroboard.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas

I pre-ordered Whipseey and the Lost Atlas based on the cover art and one screen shot. It looked like it aspired to be an indie tribute to Kirby. Those don’t happen as often as you would think. Also, the preorder offered $0.50 off the purchase price. You guys really should only pre-order digital games if doing so nets you a discount. Otherwise, it’s not like the eShops will run out of copies. And then, on Tuesday morning the game unlocked and I started it. And right away, I could tell something was off. The scrolling didn’t feel smooth. The controls didn’t feel 100% responsive. Attacking was awkward and clumsy.

It only took me a minute to realize all these things. I genuinely try to review games and not their developers, but I do have to ask: if I realized this stuff was off that fast, why didn’t they realize it sooner? Like, before releasing it?

The shit thing is, Whipseey looks so good in screenshots. It’s a photogenic game. I bet it ends up a best seller by virtue of release date and how fun it SEEMS like it should be.

Whipseey is not good. And that’s a shame, because it sure seems like it could be fun. Despite looking like Kirby, most of the action borrows from entirely different games. Your primary attack is a whip that mechanically functions like original generation Castlevania games and only works straight in front of you. Sounds great. The problem is that it’s clunky to use, with a delay. It’s also not really suitable for mid-jump attacks, and that’s a big problem because the game is built largely around platforms and enemy placement that forces you to mid-air attack. Maybe if the button placement was different, it’d be easier to pull off. But Whipseey doesn’t offer button mapping. On Switch, B jumps, Y whips. I found it quite awkward switching between the two on a standard Joycon. None of the other buttons do anything. So why not offer mapping, or at the very least, some kind of dual button scheme?

On the plus side, the collision detection is absolute shit. It works against you, sure, but you can hit bosses and enemies sometimes without making contact. So there’s that.

See how far my whip is from making contact on this, the first boss? It’s almost a full character length from it. But, this landed. It caused damage. That’s how bad the collision detection can be. That’s fucking embarrassing. I guess to make up for this, the developer gave the boss an electrocution move that has no telegraphing. The first two bosses are genuinely some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Here’s a full video of that boss fight if you want to see me get credit for a few hits I completely whiffed. Also, who makes their first boss an underwater fight unless that’s the entire game’s theme? For fuck’s sake!

The combat is bad. The platforming is worse. Instead of Castlevania, think Donkey Kong Country 2 or 3. Whipseey has the ability to do a Dixie Kong-style helicopter glide, and that’d be great. But the game is filled with instakill spikes with less than accurate-feeling collision detection, instakill pits, and lots of enemy crowding. And the game seems to have a thing for putting something above your head, and a pit in front of you, so that you go to jump but the platform above you cuts off the angle and you fall into a pit. The jumping just feels off. The gravity too heavy, the angles tough to judge. It’s never intuitive. The helicopter thing or the parts where you swing from your whip would be fun if the physics were refined and smoothed out. They’re not, and consequently they’re just not fun.

I really don’t have that much to say about Whipseey. I wanted to quit multiple times while playing it, finally giving up on the last boss. There’s only five levels, none of which rise above bland in terms of design. Things really don’t start to get interesting until the fourth and fifth levels, which had potential to be a bit more than simply bland if all the mechanics had been given more development time. But that means you’re over 60% of the way through the game before the level design feels ambitious. Before that, it’s just enemies being placed in dickish positions, or stuff like hopping on enemies to clear pits. In other games, the “bounce across enemies to finish a section” can be a highlight (see Super Mario 2 with the fish). But for Whipseey, if you fail to make the jump, even if you manage to float back to the starting platform, you’re dead. The enemy never respawns, and despite the door you came from being RIGHT FUCKING THERE, you can’t enter it and then go back and try again. You have to throw yourself into the pit and try again.

Also, this guy moves back and forth. So it’s not like you have a stationary target to hit. It’s incredible how many things Whipseey manages to do wrong in only five levels.

It’s rare that I play a game where it feels nothing goes right, but that’s Whipseey. You get a free life if you collect 100 gems. You get gems from enemies. But, when you whip enemies, the gems don’t just drop. They go flying behind them. In a game based largely on pits. Guess where most of those gems end up? If you run out of lives, you have to start a level again. Guys, it’s time to get rid of lives systems. You’re not doing anything to help your platform game by adding busy work of replaying levels for the sake of “challenge.” Come up with something better. If you need to force players to replay entire stages as a punishment in order to make your game harder, you’re doing it wrong. And, if you’re afraid of pissing off the blowhard crowd that wants to be punished for poor play because privately getting spanked is their kink, make it optional. In Whipseey, there’s a menu for “options” but the only thing you can change is the sound. Bosses are all boring. Enemies are boring and often cheap. There’s only five levels. There’s no power-ups. There’s no twists. It runs out of ideas fast. There’s only one potentially memorable set-piece (set on a train) and it ends up playing quite poorly. I feel like a bitch for going off this much a first-time developer’s game. This really wasn’t a fun review for me to do, but to my credit, it wasn’t a very fun game I was playing.

I’m not actually going to complain about the length. Some might not want a game with five relatively normal sized levels for $6 though. If Whipseey had been just okay, I’d probably been fine with the length. If it’d been good, I probably wouldn’t have been. It wasn’t either of those things. I was happy to get to the end.

All these little problems that add up to overall pretty terrible experience screams of a game that was rushed from conception to market as fast as could be done. NOTHING I’ve seen here leads me to believe developer Daniel A. Ramirez should quit. He clearly had a vision and saw it through to completion, and has a finished game that, when I saw it, I wanted it. And then I played it, and I wish he’d worked on it longer. If this had been given an extra spit-shine when the levels were done, with the rough edges smoothed out and less emphasis on dick-headed enemy placement, Whipseey and the Lost Atlas could have been a memorable indie romp. Instead it just feels like an unfinished prototype. But, it sure looks great in pictures. Big deal. So did Ryan Leaf.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas was developed by Daniel A. Ramierez
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam

$5.49 (normally $5.99) doesn’t do great with whip-based indie tributes in the making of this review.

Death Coming

Have you ever picked up a Where’s Waldo book and wanted to massacre all the extras? No? Just me? Scary? Okay. Well, Death Coming is basically that. You take the role of an assistant Grim Reaper, specifically targeting three people per a level. But hey, you also have quotas to fill, and look at all the fleshy people just walking around, being all quota-like. Each stage requires you to kill a certain amount before you can move on. On the Switch, you can use a cursor or a touch screen. My brain has bad wiring and for some reason I kept alternating between the two, but in a nutshell, you click objects and if you click them at the right time, people die. And if that’s all Death Coming had going for it, it’d be fine. Not memorable, but a decent little time waster.

You get to pull off such kills as locking someone in a room with radioactive material and let them die of radiation poisoning. It’s the feel good game of the year!

But, Death Coming has a lot more going on for it. It’s all the proof developers need that it’s not what you do, but how you do it. Developer NEXT Studios was smart enough to give the NPCs personality and character. Don’t get me wrong: the NPCs follow strict parameters and aren’t exactly subject to free will despite what the game says. But at least it feels like they were given enough heart to be a bit more than just a body count. An ongoing story during your reaping shenanigans is a series of heists that you inadvertently foil through your death-dealing duties. Some NPCs carry on torrid love affairs, complete with scootilypooping (censored behind giant hearts, aww isn’t that sweet). Even alien invasions go down while working. None of this has anything to do with you being a Grim Reaper, though your presence certainly can work out for and against them. You just simply take souls while these cannon-fodder go about the (last moments of their) lives. It makes Death Coming fun in a fly-on-the-wall kind of way. If that fly were armed and wanted you dead.

You don’t directly kill anyone in Death Coming. Rather, you click objects and hope they do the deed for you. At its most base level, this means waiting for an NPC to walk onto a single square of the playfield that a trap will catch them on, like having something fall and squash them, or having them fall down a manhole. The more puzzlely aspects involve using various objects as complex series of rube-goldberg antics in order to free the meatbags from the mortal coil. Like there might be a target character lounging by a swimming pool. You close the umbrella above his head, wait for him to get into the pool, then click an electrical wire above the pool, frying him and all the other NPCs in the pool with him. I don’t know what is says about me that I found the gameplay so satisfying. Nothing good. Or, according to my increasingly terrified family, surprising.

But, as cathartic as it is to resurrect a tyrannosaurus and send it on a rampage, I take issue with some of Death Coming’s design choices. In order to add “challenge”, the game employs “angel police” that feel you’re just a little too blood-lustful. In order to activate any trap, you have to click it twice. The angels only catch you if they spot you between the first and second clicks of an object. If they spot you three times.. I’m honestly not sure what happens since it never once happened to me. I mean, it’s a point and click game. There’s no avatar that has to avoid detection of the angels. The only time I got spotted was when the camera auto-zoomed in because I triggered some event and I forgot to zoom back out afterwards. Death Coming didn’t need this shit. All it does is slow the gameplay down, making me have to wait longer to kill NPCs because I had to watch an angel slowly fly by. And it’s not like Death Coming was fast paced to begin with. It’s one of those “minimum indie badness” decisions that seems so obviously unnecessary in retrospect and makes me wonder if there was anyone along the way who told the devs “no”. It gets really out of hand in the last level. You’re given a chance to activate weather-based events, but doing so spawns an angel. It’s not optional to do this, but the game also spawns even more angels as you go along. I don’t know if this was done to feel climatic or to pad the run time, but it grinds the level into something resembling a slog. The Indiana Jones theme is so fun for that level too. It doesn’t ruin it, but it comes close.

The angels spotting your finger does absolutely nothing. As long as you zoom out, you shouldn’t get spotted at all. It’s like someone spent a day with the world’s least threatening hall monitor and said “this pussy man would make a great video game antagonist!”

The bigger problem is how many replays you’ll need to get a feel for the traps. Sometimes they’re not so predictable, but once they’re used (or used X amount of times), they can’t be reused. If the word bubbles that appeared above the traps had been more descriptive, maybe you could more accurately predict what way they’ll fall or what part of the current rube-goldberg puzzle they’ll activate, and what path that will take once you do. In each of the six levels, I would find myself restarting them several times each, which I found necessary to figure out how the traps are used and how many characters you can take out in each. The only time I didn’t was in the sixth and final stage, where I put over an hour into it before realizing that it’d probably be in my best interest to start over. Once I did, I finished it in about fifteen minutes. In fact, I realized late in the game that you don’t even need to kill the three “target” NPCs featured on each stage to advance to the next level. You just need to fill your quota. I honestly don’t even know what the point of it was. Maybe it’d make sense if it were a different three characters every time you started each stage again and getting all three was necessary in addition to reaching your quota. But it’s not. Strange.

And I always hate to say this stuff, but the current Death Coming release is a bit unstable. The game skipped a bit sometimes when events would be triggered or when I scrolled around, or zoomed in or out. The skip never went away, but wasn’t a deal breaker or anything. I think one time it messed with my timing of activating a trap. A bigger worry is that I crashed the game a couple times in the final stage, once loading it, once when I went to take pics for this very review, uploaded them, then returned to the game only for me to code out to the Switch main menu. I’m sure it’ll get patched out eventually, but I hope the irony that a game about the Grim Reaper kept dying on me isn’t lost on anyone.

This is fun an all, but getting high scores would require keeping track of so many things that really you can probably chalk all the top people down to blowing lottery-levels of luck on a $7 Switch game instead of a lottery ticket. Only they know if it was worth it. Probably not.

Being a puzzler, once you finish Death Coming, in theory you should be done. Thankfully, NEXT came up a novel solution: a scoring system with online leaderboards. I figured there must be an absolute max score and the boards would be filled with multiple identical numbers. As of this writing, they’re not. None of the six levels feature the same person or same score in the top spots. That’s promising, and makes me think that the potential for higher scores might be on the table. So, Death Coming is more than your run-of-the-mill puzzler. But I wish it realized that. The angels and the arcadey scoring I think might have come at the cost of more of the more complex, multi-phase traps that made me giggle like an sadistic five year old who just discovered what you can do with ants and a magnifying glass. But hell, even a single-phase kill, like dropping an anchor on a boat, made me smile and feel warm inside. Death Coming isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s the exact sort of pick-me-up you want to play when you’re suffering from the flu and have pondered whether you’d welcome the loving embrace of death. Can you tell what kind of week I’m having?

Death Coming was developed by NEXT Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam, iOS, Android

$6.99 didn’t fear the reaper in the making of this review.

Death Coming is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Iron Crypticle

The guys at Tikipod clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to freshening-up moldy oldies. Hot off the heels of my infuriating time with ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove, my next game in my Backlog from Hell was another revival of a long-lost game. Here, Iron Cryticle is a tribute to Smash TV, which isn’t exactly a classic that withstands the test of time. I got it for Xbox Live Arcade in the late 2000s and was not a fan at all. The game show theme was inspired, but the actual gameplay was overly long and very bland. During my #IGCRetroBlitz (the # is part of the name) for Midway Arcade Origins back in January, Smash TV was part of the lineup and I was reminded just how awful it was. Rooms that seemed to last forever. Uninteresting weapons. Bosses so spongy that players might be better off just hanging out and waiting to see if they’ll die of natural causes. It’s a terrible game, and if not for the game show gimmick, nobody would remember it today. Want proof? Ever play Total Carnage? No? Well it’s the sequel to Smash TV and it doesn’t have the game show theme. Told you.

Crypticle’s got spongy bosses, but only “barely to the point of annoying” spongy. Not “we soak-up firepower to such a degree that you have to wonder if the developers really just had contempt for you” spongy.

But, people do remember Smash TV, and twin-stick shooters are a perfectly fine genre. The failure of Smash TV to hold up is based around the fact that it was designed specifically to rob quarters from bored teenagers in the early 90s. But the idea of a twin-stick shooter with a series of single-screen rooms, branching paths, waves of enemies, bonus rooms, and tons of pick-ups is solid. Tikipod and co-developer Confused Pelican (who is presumably not Alvin Gentry) had a perfectly good road map to make the ultimate Smash TV tribute. Actually, the means to improve the formula are self-evident. Just remove the quarter-thievery objective and focus on a great experience for players. And they’ve done it.

The biggest hurdle Confused Pelitiki had was keeping the experience fresh. In Smash TV, even the first room overstays its welcome. For Iron Crypticle, gameplay is sped up and rooms are shorter and offer a lot more variety than just relying on enemies and landmines for the challenge. Rooms have different themes with pros and cons depending on if you want to rack up points or stockpile weapons. There are online leaderboards, so points might matter to you. There’s a lot more going on than just moving towards bonus rooms like there is in Smash TV.

By the power of Grayskull!

It helps that the enemies are more varied and that you can unlock more guns and more power-ups with each play-through. There are magic spells you can save up to clear out enemies. There’s a dash move to aid in escaping tight jams. There’s a satisfying variety of guns that spawn with relative frequency. Hell, they even threw in a Bubble Bobble-style letter-collecting thingy where if you spell B-O-N-U-S you clear a room automatically and get tons of goodies. They even went the extra mile and made collecting points more fun by having them stack for bonus multipliers. It’s like Tiki-elican did forensic analysis on the carcass of Smash TV and said “why is part boring and what can we do to unboringfy it?” Smash TV had two players. Iron Crypticle has four. Smash TV lacked in variety. Crypticle breaks up the levels with shops or arcades where you can earn bonus points playing a very decent side-scrolling platformer called Castle Crushers. If Iron Crypticle had a game show theme, it’d been exactly the Smash TV update that people have wanted for thirty-years now.

It’s not perfect. I really hate that, even on easy mode, you’re limited to five continues and once they’re gone, it’s back to the beginning with you. Shouldn’t that type of game-over condition be reserved for higher difficulty levels and people who are looking to challenge themselves? I think so. Even on easy, Iron Crypticle isn’t a slouch, especially when playing by yourself. You can buy extra credits in the stores but they’re relatively expensive and you’ll probably have to skip on upgrading your stats to be able to afford them. Crypticle gets teeth late in the game and I wasn’t able to finish the primary quest. Usually this is a deal breaker for me. I mean, I lost my shit when Cuphead gated me out of the final bosses even though I accomplished more than over 90% of other Cuphead players. Surely that should apply here? Especially when Tikipod whispered to me what happens after the final boss and I ended up giving them a black eye just for THINKING of doing what they apparently did.

Okay, I wish the game wasn’t so darkly lit, and I wish some traps stood out a bit more. I lost track of how many times I took damage because I just didn’t notice I was moving next to something deadly.

Well, it probably would have killed the game. Maybe even should have killed the game. But once you play Iron Crypticle once, you unlock a “bonus mode” that’s just one single “endless” room. Kill waves of enemies, reach the second wave, etc, etc. It basically turns Medieval Smash TV into Medieval Robotron 2084. But here’s the nutty part: I actually like this mode more than the normal mode. It’s pure, scoring-driven, white-knuckle action. All the cool weapons and upgrades from the normal mode thrown into a single-roomed non-stop killathon. I loved it. And, even better, you can still unlock new items and weapons in this mode that become available in all modes. That is such an inspired decision, and it changes the dynamic of the game completely since Endless mode is no longer just a tacked-on time waster. And that, my friends, is what puts Iron Crypticle over-the-top and makes it one of the best action indie games I’ve ever played.

What I like best about Iron Crypticle is what it represents. It reminded me that many developers fundamentally get it. Pay tribute to the *spirit* of the original while revamping and modernizing everything you know it did wrong. It might not carry the same theme, but Crypticle feels like Smash TV, only a version of it fully-realized, fleshed-out, polished, and modern. It’s a throwback that nobody my age can possibly get bored with. One that even the most stuffy, hardliner retro fan has to concede does right by original. It succeeds as a tribute, and soars on its own merit. There is no better way to show how much the classic meant to your life than making a better game inspired by it. It sure beats getting a tattoo!

Iron Crypticle was developed by Tikipod & Confused Pelican
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam

$3.99 (normally $9.99) recommended against using Joycons because they SUCK for twin-stick shooters in the making of this review.

Iron Crypticle is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

I consider Greg Johnson to be a friend. We’ve got a good rapport with each-other and I was one of the few who was positively gaga over Doki Doki Universe. Nobody bought Doki Doki. Hell, most fans of ToeJam & Earl don’t even know about it. It’s a lot like TJ&E, but it’s not exactly the same game the developmentally stunted among us played as children in 1991, and thus they had no interest in it. But, I like Greg and I like his team. So this wasn’t the most fun review for me to do. Consider this a trigger warning for all you old people who have ventured to my blog: the following review will, in no way, harm the memories of your childhood spent being a latchkey kid raised by a Sega Genesis. It’s perfectly reasonable and logical that I, an individual who was two-years-old when the original ToeJam & Earl came out, would not be swayed by nostalgia for a game that meant nothing to my childhood. And trust me, in the case of Back in the Groove, that nostalgia is absolutely necessary. You know how sometimes I wonder out-loud “who exactly was this game made for?” Not here. I know exactly who TJ&E: Back in the Groove was made for: fans of the original. And only fans of the original. I really feel like an uninvited party-crasher here.

I do like the idea of Back in the Groove and what it represents. Here’s a game from a franchise that failed over and over again to maintain or cultivate a substantial audience and claw its way out of cult-status. One where the fan base is rabid enough and starved enough that they can raise half-a-million via crowd-funding, but not on big enough to justify a revival on its own merit. There is a sect of snobs out there who believe Kickstarter should be reserved only for new developers bringing new ideas. Nuts to that, says I. In fact, I would say that Kickstarter is tailored specifically for these sort of comebacks, where the angry and demanding fan-bases can step up to the plate, pony-up their dosh in advance, and assume all the risk that a publisher would have to be off their rocker to take. ToeJam & Earl, dare I say, is quintessentially a crowd-funding project. Fans can buy the creators a truckload of shovels to dig up the corpse, tie electrodes it, blast it with lightning, and then admire the unholy abomination they brought back from the dead together.

Back in the Groove feels like a game that’s been in a coma since 1991, and consequently is oblivious to the whole concept of being “woke.” Tons of fat-shaming present. I’m not outraged or anything. It’s just sort of jarring to see a new game in 2019 not give a shit about political correctness. Earl can eat anything, even toxic food. Why? Because he’s the fat one. And, as we all know, conventional wisdom tells us fat people can and will eat anything. That’s how they got fat in the first place, right? It’s almost refreshing how out-of-fucks to give it is.

Credit where it’s due: Back in the Groove feels just like the Genesis original. For fans of series, that’s probably all they need. It’s best to think of Groove as a remake. You walk around sprawling randomly-generated maps looking for parts of your ship. Along the way you run away from enemies, engage in lots of item-hunting, and, if you’re me, ask yourself what all the fuss is about. ToeJam & Earl was certainly ahead of its time. It was released in 1991, years before games like Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie popularized adventurous collect-a-thons. But, besides a misguided Xbox release in 2002 that honestly wasn’t that bad, the series has been dormant ever since a 2D platform sequel that I personally liked more when I played both games as part of Sega Genesis Classics. Panic on Funkotron had a weird Dr. Seuss quality about it and felt like a polished product. 1991’s ToeJam & Earl felt like a proof of concept that hopefully someday would see its potential fully realized.

That’s not what Back in the Groove does. Combat, for instance. Back in the Groove, especially in later levels, spams the screen with enemies that move faster than you and take a LOT of health off (or steal the goodies you’ve collected). You get things like tomatoes or slingshots that you throw at enemies to fight back with. But, in order to call them up, you have to bring up a menu of all the “presents” you’ve collected. And the game doesn’t tell you what the presents you collected are. They’re labeled with question marks, and the only way to find out what they are is to either open them, thus using them, or find a character to pay a relatively large amount of resources to tell you what they are. You’re basically reliant on luck to be able to get the right present that allows you to fight back. Oh, and while you’re fumbling through menus hoping to find something defensive to use, the game doesn’t pause. The enemies are still coming at you. The ones that already moved faster than you and were at a major advantage to begin with. You can skip that and run, but in many levels the only means of escape is jumping into water. Water which will, itself, start to drain your health. Yeah. Combine this with the fact that the mystery presents might not help but themselves spawn even more enemies or bullshit to deal with, and you suddenly have a game that is just outright fucking with you.

Why is it like this? Because that’s what the original was like.

The fact that half the items will absolutely fuck you over is infuriating. Games are supposed to be fun, right? But at one point I opened three straight presents which, in order: spawned more enemies, put a giant neon sign above my head that drew the enemies to me, and then put a rain cloud above me that caused lightning to strike down upon me and warned me I couldn’t go back into the water to hide. Fucking really? I know the running gag with me is I have bad luck with RNG, but COME ON! How is this shit supposed to be fun?

When I complained about this, fans of the series were aghast. “How dare you complain that this unfair, clunky shit is unfair and clunky? That’s what we wanted! It’s what we paid to make!” And you know what? They’re right! This is exactly what they asked for. They wanted all the cheesy, crappy mechanics that made most people abandon the series decades ago to return intact and unaltered. They got their wish. Consequently, ToeJam & Earl is the perfect remake. It was shitty and borderline unplayable in 1991 and it’s shitty and borderline unplayable in 2019. Bravo.

And that makes it hard for me to discuss it. Sometimes I say a game wasn’t made for me, but this time it’s specifically true. I can’t remember a Kickstarter project that has been made just for one core set of gamers to this degree. Even Shenmue III looks like it aspires to evolve past its deeply-flawed origins. ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove rejects progress and advancement. It plays and feels like an early 90s project that was too ambitious to work as desired, but hey, at least it’s ambitious. And if this were 1991, that would be fine. But it’s 2019, and it’s not. Bringing all the problems back, deliberately this time, would be like a family bragging about how webbed toes are passed through the generations like they were a priceless heirloom.

Take the levels. They’re randomly generated, so we shouldn’t expect too much. But there’s a very limited amount of set pieces. A normal grassland, a desert, a snowfield, and levels that are dark where you use a flashlight to see. I played through 19 levels and that was the extent of the variety. The themes repeated over and over again. Because the levels are randomly generated, they all feel samey and very, very bland no matter what the theme is. Sometimes the elevator would spawn in a screen that was absolutely saturated with enemies, like the men in black that zap you with a cattle-prod and steal all your presents. Or sometimes a level would begin with a screenful of enemies AND a hula-dancer that stun-locks you, because apparently you can’t resist doing the hula with her even if there are enemies chasing you and eating you right at that moment. I’d go so far as to say ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove has the worst randomly generated levels for this kind of game I’ve ever seen. They’re never interesting, which completely undermines the whole “never the same game twice” shit that random levels are supposed to assure. Who cares if it’s never the same twice when it’s dull at best to begin with?

Greg Johnson is a cool dude. One of the classiest acts in gaming. I was, and still am, a huge fan of Doki Doki Universe, his unsung magnum opus that never got is due. The weird thing for me is that ToeJam & Earl is one of the more remembered duos in gaming. Not Mario & Luigi level, but not obscure either. Yet, unless you play co-op, there’s no interplay with them at all. Meanwhile, Doki Doki Universe turned even the most stonehearted of owners into mush with the genuine and moving relationship between a robot and a sentient balloon. Because of that game, I know this one phoned it in. Over the course of Doki Doki, its stories are fleshed out, its characters get development and arcs, and we, the players, form a personal connection to them.

ToeJam and Earl, on the other hand, get no development at all. Besides an opening cinematic that shows them to be so stupid that they’re practically mentally handicapped, they are defined entirely by their character models, not any writing or story or interaction with other characters. They’re aliens. They like music. They fart. But the thing is, after Doki Doki I know Mr. Johnson is capable of better than this. These aren’t characters. They’re cynical, lazy brand mascots designed to appeal specifically to children from 1991, at the height of Nickelodeon and Ninja Turtles. Again, I can’t help but wonder if the reason this game forgoes character development and an actual story is because the original didn’t have it. The only reason this bothers me above all else is I fucking know Greg is better. This shit is beneath him.

When I was whining about how the enemies are faster than me, the solution given to me by fans was “don’t pick Earl.” Yea, what was I thinking? Picking one of the main characters in a game that bears his name? Well, I’ll have you know I picked Earl because it seems like half the food you find is spoiled, which makes all the characters but Earl take damage and throw up. In my last run, I counted the rotten food v non-rotten food. It was 12 for fresh, and 14 for rotten. That’s just how this shit works. It seemed like most of the bushes I shook led to either spawning more enemies or dropping bowling balls on me.

So why isn’t Back in the Groove better? There’s so many buttons on game consoles today. Each of the major three platforms has two rows of shoulder buttons. Why not let players shuffle through the presents with the triggers while they’re trying to run from enemies? Because the original didn’t have that. Why does seemingly most of the shit you can uncover while searching the world turn out to be a trap? Because that’s how it was in the original. Why was almost no effort made to tighten the controls and make the exploration and combat more comfortable and responsive? So it would feel more like the original.

You know what? Why didn’t you fucking people just keep playing the original one? If you wanted to pretend that thirty years of design innovation or gameplay conventions didn’t spring into existence since ToeJam & Earl came out, why even bother asking for a remake, let alone raise $500,000 for one? So you can play the same game with fancier graphics? Wait, aren’t you the same generation that completely lost their shit when Lucasfilm added CG clutter to the original Star Wars movies? Will you make up your mind on what you want? Same old shit with a fresh coat of paint or a real sequel that fully realizes the potential of the game that was important to your childhood? The best remakes are ones that pay tribute to the spirit of the original while righting all the wrongs that were a result of technological limitations. Look at the Resident Evil 2 remake. Part of the reason for the fixed camera angles was to “direct” players and create more effective jump-scares, but the bigger reason was the technology wasn’t there to give players full control without too many compromises being made. By 2019, the tech was there and had been perfected for over a decade. Now imagine if fans said “that’s cool, but you better bring back the horrible fixed cameras, or else.”

I didn’t even realize that you had to talk to a guy in a carrot suit to level-up. That’s another issue: you can’t tell good things from bad things. Dude in a carrot suit = good. Hula dancer = bad. Update: you can tell because good characters have a very subtle sparkly effect. I double checked and yea, it’s there.

So, while I’m genuinely happy that ToeJam & Earl fans had their successful campaign and got exactly what they asked for (that’s not a joke, for all the bitching I’m doing, I’m always happy to see long-suffering gamers get their day in the sun), I question whether this is really what they should have asked for. If I had been a fan, I’d wanted to see the series catch on with gamers of all stripes, sell a ton of copies, and finally be here to stay. Isn’t that the best way to show your love for something? To want it to be successful? Not that I think ToeJam & Earl fans want it to fail. They clearly love the series. But they only want it to do well on their own terms. I’m sorry, but that’s not reasonable at all. Those are not the type of fans who should be catered to, Kickstarter or not. It’s no different from music fans who discover a band, fall in love with them, and brag about them to everyone. It’s their band. Until they get successful, have their albums go gold, and get big gigs. At that point, they’re sellouts, and you spend the rest of your days telling people how they used to be cool. No, you used to be cool. They’re still cool, mostly because they’re making more than just a small group of disloyal people happy. ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove could have been a good game, but “fans” didn’t challenge Greg Johnson and the development team to bring the concept to its fullest potential. They wanted a remake. They got a remake. They’re happy with it.

And it assures ToeJam & Earl will always be just their thing, and theirs alone.

Well, they can have it.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove was developed by HumaNature Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam

$19.99 challenged Greg and crew to do DLC with *hand-designed* levels in the making of this review.

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