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 Williams Pinball: Volume 5

This is the first Indie Pinball Chick review where I have to cover multiple DLC packs. Well, unless you consider that Star Wars Pinball for Switch is on Pinball FX 3 for PC/PS4/XB1 as multiple smaller DLC sets. But, we’re talking about Williams Pinball sets for Pinball FX 3 today. Each of them costs $9.99, unless you buy the Williams Season 1 pack for Xbox One/Steam/PS4, in which case you’re paying $31.99 for all twelve tables it includes. These rankings also include the two tables in the Universal Monsters Pack that I’ve already covered and the free-to-download Fish Tales.

All four of the original Williams sets are Indie Gamer Chick approved. If you’re curious which order I recommend them, volumes one, two, three, and the Universal Monsters Pack each contain a masterpiece-caliber table. Volume 4 stands alone as the only set that doesn’t feature a “must own” table. But, keeping it real, one of the tables I have ranked as “bad” in that set is currently ranked as the ninth best solid state table ever at the Internet Pinball Database. So, your mileage may vary. Volume 1 is the only of the Williams sets with three tables that I gave a positive ranking to every table it has. Meanwhile, Volume 3 has only a single table I ranked positively, making it the highest price-per-quality-table Williams set. But, the one table I liked is good enough on its own merit that I’d still recommend purchasing that pack (especially if you can get it discounted). Finally, the Universal Monster Pack only has two tables, but one of those I have ranked as one of the best Williams recreations, which takes the sting out of getting fewer tables. After strong consideration, I’ve ranked the Pinball FX3 sets in the following order:

#1: Williams Pinball Volume 1

1 Masterpiece
2 Good
Price per Quality Table: $3.33

The only set that runs the table (pinball puns, gotta love them). If you can only buy one Williams Pinball FX 3 collection, this is the most sure-fire, can’t miss one. Medieval Madness is the dream table many silver ball enthusiasts wish they could own the real version of. Let’s keep it real here: Medieval Madness is a $10,000+ table. Buying this set nets you a very, very accurate version of it at a 99.9% discount. And, when you inevitably grow bored with it (like the vast majority of first-time real table buyers do), you don’t have a $10,000 gigantic reminder of how poor your spending habits are hogging up space in your rec room.

Plus, you won’t have to repair the trolls when they break. Which they will. Personal experience talking here.

Medieval Madness is worth the price of Volume 1 by itself. But it doesn’t come alone. You also get Getaway: High Speed II (which my Dad wants to note was HIS favorite table in the entire Williams collection) and Junk Yard. Getaway is more of a traditional table and feels the “oldest” of any of the Williams tables, with simple targets and a short upper-orbit. Junk Yard is a novelty table based around a wrecking-ball gimmick (and one of only two tables Williams ever did that lacked bumpers). Neither table is great, but they’re nice to have and far from boring. The icing on the Medieval Madness cake.

#2: Williams Pinball Volume 5

2 Great
1 Good
Price per Quality Table: $3.33

Initially, I thought the match-up between Volume 1 and Volume 5 would be closer. But the more time I put into Tales of the Arabian Nights, the more I realized it was unworthy of the “Great” ranking I initially had it pegged for. But, make no mistake: Volume 5 is, along with Volume 1, the best value and surest bet of any of the Pinball FX 3 Williams sets so far. You get three fun, difficult tables. In fact, Volume 5 is probably the least newb-friendly set. You can check out my full review here.

#3: Universal Monsters Pack

1 Masterpiece
1 Good
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

I’ve wrote already about the Universal Monsters Pack. Having it ranked #2 despite being one table smaller than the other four sets really should speak to how much I cherish Monster Bash. Creature from the Black Lagoon has its merits and is certainly a good table, but I think it’s historically over-rated. It’s all about Monster Bash.

#4: Williams Pinball Volume 2

1 Masterpiece
1 Good
1 The Pits
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

Party Zone is a horrible table and Black Rose is among the most frustrating good tables out there. But, these two deeply flawed tables are counter-balanced by being packed with Attack from Mars. That’s kind of a big deal because I literally can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it. If not for Party Zone, there’s a strong chance this set could have taken the top spot. Really, the top three positions were close and Vol 1 won by virtue of having no bad tables. Any of the top three are no-brainers.

#5: Williams Pinball Volume 4

1 Great
1 Good
1 Bad
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

Until Volume 5, this was the only set that lacks a masterpiece-level table. Despite that, Volume 4 is hardly a wash. While I’m sure my opinion on White Water’s value (or lack thereof) will be controversial, there’s no question that Red & Ted’s Road Show is a lot of fun. Also included is Hurricane, a problematic table that still manages to entertain. Part of me wishes they’d saved Hurricane for a future triple-pack that contained the complete Barry Oursler trilogy of roller-coaster/theme park machines and put the legendary FunHouse in Volume 4 instead. But, at this time, Zen Studios isn’t recreating any tables with numeric or alpha-numeric displays, and Hurricane is the only of those tables to have a dot matrix display. Whatever the case, Red & Ted is the only SuperPin (a series of ambitious, wide-body tables from Bally/Williams) on Pinball FX 3 and the spiritual successor to FunHouse. And hey, the purchase price allows you to play White Water and ask yourself how anyone in their right mind could consider it to be one of the ten best tables of the Solid State Era.

#6 Williams Pinball Volume 3

1 Masterpiece
1 Bad
1 The Pits
Price per Quality Table: $9.99

The only set that I had to think about, Williams Pinball Volume 3 led to an actual screaming match in my house regarding how I rate these sets. Because, while I have Volume 3 ranked last among the five available sets, I felt Theatre of Magic was good enough on its own to justify giving it the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. Originally, I came up with the following formula: every set should contain at least one table ranked masterpiece OR two tables ranked great or better OR three tables ranked good or better. Then, as my Dad pointed out, Volume 4 didn’t fit that. D’oh. Theatre of Magic is so fun, despite being deeply flawed in terms of scoring balance, that I gave it a masterpiece ranking. Why they have to pack it with two novelty tables is beyond me. Safe Cracker’s main appeal as a real machine is completely lost in digital form, while Champion Pub is simply a horrendous game of pinball. This is the ultimate “your mileage may vary” DLC pack. If Safe Cracker’s merits as a straight table appeal to you, this becomes a little easier to recommend. If you want to try a broken table that never really was good to begin with, Champion Pub will wet your weird appetite. For everyone else, Volume 3 is all about Theatre of Magic. I liked it a lot. If you don’t, this is the one volume I have no problem telling you to skip.

Really, we all win out with Pinball FX 3’s Williams collection. Each set can make a claim to stand on its own merits without the need to own any other set. You almost never see that with any game’s DLC. These are wonderful recreations of legendary tables from a bygone era. The physics can irritate sometimes, but I prefer them to the glidey, weightless feel that Pinball Arcade often feels like. And having a new generation of pinball enthusiasts get low-cost access to them is delightful. Further proof that we’ve entered the golden age of digital silver ball.

Pinball FX 3 Williams Pinball Season 1 (Vol 1 – 4) was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$9.99 each (I spent $4.99 on Volume 3 and 4 on XB1) likes the sound of “season one” in the making of this review.
All Pinball FX 3 Williams Pinball sets are Chick-Approved

 

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

Table Rating Index

Pinball FX 3: Williams Pinball Season One + Universal Monsters Pack + Volume 5
Total Tables: 18
Masterpieces: 4
Great: 4
Good: 6
Bad: 2
The Pits: 2

The Pits

#18: The Champion Pub
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Based on a concept by Pete Piotrowski, 1998
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

In your heart, you want this to be Punch-Out!! In reality, it’s more like Power Punch II.

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.

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 bullshit. 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.

#17 The Party Zone
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by Dennis Nordman, 1991
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Party foul.

Dennis Nordman made some truly great tables (and some truly over-rated ones too). This isn’t one of the great ones. It’s also one of the few real tables I’ve never played before, but based on what I’ve seen here, The Party Zone has to be one of the worst tables I’ve ever played. This is a miserable pinball machine. It plays too fast for such a limited layout. In fact, the ball practically teleports across the board when you hit it. The key to faster-than-light travel could be contained within Party Zone. The drain is powered by a black hole. About one-third of my launches I never could play because the ball got hung up on the bumpers just long enough for the ball save to evaporate, then dropped straight down the middle.

You’d think a game with a party theme would at least be inviting and fun. But, the primary target has a kicker that can send the ball directly to an outlane. 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 shit 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. But the modes really aren’t complex or interesting. Really, the only thing Party Zone does is set the baseline for a bad table being recreated as well as possible.

The Bad

#16: White Water
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Dennis Nordman, 1993
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

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

At least it’s based on rafting and not a real estate scandal.

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.

And the shit 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 a fucking all-star with arcade owners for as often as he cranked at 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 outlane? Sure. 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.

#15: Safe Cracker
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Designed by Pat Lawlor, 1996
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

“Let’s have a smaller table, but let’s pack as much shit 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.

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.

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.

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

#14: Hurricane
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Barry Oursler, 1991
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

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.

And, while we’re on the subject, as far as I can tell you can’t post any high scores online playing in multiplayer. And that’s a damn shame because, a while back, my father and I had an epic duel at Medieval Madness in Classic Mode where we both surpassed my own posted high score a few times over. 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.

#13: The Getaway: High Speed II
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Designed by Steve Ritchie, 1992
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
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.

This is a hard, hard table. The margin-for-error on shooting is narrow, on a table designed to be (at the time) the fastest in the history of the medium. Getaway: High Speed II is a punishing table. It’s also fun. But very deceptively so. Every single shot is super tight, so if you want a table that’s not n00b-friendly and requires precision, this is really the best table in Pinball FX 3 for that. But, once you get the hang of it, you’ll find a rewarding experience based around lightning-fast timing. Getaway is also primarily built around shooting orbital combos, but the timing for shooting them is more difficult on a game controller than it is for a real table. Once you get the timing down, successfully shooting those combos and seeing the huge scores build up is insanely exhilarating.

Also, this is one of those tables where some of the fun elements from the real machine are lost in translation. Throughout a session with Getaway, you’re supposed to shift gears, which is done with the auto-launching plunger. On a real Getaway table, it’s an actual gear shift! Here, that’s a simple button. It’s an ever-present, problem with digital pinball: some of the charm is lost. Ultimately, Getaway is a strong table, but might be too frustrating for many. It’s also probably the simplest or most “old-school” of all the Williams tables released so far, maybe too much so for snobbish modern audiences. Ahem. Yea, this is the point where my Dad wants to point out that this is his favorite in the series. He’s a Ritchie fanboy. Moving on.

#12 Creature from the Black Lagoon
Featured in Williams Pinball Universal Monsters Pack
Designed by John Trudeau, 1992
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average

Maybe the prettiest table in Pinball FX 3’s Williams’ collection. So there’s that!

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.

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.

#11: Black Rose
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by John Trudeau & Brian Eddy, 1992
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
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.

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. 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 have been so much better if it’d been a 1996 – 98 table instead of a 1992, when they were just starting to get the hang of more high-concept layouts.

#10: 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.

#9: Junk Yard
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Designed by Barry Oursler, 1996
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
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.

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.

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. 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. Certainly worth a look.

The Great

#8: 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 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.

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.

#7: Fish Tales
Free to Download with the Pinball FX3 Launcher
Designed by Mark Ritchie, 1992
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
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.

The horseshoe design leads into one of the most intense but simple combo-shooting experiences in PBFX3.

The result is a pretty dang good game. And, like all 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.

#6: 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.

#5: Red & Ted’s Road Show
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Pat Lawlor, Dwight Sullivan, & Ted Estes, 1994
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
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. Possibly something with a country-music theme since Red is voiced by Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter Cash.

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.

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? Fuck it. 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 fucking 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 week 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. Also, I’m going to go ahead and say it: worst launcher/skill-shot ever.

The Masterpieces

#4: Theatre of Magic
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Designed by John Popadiuk, 1995
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Below Average (This will get me hate mail)
Modes: Average
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. Originally intended to be based around David Copperfield, 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.

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. 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?

#3 Attack from Mars
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by Brian Eddy, 1995
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
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.

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 three games I feel you can say that about, along with video games Tetris and Portal), 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
Designed by George Gomez, 1998
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average

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. Modes are super easy to trigger, and really, this is one of those wacky fun tables Midway (under the Williams label) was cranking out at the end of the 90s.

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. And that’s what really makes the difference. 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
Designed by Brian Eddy, 1997
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

The best of the best. At least until Zen ponies up to do Twilight Zone.

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 with a dungeons and 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 as Attack from Mars. It would have ruined the table.

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

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