I had a birthday recently. Among the activities that were established for this weekend ZapCon, a pinball convention in the town next-over in Mesa Arizona. I hadn’t heard of ZapCon until one of the other editors left a single short text on my phone “there is a pinball thing in Mesa.” My wife surprised me by telling me we were going the afternoon beforehand. My Sunday got a whole lot better. I love pinball and it has been many years since I have seriously wrapped my hands around the beauty of a good pinball game.
It was $25 a person and my wife, who I assumed would drop me off at the arcade and pick me up when I was done, paid the entry fee. She stayed the whole day ,in spite of her fibromyalgia and flare-ups. That was nice when we left to grab lunch and came back.
Most of the machines were set to Free-Play, except for the machines that did not have that feature and they were usually left unlocked so people could thump the coinslot for credits. (I didn’t know how to do that so I had to miss out) I am not the guy who reads Twingalaxies for the High Scores. I don’t have a lucky table or even knows the names for all the parts beyond “bumpers,” “flippers,” “Table,” “plunger,” and maybe “lights.” I just enjoy playing pinball. I tried out some of the earlier pinball setups that didn’t have as many flashing lights. It was also enjoyable to try out some of the forefathers of all the pinball setups. Pinball in all of it’s variances really hasn’t changed much post-addition of flippers, moving it from Pachinko to Pinball. And it has been a long time since I had played.
My highlights of the past were the following that I can still remember:
Medieval Madness: which seemed to be a highlight for a number of people as several people in my area were very excited about it. The last time I played Medeival Madness was while waiting for the movies back in ’97, so I connected playing it with reliving my days fresh out of Basic Training more than the game itself.
The original Tron Arcade video game which I still stink at and may have actually gotten worse in all this time.
Johnny Mnemonic which was downstairs in my college bowling alley.
Someone rebuilt a Doctor Who Pinball Game and an Indiana Jones pinball game with a colored LED screen instead of the traditional orange and black screen. (They even had the colors in the right places so things looked like people and objects!) I played both of those reliving the time I found Doctor Who in an airport on my way to see my mom for Christmas Leave and the Indiana Jones game at the arcade near my house. I also relived my memories of the franchises as well. There were also an additional game of each in original format. Each was just as much fun as I remembered it being. My wife took a turn on the colorized Doctor Who as she is now a fan. (9/10)
Things I tried New:
Strikes and Spares – This 70’s style game was bereft of the blinking lights and sound effects of the others. It had a series of bells that played a familiar exciting tune at the beginning of my first ball, but I can’t remember the tune 24 hours later. The larger premise of the game was to roll the “bowling” ball over the 10 “pins” buttons in the middle of the table. The targets to the sides spelled “Spares” and you were supposed to achieve ten rounds of bowling by making …strikes and spares. I got a single strike and still enjoyed the game. Simpler game, still enjoyable. (7/10)
Avengers – This was an enjoyable experience. Hulk smash made sense as a row of letters to hit to attack the hulk who would punch my ball at me. Thor’s lettering made sense as set on the left hand side that required a third bumper on the right to hit it. Black Widow and Hawkeye made sense as lanes and ramps that went across the board so it really threw the whole team in there. Ironman’s left lane seemed very small in comparison tot eh others but that may have been purposeful as the Ironman Franchise may have sapped ideas from the development team or that it was right next to the Ironman Franchise table.
Ironman Franchise Pinball – A lot of connection to Ironman 1,2,&3. The whips from the villain in Ironman2 covered more of the board than I would have liked, and during midplay, I kept thinking they were broken/loose pinball game wires.
StarTrek TOS pinball game – This seemed like they had tried to go retro and for the life of me, I could not figure out what was going on(was I on a mission?) or what my goals and lanes and bumbers and blinkers meant. I was lost as the videoboard was either off or not working. Maybe I wasn’t activating it/triggering it. The entire backboard was a static image of the crew in a teleporter using one of those “moving” picture displays you used to find on the textured paper in Crackerjack prizes or on 3-D plastic cups. I felt this was a great waste of wallspace. (4/10)
“Championship Pub” was a Pinball Game in which the point is to launch the ball at an opposing boxer to beat him up. I enjoyed the idea of having to hit the speedbag and make the ball jump rope and build up my health so I can win the day, but I just couldn’t get into the single place needed to start the fight that often. (7/10)
Tron Legacy Pinball – I was really excited to try out the Tron Legacy pinball game. While the TRON Legacy game was less than I had hoped for as a game, the details were cool. Someone went to the trouble of making a miniaturized arcade console complete with working waitscreen in the right corner representing Flynn’s Arcade. (7/10)
AC/DC Rock’n’Roll Pinball – There were three of these on the floor and they were always full of people playing. I also noticed that the symbol in the center of the undertable looked suspiciously like an red-and-yellow armorized comic character. I enjoyed the Hell’sBell feature requiring you to not only hit the bell blocking the target(making the bell noise, but hit hard enough to get the bonus target beyond. I played with the music from Big Balls so a couple wandering people seemed confused by the gaity and mirth coming from AC/DC. (8/10)
Space Paranoids video game – If you ever saw the original Tron movie, the plot is all about the protagonist getting proof that his boss stole his game designs. Space Paranoids is the only game you see somebody actually playing in the film and they only last about 10 seconds. This game was unnecessarily hard and the controls were difficult to operate. With a ball for the turret and a joystick operating the tank, this almost would have worked better as a two player game because pushing forward on your joystick had zip to do with where you were going in the maze. I tried it several times thinking I just needed to catch up with the learning curve. You also only have 6 shots to fire before you have to hunt down a recharge station. On my fourth attempt, I spent most of my time generally camping near a recharge station so I had ammo. I would have done this sooner but with random spawning in a maze and my inability to drive and look/shoot, that was not always an option. (3/10 with one of those being nostalgia purposes and one of those being faithfulness to the source material)
NBA Championships – I had the opportunity to play this in both single player and Tournament mode…and I liked single player better. While playing against the other table was fun, it was short and just before the end of the second quarter, I was close to popping a multiball….and then during the halftime show, all the balls emptied, no show happened, and I was right back at the beginning. While I won…it felt like an empty victory because the game was so short that I didn’t feel I got to do much more than the basic game without any of the longer minigames or challenges. In both modes, you get to pick which team you are playing for. Being in Arizona, I saw that Phoenix Suns were a popular team, but I wanted to play for my old hometown Houston Rockets. I was in Houston when they were all hot and “Whoop There it is” was the phrase on every sportscaster’s lips so I took a try and made it onto the High Score Board because nobody had a high score with that team. Technically, I have a high score on a game…but it isn’t that high of a score.
Black Hole Pinball – I think it is Black Hole related. Very unimpressive. Too much black, no real guidance, It was a “meh” experience. Notable for being my first experience at ZapCon with an undertable and a reversible flipper setup.
Tales of the Arabian Nights – I spent many a quarter in this game at Ft. Jackson while I was waiting for my pizza. This game, but not this table, is where I scored my highest score ever. I really enjoyed replaying my favorite table. This is probably the table I would have in my house if my wife ever bought me a table. I really enjoy the game. Much fun was had as I was reliving my early twenties.(10/10)
I missed out on these games:
StarTrek Next Generation which I kept passing by planning to try it with less people.
No Fear Pinball – I remembered this one from my early college years in the Student Center basement and while I was never a fan of the No Fear brand or the game itself, I wanted to play it from whatever memorabilia I had left in it. However, it was marked as one of the games being used in the pinball tournament and unlike many of the games that were in there had no free-play /training tables out on the main floor.
Addams Family – I loved this table as a kid. Sure it was only for the first movie, but I loved when Gomez would yell “Greed!” for the Multiball and everything would go insane. I also remember that if you got the ball into the electric chair and there was no mini-game attached you would hear Gomez say “It’s not plugged in yet.” I missed out on playing it but there were three of them out and available so I really had no excuse.
Spiderman franchise Pinball – I was curious how they planned to do the webslinger, but alas, as I passed it several times, I missed out.
Whirlwind Pinball – The two gimmicks in this early 90’s pinball game were the three spinning portions of the table that ensured the ball went awry often if it wasn’t going fast and direct from the flippers and the fan mounted at the top of the backboard that would blow on you at different speeds depending on how high the storm level you had reached in game from breezy to storm to tornado to hurricane. I always actually liked this feature because it increased immersion and also tended to cool you off as you got more passionate and intense. I used to play it at the bus station on the way home from military school and was always worried that I would miss my bus due to a great game. Now, I was full on focused and still stunk.
I achieved three “Matches” for a free game while at the Con, and it was the only time when a match made me feel less than excited. While I had earned the prize, it was equal to what I already had. I wished I could take those free plays into the real world where they were really rare and valued.
I still hate with a passion the two side-edge exit alleys that the ball takes around my flippers and mostly because that was how I lost 60% of my balls. When I invent a pinball game (As if!), no side alleys…or the gates to them might appear if the player is in a multiball format. One of the games I played, and I cant remember the name , had the upper playing table and the key drop point was two exit alleys and one chance to roll into the flippered area. A solid 1/3 to ½ of the table was a ball loss and it made me very hesitant to even try to knock the ball into the upper table for fear of kissing it goodbye as a bonus for achieving the target. WTF?!?
My hands hurt from flippers and my eyes hurt from all the flashing lights, but I had fun while I was there. What I learned was that I only have about six hours of arcade in me and after a while, I had generally hit all the games I wanted to play and yes, I realized that I had forgotten some of them. Very nice group consensus at the con in that if someone stood behind you, there was an unwritten “I’m up when you are done.” atmosphere. What stunk were the number of times I would walk up to a machine, play ball 2 or 3 of someone else’s game and then someone would wait for me to finish “someone else’s game” so I didn’t get a full game on some machines. But there were many I did not include simply because I just can’t remember them all.
Would I do it again Next Year? : Yes very much so, but I will take a pain reliever before I go. There were kids that were having trouble with all the blinkiness, but that is part of the arcade experience. I saw one dad explain to a kid how awesome a “Match” was, and the kid didn’t get it. I guess pay-per-play is slowly devolving into in-game purchases of Candy Crush.