News Article

Pinball Wizardry

Pin-heads get new games, including a spin-off from ''Terminator 2''

A hit movie for a quarter? It's not the ultimate recession discount — it's the new, high-tech pinball! More than just old-fashioned bumpers and buzzers, today's high-speed, computerized machines are virtual-reality worlds often based on entertainment themes. ''We were totally into Terminator 2 every step of the way,'' says Roger Sharpe, marketing director of Chicago-based Williams Bally/Midway, which began designing its T2 game before the film was shot. ''We even had the movie's dailies shipped to us.'' Making machines with media themes has become a smart marketing gimmick, earning pinball 35 percent of the yearly $7.1 billion Americans spend on coin-operated amusements. In its worst year, 1983, pinball drew only 5 percent of the total. Here's our look at the new crop of games:

Terminator 2
From deep within the machine, Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice deadpans, ''Hasta la vista, baby.'' Guns N' Roses rock. Whoosh! You start by shooting balls with a gun rather than a traditional plunger, making T2 faster than a speeding Hunter Killer. Flipping the ball into an Endoskeleton skull causes furious multiball action — three are in play at once — as a dot-matrix video screen adds extra visuals, such as Arnold zooming along on his motorcycle. World's best machine. A

Batman
With a Jack Nicholson sound-alike chortling maniacally, this should be called Joker. Lofting the ball into the skeeball-type Joker face or Batcave tallies millions of points and more cackles from Jack. Knock the ball into the Flugelheim Museum for multiball action. Explosive machine-gun blasts make Batman the noisiest game ever. A

Gilligan's Island
It's dorky, like the TV show, but it's a hoot to play. As you wangle the ball through jungles, lagoons, and mazes, Bob Denver's voice cheerleads you on, along with Ginger's, Mary Ann's, and the Skipper's too. But it's frustrating. There's just no way to know where the ball will emerge next. B

Class of 1812
Some marketing genius must've anticipated the upcoming Addams Family horror comedy but probably couldn't get the rights. So this is an Addams Family emulation with music from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture: A goony life-size heart beats, and a severed hand gamely gropes. There are frenzied slasher- flick-type yelps and screams. Cooler than Freddie Krueger! B-

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Poor design makes the action sluggish, although a spinning pizza disk adds some spice, flinging the ball everywhere. Ninja Turtle action figures are placed under the glass, but they don't move. Cowa-bogus. C-

The Simpsons
Yawn; everyone's sick of hearing Bart whine, ''Don't have a cow, man.'' And no one should be put through the degrading experience of being teased by the entire Simpson clan as the ball flies into the air, off the playing field, and out of play. D

Originally posted Oct 04, 1991 Published in issue #86 Oct 04, 1991 Order article reprints