We are just 4 days away from the first (of more being planned if it’s successful) Arcade Expo in Banning California on January 16-18. Last week I covered the press event with spotlights on the Video Games and Pinball sections of the facility. Today I will highlight some of the machines that I am looking forward to playing and some suggest that you might check them out. Some of these games I may have played recently or some are from far ago memories from childhood. The great thing about the selection of machines is that it will give you a chance to play some machines that you may not have otherwise had a chance to play in your lifetime.
Hercules (Atari 1979)
Billed as “The Worlds Largest Pinball Machine” was developed by Arcade Engineering (a company consisting of past Allied Leisure employees) and is based on a Bally prototype machine called Bigfoot. Bigfoot was developed by Bally but never went into production and the rights were given back to Arcade Engineering. They re-licened the machine to Atari who then tuned the prototype into Hercules. There are many interesting things about the machine. First the ball used in play was a billiard cue ball. The game play is considerably slower than a regular pinball machine and that turned a lot of player off of the game. While the play is not amazing and for the most part a novelty game, it’s still an amazing engineering feat. There is no hard numbers on how many of the machines were produced but the general estimates are between 100 and 280. The machine cost $10,000 in 1979 that in today dollars would cost $32,527 adjusted for inflation. Only big arcade operators or amusement parks could afford the machines. I had played 2 of them over the years. The first at Magic Mountain in Valencia California and the Redondo Pier in Redondo California.
Space Race (Atari 1973)
Space Race was the second game made by Atari after Pong. The two players each control a rocket ship; the object of the game is to make it from the bottom of the screen to the top, while avoiding obstacles such as asteroids. Score is kept electronically and the background consists of a simple star field. This is a really neat game with great appeal because of the two player option. While most video games consist of solo play in the early days of video games a lot of them were two player games that really would create great competition between players. You don’t tend to see a lot of these machines around today and being able to get the chance to play it is really worth your time. A simple yet challenging game.
Memory Lane (Stern 1978)
I had never played this machine before until Dave Miner who had Pinball Forever in Santa Ana California a year ago had one in his collection. I really fell in love with this machine. It has a really good challenge curve to it, but not super hard. It has a nice open play field and the real challenge is to trigger the multiplier for higher scores. That is the real tricky part of the game play. I played the hell out of it and has really become on of my favorites. You don’t see a lot of these machines on the west coast according to Dave. So I would give this machine a try at the expo.
Tapper (Bally 1983)
While I am sure that a lot of you have played Tapper over the years, I doubt that many have played the Budweiser version that came first. Because of the mixing of alcohol and minors would not mix well in most arcades Bally later released the more common version of the game. Root Beer Tapper. That version is the one that you see in Bally/Midway collections today. While the game play is the same there is something about an arcade machine that had beer in it. It’s a real challenging game and very hard to get to the higher levels.
Nip-It (Bally 1972)
This is probably the most seen pinball by the public of all time for one reason. If you have ever watched the television show Happy Days it’s very likely that you have seen this machine. It’s the pinball machines in Arnold’s diner. While the machine was produced in 1972 it looked like an older machine and was probably one of the few machines that the prop department at Paramount had or was able to find when the show started in 1974. The machine itself is really fun and has an extra flipper button on the right side that activated an alligator on the top right that could “eat” the ball and earn extra points. While not a rare game it is a lot of fun and the nostalgia of plying the Happy Days pinball makes it a bit more special.
Chiller (Exidy 1986)
A conversion kit for Exidy’s Crossbow game (that is also at the expo) is the game that a lot of arcades would not carry due to the graphic gore of the game. While not as violent or bloody as Mortal Kombat but considering the time period of the game it was pretty violent. While not the greatest gun game that you will ever play it’s really fun to find the hidden objets like shooting the guillotine blade and watching it slice off the head of the person in it. This is one of those silly fun games that you have to play at least once.
Playboy (Bally 1978)
This is the first and by far the best Playboy pinball machine ever produced (the later Data East and Saga/Stern machines are not nearly as good as this one). The backglass depicts Hugh Hefner with 1976 Playmate Patti McGuire and 1977 Playmate Sondra Theodore. While the draw of the machine is the sex sells aspect of the licenses but the play of the game is what you will remember from it. It has a nice layout to the play field and there is a good amount of challenge to the game play. This is a great example of the great designs of the time from Bally.
Airball (MCI 1971)
I nearly flipped when I saw this machine at the expo. I have been trying to figure out the name of this machine for years. I remember playing this machine when I was a kid back east and sucked at it but still loved to play it. Airball is one of the most unique coin-op games ever made. The game uses a fan to levitate a ping-pong ball. The player controls the height & movement of the ball, and must maneuver through targets in as little time as possible. The game is enhanced by a fluorescent “black light” and spooky sounds for atmosphere. This is a really unusual machine and was a great throwback to the mechanical games from the 1960’s and 1970’s period arcade games before the rise of the video games. I highly recommend playing this really unique game.
Flash Gordon (Bally 1980)
Released a few moths before the now cult film classic flopped at the box office is an interesting machine. Beyond that playing a pinball based on the Flash Gordon film is just awesome first and for most the machine had another interesting fact. The machine was originally developed as a single level machine but with the success of Williams Black Knight pinball play Bally added the second level to the play field. It’s unknown if this is just urban legend or fact but if you have ever played the machine you know that it is one brutal machine. Beyond that it’s one of those machines that taunts you it’s a very difficult machine but is very satisfying in a bizarre way at the same time. This is one of may favorite machines that I have played a ton and still have a hard time getting a good score a lot of the time. During the press event the machine was not on the floor but was told it would be there when the expo starts. The photo of the machine is from Pinball Forever.
Red Baron Sit Down version (Atari 1980)
One of the many vector games made by Atari and while not as successful as other Atari game such as Asteroids or Battle Zone I have a real fondness for the game. The best way to play the game is in the sit down version cabinet that is luckily the one that they have at the expo. While the game uses a black and white vector monitor it has a blue overlay that adds color to the game. You are in a dog fight and the neat thing is that if you fire your guns too much they will overheat and you have to wait for them to cool down to fire again. The game did not do very well and while there were a fair amount of units out there it’s much harder to find the cockpit version of the game. The sounds in the game a cheesy but really add to the charm of the game.
Orbiter 1 (Stern 1982)
This is one of the most dividing pinball machines ever. While I will agree that it’s a pretty weak machine, I will give Stern for trying to think outside the box on this one. The biggest problem with the machine is that the player has virtually no control on the ball for the most part. The play field is curved and the bumpers have magnets that spin the ball around them and shoot them off of them. I think it’s one of those things that was a better idea on paper than in the final product. But in the end it’s just a novelty and the long-term game play is just not there. People either love or hate this machine. If you have never played one then I very much recommend that you at least try it a few times. For some reason the Arcade Expo has put banana flippers on the machine and that is not the original flippers for it. I don’t know what they were thinking on that one.
Gun Fight (SEGA 1969)
This is a rare treat that will be at the expo. The game pits two “gunfighters” against each other in a Western setting. Using a pistol handle controller, players move and shoot simulated bullets. Tops of cacti can be shot off, reducing the opponent’s cover. When a player is shot, they are momentarily fallen to the ground before standing up again. Shots can be carefully aimed or triggered in staccato succession and gunshot sound effects are given off. Hits are shown on individually illuminated scoreboards. The game is set to default to 30 seconds. The one that the expo has is in really great shape and is a great example of mechanical games from the period. At the press event they had the machine covered up but Juan made sure to show us what great shape the machine was in and they had already tested it and was in good working condition. Hopefully it will hold up the whole weekend so that everyone can get a chance to play this really rare game.