You’d have a hard time finding a name more closely tied to pinball history than that one. From the early days of bagatelle until their final table in ‘96 (which we will not be able to cover as Farsight never got the rights to emulate the Barb Wire table), few names have concentrated solely on pinball above all else. Williams Electronics dabbled in video games for quite some time, same with Bally under the Bally/Sente branding, and Stern used to be owned by two large-scale arcade developers, Data East and Sega.
Still, the ‘90s are a great showcase of their decline. Long gone is the era of Gottlieb Ass Tables. Their innovation sapped away from the lack of sales of their wide tables, they attempted to come up with some decent gimmicks, and eventually fell under as would pinball in general. In this collection, there are two tables that are included that were not made by Gottlieb directly, but rather someone who was part of the family and started his own company, Alvin G and Co. - Those tables are Al’s Garage Band Goes On A World Tour, and Pistol Poker which I mistakenly attributed to Bally yesterday. Allow me to correct this mistake.
Al’s Garage Band doesn’t have a lot ot talk about there - the playfield is wide open but there is one problem - the record at the top spins, which as we have seen from yesterday’s post, irritates me to no end. The idea is simple: help Al and his Garage band to play in various locales all over the world. Dot Matrix display allows for Video Mode, which was in vogue at the time (even though the video mode is literally mash buttons) and the voices, though fitting, are either badly recorded on the actual machine, or were unemulated properly enough that you’ll wonder what the hell the guitarist’s name is (It’s Stitchy. I think.)
Though Pistol Poker is a modern table complete with Dot Matrix display, several voice clips and various other modern features, it feels like an old school table nonetheless. The western poker motif helps in that regard, but it’s the two-story playfield that was last seen on things like Haunted House and Black Knight 2000 that helps cement that feel for the table. I personally didn’t enjoy playing it - even with all of these bells and whistles, it feels empty, devoid of fun and sensible design. On to the actual Gottlieb tables then.
Chief among these tables was Class of 1812. The table itself is very serviceable, the voice clips work quite well for the idea of a monster high school class reunion... until you unlock Multiball and THIS blows in your ears after a creepy prompt to “Shoot the ball”.
That’s right, that’s the 1812 Overture in Electrofart and Chicken. Decades before Pachelbel’s Canon in Chicken.
The table itself works quite well - It’s not as glaringly insulting as the above sound would make it, but that is still a very bizarre choice of soundtrack. However, it loses its fun factor relatively fast. It’s not as refined as tables in this era, and not using Dot Matrix display in 1991 when other people were already doing so makes the table seem dated (To give you an idea, I thought it was a late 80's table).
Still, Gottlieb did not let the lack of space stifle their creativity as much as I let it seem in the preamble - You have tables such as Cue Ball Wizard where you take your itty-bitty silverball to hit an ACTUAL cue ball in order to score points. The problem with this table is that the play area with the cue ball takes so much space that they were severely limited as far as the rest of the gameplay was concerned. The novelty of hitting a cue ball over and over with pinball shots just isn’t worth the trouble.
Gottlieb did not just stop at racing and billards for their sports inspirations. They went with the only scottish export other than whiskey to rock the world - golf. Tee’d Off plays surprisingly well, with all sorts of interesting features such as completing hole in ones and its Gopher wheel in the center of the table. I had fun with this table though most of its features elude me. The humorous golf thematic is always good and it’s not as puerile as some actual mini-golf places I’ve seen. You can do good golf like things without relying on gross out humor.
This is completely unrelated to the post, but have some ‘90s Quebec Competitive Mini-Golf shown on TV.
As Gottlieb’s tables unfurl for the last time on this series, there is one table I want to talk about and that’s Rescue 911. It exemplifies that made Gottlieb great and why Gottlieb never could get over its glory days. You get the fun of knowing they made a table of the TV Show, but didn’t include William Shatner because they couldn’t the rights for him. It’s not too bad, but the helicopter grabbing the ball is quite janky and doesn’t feel like it really adds anything good to the game? It’s just... there. It’s still a perfectly serviceable table, but the Gottlieb of old would have made something extremely crazy out of the concept. Here? Stack standard features, get points, move on.
The same can be said of Gladiators and Wipe Out - Gladiators has you filling out the role of a futuristic space gladiator who needs to defeat a dragon to escape, and if you know anything about me, it’s that futuristic nonsensical fantasy is my absolute jam. However, if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t really return to Gladiators. Wipe Out is a skiing-themed machine and while it can be interesting thanks to the right-side slalom parts, it’s just as bland as the other machines. It’s still some quality pinball action, but all it does is make you think that this is the same company that gave you Haunted House in the ‘80s with the absolutely insane playfield and make you think you could be playing that instead.
The last machine that Gottlieb has in the Pinball Arcade is Frank Thomas’ Big Hurt, as befitting a company that started in Chicago and very well ended its days there. There’s a glove at the top of the playfield that counts as a catch by Frank Thomas (who, as we all know, was well reknowned for his agility...?) or a good hit, or a homerun if you manage to sneak past it in the center. The idea is simple: Hit a ton of homers, get a lot of catches, collect Frank Thomas cards so you can trade them in for points, etc. I’ve said this a lot already but it is a serviceable table - It works well, but the thematic is all wrong when you remember that Frank Thomas is essentially a dinger hitter who’s only claim to fame was to play in Chicago in the early ‘90s, which is why he got a pinball table and one game based on him (as opposed to Sosa, who was more of a late ‘90s guy and got mixed in with the steroids scandal.)
As Gottlieb falls, we find that the next company survived an even dumber mistake - Trying to make a video game with VERY LITTLE knowledge of how to do so, and an incredibly idiotic deadline. That’s right, next up is Stern, then Data East Pinball and Sega Pinball!