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Down The Drain - Pinball Arcade's Tables Through The Ages: The 90's (Williams part 2)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Screenshot: Farsight Studios (The Pinball Arcade)

Last time, I only brought up Terminator 2: Judgment Day as one of the licensed tables that Williams did, but even in the early days, Williams had a lot of other licenses. While Data East Pinball often had some big licenses, Williams had a contract with Universal allowing them usage of their properties. We’ve already seen Creature from the Black Lagoon in the ‘80s, but that will not end here. Williams would soon publish, one after the other, Star Trek : The Next Generation and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

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Star Trek may make for a good pinball table, but Bram Stoker’s Dracula suffers from the same problem Sega Pinball ran into when making Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It flies in the face of what the film stood for. I’ll give Williams this - Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a lot less offensive than Sega Pinball’s attempt. They don’t play a silly song (it’s a somber electrofart perhaps, but it’s somber) but the fact that the ball save is called “Love Never Dies” kind of makes the table look like a giant ham. Otherwise, the features of the table are very basic - three different multiballs, a feature where the player must spell Dracula by performing various tasks. One of the multiballs is very interesting as a ball is guided slowly across the playfield, and if the player successfully knocks it back, it’s a two-ball Multiball.

No Fear: Dangerous Sports
No Fear: Dangerous Sports
Screenshot: Farsight Studios (The Pinball Arcade)
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Interestingly enough, of all the licensed tables that Williams published in this era, No Fear: Dangerous Sports is the one that caught my attention the most. There’s literally nothing that stands out about this table. For the younger ones among you, No Fear was a clothing brand that was essentially da Share z0ne but taking itself seriously. The table itself is barren - some well-hidden jets, loops and ramps, that’s all you’re getting. There’s an elevated platform reminescent of Black Knight 2000 but its’ only purpose is to have a silly “jump” stat for additional bonus points at the end of ball. Features are also simple - you start an event, then try to do what the Dot Matrix tells you to. Multiball itself isn’t refined as it’s linked to the events. Yet, in all its simplicity, the speed fits the theme, and getting screwed by a bad shot is relatively rare even as a newcomer to the table. It’ll still happen, don’t get me wrong, but this table is definitely fun.

Speaking of speed, The Getaway: High Speed II was also released in this era and it changes High Speed’s gameplay a lot - You have to run red lights, several of them and while the red lights are changed via targets, you have a lot more to hit. The Supercharger makes the ball go fast... and then deposits it softly onto the left flipper. There’s not a lot there that’s different from other tables of the era, but it does bring High Speed into the modern era and quite frankly, that’s enough. I could do without the Electrofart La Grange, though...

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Red & Ted’s Road Show
Red & Ted’s Road Show
Screenshot: Farsight Studios (The Pinball Arcade)

Among all their licenses though, it’s when Williams just gets the ball rolling with a good original idea that they shine. Red & Ted’s Road Show is far from my favorite table. A silly tour of the US as two demolitionists proceed to just run rampant destroying everything they don’t like with a country twist (Singer Carlene Carter did the voice clips for Red, and has a track in the game that triggers when Multiball starts). It’s considered an unofficial sequel to Funhouse and other than the animatronic talking heads, I personally don’t really see it. There are some design similarities - A chute in the mid-right to start a feature, having to sneak a ball inside the mouth of the animatronic, but beyond that, I would call it more an evolution of the Funhouse concept than anything. Another problem I had with the table was during emulation, it seems that when Farsight emulated the tremor-making motor, it counts against the tilting attempts of the player, making me very surprised that I’d managed to tilt the table after only shaking it once during the tremors.

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It wouldn’t be the only time that Williams decided to recycle a concept - They took the ‘80's beloved Pin*Bot and turned him into a croupier for Jack*Bot, a casino themed table that uses the grid targets that Pin*Bot had established a decade prior. Honestly, there’s not a lot to say about this table in my opinion - It’s a recycled concept that simply no longer holds up considering this table’s contemporaries.

Now, if you want the concept of Red & Ted’s Road Show done right, you look at Junk Yard. Gone are the animatronics, replaced with a crane that has a silver ball. Junk Yard also has an interesting enough feature where you need to escape Crazy Bob’s Intergalatic Junkyard by crafting some bizarre machines out of junk you just find lying around. With your trusty toaster gun, you must defeat Crazy Bob to secure your escape! It’s hard to get into this table at first, but when you do, it’s highly worth it.

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Tales of the Arabian Nights
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Screenshot: Farsight Studios (The Pinball Arcade)

Another table that was released close to Junk Yard that features a long story was Tales of the Arabian Nights - You play as a warrior seeking to rescue a princess from an evil genie, and must relive 7 of the stories told by Scheherazade in order to complete your magic scimitar and be able to take on the genie. Wizard mode on this table is absolutely genius. You cannot lose your balls during the final fight with the genie, but you need to manually fire them back to the field - More importantly, the more you lose balls, the more the you lose the tug-of-war for the bottle containing the princess so it’s up to the player to see if he can risk going for more balls at once to try and score a quick victory, or go at it maybe with two balls and take the risk that the genie will actually win as two balls might not be enough to win the tug-of-war. It’s unfortunate that Pinball Arcade lost the rights to the Williams table, as this table was the free one offered upon download of the app, and it’s certainly a good one.

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Not every table that Williams published was a good one - No Good Gofers was one of the last ones published by Williams in 1997, and hoo boy did they produce a turd with this one. The main problem with it is that it’s not Tee’d Off, and if you’ve played Tee’d Off the first question in your mind when you fire off the plunger on this table is “Why am I not playing Tee’d Off right now?” This table does absolutely nothing new, nor warranting a single word more.

Medieval Madness
Medieval Madness
Screenshot: Farsight Studios (The Pinball Arcade)
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Finally, we come to peak Williams. Medieval Madness - Some would say the greatest pinball table ever made. I would say at least one of Williams’ best as love and admiration for pinball tables are subjective and depending on one’s skill as a player. That being said, this table is the exception that proves the rule. Everything on this table is a treat - From the presentation of a medieval world that dares not take itself seriously to the sheer amount of things to do on this table, there’s something here for everybody. You’re a beginner? Enjoy the earnest, though not very good, humor of jousting against “Sir Loin of Beef” and other assorted characters. It’s hard for me to criticize the table’s humor though I can recognize that the jokes themselves were not exactly the best material anyone’s ever written because it fits the table’s ambiance so well.

Features are essentially every possible friggin’ Multiball you can imagine. Every little thing you do leads to a Multiball setup. Peasants are revolting? That’s a Multiball. You rescued the damsel and slew the dragon? That’s a Multiball. You win at jousting? That’s a Multiball. You successfully put 3 balls through the castle wall? Oooooh you better believe that’s Multiball.

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Thing is, all of those Multiball set ups? They don’t trigger until you go visit Merlin in his shoppe, where the game will declare every single Multiball you’ve achieved and send ‘em flying. Every single time you complete a feature you don’t have Multiball for you get a Jackpot. You get a Super Jackpot if you score a feature you DO have Multiball for. If you have Castle Multiball though... you need to score one of each feature in a given time for an Extra Ball.

Still, the Wizard feature, thanks to the length of play, is particularly difficult. You must destroy the castles of the King of Payne’s 4 subordinates and then attack the king himself in the Battle for the Kingdom. Getting there is already a challenge enough, so for me, who’s barely even an intermediate pinball player, choking is certain to happen. For more experienced players, that’s where everything they’ve learned about the table comes into play and where they can score even more points.

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And yet, it all looks so simple - There’s a castle, in front of it there’s two trolls that can pop out of the ground, and there’s a ramp that changes direction depending on how far you are into slaying the dragon. Those mechanical parts are necessary for the table to function making it a very rare table that can reach the 10,000$ if it has been well-maintained or is in pristine condition.

Monster Bash
Monster Bash
Screenshot: Farsight Studios (The Pinball Arcade)
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The final table from Williams in the Pinball Arcade, Monster Bash is a collaboration between Universal Studios and Williams to make one of those silly tables that they do so well. As a player, you must wake up the Mummy, Dracula, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon in order for the band to assemble and rock everyone’s socks off. The table itself is actually simpler than Medieval Madness. I didn’t expect it to hold up to what essentially is pinball’s swan song (1999 is when Williams gets out of the pinball business, and this was released in ‘98 while Medieval Madness was released a year before) but this is surprisingly fun.

The key thing that makes it fun is the mosh pit Multiball. It’s not something I’ve encountered before but I’d be surprised if it hadn’t been done before. It starts out as a 2-ball Multiball, but as you build up points with Jackpots, you get a third and even a fourth ball added to it for additional chance at points but less accuracy on shots and more chances to screw up. The surprisingly metal song (I expected something goofy, but got this instead) helps with the ambiance and the idea of collecting all the monsters is reminescent of Class of 1812 except it doesn’t have a goddamn chicken, making it infinitely better just because of that. I’m gonna be spending some time with this table shortly, I believe.

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And with that, we close out the ‘90s... and pinball’s role in the mainstream. Pinball, as we knew it, is dead, and only Stern is left to pick it up and prevent it from fading into nothingness. Still, videogame pinball is also picking up in the 2000's. Zen Studios will start making original tables for their Pinball FX series, including some based on the Marvel licenses, taking fully advantage of its digital format and offering rankups on certain parts of the table as experience rewards and features that were not physically possible. Meanwhile Farsight takes up the mantle to recreate these tables digitally, partially as a way to ensure they are always in circulation and people can play them, and partially because they want us to forget they worked on the Genesis port of Action 52.

Next time, for the last time, on Down the Drain... we review Stern’s tables in Pinball Arcade, including the newest additions in Season 8, with a possibility of even doing a physical/digital comparison, as I believe there is one of these tables near me. There will be pics. Badly taken ones, but pics.

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