2016: A Most Disappointing Year for Pinball

2016: A Most Disappointing Year for Pinball

A post on a recent local pinball discussion forum read:

“It seems like it’s a good time to be a pinhead. People are taking delivery of TBL, Stern has Batman 66 coming out soon, and I just read that both JJP and Spooky will be unveiling their third games before too long. There have also been rumors of a CCR or AFMR.”

I have heard this a lot.

“This will be the best year pinball has had since the good old days!”

Sorry, but I disagree.

Despite all of the promise and hubbub — this has been a horribly disappointing year for pinball and I will tell you why.


The Big Lebowski

We have waited and waited for this one.

We are still waiting.

What is going on Dutch Pinball?

A few people who pre-ordered years ago have theirs. But you cannot buy one and expect delivery anytime soon. I am not sure when you ever will be able to.

Even if you could, TBL is $10,000! Yes that is not a misprint.

Take what a nice used and unshopped pinball machine used to cost a few years ago — and then add a zero on the end of that price.

You could buy an HUO Walking Dead Premium and Iron Man for that (two of the best games Stern has ever produced). I doubt this game will prove to be better than either one of those games, much less both.

I love the theme, love the art, build quality seems very good — but the software seems very lacking. And the software development on this does not seem to be progressing quickly.

Pinball machines are nearly as complicated to produce as an automobile. So it feels hard to criticize these new companies, but this machine should have been shipping in large quantities by now.


Batman ’66

Nanna, nanna, nanna, nanna, nanna, NO-NO.

Stern went a bit nutso on this one.

Instead of the regular Pro, Premium, and Limited Edition models they went with Premium, Limited Edition, and Super Limited Editions. I guess that is not a big problem…but let me tell you about the “Super LE.”

The buy the Super LE you need to get special permission by filling out survey questions and film a video as to why you should be allowed to buy one.

I know that sounds like a joke, but it is not.

The super LE might be good business…but I personally am not going to produce a video and beg to buy any machine. Ever. Sorry Stern.

I actually find it offensive. Offending your customers may be a good business for some, but I think it is a bad move.

Stern is selling a re-skinned game for a higher price than they sell other games. It feels like a cash grab…more than any recent game I can think of.

But Stern thinks they can convince us they are doing us a favor.

Stern has had a good run of games lately…but I think they should get back in touch with their humility a bit and respect for their customers.

For your 30th anniversary as a company, you should be rewarding and thanking your customers. Treating them like gold!

Instead what Stern has done:

  1. Increase prices to the point of being silly and obscene for many.
  2. Banning Pinball News from your events at Expo, because they wrote something you did not like. Pretty low blow for an outfit that has done so much good for the hobby.
  3. Charging people money to attend your 30th Anniversary party — and then fail to deliver free drinks or anything in the way of value for the cost.
  4. Releasing Batman ’66 at Expo, but not allowing anyone to play the game — despite it looking to be ready and done.

The old Batman theme is cool…but it is based on an old Dark Knight game that was underwhelming and forgettable. I wonder how good it can be. We don’t know yet.

A positive is they finally have a color LCD in the backbox. So Stern are now somewhat inline with what all of their competitors are offering.

This is another game that looks great, but the price will cause you some indigestion.

Also as with TBL, who knows when we can expect delivery? Possibly not even until next year.

The unlimited-run Premium costs the same as the most expensive previous Limited Edition models at $8,599. The 240 Limited Editions just scrape in under the $10K barrier at $9,999.

The Super-LE meanwhile has a price tag of $14,999. The extras that run you to nearly double the price of the Stern premium are disappointing to say the least. They look to be cheap toys that are not even custom made. I could be wrong, but that is my first impression.


The Hobbit

The Hobbit is a total dog. Sorry to be so blunt. This game is just so shockingly boring to shoot.

Jersey Jack Pinball is such a shame and waste of great talent. They focus on building full-featured games, have pushed the envelope on adding new technology and do a lot of cool things.

But both Wizard of Oz and especially The Hobbit suffer from layouts that just are not very fun to shoot. I realize the software and rules are great — but I like pinball machines that are fast and fun to shoot.

I played a brand new Hobbit and was so bored I actually left credits on it to play other games in the arcade. I cannot remember doing that with any new game…ever.

It kind of reminds me of an 80’s Bally widebody like Space Invaders. Super pretty to look at and it brings you in to play a game, but in the end just not much fun to play. You take your quarters elsewhere.


Heighway Pinball has a new machine out. The game looks to have promise but has some unfortunate flaws.

While the license is a winner, the art package is completely lackluster.

This looks like a game from Sega back in the 90’s. That is not a good thing. The playfield art is amazingly uninspired, flat, and lacking any hand drawn artwork.

The cabinet is challenged by the Heighway Pinball system that allows for games to be converted into future or different titles.

I can appreciate the idea to try to save the pinball collector money and space — but I believe in the end this decision hurts the company. It makes their machines uglier than they would be otherwise.

I actually liked the gameplay and layout on their first game, but hated the theme (motorcycle racing). So keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

However the game is still not completed and is only in beta stage at this point. No clue when they may start being shipped out to customers. Are we seeing a pattern here?


Fan boys fell all over themselves when this title was announced. I can see why, as the art package by Zombie Yeti is a slam-dunk and a nearly flawless execution.

The theme is a great one and outside of the box for Stern in being from a movie from so long ago.

While I see people already calling this a classic and stating it one of the best Stern machines ever — I have to call bullshit on this.

This is hard for me to say as I love John Trudeau as a designer. Creature from the Black Lagoon was the first pinball machine I purchased back in 1998. I still own the same machine today and it is still a thrilling game for me to play.

Ghostbusters has some interesting ideas and shots, but the game is simply too hard to be fun. Nearly every ball on Ghostbusters seems to be lost due to something that feels totally unfair.

  • A ball that goes airborne off of poorly designed drop targets.
  • Balls that shoot over the ball guides to the side and drain.
  • Shots that fly right back to you (even after hitting targets you are told to go far) and then straight down the middle through that huge flipper gap.

The game is brutal, but not in a good way. After nearly every game I feel like I was cheated. Feeling cheated does not equal fun.

I also have to call out the total lack of features on this machine.

A game famously ridiculed for being featured lacking at release was Iron Man.

I am here to tell you Iron Man blows away Ghostbusters in terms of features (and also fun). This is a game you can get for about $2000 less than a Ghostbusters premium too.

It is thrilling that Stern is finally paying attention to the art on their games…but the stripping away of features is disturbing.

Ghostbusters Premium features a moving ghost target, which has been problematic — and even when working is just an average feature.

The magnetic slingshots are a wonderful idea. I applaud them for doing something totally new. But in the end, they actually don’t often do anything very different from the regular old slingshots.

There is a little holographic ghost that comes out once in awhile too. But that is nothing so great. It just feels like something is missing.

The lone bright spot of 2016 for me is the new kid in town from Wisconsin, who seems to be thriving.

rob zombie

Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International

Spooky Pinball is definitely moving in the right direction. This small business produces small batch machines at a lower price point compared to Stern Premium machines or Jersey Jack Pinball machines.

This is important, as any buyer of a Spooky machine should be able to sell their game for what they paid for it — or with a Rob Zombie game they can easily profit.

This is because the games are fun to play and are very limited in quantity.

Rob Zombie actually sold out within a day or so after it was announced.

Zombie is much more polished and less homebrew looking and feeling than the first Spooky pinball machine.

I like how dangerous and adult the Zombie machine feels. This is something different in today’s pinball. This reminds me of how games like Gorgar felt kind of dangerous or taboo back in the day.

Nearly every pinball machine released in the past 20 years has been PG or PG-13 rated…this machine is a very hearty R rated machine. I like that.

Things are looking up for Spooky.

So thus far on 2016 we have had a bunch of pinball machines that:

  1. Have production delays
  2. Are overpriced
  3. Are not pushing the envelope very much considering the cost

The good news is that there is a lot of new pinball and with the increasing prices of the new games, your old games are probably going to continue to increase in value.

If a Batman Super LE is worth $15,000 — how much is my Twilight Zone sample game with unique artwork, extra features, and a 3rd magnet worth now in comparison? Any takers at $20,000?

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Author: The GameRoom Blog


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