Pinball is a game that dates back nearly a century, with many companies in the industry rising and falling and designers creating icons of the ever-evolving superstar of non-digital gaming. The Strong museum’s Pinball Playfields exhibit showcases some of the finest machines that the industry has ever seen and, while this is by no means a complete collection, there’s no doubt that these machines are icons in their own right.
Take a step back in time to the oft romanticized mid-20th century with D. Gottlieb & Co. and their retro yet thrilling machine, Dancing Dolls. This game may seem simple, but it’s no less challenging than its successors. Wooden framing and a cabaret theme give a feeling of authenticity as each ball is flung across the playfield, bouncing off f bumpers, rolling over switches, and dropping into pockets to score up to 7 million points in a single game.
Turn up the heat, but don’t get burned. Bally’s beautifully crafted Fireball machine is a fiery change of pace from what some would expect. The earliest machine in the exhibit to include a ball lock mechanism, this machine can keep the fire burning for as long as you keep your hands on the flippers. With the inclusion of a rigid spinner in the center of the field, your ball could end up releasing the Fire Gods—or it could be extinguished and sent into an out-lane from which there is no return. Think you have what it takes to survive this firestorm?
Faster than a speeding pinball, more powerful than a flipper, and able to leap high scores in a single play! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman Pinball! Inspired by the ever-iconic DC Comics series as well as the beloved animated series, Atari’s Superman machine brings super-powered fun to all. It’s truly an impressive entry for Atari, seeing as it’s one of their earlier machines. Truly a one-of-a-kind machine for a one-of-a-kind hero.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and score like a champ. Graced with the visage of the iconic champion boxer, Stern Pinball’s tribute to Muhammad Ali promises a fun time as the ball strikes targets like a high speed punch from The Greatest himself. Think you can keep the ball going for nine rounds? Step up and find out.
The game is watching. Is it really alive? Funhouse guarantees a good time. But don’t take my word for it, just ask the machine’s sole resident, Rudy! He’ll tell you how well you’re doing, give helpful advice, and even score some points if you launch the ball down his gullet. Sneak the ball into his secret hideout and score big!
Don’t have a cow, man! Data East has plenty to go around. Step into Springfield and experience fun and iconic moments from the first two seasons of The Simpsons, from Homer’s dance with Princess Kashmir to Marge’s love affair with bowling. Hear callouts from the real voices of each character criticizing your playing. And don’t forget to go for the multiball. Cowabunga, man!
The Addams Family
They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious, and spooky. Williams’ Addams Family pinball machine is easy on the eyes, yet perfectly captures the spirit of the titular, altogether ooky family. Search for Cousin It’s hideout, slip into the family vault behind the bookcase, and get a hand from Thing as you strike targets with special guests Raul Julia and Angelica Hudson, the very same duo to portray Gomez and Morticia Addams in the iconic movie series.
Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure
It belongs in a museum, that’s for sure. Williams scores another hit with their adventurous Indiana Jones machine. This machine based on the greatest adventure film series of all time contains plenty of references to the movies, as well score modes that let you relive iconic moments from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade. Search for the treasures Indy couldn’t grab along the way, like the Incan Idol and the Diamond of Shanghai. Lock three balls in the Incan temple and start up a chaotic multiball and score enough points to gain fortune and glory beyond your wildest dreams!
Cyberpunk never looked so good. While the movie of the same name was underwhelming at best, Williams more than makes up for it with their take on Johnny Mnemonic. Keep your eye on the ball and watch for the mode starts, you won’t want to miss a single shot. Foil the Yakuza and lock three balls in the Matrix, line up three in a row, initiate Cyber Multiball and watch the points roll in. A single shot is worth millions of points, so go for the gold and aim to become the Cyberpunk Champion!
The NBA’s officially licensed pinball machine puts a new twist on B-ball. Who’s your favorite team? Chances are good that you can choose them in this game. Pick from an amazing lineup, from the Los Angeles Lakers to the New York Knicks, and everything in between. Make any number of shots from layups to foul shots to slam dunks. Make all four free throws to start up Multiball and go wild. Each basket you make is another point added to the score. Can you become the NBA’s next all-star?
Ever wanted to join the circus? Now’s your chance! Bally’s Cirqus Voltaire is three rings of electrifying fun. Collect as many Marvels as you can by performing high-flying feats and conquering challenges. Defeat the Ringmaster and keep a cool head, while you shoot the ball at his head. Send the Juggler your shots and watch him juggle more pinballs than anyone else ever could. Lock three balls on the high wire and watch the sparks fly as multiball tests your reflexes like no other game can. So come, join the Cirqus.
The Creatures of the Night gather for a musical performance of ghoulish proportions. Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon are gearing up for a creepy concert in this joint operation between Williams Electronics and Universal Pictures. Inspired by the popular song “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett, Monster Bash takes a more “heavy metal” approach to the idea of monsters throwing a dance party. Collect body parts to build Frankenstein’s Monster, shoot the loops to activate Full Moon Fever and summon the Wolfman, and light up “Drac-Attack” to battle Count Dracula. Light all the monsters and their instruments to activate Monster Bash Multiball and go for a high score that would scare any monster back to their lair.
The Wizard of Oz
Auntie Em! Auntie Em! It’s a pinball! Not only is this the first of Jersey Jack’s machines on display, it’s the first of Jersey Jack’s machines. The Wizard of Oz machine is a loving sendup to the 1939 classic and is fast enough to make a flying monkey dizzy. Bounce the ball off trees in the Haunted Woods, Rescue Dorothy from the Wicked Witch’s castle, and follow the Yellow Brick Road to lock the ball in the Emerald City for multiball. Watch as the Gale house spins in the twister, meet with the Lollipop Guild, rescue Toto from Ms. Gulch and relive other scenes from the iconic Warner Bros. film that pioneered technicolor cinematography.
Pinball has moved into the digital age with Zen Studios’ Pinball FX2, a video game with a massive grid of playable machines that cover a wide array of franchises and intellectual properties, from Alien to Family Guy, Marvel to Star Wars, there’s no shortage of fun to be had. The Strong Museum’s Exhibits team has built a cabinet with a computer screen under glass and real buttons to simulate the pinball experience and make it feel as real as any other physical machine. Want to play this game at home? It’s available on Steam for purchase, so the fun never has to stop.
This is only a handful of the machines available to play in Pinball Playfields. There are many more in the exhibit to play and all of them have their charms.
Declan Handley-Byrne, SELF Intern at The Strong National Museum of Play.