With the news hitting that Pinball Arcade (Free) developer Farsight has lost its Bally/Williams license, the timer is now ticking down on over 60 classic pinball tables. The good news? If you buy them before June 30th, you’ll continue to have access to the tables. Moreover, Farsight has committed to continuing to support those tables with bug fixes and updates as needed. As long as you get them while they’re available, you’re good to go. But therein lay the problem; as much as the first instinct may be to buy them all, the truth is that in spite of each table’s fair price, the total is quite a princely sum. Assuming you’re not looking to break the bank, which ones should you buy? Well, I’m here to try and help you with that.
1. The Addams Family
For a long time, this was seen as the holy grail of digital pinball table releases. One of the most popular tables of the 1990s resurgence, this table’s design appeals well beyond fans of the license. At the same time, it makes great use of that license, incorporating fun elements in sensible ways to create a wonderful fusion of stellar table design and a charming setting. Negotiating all of the licenses to make the digital version of this table a reality was a ridiculous effort, and even Farsight had to give up on at least one actor. A great table that is very unlikely to surface again, you should definitely have The Addams Family in your collection.
2. Medieval Madness
Among pinball fans, Medieval Madness is one of the most well-liked tables of them all. It’s easy to see why: there are lots of interesting targets and objectives on the table, the animated gimmicks are a lot of fun, and it even uses its digital display quite well. Combine all of that with a great Python-esque sense of humor, and you’ve got a table that keeps people coming back again and again. While I suspect this table will almost certainly be part of any future license-holder’s releases, do you really want to take that risk?
3. Twilight Zone
From Pat Lawlor, the designer of The Addams Family, Twilight Zone isn’t quite as famous a table among mainstream gamers as its predecessor but it’s probably a better game all-around. Much like The Addams Family, this table is a great combination of an awesome license and a solid design. The table includes a lot of neat gimmicks and toys, and the rules are quite deep. With this being a licensed table, there are extra hurdles to it ever appearing again in digital form, though admittedly not quite as many as some other tables. Still, as licensed tables go, this may well be the best.
4. Star Trek – The Next Generation
You’re probably noticing a pattern here. Yes, I am favoring tables that involve tricky licensing, as I’m not as certain that they’ll ever be available again. Take Star Trek – The Next Generation, for example. Not only is this a relatively cool property, the table includes a number of actor likenesses and voices, all of which need to be negotiated for a release like this to happen. This is also a really great table on its own merits. It was designed by Steve Ritchie, who is practically a pinball legend. A very enjoyable game to play, plus it has Data and Picard. What other table can say that?
5. Attack From Mars
This table has a lot in common with Medieval Madness, which means it’s just plain great. This one goes for a cheesy 50s sci-fi theme, and it completely owns it. This one is famous for its big UFO toy sitting above the upper play area, but it has plenty of tricks up its sleeve beyond that. There are no special licenses here, so it could appear again in the future without as much trouble as many others on this list. But if you want an awesome table to play, this one will serve you better than most.
6. Scared Stiff
Here’s a table with a somewhat obscure license attached to it. Do you remember Elvira? If you’re under 35, probably not. But it’s not important that you know her to enjoy this table. It’s just a great, silly monster mash with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. In general, I feel like the Pro upgrades are unnecessary to purchase. Here, though, you’ll need access to the options the Pro version unlocks if you want to get the full risque humor Elvira brings to the table. It’s a bit easier than some of the other tables on this list, making it a good game to train with if you’re not amazing at pinball.
7. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Who could forget the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola movie starring Gary Oldman and Keanu Reeves? Well, whether you do or don’t, this is a pretty neat table. Designed by Barry Oursler, this table features a lot of gimmicks based on the movie and a few that aren’t. A nifty magnet can throw the ball around, which isn’t a unique gimmick by any means but works really well here. This is another obscure, somewhat complicated license that could very well hinder any future re-release.
8. The Getaway: High Speed 2
Another great Steve Ritchie table, this one is themed around a car chase. There’s a cool traffic light toy hanging above the play area, and lots of ramps that help keep the speed quick at all times. The rules are deep enough to satisfy, but the theme and basic play are accessible enough for just about anyone. The digital version can’t capture the fun of using the gear shifter that the real machine sported, but it’s still worth picking up.
9. Circus Voltaire
The real Circus Voltaire machine is pretty hard to come by, but this is another fantastic 90s Williams pinball game. Taking a page from some earlier titles, this game features an antagonistic character on the play area that taunts you as you play. The Ringmaster seems more like the Joker than a circus employee, but he helps make this game even more memorable. I really love the colors on this table. It’s almost unbelievably vibrant.
Some people will (perhaps rightfully) criticize my list for focusing on the 1990s output of this company, but I really do think that the solid-state machines that were ushered in during the 1980s and sparked the brief resurgence of the 1990s are just more enjoyable than the bulk of the company’s earlier electro-mechanical tables. Taxi is an early example of the solid state tables that would soon rule the industry, and it’s a personal favorite of mine. Pick up some of the wackiest passengers you could imagine and try to score the highest possible fares.
For this list, I tried to balance quality versus the likelihood of the tables re-appearing, but depending on your concerns you may want to lean in one direction or the other. Terminator 2: Judgment Day may not be as great of a game as Attack From Mars, for example, but it’s far less likely to ever be re-released thanks to the various licenses at play. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for purely great pinball tables, you may want to check out things like Theatre of Magic or Monster Bash ahead of some of the licensed games I’ve listed. The nice thing about Pinball Arcade is that you can try out any of the tables for free, so you may want to see which ones click with you before making your final decisions.