Monday, July 24, 2017

Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo 2017 BLOWOUT (Part Two!)

Do you kids like pinball? Well, too bad, because I'm about to hit you with so much old-school pinball awesomeness you might actually die from silver-ball poisoning. 


By: Jimbo X
JimboXAmerican@gmail.com
@JimboX

I promised you more coverage of the 2017 Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo, and by golly, I'm going to give it to you. 

The thing is, there's so much going on at the show that even what you see here is just a small portion of the event and its total ambiance. When you've got 500 pinball games, about 250 arcade games and 3,000 guests, there is a LOT to take in, and no one man can truly encapsulate the wonder and whimsy of the expo by his lonesome. 

We covered a ton of material in our first installment, but the amount of content here is positively backbreaking. I'm not entirely sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't the most bandwidth intensive article I've ever posted for IIIA - as in, we're talking 100-plus photographs. Yes, such may sound like overkill to the layfolks, but as a retro gaming historian, I consider such a monumental task to be an absolute curatorial necessity

While the first installment focused exclusively on arcade video game, part two-oh is going to focus exclusively on pinball units (with a brief detour halfway through, but trust me, these photos are worth deviating from the script.) I've never been one for pomp and/or circumstance, so let's cut the grandiloquent showmanship and get straight to the tables, why don't we? Yeah, I didn't surmise you'd have any problems at all with such directness ... 


The Amazing Spider-Man!

I'm not sure if I've already covered this Gottlieb unit before, but even if I have, this thing is just so beautiful that it's worth covering again


The artwork on this thing is just superb. It really does look like John Romita's work from the 1960s, and there are just so many allusions to the comic book littered all over the board. Pretty much everybody who was prominently featured during the early 1970s run is here, running the gamut from Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson all the way to The Vulture and Black Widow. And I just love how the people central to Peter Parker's life are positioned towards the bottom of the unit, while all the super-villains reside up top. Yeah, it's a small gesture that can almost be written off as an after-thought, but man, what great symbolism (intended or unintentional) eh?


This is easily one of my ten favorite units ever. While there have been quite a few Spidey board over the years, this is without question the best. Not only does it have the finest artwork, the unit itself is just good, old-fashioned, no frills pinball fun. You can keep your high-definition video displays and super-duper-ultra-wizard modes - just give me the Kingpin punching a bumper and some web targets to hit and I am in hog heaven


Skateball!

Right off the bat, I have no idea what the fuck Skateball is supposed to be. A quick Google search reveals there was a video game series with the same name, but this unit obviously came out years before that. I don't even think there's a formal recreational act called "skateball," so that means somebody at Bally's literally said "hey, how about we make a pinball game about a dude with a mustache and a mullet who drives an A-Team van and goes surfing with his fine blonde bitch all the time?" and instead of firing him on the spot, the upper brass said "great idea, Steve, let's start production on Monday."


I'm not sure what the board's theme is supposed to be, but it sure looks gnarly. You've got Sonic waitresses delivering milkshakes and dudes doing headstands on surfboards and what I'm pretty sure is marijuana plants blossoming around the ball drain. So basically, they could've just retroactively called it "The Late 1970s: The Pinball Game."


It's a fun board, through and through. Gameplay-wise there are certainly more advanced offerings out there, but the aesthetics are just so ephemerally awesome. This thing is a beautiful piece of gloriously outmoded art, and I can't tell you how much good it does my heart to see such primo kitsch restored and beeping and buzzing like it was brand new. Sigh ... it almost brings a tear to my eye, really. 


U.S.A. Football!

Now here is one of the weirdest pinball games ever designed. Pinball has always been a competitive activity, but pray tell, have you ever seen a cabinet that was two-player only?


That's right, this Alvin G. & Co. production merges pinball and foosball into a one-of-a-kind arcade offering that, off the top of my head, has no comparative analogue anywhere in coin-op-dom. 


As you can see for yourself, the game has two sets of flippers at each end. The table itself is curved in a "U" shape in the middle and the objective, naturally, is to put the ball in the other person's drain. And there are bumpers and other obstacles all over the place, which makes directly plunging the rock in your opponent's flipper opening all sorts of difficult. If you look closely, you'll note that the game actually has six flippers, with each player getting an extra pinball-puncher in enemy territory. Fuck, you think these guys could've thrown in a ramp or two while they were at it?


Playing U.S.A. Football is a unique experience, to be sure, but I'm not exactly sure I would call it a fun one. It's a great concept in theory, but with so much crap littering the playing space the ball inevitably winds up remaining in one player's quadrant for an excess amount of time, leaving the other player with Jack Shit to do for upwards of half a minute. We'll give the guys that made it props for thinking outside the box, but at the end of the day, U.S.A. Football is hardly anything more than curiosity piece ... and one that you'll likely tire of in just a few minutes.


High Speed!

This is one of the seminal pinball games of the 1980s. In fact, it's one of the few physical arcade staples to actually get the NES treatment ... albeit, this version is without the flying tumbleweeds that eats your balls or the little oil drop thingy that makes your flippers disintegrate.


There's not a whole lot to say about this one. The table layout is about as close to perfect as you'll find in a unit from the era, and the labyrinth of ramps actually fits the theme of the coin-op instead of coming off as excessive. That, and the artwork is just gorgeous - wouldn't you just love to take the glass off and use it as giant playset for your G.I. Joe toys?


The game inspired a sequel in the 1990s called The Getaway, which - warning, an aside is coming up - I'm almost wholeheartedly convinced was ripped off for the Charlie Sheen/Krisy Swanson crime caper The Chase. Hey, the pinball sequel did come out a full two years before that particular film - and its backglass even manages to portend that movie's grand finale!


Batman '66!

This is one of those "modern" pinball units that are pretty much meant to be collector's only items ... as evident by this particular board's preposterous $9,000 asking price (and if you think that's absurd, the super-duper limited edition is priced at a mind-breaking $15,000!)


In case you couldn't figure it out, this Stern unit is based on the old Adam West TV show (and, eerily enough, the dude died the same day I attended this year's expo.) Cesar Romero's Joker, Frank Gorshin's The Riddler and Burgess Meredith's Penguin are all represented on the board, although I'm wondering why they went with the Julie Newmar Catwoman instead of the Eartha Kitt version. Oh wait, I know the answer - racism, probably.


Anyhoo, it's a fun game. The visuals are bright and colorful and the high definition video board definitely adds a lot to the experience. And take a real close gander at the bottom of the screen there - they actually included mug shots of George Sanders' Mr. Freeze and Maurice Evans' The Puzzler! I take it that means you have to buy the mega-hyper-collector's edition to see Marsha, Queen of Diamonds or Colonel Gumm, though...


Police Force!

Unbeknownst to me, this is apparently one of the most beloved boards of the '80s among hardcore pinball enthusiasts. Well, my ignorant ass had never even heard of it until the event, and my first thought was pretty much the same as yours - holy fuck, did Zootopia rip this thing off or what?


So yeah, it's basically a furry-themed cops and robbers game. You've got alligators with bazookas, sharks carrying around (presumably stolen) money bags in their fins and this one little police car toy that zooms up and down every time you hit a ramp shot. All in all, it's a really well-put-together board ... even if it's anthro-theme does come off as just a bit creepy the longer you stare at the backglass artwork.


And while we're on the subject of Police Force, who's up for some obscure trivia? According to pinball designer and expo guest Roger Sharpe, this game was originally meant to have an entirely different theme. That plan? The tie-in pinball game for 1989's Batman!


Firepower!

For whatever reason, I've always dug artwork like this. Everything is just so silver and shiny, and nothing says "fuck me, it's the '80s" quite like all that reddish-pink strewn about everywhere. 


To the best of my knowledge, Firepower isn't based on any sort of preexisting license, but the table artwork is so detailed that you'd swear it was. I have no idea how you would describe the geometric design of the giant sphere that takes up half the playing space, but it just looks so cool and postmodern. It's like a giant disco ball painted by Matisse. Come to think of it, the eighties pretty much were a disco ball painted by Matisse, only with AIDS and crack cocaine thrown in for good measure.


I'm sure Firepower has some sort of convoluted rule set, but like 99.9 percent of pinball players, I don't give a fuck about anything the designers want me to do, I'm just in it to hit bumpers and nail ramp shot after ramp shot. Everybody always talks about Grand Theft Auto being the pioneer of so-called "sandbox gaming," but that's pretty much been the case with pinball games since day one. That said, I am curious what you have to do to reach "20" on the game ... which, even if it isn't, I'm going to go on ahead and guess is "whack that big-headed motherfucker right there 28 times in a row while holding one testicle in your free hand."


Outer Space!

Sci-fi-themed tables are a dime a dozen in '60s and '70s pinball, so what does Gottlieb's Outer Space do to distinguish itself from the genre herd? Well, as it turns out ... not a whole lot. 


Talk about "minimalism," eh, kids? This basic board is about as simplistic as it gets. A couple of bumpers up top, a few target nodes and no ramps to speak of whatsoever. Even better, the bottom half of the board is almost entirely devoid of artwork. Two different shades of orange, converging with green near the flippers? Simplistic is one thing, but totally abstract is just the zenith of lazy, you shiftless German shmucks, you. 


Hardbody!

Now this is the kind of game you couldn't even dream of making these days. No license, no fantasy concept, just a bunch of muscular broads with huge hair showing off their tit-tays, tummies and ass cheeks. You try this today and the odds of being hit with some kind of sexual harassment suit is about 115 percent. Which sort of begs the question - how come nobody was offended by this shit back in the '80s, but today it's enough to cause Tumblrinas conniption fits?


I guess you'd call this a "fitness" theme, or at the very least some kind of "gym rat" aesthetic. It does a pretty good job of capturing the whole "working out" craze of the late 1980s, right down to the the spandex one-pieces - again, reinforcing the notion that these games aren't just throwaway pieces of junks, but legitimate works of art dedicated to capturing and immortalizing the days that once were. 


I'm not sure, but this thing was probably inspired by the immortal 1985 documentary Pumping Iron II: The Women. And since Hardbody came out two years after that movie was released, I think it's safe to go on ahead and assume the similarities between the two properties probably aren't merely coincidental. But that's not the only reason this game is historically noteworthy, though...


...it was also one of the first pinball games to have multiple stages. You see, as soon as you shoot the ball out, it first goes through a raised platform near the top of the screen, which comes with its own set of flippers and ball drain. This is a motif that's been re-used time and time again, but few games that incorporated the hook have ever felt as smooth and natural as Hardbody. And to think, some of you unenlightened plebs thought the only thing this game had going for it was shameless T and A! 


Dixieland!

This was one of the older pinball games on the show floor ... which is saying something, since I've seen a few pre-World War II units at previous expos.


I'm not entirely sure how I would describe this theme. Apparently, it's about a big band performing a concert, or surreptitiously planning to lynch their only two black members after the show or something. Regardless, the artwork is really nice and, despite the simplistic playing field, it actually does offer up a surprising amount of challenge.


It's pretty amazing to think stuff like this got made back in the day. In today's "everything's gotta' be fantasy licensed crap" milieu, a fun, simple game like Dixieland doesn't stand a shot of ever getting manufactured. And it's a pity, too - a high-end upgrade with a full motion HD video display would make for such an awesome sequel.&


The Pabst Can Crusher!

Here's another of those "neo-retro" pinball units. I'm not sure who made it, but considering the extent of the product placement, one would simply assume that it's got the official blessing of Pabst Blue Ribbon - I take it that means American Spirit cigarettes backed out at the last second. 


The theme is pretty straight-forward. Apparently, there's some band with a shag wagon called Crusher and they're all a bunch of alcoholics and they play music out in the bogs and all these nasty hoochies are totally into it and they probably do psychotropic mushrooms, too. So yeah, I guess you could unofficially call this "Drive Invasion: The Pinball Game" and not really have to change anything about the artwork.


It's an alright game, but nothing more. The board is probably a bit too basic and the overall design looks like something you'd see on the side of a Mellow Mushroom building. The sound design was pretty cruddy, too, which is a shame - some old stuff by Black Lips would've made the perfect soundtrack for the experience


Your mileage may vary on the appeal of the game. If you're a hipster piece of shit heartlessly co-opting white poverty as a fashion statement, you'll probably think it's a hoot, but everybody else will likely get bored out of their skulls by the time they rack up their third ball. We'll give 'em credit for securing one of the weirdest sponsorships in pinball history, but that's just about the only praise we can sing concerning this 'un. 


The Legend of Zelda protoype!

There are always a bunch of homebrew tables at the show, and this year was no different. One of the more interesting ones was this almost certainly unauthorized silver ball adaptation of the beloved/overrated Nintendo cash cow, which looked to be about, I don't know, 2, possibly 3 percent complete.


The thing is still a work in progress (no shit,) but it looks promising ... well, about as promising as something like this can look, I suppose. The bigger question, though? Will this thing get finished before or after that one Spaceballs table that's been popping up at the show for the last few years? I'm not a betting man, but considering the snail's pace on the latter, methinks we'll be bumping buzzers and bumpers in Hyrule LONG before we'll be blasting ramp shots at Pizza the Hut.



Super Mario Mushroom World!

This is the first time I've ever seen this one out in the wild, so, naturally, it was out of order all day. But such is life, ain't it? 


This Gottlieb unit is about half the size of most pinball games. And the artwork clearly harkens more to Super Mario Bros. 3 than Super Mario World, as evident by the inclusion of the frog suit and the raccoon leaf power-ups. All the Koopa Kids are accounted for and there's even a few callouts to the world 2 "desert" map, including those goddamn chained-up chompers that are such a pain in the ass to avoid. For fuck's sake, they even drew a warp whistle on the table, which is worth so many attention-to-detail points. Man, if only they would have gone full retard and made a pinball game modeled after The Wizard, too; their corporate offices would still be getting Christmas cards from me to this day.


Genesis!

Goddamn, you have to love that backglass art. The faded colors make it look even more like a weird porno from the mid-1980s, and I'm yay close to getting a print of this damn thing hung over my living room sofa.


The game's gimmick (and no, it has nothing to do with Sega, Phil Collins or the Old Testament) revolves around its insanely difficult ramp shots. Without question, the ramps in this one are among the hardest I've ever seen on a board, and the fact that they look like giant, translucent pink Fallopian tubes makes it even better.


This is the only pinball game I've ever played where the construction material is the most aggravating thing about the board. Take a look at the ramp - it's made out of a what appears to be hard rubbery plastic. You know what happens when you try to send a metal ball up one of those things? That's right, the friction stops it and the ball all of a sudden changes trajectory and starts sliding down the ramp. To make a ramp shot in this one, you have to absolutely knock the shit out of the ball; as in, enough to conceivably shatter the glass OVER the fucking board itself. Needless to say, I can only fathom the pains this unit must've given arcade operators back in the day...


Mars: God of War!

Now, is it supposed to remind me of Flash Gordon? Well, even if it wasn't meant to, it totally does


Yeah, I can't think of too much to say about this Gottlieb offering. The board design is pretty cool, especially because it offers you four flippers instead of just two. The artwork, though, is pretty drab, and every time I look at the ball drain, I can't help bu think "now why in the fuck is the Ottawa Senators mascot just hanging out down there?"


Still, I've heard from more than one hardcore pinball purist that this is actually a classic table. I'm guessing that probably has something to do with its insanely convoluted rule set and the fact you can score a bazillion points if you follow the instructions. But for those of us with milder forms of autism? Eh, it's just a pretty good game and absolutely nothing more.

GAME BREAK!


Alright, time to take a momentary break from all of this pinball stuff to take a look at some of the other elements of the expo. As always, the console gaming room was back in full swing, complete with an appearance by the Atari XEGS!


For those of you out of the loop, the XEGS (also known as the XE) was released in 1987 to compete with the NES. Somehow, Atari managed to get Super Mario Bros. on there, alongside about 30 other titles that sold about as well as Klan memorabilia at a Black Lives Matter rally. You know, as bone-headed as Sega may have been, I think it's pretty safe to say Atari's hardware decisions were even worse. I mean, shit, why would they have released anything that would've cannibalized the 7800's market share - especially a system that's only true drawing power was the ability to play ten-year-old 2600 titles? 


And there's our old buddy the Intellivision, just sitting there looking like a telephone that hasn't been plugged in since at least 1987. For some reason, there aren't that many games on the platform that can be easily emulated online - not that playing the games would be any easier with that fucking monstrosity of a controller, though.


So is it safe to say CRT-TV/VCR combos have officially stopped being plain old outdated shit and have now become bona fide retro technology worthy of collection and preservation? Eh, probably not, but they're certainly getting there. Give it another five or ten years and these things will be legitimate antiques, I assure you. Well, that, or the base of most landfill mounds. One or the other, really. 


You know, we really need an official name for the trifecta of early '90s Sega home consoles. I've heard a couple of people refer to it as the "final form," but I'd like to nominate the "Ultrazord" as the official nomenclature. I mean, on Power Rangers that shit was cobbled together from three different machines, too - and they even kinda look the same, if you squint and use your imagination a little.


These multicade units were all over the place, and of course, nobody was playing them. I mean, you can emulate shit whenever you want, so why come to a retro video game expo and MAME like a motherfucker? 


That said, I really can't complain about the taste of the people who set these things up. Of all the classic arcade games they could've used for their demo, what did they pick? SNK'S Windjammers, which has long been one of my favorite Neo Geo offerings. In fact, I'd feel pretty confident calling it my 21st favorite Neo Geo game ever, so you KNOW it's in really good company there. 


There was another MAME multicade that had, no joke, THOUSANDS of emulated games on it. The SHMUP section alone had about 300 different games, including a few (like Chimera Beast) that never received an official U.S. release. You know, I really have to look into investing in one of these things. Can you imagine how great it must be waking up every Saturday morning, brewing up a cup of coffee and hitting a rousing game of In The Hunt an hour or two before college football starts? Fuck, man, that's my dream, and I'm actually starting to cry a little bit just fantasizing about it.


There was this one dude at the show hawking a whole hell of a bunch of designer slot machines. The attention to detail on these things were just amazing, and I can easily see collectors going batshit for something like the Batman-branded unit above. Of course, it don't actually spit coins at you if you win, so it's going to lose a couple of neat-o points on that particular infraction ...


Hey, speaking of vendors, the folks who were selling all sorts of old-school board games were back, and pretty much their entire inventory from last year - including that one Weapon X action figure and the vintage, boxed copy of The Art of the Deal board game, whose price has obviously spiked in the wake of recent events - were on sale once more. I can't say I was too enamored of their wares, but I am curious as to what that one Jerry Springer board game is like. VERY, very curious, actually.


Not that it's really surprising or anything, but I did spot a pretty high quotient of cosplayers this year - certainly far more than I'd seen at any previous expo. While this year's event was depressingly devoid of any green-haired Samus Arans running around with half their coochies hanging out (which I can firmly attest was a thing that happened in '16), it did have some pretty interesting characters pop up, perhaps none as noteworthy as this giant inflatable dinosaur that I'm pretty sure was commandeered by a 12-year-old Hispanic child. Hey, if someone is willing to wear a full body plastic suit in Atlanta - in the middle of the freaking summer - they at least deserve a passing mention, don't they?


See, I wasn't bullshitting you about wrestling being a thing at this year's show. In case you're wondering, all of these make-believe gladiators in tighty-whities are from a promotion called Atlanta Wrestling Entertainment, and judging by the vociferousness of all the fat, white punk girls near the ring ropes, they've apparently garnered something of a dedicated hipster piece of shit following. The in-ring action was better than you'd expect, but good lord, I couldn't believe how small these guys were. I'm barely 5'11 but I towered over half the roster; they might not have a career in WWE, but I'm pretty sure there's a midget fed out there somewhere that would leave to feature their flippity-floppity nonsense for at least a couple of nickels a night, aren't there?


And before we hop back into the pinball action, I present to thee this shit right here. You know, I could easily post this image to CringeAnarchy on Reddit and probably get a thousand or so upvotes, but I'm not gonna' do it. Let's face it - if you CHOOSE to drive around with pedo-hentai porn on your vehicle, you probably lost the organelle responsible for "shame" a looooong time ago. Regardless: kids, if this ride pulls into your neighborhood, DO NOT accept any Pokeballs they try to give you and alert your parents immediately.


The Addams Family!

Yeah, I know it's weird that it took me three of these damn expos to get around to covering this one, but surely, this unit needs no introduction, does it? By some metrics it's still the best-selling pinball game of all-time, and this thing was just about the most ubiquitous cabinet of the 1990s. If your local bowling alley, movie theater or Walmart didn't have this one up-front, you must've been living in a third world country or something. 


So much has been written about The Addams Family that I'm not quite sure what I can add. A lot of pinball purists consider it one of the greatest boards ever, if not the absolute greatest. While I've always thought it was a dandy game, I've never thought of it as being that good, personally. In fact, if I made a list of my top 20 pinball games of the 1990s, I'm not even sure it'd make the cut. Of course, that doesn't make it a bad game or anything like that - just something I think that's good, but maybe not as good as so many hardcore pin-heads have made it out to be.


An aside, I know, but every time I see this game I'm reminded of another coin-op - that one "game" featuring Uncle Fester with a light bulb in his mouth that required you to hold on to two metal bars and "survive" a series of increasingly violent electrical shocks. Now when are we going to be seeing THAT one at the expo, guys?


Revenge From Mars in 3D!

This is one of two games released under the infamous "Pinball 2000" banner that eventually led to Midway's exit from the pinball manufacturing business. And unlike that other Pinball 2000 offering, Revenge From Mars is actually really, really fun, and a sad reminder of where the pinball industry could've gone had all the big name developers not cut bait at the turn of the century.


Even without the whole video screen hullabaloo (more on that in just a bit), this is still a downright dandy little table. The artwork is just peachy, giving us a Mars Attacks! ripoff that actually looks way better than Mars Attacks! And you have to dig that throwback, refreshingly uncluttered playing space - as evident here, sometimes, less is definitely more when it comes to excellent pinball design.


So, yeah, that video screen. It's positioned right above the top of the playing space, and like that old deluxe version of Space Invaders, everything you do on the playing field kinda-sorta-but-not-really correlates to what's happening on the screen. It's hard to describe, but seeing it in person makes a lot more sense. It's a shame the concept never took off - there really could've been some great games (did somebody say sequels to Fish Tales and White Water?) utilizing the idea. 


Space Shuttle!

Clearly, this thing came out before the Challenger disaster (and, by proxy, the theatrical release of SpaceCamp, which I suppose constitutes an entirely different kind of disaster.) I also like how it promotes itself as "a pinball adventure," like it really offers you anything you haven't seen before in a hundred different boards. Jeez, guys, way to get carried away after N.A.S.A. gave you their licensing approval ... 


The game itself is pretty good, if not fairly unnoteworthy. With the exception of the "heat shield" ball saver near the drain, there's not a whole lot of innovation to be found here, although the artwork is, for the most part, pretty decent.


Naturally, the most noticeable aspect of the game is the little replica space shuttle up top. I'm not quite sure if it moves or not, but it's certainly a nice, detailed prop. If you get a multiball bonus, does it explode or something? Because even if it doesn't, it totally should.


Swords of Fury!

That backglass is just so eighties-tastic. It could either be the image on a kid's cartoon-branded lunchbox or the artwork for a Satanic heavy metal band's debut album. Funny how it's so hard to tell the two apart sometimes, eh?


The board is pretty solid. The artwork has a lot of nice blues and oranges, and the ramps are especially fun to muddle around with. Does anybody else get the impression this thing was probably designed to be a Thundercats unit, but the license got yanked at the last minute? 'Cause it sure as hell feels that way to this neutral observer.


Oddly enough, Swords of Fury is probably most remembered for being the table re-skinned for an ambitious fan's homebrew Buffy the Vampire Slayer project. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a gander - if only for the fact it reminds you just how fucking hot Goth Alyson Hannigan was back in the day. 


Black Knight!

Among hardcore pinball enthusiasts, this is routinely cited as one of the absolute best boards ever. This, despite the fact it has almost nothing to do with the Martin Lawrence movie of the same name, which we can all agree is probably the Citizen Kane of our generation.


Of course, Black Knight is a historically important game for several reasons - the most obvious being its inclusion of an elevated platform near the top of the screen (complete with an extra set of flippers!) that effectively constitutes a mini board itself. 


It's a gimmick that's been done plenty of times since, but if I'm not mistaken (and remember, unlike the Pope, I am very much fallible) this was the very first game to incorporate the hook. That historical resonance alone makes Black Knight a must-play - although in my humblest o' opinions it remains a solid little board even with that little element factored out of the equation. 


Wheel of Fortune!

What's better than a regular old, beat-to-shit version of the Wheel of Fortune pinball game? Why, a special edition  beat-to-shit "tournament play" version of the game, which apparently is identical to the standard unit only with a big yellow placard placed atop the backglass board!


If you ever wondered if licensing got out of hand in the pinball industry, the mere existence of this board alone is all the proof you need. I mean, is there really anything innate about the long-running game show that easily translates over into the world of pinball in a logical manner? I mean, Press Your Luck and The Gong Show, I can understand, but there's nothing about Pat Sajak and Vanna White that immediately screams "perfect pinball material" to me, personally. 


That said, it's still an intriguing board. I like the fact they included contestants in the board patchwork, and I really like the fact they made two of them the absolute whitest characters I've seen in any type of medium ever. Of course, we're all left to wonder what happened to poor Maria's head, although it's probably safe to assume she was decapitated after being repeatedly gang raped by Lonnie and Keith in a sadistic anti-Hispanic hate crime. Well, that, or it's stuck underneath the table somewhere and whoever owns it just don't give a shit about finding it anymore. 


Legends of WrestleMania!

Obviously, this is a re-skinned version of Stern's WrestleMania board from a few years back. And yes, color me tickled pink and surprised periwinkle that Hulk "I am racist to a point, fuckin' niggers" Hogan got the marquee spot on the backglass. Hey, I guess it was either him or Roman Reigns, and I guess Hogan's more likable even with the penchant for casual sex-tape racial slurs


If you're a nostalgia-prone 'rasslin dork, you'll probably have a hoot playing this one. Pretty much all the major stars of the 1980s and early 1990s who have since become crack addicts with millions of dollars owed in back taxes are featured somewhere on the unit, although there are several noticeable omissions. I mean, how can you call this Legends of WrestleMania without paying homage to such grappling greats as Special Delivery Jones, Sky Low Low or Giant Gonzalez, guys?


While the game is a re-do, it hasn't changed THAT much from the earlier iteration of the unit. There have been a lot of old/new photos shopped onto the playing field, but practically all of the obstacles (the bumpers, the ramps, etc.) remain unchanged. And while I didn't spend too much time getting acquainted with the product, it doesn't appear that Stern made any major overhauls to the gameplay. That is, unless they threw in a special wizard mode where you help Chris Benoit murder his immediate family before stringing himself up on a Bowflex - which, yeah, probably would be distasteful or something. 


Earthshaker!

Fuck, this game is so early 1990s. A huge titted blonde bitch putting on pink lipstick while an Elvis lookalike drives recklessly and oddly optimistically over tumbling terrain, paying no heed to all the horrified bystanders running for their lives? Man, such whimsical fun, eh kids?


The table layout, though, is just fantastic. It's colorful but isn't too cluttered and the ramps and bumpers are pretty much perfectly placed. It's a pastel wonderland that wouldn't look out of place as an early 1990s board game, and I for one, think it's fantastic


It never really dawned on me before, but there sure are a lot of pinball games out there about mass casualty events. You've got this, you've got Sega's Twister, you've got Rescue 911, and there has to be at least three or four pinball units based on nautical disasters alone. So does that mean that, someday, there are going to be boards based on 9/11 or the Sandy Hook Massacre? I mean, when you really think about it, isn't basing a game around a devastating earthquake every bit as disrespectful and offensive? 


America's Most Haunted!

This is one of those indie-boards that came out in the mid-2000s that was designed to look like a long-forgotten pinball game from the mid-1980s. Oddly enough, as soon as I saw the backglass my immediate thought wasn't "hey, I've never seen this old-school game before" but rather "hey, I've never seen this newer game pretending to be an old-school one before," which is pretty much shades of fourth-dimensional meta I can't even begin to wrap my head around. 


Really, the story here is the lighting. As a whole the board may be pretty forgettable, but this might just be the best use of LED effects I've ever seen in a pinball game. They really do give the game an atmosphere and ambiance it wouldn't have had, otherwise - not only does it make the game, it's pretty much the only thing that makes it worth playing.


The entire board reminds me of one of those blacklight putt-putt golf places. I'm not quite sure I'd call it truly glow-in-the-dark, but it's pretty damn close. Shit, why didn't anybody in the 1980s or 1990s think of doing this? Bone Busters probably would've qualified as G.O.A.T. had somebody floated the idea back in the day. 


I also really dug the ramps, which were very detailed and nowhere near as flimsy as the photo would suggest. That said, the character design on the ghosts in the far background need some work. As in, all the fucking work in the world, because holy shit, are they about the crappiest looking things I've ever seen in a pinball game that wasn't literally built by retards.


Al's Garage Band Goes on A World Tour!

From the same folks who brought us U.S.A. Football comes a more traditional, solo-player pinball offering. It's gimmick? Well, it involves a whole bunch of made-up rock stars modeled after the designer's friends hopping all over the globe, no doubt engaging in all the routine rock and roll behaviors, like kidnapping and repeatedly raping minors and trying to pistol whip security guards to death.


It's an alright board - nothing really more and certainly nothing less. There's probably a bit too much table space dedicated to the map, and there just aren't enough obstacles to tinker around with. The ramp shots are pretty boring, too, but at least the audio design is above average for its time. 


With pinball games modeled after Kiss, Guns N Roses, The Rolling Stones and Metallica out there, Al's Garage Band really doesn't offer too much for music fans or hardcore pinballers alike. Not that it's a bad game or anything like that, just that it doesn't really live up to the gimmick as much as it could (and should have.) Granted, I assume these guys couldn't have licensed Green Day or Nirvana, but I'm sure there were plenty of lesser-known acts from the era with rabid cult followings that would've made outstanding rock-and-roll tables. Shit - now that I think about it, how did we NOT get some kind of GWAR-themed pinball game back in the day, or one based on G.G. Allin


Genesis (again!)

No, you eyes aren't deceiving you - this is indeed the same game from earlier, only with a backboard that totally rips off Metropolis (and to a much, much lesser extent, Bride of Pinbot.) 


I don't know if the backglass is something a fan whipped up or if it actually is a rare alternate backboard design. Surely, somebody out there can set the record straight for me, can't they?


But yeah, beyond that, it's the exact same game, complete with those hard as hell, slippery as an eel's asshole Fallopian-tube ramps and color-coded bumpers that remind me of Simon. Before we move on, I just wanted to remind everybody how fucking great the music in this game was - please, SOMEBODY out there sample this for a hip hop song, and please make sure it sounds like an unreleased Geto Boys track


Cactus Canyon!

And last, but certainly not least, we come to Cactus Canyon. It's a pretty fitting game to close out on, seeing as how it was the last traditional unit manufactured by Bally's before they migrated to the Pinball 2000 format. It's also an extremely rare game, with less than 1,000 boards ever manufactured. At this point, it's nigh impossible to obtain one of the units for less than $10,000 - and in five years' time, you probably won't be able to snatch one up for less than $20,000


This is just a fantastic board. Even without the gimmicky pistols at the bottom of the table this thing is utterly awesome. I like how semi-cruddy the art style is. It's almost like it was ripped from an old Valiant or Image comic from circa 1993 and can we give the ramp design some love? There is ALWAYS crazy shit going on, which makes this one of the most anarchic (and funnest) pinball units of the late 1990s. (Oh, and if you're keen on Easter eggs, if you don't immediately pull the plunger, you'll start getting a whole bunch of soundbites asking you what the fuck you're waiting for. I wonder just how many other tables have the same hidden feature?)


There's just something so beautiful about old school units like this. Gawping at that plastic wonderland near the top corner of the screen, I can't help but be reminded of all sorts of glorious antiquities from the 1990s, like that one putt-putt golf place next to Dairy Queen in my hometown that I'm pretty sure was intentionally set on fire for the insurance money, or the interior dressings of American Adventures in Marietta, Ga. (which still hasn't been torn down, despite having been closed for at least ten years now.) Everything about this game is just so ethereal and ephemeral, residing in this weird, nostalgic no-man's land that doesn't feel current, per se, but doesn't necessarily feel outdated, either. Every time I see one of these machines brought back to live - buzzing and humming and blinking and making Lord knows what kinds of sonic hullabaloo - I can't help but feel as if part of my childhood is instantly resuscitated. In a way, the expo is like taking a trip back to the mom and pop video store at its zenith in 1998, or taking a trip to the old school Showbiz Pizza circa 1991. What you see above isn't just some old-ass pinball game, it's a living, breathing slice of what life was like in the late 1990s - and if you don't see the indescribable magic of that, I pity you plenty.


Whew! That shit took forever, didn't it? Well, don't expect no apologies fro me, because I consider it an honor and a privilege to give you cretins a tour of the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo each and every year. I'm not sure how they do it, but every year seems to get exponentially more awesome than the year before it, and there's ALWAYS a ton of new (well, technically old, but you know what I'm trying to say here) games on display that weren't at the previous year's show. I'm already pumped, primed and psyched for next year's show, and I can't encourage you enough to come out and visit the festivities at least once.

I've got to tip my hat (fun fact: I never actually wear real hats) to the fine, upstanding folks who put on this gala each and every summer. There's not a whole lot of things I look forward to every year, but by this point the expo is pretty much on par with the start of the pro football season and Halloween in terms of yearly rites I get plumb excited over. Of course I don't have much experience covering retro video gaming conferences and conventions elsewhere, but I highly doubt there's one anywhere on this planet with the charm, coziness and overall awesomeness of the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo. 

You might as well make Marietta, Ga. the veritable Mecca of old-school gaming; if you fancy yourself a retro gaming enthusiast, you practically owe the gods of gaming at least one pilgrimage to the event before you die. And - as the photos above demonstrate - you absolutely will not regret making the journey ... I guaran-damn-tee it.

HEY! Looking for some fine, fun and dandy retro gaming reading material while waiting for 2018's show to roll around? Check out our absurdly in-depth coverage of the previous Southern-Fried Gameroom Expos at the handy-dandy links below, why don't you?





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