Last Sunday I went to the Northwest Pinball & Arcade Show at the Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. I try to go most every year, and I’ve only missed it once or twice in the last several years. It’s a good time.
This year I went with my pinball pal Cassie so we could play lots of two-player pinball and arcade games. The goal I had in mind was to try to play the more interesting and unusual games, the ones that I can’t easily play anywhere else. I think I found some goodies. Let’s run through them!
This was the very first thing we played when we got there. It was in a section that was advertising a special, day-glo-style of pinball bulb lighting, which is why this machine looks so funky. I don’t remember much of the game other than it was pretty fun, fast-paced and had a nice, crowded board. There was a fascinating upper floor that had an Arkanoid-like function to it, but I don’t remember exactly how it worked.
Right next to The Shadow was Medieval Madness, also featuring the crazy day-glo lights. This one was a hoot, with lots of crazy stuff going on. In the back-left corner is a castle (you can see it in the photo). If you knock down the drawbridge and then knock down the gate behind it, and then get your ball up into the castle all of the towers start wiggling like crazy and the screen up above shows the castle being destroyed by A NUCLEAR EXPLOSION. A lot of fun, I’d live to play this one a whole bunch.
Rocky & Bullwinkle Pinball
This one was just mean. Just mean. It seemed like every single element on the board was designed to aim your ball directly down a hole with no chance of it being intercepted by a flipper. We didn’t enjoy playing this one very much at all.
An interesting dungeon-crawling game whose levels were kind of in the vein of Berserk. Problem was, we couldn’t get to any of the rooms other than the first one. See, once you leave the first room you end up in an inbetween area with a couple of staircases that go to different rooms so you can choose your path through the tomb. Unfortunately due to vagaries with the joystick, it was almost impossible to control your character and get him to actually move through this area (even though the controls seemed to be just fine in the first room). And there are enemies in this area that kill you if you don’t move very quickly. So we never got to either of the other available rooms; we just got killed dead over and over. *Sad trombone noise*
A mainstay of any Pinball Expo, and one I always try to play, this fascinating game actually has a second pinball board… in the backstop. Yes, that’s right, there’s a completely-vertical pinball board that takes up most of the backstop. If you hit your ball into the upper-left corner of the main board there’s a chance that a magnet will pick it up and deliver it into the backstop, where pinball madness ensues. You see, in a vertical pinball board the ball is completely within the throes of gravity, so it moves fast. And I mean fast.
Cassie & I split up here for a bit so we could play some stuff that might not interest the other. Continuing:
A bit of a cheater due to this machine being at Dorky’s Arcade just down the street, but last time I was in there it was out of order, so… In Taxi you are trying to pick up and deliver some pop-culture icons, like Dracula, Marilyn Monroe, and Mikhail Gorbachev. ‘Cause this game was made in the 1980s.
Another bit of a cheater in that this game isn’t exactly a rarity, but it is still always nice to come across it and is a hoot to play. You are a penguin who pushes blocks around in an attempt to squish all enemies before they run into you.
Skull & Crossbones
A very bizarre pirate sword-fighting game, with a seemingly intricate sword-controlling system. I never really got the hang of it. But I did kill a bunch of ninjas in one of the levels. It’s also about trying to get your treasure back from a medieval-style wizard, so there’s that. I’d be curious to know if this game is fun if you get good at the controls.
A fascinating, overhead-view driving/shooting/running around, vertical-scrolling SHMUP. It kinda defies classification. But you spend most of your time careening around in a vehicle, running over guys with guns and shooting other cars. You can get out of your car any time you want, and if your car gets too much damage it starts to flash and then you have to get out or it’ll explode with you in it! Like Blaster Master, you’re pretty vulnerable when you’re not in your car, but there are no dungeons designed to be explored when you’re out-of-car.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
A pure nostalgia trip. A pizza place down in the Tacoma/Puyallup area used to have this game, and I would play it whenever I was there, usually with Geoff & his family and friends. Remember to whip the Thugee guards! Please! There are two alternating styles of play: running around a dungeon with a whip, trying to save kids; and speeding down mine cart tracks, trying to keep from getting flipped over.
In truth this isn’t a very fun game. Based loosely on the weird fantasy/sci-fi movie from 1983, this seems more like it was made in 1980 than one year before Super Mario Bros. came out. You advance through several static, non-scrolling boards, each with its own slight variation of goal but all with equally poor controls and graphics.
If anyone ever wants to buy me an arcade game, this is the one I would want, hands-down. Time Pilot is my all-time favorite classic arcade game. And I’m pretty durned good at it, too. In fact, that’s my high score there in the photo, still there at the end of the final day of a classic arcade expo. I’d say that’s pretty good. I love this game. Love, love, love it.
A pinball game about fighting crime. Sorry, I should have said “fighting animal crime.” You see, this pinball game is full of anthropomorphic cops and criminals. Here, take a look at the criminal animals:
This is a Galaga-style game. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the green planet along the right side of the screen is lined with about 10 humanoid figures. Enemies launch from a cluster in the upper-left corner of the screen. You have to shoot them from your perch on the blue planet along the bottom of the screen before they snatch a humanoid from the green planet and take them back to their cluster. Kinda like a cross between Galaga and Defender.
This game threw me for a loop and consistently surprised me. It seems to change every few seconds into a completely different game.
- First you’re flying around a planet, trying to shoot weird, irregularly-shaped “zones” on it as they turn yellow, while they shoot at you.
- Once you shoot enough yellow zones, a ship that looks a lot like yours appears in the planet and you land and attach to it. The shots that the zones put out transform into “meteors” and start trying to shoot you. You can’t leave the planet, but can only move around within its confines while trying to shoot the meteors.
- Once you shoot all the meteors, the screen completely wipes and is replaced by a back-and forth ascending maze (think the girders in Donkey Kong’s first level), and suddenly it’s almost a platform-style game as you slowly fly through the maze, shooting or avoiding tiny little people that pop out of the walls and charge you, and weird bird-shaped enemies, and a bunch of other seemingly-random stuff.
- When you get to the end of the maze, you’re confronted suddenly with a Phoenix-style boss, a big ship with a gigantic, central eye that is protected by layers of regenerating shields. And also suddenly your gun can only shoot about 1″ in front of you instead of all the way across the screen. You have to drill through the shield to zap the eye while it tries to shoot you (easy for it to do since you have to get withing point-blank range to hit it). Also there are more of those tiny flying people along the sides of the screen who are also trying to shoot you.
- If you manage to shoot the eye, the ship it was contained in vanishes, and now the eye starts zooming all over the screen trying to ram into you while you get confined to only being able to move left and right along the bottom of the screen, Galaga-style. If you manage to shoot the eye four times then you win! And you go back to the first board with the planet of yellow zones.
SO WEIRD. But so cool in that it is so many games in one.
Return of the Jedi
This one is also a big nostalgia trip for me. I used to play this all the time in arcades when I was a kid. There are three levels: A speederbike level where you try to lure enemy speederbikes into Ewok traps; An AT-ST level where you pilot your stolen Imperial walker and try to avoid logs and other hazards; and a Death Star run level, where you pilot the Millenium Falcon into the heart of the Death Start to destroy its reactor… and then turn around and try to out-run the ensuing explosion. All of this is in isometric, ¾-view.
A nice, 1980s-style pinball game based on Episodes 4-6. There is a Death Star on the board, and an even bigger R2-D2 who looms over the Death Star. It’s fun to make him squeal and squeak. It’s a pretty well-designed board with a lot of cool features.
Another extreme nostalgia trip for me. In Kangaroo you play a mama who is trying to climb a tree to rescue her baby kangaroo from a bunch of punk monkeys that like to toss fruit at you. Don’t worry, you can punch them. For a game about a kangaroo, the jumping feature is extremely limited; you can’t jump very high at all). Like Donkey Kong there are several different boards through which you progress.
Washington Crossing the Delaware
After Kangaroo it was time to re-meet up with Cassie for lunch at the little lunch counter area off to the side of the main expo floor. I had chicken strips and garlic fries. Cassie had a burger, bananas, and a chocolate bar. She then constructed this sculpture, which she christened “Washington Crossing the Delaware:”
Then we continued on in the afternoon with more two-player madness.
I foolishly did not take a photo of this game! It was in a Magic Sword cabinet, to boot! Tumblepop is a 1990s Bubble Bobble-style game, where you have vacuum cleaners that you use to suck up enemies and then spit them back out at other enemies. Imagine Kirby with Bubble Bobble levels, only you don’t get super powers from the enemies you suck up in the vacuum. Interesting. Not as good as the crazy cactus game in a similar vein that they had last year.
Kind of a competitive, two-player vs tetris style game, except instead of trying to line up blocks you’re trying to make the blocks into quadrangles by shooting one-square blocks that attach to the irregularly-shaped blocks that are descending ever towards you. It’s surprisingly fun. There’s some sorta mechanic that lets you complete multiple rectangles at the same time, but I never got the hang of that.
Raiden Fighters 2
Back in the early 2000s, in the early days after Fools Play moved to Olympia, after each show we would go to Red Robin for food and hanging out. In the arcade room therein was Raiden Fighters, and Geoff & I would waste a few quarters on that madhouse of a game every time we had the chance. This is the sequel to that game, an insanely-busy vertical-scrolling SHMUP that lets you choose your ship (each of which has different powers), and then power up either its lasers or its missiles, depending on which power-ups you collect. Plus the screen is always full of a bajillion moving things, many of which can kill you in one shot. It’s P.C. (Pretty Crazy).
Surprise Special Guest:
This jaunty li’l fellow showed up at this point and paraded through the expo hall. He was covered in legos.
The Black Hole
The Black Hole is innovative for having a second, “basement” board below the main board (under a piece of clear glass) that slants the opposite way as the main one. If you are lucky/skilled, you can get your ball down there for extra inverted fun!
This one has a similar “basement” board to The Black Hole’s, but this one-ups The Black Hole by also having an upper, “attic” board! That’s right, it’s a three-story pinball game! It’s also a very fun one, and I’m a sucker for a good haunted house.
The fascinating, head-to-head, simultaneous two-player pinball game themed around the video game of the same name. The players sit on opposite sides of the board, which slants up from both sides to peak in the middle. You try to score points with the ball(s) on your side of the board, and also try to sink them into the holes on your opponent’s side of the board! There are usually several balls in play at once, especially during the final 30 seconds when ball after ball gets launched until time runs out. This was one of the more fun two-player experiences at the expo.
When Cassie used the restroom I killed time by playing a couple of games:
Old as dirt, this game has only one control: throttle. I know, it looks like the controller handlebars should let you steer, but they’re bolted firmly in place. All you can do is throttle up and down to make your little guy on the screen go faster or slower. You have to be going the correct speed when you get to the bottom level to jump over all the buses but not go so fast that you overshoot the ramp on the other side of the buses. That’s it. Whee?
A sportsball game. You use a joystick to aim your pitch and one of three buttons to choose your pitch. And then after three outs you bat. Meh. I was really just killing time with this one.
And that’s pretty much everything that I played that I couldn’t really easily play elsewhere. There was another one I forgot to take a photo of, a 3D racing game in which you controlled a kind of flying ship.
That may seem like some good games (good games), but the best is yet to come. For, you see, at the NWPAS in 2014 was one of the greatest pinball machines ever made:
Team Les Schwab
Yes, this is “Team Les Schwab.” Yes, the same Les Schwab that offered FREE BEEF if you purchase tires!
Because Les Schwab is a tire company, the game is car-themed:
There are a lot of weird and wacky touches throughout the game and the case, such as a “Blue-Light” special that spells out Carrera:
Instead of a start button, there is actually an ignition key that you turn:
But by far the best part about this pinball machine is contained in two simple words:
I always have a metric tonne of funne at the Northwest Pinball & Arcade Show every year I’m able to go. Since they’ve moved it to Tacoma it’s been a lot easier for me to do so! Hooray!
Perhaps next year you will join me there! PERHAPS!