This piece was written as part of a series I deployed on Fridays on my former online home, essentially the last unique writing I did there aside from some later flotsam and/or jetsam. I’ve been really itching to play the silver ball lately, so it sprung to mind today. If blogs existed in the early nineteen-nineties, the abundance of tedious pinball reviews I surely would have written could have toppled the sturdiest reader.
1992: The Addams Family pinball is released
I’m part of the video arcade generation. Through my middle school and high school years, the destination of choice was whatever corner of a mall or bowling alley contained all the latest adventures of digitized frogs dodging traffic or armless yellow discs that insatiably devoured pellets and disoriented ghosts. Quarters were a precious commodity, and the kids who occasionally had an entire roll at their disposal were like royalty. Video game were so prevalent, they even inspired TV game shows. While I certainly had my favorites (including a few somewhat unlikely choices) I was far more a fan of the bulky machines usually shoved to the back of the arcade during this era. I was a pinball kid.
Happily, the rapid evolution of home gaming consoles helped pinball machines to mount something of a comeback during my college years. Almost every bar in town had at least one, and I had a crew of similarly enamored friends who were always happy to base our evening plans around which establishments had the best or newest offerings on that front. Newest was always an interesting quest, but there was wide agreement on the topic of best. A few months after the release of The Addams Family starring Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston, Midway produced a game inspired by the movie. Raiding pop culture for the theme of a machine was hardly a wild new idea, but the Addams Family game was uncommonly well-conceived. It’s no surprise that it became (and remains) the best-selling pinball machine ever.
It was part of the wave of pinball games that were growing more complicated, with certain tasks to complete in order to earn bonuses rather than just keeping the ball alive to bounce off bumpers for additional points. Despite everything going on, it was easy to learn the various ways to provoke multiballs or other little sessions that yielded massive boosts to the score. It was also easy to keep track of the progress in accumulating added progress towards the major goals. Playing the game was like driving a car: there was actually a remarkable amount to do and pay attention to you, but it all became second-nature after a little practice. It also integrated dialogue and other sounds from the film marvelously, led by Raul Julia shouting out encouragement (“Well played, Thing, you’re really on the ball!”). The layout of the playfield was perfectly balanced, with a multitude of options for how to play the ball, yet not so much that it was pointlessly cluttered or that any paths were needlessly impeded. It was all in the players flippers, and an integral part of the game was constantly adjusting strategy to take advantage of the possibilities.
We played the game a lot of places, but I remember it most vividly at a bar in downtown named Butter’s Brick Hause Tavern. It practically had a permanent residence there. It would occasionally cycle out, only to return after a few weeks when the replacement game proved disappointing in comparison. So it was always there, as dependable a part of collegiate comfort culture for me as Point beer or ludicrously inexpensive fast food hamburgers. In my world, it was always showtime.