Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The Pinball Cafe has been going through a few different tables since September. One of the newest tables to hit the Cafe's floor is Stern's Batman.
It seems the machines come and go with certain themes. At one point there was Bally's Addams Family and Data East's Tales From The Crypt rocking a little bit of a horror theme. Then Williams' Diner and BAAAD CATS brought in some System-11 style which is still going on although Williams' Pin-Bot has replaced Diner. Gottlieb's Black Hole and Genie as well as Bally's Mata Hari and Xenon were keeping the late 70's/early 80's widebodies alive but have now all gone their separate ways. Now it seems we have a comic theme! Stern's Iron Man had a pretty long stay and X-Men is still residing at the Cafe. Now Batman is making its presence known.

Batman is a good theme for pinball as it has mass appeal. Everyone knows Batman whether they've seen the latest trilogy or not. This is based on the Christopher Nolan-directed series and is based around Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Having been released in 2008, this table doesn't have a whole heckuva lot to do with The Dark Knight Rises. The villains from the first two films, Scarecrow and Joker, are the featured Rogue's Gallery on this table and are the main features of the table. Each of the villains has a Multiball mode dedicated to them, Scarecrow's being a two-ball Multiball and Joker's mode a three-ball Multiball. These two Multiball modes are stackable and are a key strategy for racking up points on Batman. More on the Multiball strategy later.

Batman is a very well balanced table amongst Stern's lineup. It isn't too simple, like Iron Man, but it also is not as complicated as The Lord of The Rings. Batman strikes a nice balance between the two with plenty of easy, low-risk shots. The playfield was designed by George Gomez, whose resume includes a few 90's eras Williams tables such as Johnny Mnemonic and Monster Bash, but I find his best work has been with Stern, like the previously mentioned Lord of The Rings, current favourite The Sopranos, Playboy and Transformers. George Gomez has had a pretty tremendous track record with Stern, having designed some very complicated tables as well as some pretty simple ones. I've always heard good things about Batman and the times I've played it, I always get a big kick out of it. It's also a pretty popular machine in the city; Other Batman tables can be found on St. Clair West at Bar 918 and down on Claremont at California Sandwiches, alongside another comic-book classic, Stern's Spider-Man. Keep in mind, this was a while ago and, as of April 2014, Batman is... back! Spider-Man is no longer at California Sandwiches though.

Since Batman has taken up residence at Pinball Cafe, I've been hearing a lot of talk about it. It is a big hit at the Cafe and is the favourite table of  Rachel, the other half of The Pinball Cafe alongside Jason. Batman has some stiff competition at the Cafe, having to stand up against pinball fan-favourite, Williams' Medieval Madness, and the latest Stern output, X-MEN. What Batman has over the other two tables I feel is, again, the mass appeal. Batman is enjoyed by children and adults alike. During one of my visits at the Cafe, I saw everyone from kids who yelled "BATMAN! BATMAN! WHAT'S HIS CAR AGAIN?" "The Batmobile." "OHMYGOD, THE BATMOBILE IS THERE TOO!" and begged their parents to play it, to experienced pinball players taking the table for a spin and racking up a couple of free games. Sure Medieval Madness is a classic and considered one of the best tables (#3 on IPDB.org) but does that really matter to someone that hasn't played pinball in 15-20 years or wasn't even born when pinball was big? Pinball nerds love Medieval Madness but some 8 year old kid will pass on it. Batman, on the other hand, is something that will definitely catch their eye. X-Men is too scary according to what I heard one kid say and after having heard that, I wouldn't really blame the little guy. It does have an angry Wolverine jumping right out at you and just looking at the playfield can be very intimidating to someone new to pinball. Keep in mind, the credits cost anything from a quarter to a loonie so somebody might not want to risk wasting a dollar on something like X-Men where they might drain the ball in 30 seconds and barely even get a shot in. Batman isn't as scary, be it the subject matter or the difficulty of the table. It hits a really nice stride for young children, novices or pinball pros. There are a bunch of low-risk, enjoyable shots and lots of fun things to do. I'm a sucker for drop targets, they just feel so satisfying to hit!

Bonus Ball Stuck!
The Joker drop target is a blast to hit and is an easy shot made from either flipper. To light the ball lock, you must hit the Joker drop target and then hit it into the ball lock, similar to Playboy, which also has a great, albeit riskier, drop target ball lock.

The other Multiball mode, and perhaps one of the best Stern toys, is Scarecrow's Crane.
Other tables that I know of that have a toy like this is Williams' Junk Yard and its crane toy as well as Premier's Big House with a mini-crane to light JAIL. The Junk Yard crane is a bit different in that it hangs lower and swings around rather than moving back and forth like Scarecrow's Crane.
First, you have to hit the eject hole on the right side below the jet bumper cluster to light Scarecrow Attack. Once Scarecrow Attack activates, the crane comes swinging out.
There is a spring-attached pinball on the crane that you must hit five times in order to activate Scarecrow Multiball. The Crane is such a fun little toy and really makes the table. It's a lot of fun to hit and have swinging around while things are going on. Since the pinball is spring-attached, it doesn't cause too much trouble or send the main pinball flying off in unpredictable directions. Unlike Medieval Madness' Trolls, which cause a lot of frustration and grief for me, Scarecrow's Crane is always a welcome sight when it comes flying out. NOW FOR THE STRATEGY! The Multiball modes for Batman are hella important to get BIG POINTS as multipliers are difficult as hell to activate.

My #1 strategy for Batman is to get the Multiball Modes stacked up but first you want to start with Joker Multiball. Knock down the Joker drop target and get up to second ball lock. After the second ball is lit, hit the eject hole from either flipper several times. Once the Scarecrow Crane is out, either hit the hanging ball a couple of times to activate Scarecrow Multiball or knock down the Joker drop target and lock the third ball to activate Joker Multiball. I prefer to light Joker Multiball first as it is 3-ball compared to Scarecrow's 2-ball. The strategy here is that if you have 3 balls instead of 2, you have one "extra life" in which to light Scarecrow Multiball and therefore get 4-ball Multiball! If you get Scarecrow Multiball first, you have to be much more precise with your shots and get Joker Multiball fast before you drain one of the balls, otherwise you won't get 4-ball Multiball. Also, something to be aware of is, that if you activate Joker Multiball before you light Scarecrow Attack, you won't be able to activate the Scarecrow mode during Joker Mulitball as the eject hole becomes a Jackpot shot.

This is always my go-to strategy, to get BIG POINTS as well as to have fun and impress your friends! Each time you hit the crane, it swings around a bit before resting so it's really cool to see a bunch of balls flying around, smacking the crane and seeing it go nuts. During Scarecrow Multiball, you have to hit the suspended ball for Jackpot. Now that Scarecrow Multiball and Joker Multiball are activated, you have a ton of shots to make for Jackpot. Not only can you can hit any of the ramps, loops or the eject hole for Joker Jackpot as well as the Joker target for Super Jackpot when it is lit but you can also hit the crane for Scarecrow Jackpot. Be prepared to hear a LOT of JACKPOT soundbites if you follow this strategy.

OK ENOUGH Strategy! Let's talk about the looks of this table.
Starting from the top down! The backglass is a little weird to me. There is a lot of purple and green which is suitable because of the Joker but also it kinda makes Bruce Wayne's suit looks like the Joker's suit! It's a bit cluttered and kinda follows the DVD cover design of a bunch of floating heads. I mean look at Rachel, she's just chilling out there above Batman's shoulder while everyone else like Alfred, Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon are hanging out with the Batmobile. I understand what they might have been going for though; just have a bunch of recognizable images from the film to lure people into dropping their money in. Just like that kid that pointed out everything he recognized about Batman, from the Batmobile to the Batpod. It's easily recognizable and includes everything found on the table, save for the batpod (there's no batpod toy, just a mode). However, fellow comic-book-movie table Iron Man does a nicer job of having recognizable faces without cluttering it. You just have Iron Man and War Machine standing back-to-back with the big ol' IRON MAN text.
The playfield artwork is decent for a Stern table. It has that usual computer-generated style with some blueprints of the batsuit and equipment throughout the upper playfield. There are portraits for each of the characters and their modes in the center of the playfield.
The one thing that weirds me out and sticks out like a sore thumb is the framed portrait of Alfred. Haha, why is it framed?! It looks so silly with the whole slick, bat-computer style throughout the playfield.
It's like the picture of Kramer hanging up in Shane's garage...
The playfield inserts are bright and large so it's easy to know what shot you're supposed to make. I really like the big red arrows pointing to the ramps; it is a lot easier to know which shots I am supposed to make during multiball without having to take my eyes off the flippers for too long. The playfield is pretty well-lit. There is a big ol' spotlight on the top of the left slingshot that lights up most of the playfield and all the toys on the upper playfield. There's even a little bat signal that lights up on the back wall! The playfield is full of white lights that really brighten up the table and sometimes making it look like it's on fire.
The toys are a bit silly and really show off Stern's thriftiness. These definitely look like some toys that were picked up at Toys'R'Us. I guess the nice thing about them is they are easy to replace and you can put them in different poses! I would definitely have the toys in some goofy positions if I had a Batman table.

Another little toy on Batman is the Batmobile bridge! I have honestly never recognized this until I played Batman at Pinball Cafe and I have known about the other tables in the city for almost a year.
There's a teeter-totter bridge that the ball falls into and goes down back to the flippers.
The neat thing is that there is a little Batmobile that follows the pinball's path all the way down!

Neat! I got distracted once trying to get a good picture of the Batmobile moving along the bridge but I ended up draining my ball because I didn't realize it was going down towards and past the flipper. Note to all prospective pinball photographers: Don't take photos by yourself. Have someone else play while you take them. Less risk of draining your balls. Once you hit the Batmobile ramp, you have to hit the right orbit for Batmobile Hurry-Up. I don't know what it is about this shot but I can never make it. I always end up hitting the Scarecrow eject hole or bouncing it off the wall. Thankfully, the lane is not used for much beyond the Batmobile Hurry-Up.

The path to the bridge is shared by the main ramp in the middle. There's a ramp diverter that will send it either to the bridge or to the bagatelle-esque Bat-Gadget mini-playfield on the right side, a little Gomez trademark that is also found on The Lord of The Rings, called the Path of The Dead. You have to shuffle and judge the ball through the lit lanes in order to build the Bat's gadgets.

The way to light the modes for the game is to hit the targets on the lower left side of the playfield below the bridge. Hit each target to spell Batman and you will start modes such as Locate Joker, where you have to hit shots to... locate Joker OR Imposters where Batman wanna-be heroes start popping up and you have to subdue them by hitting the lit shots. Imposters is a little favourite of mine because the game gets to show off a little bit of the work they put into the animations. A lot of Stern games take bits and pieces from the movies but they also supplement those with some really neat animations. Imposters has a couple of guys in cheap Batman costumes, like the imposters in TDK, show up on the screen and it is always good for a laugh.

The music and sound effects aren't something that have really stood out to me. At the Cafe, you have several machines and music playing from the stereo so there's a lot of background noise. I think there are some quotes from the movie but otherwise, they have sound-alikes for most of the sound bites like Joker and Scarecrow yelling out JACKPOT and Batman saying in that gravelly voice of his EXTRA BALL. At least there aren't any clips of Batman yelling out "RACHEL" sort of like Pepper Pots yelling out "TONY!" at random on Iron Man.

A big reason I like Batman is I don't have to be gentle with it. This table can definitely take a lot of nudging...
When I was playing this past weekend, I was maybe getting a little out of hand. Whitby shufflin' all over the place! Both Medieval Madness and Batman danced the Whitby Shuffle! There were a lot of kids hanging around and I had to tell one kid to STEP OFF! Actually I was polite but I did said to him "Kid, ya better be careful. I nudge a lot and I don't want to knock yer teeth out." Probably for the best because the kid was resting his chin right on the machine. Lotsa nudgin' going on and I think I might have TILTed once or twice in about 7 games.
That was the score and the credits I got for my best game.
I was able to earn a couple of replays off this single round plus the Match Game was throwing a couple of games my way so I couldn't complain! My round on Batman this past week is the first time I actually reached physical exhaustion playing pinball. I mean, I'm a pretty healthy guy. I exercise, I take my Vitamin C and what not but I must have played Batman for 15-30 minutes and afterwards I was sweating up a storm and losing my breath. Hella nudging and ultimate focus just knocked the wind out of me! After that game, I tried to play another but I just ... I just couldn't do it. I was too tired! I saw the ball fall right down the lane past the flipper and I just could not flip any more. I knew that it was time to call it a day and save my quarters for the next round...

Shane has fared better with the Dark Knight though...
This was a while ago at California Sandwiches but damn that is a nice score. A lot of Stern machines don't inflate points like later Bally/Williams so getting 70,000,000 is pretty dang good. More recently, Shane managed to get a ball stuck on the California Sandwiches Batman.
I got one on Pinball Cafe's table but it's not as cool as Shane's stuck ball.
On May 25, 2013, I went by California Sandwiches to play some pinball...
I met someone there who came by for sandwiches with his family. He saw me playing Batman and started chatting to me about how he used to play pinball at California Sandwiches when he was young! He told me that they used to have a ton of machines lining the dining room wall. Wait a minute... What's that on the DMD there? Let's take a closer look...
OHHHHH! Nice! I was able to put a high score up during my visit with the guy and his son watching. Not as good as Shane's score above but hey, I can't complain!

All in all, Batman is a solid table. It has a great license that appeals to all ages and keeps them hooked with a well-balanced table. It won't scare off novices like X-Men or Medieval Madness at the Cafe may; there are plenty of easy, low-risk shots to make. Batman also keeps the pinball pros hooked with quick gameplay while also offering plenty of different modes to take a shot at. Multiball mode is really pretty simple to activate and is easy to keep going without draining your balls the minute Ball Save ends. If you're going to The Pinball Cafe for the first time or have never played a Stern table before then definitely start on Batman before diving into the other machines. It won't hold your hand but it also won't send you packing in less than a minute. Unfortunately, you won't be able to go to the Pinball Cafe anymore but if yer fiending for some Batman, head over to California Sandwiches on Claremont or Bar 918 on St. Clair West!

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