Tuesday, January 8, 2013


WHOA WHOA WHOA! Here I thought I knew of every machine in Toronto but recently my friend AK and his ol' lady Allison spotted a machine out in the wild that I have never stumbled across! Now, I have a few things I consult in order to locate pinball like my Google Map, Pinballin' in The Big City, as well as a great app, Pinfinder. There is a free version but it only shows you the machines in your immediate location. But I digress... In what I consider a FINE HUNT, Stern's Monopoly has been spotted at Humber Cinema!

Monopoly was released in September 2001 and was a part of Stern's earliest licensed tables alongside Austin Powers and NFL (The first licensed table by Stern was Harley Davidson). Monopoly was designed by Pat Lawlor, who also designed for Stern Roller Coaster Tycoon (Would you like a review? OF COURSE!) and Ripley's Believe It or Not!
Early in his times with Stern, Lawlor seemed to be the one that got to design some of the more unusual licenses, one being a Top Selling PC-CD Game, another based on a classic board game and ... I'm not really sure what Ripley's Believe It or Not! is. Museum? Freak Show? No idea but there is a pinball machine of it.
Monopoly was Lawlor's first table with Stern and features some of his classic trademarks along with a few unusual design choices, some which are really neat and others that are a little unusual. It wouldn't be a Lawlor design without some features that really push the limit of pinball design. You have the perennial Top 10 tables, The Addams Family and Twilight Zone (TZ having the most patents in a single table), Family Guy and Shrek that have the mini-playfields and Safe Cracker, a smaller table than most regular pinball tables. Monopoly doesn't have any big gimmicks like a mini-playfield but moreso has a bunch of little tiny features that add up to a really neat playfield.

You have Lawlor's usual suspects...
Eject hole/bumper cluster shot combo. I don't know if the eject hole is placed at a bad angle or if the table is lopsided but the ball tends to get ejected towards the top of the slingshot bumper rather than to the flipper. I'm not sure whether this is intentional or an effect of wear-and-tear. It can be a slight problem as the ball can bounce and get out of control, risking a drain down the left outlane.
Third flipper and ramp shot. Beware though, on this particular table, the third flipper is stuck at an angle. It moves up and can still make decent shots at the right and center ramp but it's really difficult to shoot the left ramp. This is a problem as jackpot is lit at the left ramp and it's set up in a way that is nearly impossible to shoot from the main flippers. Additionally, since the flipper sticks out a bit, it has a habit to snag the ball when trying to make shots at the right ramp or loop.

And, finally, there is a pseudo-five lane outlane lower playfield, a Lawlor staple. The style of the lower playfield is just like Roller Coaster Tycoon's lower playfield as the outlane on the far left contains the depository for locked balls.
Monopoly also has some cool features and design features I have not seen on other tables. There is a mini-flipper located right below the third flipper.
The thing is though, it does not act like a conventional flipper should. Instead of flipping, it spins. Note the little saucer in the upper-right corner of the flipper. That saucer acts as a skill shot as well as a multiplier. The neat part about this saucer though is it just doesn't kick the ball out once the award has been presented. The mini-flipper moves counter-clockwise and moves the ball back towards the flipper! It's a neat little thing to see and what's nice as well is you don't have to wait around for it; the flipper is pretty small and rotates pretty quickly so you are not waiting a while for it to hit the ball out. It's well-placed as it drops the ball right to the flippers rather than onto the slingshot bumpers or precariously down the middle. It sets you up for strong shots from the right flipper, dropping at a great angle with decent speed.
Something that completely me threw me off the first time I hit it was the Railroad Ramp. It's this little Vertical Up Kicker on the left side of the playfield with a tiny little habitrail leading to the left flipper. The first time I hit the Railroad VUK, I totally didn't expect the ball to come flying down that ramp and promptly drained the ball. It's sort of like Pirates of The Caribbean's Jack The Monkey VUK though the Railroad is a lot smaller and shorter. Also, rather than dropping the ball down through the lane to the ball, the habitrail drops the ball right off in front of the slingshot bumper and right toward the flipper. Just like the mini-flipper, this shot helps in setting up some strong shots at the ramps.

Monopoly's biggest gimmick would be the Bank Vault shot.
It's basically a door that sits in front of the center ramp and swings out after several shots. I love this sort of shots where you can make some solid smacks against something like The Soprano's Bank Vault (Same name but totally different.) What's great about this shot is it is not directly located above the middle drain. It's moreso to the right side of the playfield, enough so that if the ball loses momentum, it will fall down towards the right flipper. A small little adjustment but definitely something I think Stern should incorporate more seeing as so many of their tables feature a big shot in the center of the playfield and located above the middle drain (TRON Legacy, Sopranos, X-Men and CSI are a few offenders). The issue with the Bank Vault door is that when it swings out, it takes up about 1-2 inches of space on the playfield right next to the Police drop-target and Roll The Dice loop.

On a pinball playfield, a couple of inches can mean a lot of real estate. Because the door swings out towards the lower playfield, it restricts a couple of shots from the upper flipper as well as a few from the right flipper. Specifically on this table it becomes a problem as I mentioned before that the third flipper is stuck and can only make high shots and thus the shots often get caught by the door.

The ramp set-up on Monopoly is pretty similar to RCT as well.
Although the RCT ramps are a bit steeper, at different angles and have targets between. No matter though, the ramps on Monopoly and RCT are both darn fine. Don't mess with a good thing, ya know?

The playfield layout for Monopoly is really unusual. At first glance, it seems really cluttered and small. I was thrown off a bit because it did not look like a full-sized table. Optical illusions aside though, the table is definitely packed to the gills which shouldn't come as any surprise seeing as it is a Lawlor table. Monopoly's playfield is really heavy on the left side though. Two sets of jet bumper clusters reside on the lower and upper part of the left playfield as well as the eject hole, Railroad Ramp and Ball Lock.
Much of the clutter of the left playfield reaches well down into the lower part which can lead to plenty of risky shots. One mis-timed shot at the Railroad Ramp or the loop through the lower bumper cluster can send the ball careening towards the middle drain. Similar to Lawlor's design on Twilight Zone, there's a set of jet bumpers located close to the flippers and near the outlanes. These are always risky bumpers because control of the ball is lost once it starts getting knocked around in the cluster, sometimes launching it down through the outlanes or the middle drain. The right side of the playfield is much more open and is dedicated to the ramps and loops. The right side of the playfield is really nice and easy to make shots around. The shots are located higher up on the table so it's easy to recover from missed shots. Additionally, the ramps are pretty open so its easy to get shots into them. Unlike RCT's main ramp which is pretty steep and can return the ball to the flippers at a blazing speed, Monopoly's center and right ramps are a bit lower so it's easier to get shots up the ramps either with momentum or from a dead stop. I find with RCT, you have to build up some momentum before making the main ramp shot by hitting the loops or the VUK. On Monopoly, there are plenty of opportunities to get perfect shots with momentum, like the Railroad Ramp or the mini-flipper.

The modes are a strong point of Monopoly. They are simple to activate and are great at building points. Hit Roll & Collect to roll the dice, land on a spot and activate a mode. Most of the modes are "shoot EVERYTHING GETS POOOOINTS!" Cash Grab and Token Race are basically hit everything possible in 30 seconds. There is also Shoot The Bank (not sure of the correct name) where you basically just hit the Bank repeatedly for a rapidly dropping score. There was another mode "Stop The Cop" which was kind of confusing though and I was never really sure what to do. You have to hit the Cop Drop Target as well as hit one of the ramps and loops but each shot does something different and it's kind of hard to read the instructions while you're still trying to keep your ball on the playfield.

The points in Monopoly are SOOOOOOO LOW! They're a total 180 from the inflated points that were showing up around the late 90's. The default high score is 30,000,000 if that tells you anything. Much of the points you score throughout a game are pretty low as well. Jackpots come in at 400,000 so it is definitely tough to get a decent score on Monopoly. On the other hand, replays are awarded at a pretty low score, I believe 7 Million. All I know is that I spent two dollars and didn't have to pay for another game... because I'M THAT. DAMN. GOOD.
I didn't have to use ANY of these!
As well, the machine hands out match replays pretty liberally as well.  
Beyond the playfield design and modes, I often find Stern lacking, specifically the artwork and music. Monopoly is no different and has that corny, photoshopped look to it. The photoshop look is particularly noticeable in the gradient that flows throughout the playfield. There a bunch of neat little references littered throughout the table though and you can see Mr. Monopoly (I thought he was calling Uncle Pennybags?) holding a bunch of different tokens as well as some of the original artwork from the Monopoly board game.

What looks to be Mr. Monopoly humpin' & bumpin' with the train
The big focus of the artwork is the actual board game in the middle. Each individual square lights up (or at least each group of real estate does) so you can keep track of what you have collected so far.

Beyond that though, the artwork is nothing really special but at least it's not pictures taken from promotional pictures with JPEG artifacts (Family Guy I'm looking at you) or Comic Sans used for most of the fonts (Ripley's Believe It or Not! is the culprit here).

John Youssi was the artist for Monopoly and for a lot of other Stern tables. Now I don't know the reason behind it, maybe lack of budget, tight deadlines, restrictions with licenses or what but Youssi's work with Stern has been less than spectacular. Youssi is the guy whose resume includes some fantastic playfield artwork like Radical!, Medieval MadnessThe Machine: Bride of Pin-Bot, and White Water (and, of course, The Addams Family and Twilight Zone) yet his work with Stern just doesn't have the same quality seen earlier in his career. There still looks like there is some hand-drawn artwork on the table which Stern was putting out in the early years. Some of Youssi's other designs like Ripley's Believe It or Not! and Roller Coaster Tycoon, marred they may be by some ugly computer graphics, still have what looks to be hand-drawn artwork unlike later table designs like TRON: Legacy and CSI. Youssi does have a way with colours though and many of his tables really pop out in that sense. TRON Legacy has a beautiful mixture of blue, orange and yellow that really stands out while being faithful to the license.
Hmmm... I wonder where this one came from... ;)
I didn't hear too much of the music as it wasn't something that really stood out to me. I don't find a whole heckuva lot of Stern tables have music that stands out from the rest. Compared to tables of the past that have some seriously rocking music, like JUDGE DREDD (DROKK IT read the review here!) and The Getaway (Impromptu review here!), I find Stern music lacking. Not to say there aren't some stand-out tables though. The Sopranos has some great tunes, featuring the title song of the series, "Woke Up This Morning" by A3, and the Stugot Mulitball tune is pretty great as well. The soundbites are nothing special either. It's just Mr. Monopoly yelling out the modes and stuff like that.

As Monopoly was one of Stern's earliest machines, there are a few issues, questionable design choices and lackluster sound and music but, regardless, it has a lot of charm and is still a blast to play. I'm not the biggest fan of Pat Lawlor's stop-and-go style but Monopoly has much more flow and speed than many Lawlor tables. The two main ramps are easy to hit and build momentum on. The Railroad ramp is a really cool feature and helps speed up the action. Monopoly looks cluttered as all hell but somehow it manages to flow just as nicely as any John Popadiuk or Steve Ritchie-designed tables and is a real treat for the eyes. Most Lawlor tables are more directed towards the experienced pinball players but Monopoly is a great table to introduce casual players to Lawlor's tables. There's enough things to do to keep a casual player's attention by having a fast, flowing game while also being pretty light on the objectives. All you really have to do is light each section of the Monopoly board!
If you're in the West End of Toronto near Jane and Bloor, do yourself a favor, go to Humber Cinema, play some Monopoly and see a movie! I'm a fan of little cinemas as they're not something you see very often; they're getting crushed by the big faceless cinema corporations and that's not cool! Humber Cinema has a lot of character with all sorts of old movie posters lining their walls. So get out there and check it out, it's just a few steps from Jane Station! There is also a Coffee Time next door with tasty donuts and their classic fountain juice! I used to love Coffee Time's juice when I was young; the watermelon and peach flavours were amazing.

BONUS: Yeah, I got a ball stuck.

I recently spotted a Monopoly machine at a bar in Ottawa during my trip to the Ottawa Pinball Expo!

1 comment :

  1. ripleys believe it or not was a TV show and they have lame ass exhibits in places like Niagara Falls!