Monday, December 2, 2013

Creature From The Black Lagoon

Let's step out of Toronto for a little while and head out to Peterborough! Back in the summer, Shane and I discovered that Peterborough was host to a couple of pinball machines. A laundromat in town had Bally's Creature From The Black Lagoon and Williams' Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

In addition to that, there was a bowling alley that had a pinball machine in their possession, that being Demolition Man... more on that later. We dropped by the laundromat, Wash-O-Mat, and tried out their classic 90's-era tables. Well, at least one of them. Terminator 2 was out service which was a damn shame because it looked very clean.

But I'm not here to review an out-of-service machine! It would be a pretty short review. Instead, Shane and I spent our money instead on Creature From The Black Lagoon and it was well worth it.

CFTBL is a total package of pinball; all the ingredients are there to make one solid table. Everything from the artwork and playfield design to the sound and music are top notch. Each of these components come together to make CFTBL one helluva beautiful table.

CFTBL was released in 1992, the early years of Dot Matrix Display pinball machines. 1992 also saw the releases of The Getaway and The Addams Family. Although the advent of complex pinball tables had begun with Pat Lawlor's Addams Family which was released several months prior, John Trudeau instead went with a more elementary playfield on CFTBL which bears a few neat gimmicks like the marquee ramp and the whirlpool.

The table is really well laid out for novices. Many of the shots feed the ball back to the flippers without much nudging required. The orbit loops are lined up perfectly with the slingshots so the ball will usually slide right down to the flippers instead of getting caught flying between the slingshots. Both ramp shots feed right back to the flippers and if your accuracy is up to par, you can rack up some BIG COMBOS just by hitting the ramps continuously.

One of Trudeau's nasty tricks rears its ugly head on CFTBL, that being the target banks right above the middle drain.

Such a simple but nasty shot! One wrong shot on these can send the ball all over the place at high speed or they can just drop the ball right down the middle. What you have to keep in mind though is that pinball tables are meant to take your money and this shot is one of the easiest ways of luring you into shooting and subsequently draining. Sure, there's a big old target right there and it looks easy to hit but take a shot and you might very well be dumping more quarters into the machine! Trudeau is a fan of this and can be seen on a couple of his tables, like Williams' Congo.

Despite a few cheap shots, the table is relatively forgiving, both in design and gameplay. In order to activate the multiball mode, you have to spell F-I-L-M. This is done by completing certain objectives such as lighting the PASS rollover targets and opening the snack bar. There are a few other modes to rack up some points too like SNACK ATTACK and MOVE YOUR CAAAAAR!!! There is even a video mode where you have to knock out a peeping tom!

The theme of Creature From The Black Lagoon is a bit of a meta-interpretation of the movie license. Instead of being about the movie itself like most licensed tables, CFTBL's theme is about going to a drive-in to see the movie. It's a unique way of making a licensed table and the design team created a pretty impressive interpretation of a drive-in theatre within the framework of a pinball machine. The artist Kevin O'Connor invokes not only the sights of the drive-in but also the era, using all sorts of design influence of the 50's and references to a bygone era.

 Look closely and you'll see a lot of images of 50's cars too such as the '59 Cadillac on this plastic.
The border around the DMD is even made up to make the display look like the movie screen with cars all lined up below it. 

Another great gimmick that enhances the whole drive-in aspect is the marquee ramp. The ramp is decorated to make it look like the marquee above a theatre awning, complete with flashing lights all along it.

Don't forget one of the most popular gimmicks of CFTBL. The pinball table is actually Creature From The Black Lagoon... 3-D! And that's where the holographic Creature comes into play!

The hologram is super cool to see in person but the problem is that it is pretty finicky and so it doesn't work on many CFTBL tables, including Wash-O-Mat's table. If you would like to see a picture of the hologram, check out CFTBL's page. Here's a picture of the creature anyways!

One of the last pieces that really brings the whole 50's drive-in theme together is the music! Creature From The Black Lagoon features five classic tunes from the post-war era, Bill Haley & His Comets' Rock Around The Clock, Get a Job by The Silhouettes, Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran, Willie and the Hand Jive by Johnny Otis and Red River Rock by Johnny & The Hurricanes. That's a pretty good representation of 50's music for sure but they've been reduced to MIDI tunes due to the technology in '92. I think that's all part of the charm though, just like ZZ Top's La Grange in The Getaway and Twilight Zone by Golden Earring in Twilight Zone. The sound effects are great too, such as all of the callouts for your order whenever you hit the snackbar or when you activate MOVE YOUR CAAAAR! Also, if you drain down the left outlane, you will get the FOCUS bonus but it sounds a lot more vulgar than it really is... If you've heard the FOCUS soundbite, you know what I'm talking about!
During a time where the floodgates of complexity in pinball came crashing down with the release of The Addams Family, Creature From The Black Lagoon dials it back with a simple yet engaging playfield that will attract novices without devouring their money. More experienced pinballers might be left wanting for more though. Personally, I get a big kick out of Creature From The Black Lagoon. The table is a lot of fun to shoot around on and isn't as frustrating and intricate as other tables of the 90's. The artwork has to be one of Kevin O'Connor's most outstanding packages or at least on the same level as Judge Dredd and other fantastic art packages such as Stern's Playboy and Data East's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The whole theme of a 50's-era drive-in is very well executed throughout the table, not only with the artwork showcasing cars and styles of the times but also the music that was popular during the time such as Summertime Blues and Red River Rock. If you get a chance to see a Creature From The Black Lagoon, take a shot and see if you can see the Creature Hologram! It's a real sight to see in person.


Shane and I also went to this bowling alley in Peterborough and man what a strange trip that was. Our next stop after Wash-O-Mat was Bowlerama. It was pretty early in the afternoon, I would say around 2-3 PM when we arrived at Bowlerama. We had to go down into the basement of a strip mall and when we stepped in the doors of Bowlerama, it may as well have been closed. All the lights save for the single one above the front desk were off and it seemed as though no one was there. We could see the pinball machine down at the other end of the place but the only lighting was the one coming from the machine itself and the other assorted arcade machines. We were about to head out when a guy popped out of nowhere behind the front desk and asked us if we needed any assistance. I just mentioned that we were looking to play the pinball machine and he let us through. He didn't turn on any of the lights along the way so we had to tread carefully so as not to run into anything. Here is how our approach towards the arcade looked.

 Demolition Man was here.

It was pretty beat up. As you can see, half of the table's lighting was out which made it tough as hell to play. This is about all the light we had.

Are you afraid of the dark?

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