Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Guelph Pinball Club Trip Report - Part I

First up in the Guelph Pinball Club's trip report are the NATURAL DISASTERS

These are two great system-11 tables released in '89 and '90 respectively. They are also two of Lawlor's earliest tables and many of his signature design characteristics can be witnessed in these two solid tables. When Lawlor hit the pinball scene, he was already shaking things up. His first table design was Banzai Run, the only table to have a fully functioning secondary playfield... IN THE BACKGLASS!
oh... is that one of MY pictures of Banzai Run? I think it is! Maybe a review is on it's way ;) Anyways, Earthshaker was Lawlor's follow up to Banzai Run and he keeps up the clever design of his previous output! Although Earthshaker doesn't have a secondary playfield, it does have a few neat gimmicks and a wild layout.
Earthshaker's layout is quite unlike many of Lawlor's later releases. Seeing as it is only his second table, you can see how he's experimenting with his designs with features later appearing on tables like Funhouse and Monopoly, specifically the third flipper and it's accompanying shots. The third flipper is hard to get to and set up a good shot for the ramp and loop. Unlike most tables, Earthshaker does not have traditional orbit shots that can be made from the main flippers; the left orbit leads right into the jet bumpers while the right orbit is behind a ramp and can only be hit from the third flipper.

The third flipper and the right ramp play an important role in multiball. During multiball, the right ramp must be hit from the third flipper in order to earn jackpots. The cross-playfield Jackpot shot became a mainstay of Lawlor's signatures and is seen on nearly all of his tables.
The right orbit does flow really well to the third flipper and reminds me of making loop shots on The Getaway.
The only way to reliably get to the third flipper is hitting the saucer below the bumper cluster. It will launch the ball to the left and right along the third flipper. I had a bit of trouble with the saucer though; the gate in front of it was a bit stiff so some shots would just bounce off the gate instead of going into the saucer.
The right ramp is necessary for locking balls but you can also hit the Earthquake Shelter scoop next to the center ramp for ball locks. On the other hand, hitting the right ramp does lead to a pretty cool ball locking mechanism.
The California-Nevada fault line opens up and locks your balls for multiball! In order to light the locks in order to do this, the Earthquake Institute will light certain "zones" that need to be hit in order to cause an earthquake.
Hit each of the zones to light the locks and work your way up towards multiball. When multiball starts, it's time to get movin' and shakin'! Earthshaker is the first pinball table to feature a shaker motor and HOLY MOLEY DOES THIS THING SHHHHHAKE!!!
When I activated multiball on Earthshaker, there was another fellow playing pinball in the same room as me and he could feel the floor shaking from Earthshaker! I gotta say that the shaker motor makes multiball so much more fun. Multiball is a pretty frantic mode as it is; with the table shaking, things get out of control!
A nice feature about Earthshaker's multiball is if you drain all but one ball, you get a second chance in the form of AFTERSHOCK!!! You will hear a lady call out "OOOH GIMME SHELTER!" and that's your cue to hit the Earthquake Shelter to get another shot at multiball.
The callouts are pretty funny too. Whenever you start the game you hear "IT'S SUNNY DRIVE TIME!". There is also the Rolling Stones reference I quoted above. Since the table has the California vibe, the callouts are from a Valley Girl with one of her lines being "OOOH BITCHIN'!" I cracked up when I heard that one.
The artwork is pretty bitchin' on Earthshaker. The backglass has a real stylized look that is incomparable to anything else around that time. The artwork is really indicative of the era with a bunch of eye-popping colours and a mirrored backglass. The same goes for the playfield although there is quite a bit of red and yellow which is a bit of an eyesore.
I got up to some movin' and shakin' on Earthshaker and put a little MUF on it!
Earthshaker was pretty groundbreaking with some of the things Lawlor did on the table, like the fault line ball lock and the shaker motor but the next table is really going to blow you away!
Whirlwind is the next table by Lawlor and is a great example of when he really began to hit his stride in design. Many of his signature trademarks that show up in his later years began on Whirlwind's playfield. Things like the two sets of bumper clusters that later appeared on Ripley's Believe it Or Not! can be found on Whirlwind as well as the bumper cluster orbit shot that is an essential part of Lawlor layouts...
As well as Lawlor's favorite spot for a target bank, right in the center of the playfield and perpendicular to the flippers. This shows up on a lot of his tables like The Addams Family, and Family Guy, where the drop targets are used as a skill shot, just like Whirlwind's target bank.
The third flipper and its accompanying ramp are found on Whirlwind and include the cross-playfield jackpot shot that first emerged on Earthshaker.
Whirlwind has to be one of Lawlor's better games. As I had mentioned, he had hit his stride in designing playfields around this time and it's obvious in the way Whirlwind plays. The table plays fast and flows really well. All the ramps, loops and orbits feed into one another and so it's really easy to start up a good combo. The table goals are quite easy to follow and are a blast to try and achieve. The goal is to hit the wind directions to activate the ball locks and build your way to multiball.
The difficulty comes in the form of targets. There are stand-up targets laid throughout the the table that you must hit to light the wind directions though these ones are not as nasty as the targets on Funhouse. Many of the targets are located high up on the playfield and so are less risky to hit though the target on the far right is a tough shot to make.
Once all the necessary shots are made, you will hear the callout "THE STORM IS NOW COMING RETURN TO YOUR HOMES" and that's when things get a little wild. Taking a cue from Fireball, Whirlwind features not one but THREE spinning discs!
When the storm is approaching, these discs will begin spinning around back and forth and at different speeds. when these start up, keep the ball moving at full speed otherwise the discs will catch them and throw them all around. It's sort of the precursor to The Addams Family's THE POWER
The difference is that while Whirlwind uses spinning discs, The Addams Family has magnets that tend to throw the ball in unpredictable directions. But enough about The Addams Family, that's for another review! The spinning discs are not the only thing that start up when the storm comes in; there's also this contraption!
There's a fan built into the topper that begins blowing air onto you when the storm begins. This is one of my favorite features in all of pinball, especially because it was a bit stuffy in the room and the fan helped cool me off!
Speaking of favourite things, let's move back onto the playfield for my favorite shot. Located at the very top of the playfield is a little drop target tucked inbetween the bumper cluster and the ramp. The Tornado Target shot is quite tough as there are two lower targets on either side that can snag the ball. The shot needs to be very accurate to hit the Tornado Target and when you do hit it, it is wicked satisfying, especially when Extra Ball is lit and you hit that Tornado Target after hitting the right ramp. WOOO!
Whirlwind has a much better colour palette than Earthshaker. Instead of reds and yellows, Whirlwind uses a mixture of blue and orange which compliment each other quite well. The playfield artwork is a bit more simplistic, instead opting to have a lot of inserts indicating each shot. Much of the detail and references are packed into the backglass.
This report was just a tidbit of what the Guelph Pinball Club has in store! Earthshaker and Whirlwind are two solid System-11 tables that helped shape pinball in the '90's. The designer of both tables, Pat Lawlor, created quite a few innovations between the two tables, like Earthshaker's unique ball lock mechanism and shaker motor and the multitude of Lawlor's future trademarks appearing throughout Whirlwind's playfield. Try these tables out to appreciate

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