Sunday, June 29, 2014


When I went on my trip to Michigan Pinball Expo, I stayed in Windsor and during my time in Rose City, I came upon a couple of pinball machines! Seeing as the last trip report was all about Motor City and cars and stuff, I think I have something to talk about... What has 2 wheels but four legs?
A motocross themed pinball table! HEH! While in Windsor, I came upon a Banzai Run at Pogo's Lounge! DANG! Banzai Run is a real rare table with only about 2000 tables being manufactured. Another wild thing about Banzai Run is it's playfield... or should I say play...FIELDS!!!
Banzai Run has not one but two playfields! Yeah SO? There were tables in the early 80's with dual layer playfields like Black Knight and Flash Gordon! They were even at Ottawa Pinball Expo! But Banzai Run is not like those tables, oh no... the secondary playfield is not located on the main playfield but where the backglass should be!
WHOA!! Pinball that goes horizontal AND vertical! crazy! Who could be the mastermind behind this crazy contraption? None other than Pat Lawlor! Believe it or not, Banzai Run was the very first table he designed and what a table he designed! He really came out swinging with something to prove to the pinball world with his first table.

Lawlor is best known for his insane playfield layouts and signature design trademarks but he didn't really start hitting his design stride until Whirlwind... which I believe I covered in my Guelph Pinball Club trip report!
That's not to say that Banzai Run is your run-of-the-mill pinball table. Look, this ain't yer pappy's pinball table. How many pinball tables have a playfield in the backglass? Not a whole helluva lot; in fact, Banzai Run is the only one!

Banzai Run has mass appeal for both new and old pinball players alike. One look at this table and you have to drop a quarter or two in just to see how this crazy beast operates. The release of Banzai Run was a big watershed moment for pinball. During the late 80's, very few tables boasted strange gimmicks, save for a secondary playfield like Jokerz or Black Knight 2000. Then Lawlor comes in, puts a secondary playfield where the backglass should be and all hell breaks loose! Tables like Earthshaker have shaker motors to simulate earthquakes! Whirlwind has spinning discs and a fan installed in the topper to imitate a storm! And that's just from Lawlor! Pinball really changed around this time and soon gimmicks were being found on tables, whether it was the Supercharger on The Getaway...
or the magnetic ball lock on The Addams Family...
Nothing like Banzai Run had come before, save for maybe Gottlieb's Black Hole or Haunted House with their multiple playfields. The difference lies in the fact that Banzai Run forces you to play in a vertical format and changes the way you play.
Pinballs are pretty heavy. They look like they could be as light as a feather with the way they bounce around on the playfield but try holding a pinball and you will realize what is really being thrown around in there. Because the secondary playfield is vertical, you have to fight against gravity even more so. Instead of just slapping the ball around, the best thing to do is try and capture the ball with the flippers and aim the shots. It's a lot easier to do since the playfield is on a vertical plane and is eye-level; it's easier to see what part of the flipper to hit the ball with to get it where you want it. but because of gravity, it's a challenge to hit the higher targets and loops.
I've been talking a lot about the backglass but haven't mentioned how exactly to get up there. If you look closely, there are four rivals that you must take on in the vertical playfield. In order to battle them, you must hit their specific shots on the main playfield, then hit the saucer in the top left of the playfield which will then drop you off in the vertical playfield. Light and defeat each rival to challenge the King of the Hill and activate multiball.
The dual playfields work well together, with targets on the main playfield leading to completing objectives on the upper playfield. The transfer time between the two playfields is also quite good; there is a magnet that catches the ball and pulls it up to the secondary playfield which takes very little time at all. When you drain the ball from the secondary playfield back down to the main playfield, there is very little time to wait, with the ball coming right back to the main playfield and allowing you to get back up in no time. Run's theme is all about motocross and racing. The lower section of the main playfield looks like a first person view of a dirtbike. It gives you the feeling of sitting in the seat of a dirtbike as you hit up Banzai Hill! The handlebars and gauges of the dirtbike are implemented into the actual playfield as well. The "Race Again" light is implemented into the gas tank cap while the gauges and buttons indicate what objectives have been completed and what is lit.  In addition to that, the handlebars make up the slingshots and reach out over the outlanes to give a sense of depth to the artwork. As cool as the handlebars look, they are quite big and tend to obscure the outlanes, especially the dividing post between both lanes. They can cause you quite a bit of trouble when you have the ball balancing between the two and you're trying to save the ball.
I gotta show some love for the sound and music of Banzai Run. The callouts are done in the style of motocross and monstertruck style annoucers. The announcer will yell out the names of the opponents once they are lit and provide you with an audio cue to hit the upper playfield. When you complete the secondary playfield and light multiball, you get to hear him yell "BAAAAANZAAAAAIII!" The music in the game is great too with a fun and steady beat. The music doesn't change much throughout but it's quite an infectious song.
Pat Lawlor made quite the statement with his first pinball table, having not one but two playfields in a single machine. Though many tables have done this before, Lawlor took it to another level... literally! Banzai Run has playfields that go both horizontal and vertical. At first glance, the vertical playfield looks like it could just be a novelty, something that is fun the first few times but soon becomes a nuisance, however, the table is a shining example of design innovation. Both playfields work seamlessly together with very little time used going between the horizontal and vertical playfield. The gameplay is a bit simplistic but having the secondary playfield more than makes up for any lack of depth. The table at Pogo's Lounge in Windsor is a bit run down, with a few lights out here and there on the playfield and a sticky left flipper but don't let that stop you from enjoying Banzai Run. The table is still completely playable and the secondary playfield works well! Give Banzai Run a shot and experience how Lawlor changed the landscape of pinball.

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