Monday, July 21, 2014

Stern's Harley Davidson

DERK'S NOTE: This is quite an old review that I wrote about a year ago and had to put on the sidelines because I didn't have enough pictures from when Harley-Davidson was at Euro Sports Bar. HOWEVER, May Cafe had recently switched out their TRON Legacy for an H-D table so I took advantage of the opportunity, got some pics and revived this review! BUT... Harley is already gone so this review had no chance.

A new machine has been spotted in Toronto at Lansdowne and College at Euro Sports Bar. It is...


And what a machine it is... or was... Needless to say, I was pleasently surprised by Harley-Davidson on my first go. This table is available through Farsight's Pinball Arcade but the virtual version of this table does not do it justice. This a SOLID table all around. Everything from the playfield design to the sound is top notch. I spoke in my last post about how I was getting tired of reviewing Stern tables but I may have to eat my words because Harley has changed my opinion.

Harley-Davidson is one of Stern's earliest entries into pinball, coming out in 1999 during their transition from Sega to Stern. In fact, it was the first table to be released under the Stern banner as well as their first licensed table. John Borg was the designer for Harley's playfield and became a Stern mainstay in the early 2000's, having designed the playfields for Austin Powers, High Roller Casino, and Sharkey's Shootout.

However, it seemed Borg was MIA for much of 2000 until he was brought on to design Indiana Jones. Borg has stuck around with Stern, having designed some of my highly regarded tables, Like TRON: Legacy (read the review here) and X-MEN (I hear there's an impromptu review here!) and also some of my least favourite tables, like Big Buck Hunter Pro. Borg opted for a simple design on Harley-Davidson which I feel was a smart choice, especially for an emerging pinball manufacturer. Looking at Jersey Jack Pinball and their Wizard of Oz table, there have been multitudes of delays getting the machine out, likely due to the complexity of their first table.
Now, I was not really into the pinball scene during the time that Harley-Davidson was released so I'm not sure whether Stern faced the same problems but making a simple, inexpensive table was an intelligent move to make, especially when pinball was really falling out of favor. I know the market is more skewed towards collectors these days and I believe that is what Jersey Jack Pinball is aiming for with Wizard of Oz, but I can only imagine we wouldn't have Stern today if they went with some all-out, Twilight Zone-esque monster. Stern released Harley-Davidson at a time where operators were still the main market for a form of entertainment that was really hurting. By releasing a table that wasn't too hard on the wallets and with a theme that has widespread appeal, Stern definitely came up with a winning formula that they still use to this day, like it or not.

Although Harley-Davidson eschews much of the frills and complexity of earlier tables like Twilight Zone and Cirqus Voltaire, it still has a few toys and amenities to add flavour. The biggest toy here is the scale model Harley-Davidson motorcycle that sits in the upper left playfield. It does wheelies and revs it engine a lot. In order to light Harley Multiball, you must hit the motorcycle in order to light the Harley letters. I'm not really sure how it's supposed to work, whether you're supposed to hit the Harley head on or somewhere in the lanes surrounding it. There is a post stationed on the very front of the motorcycle and it seemed as though each time I hit it, I didn't light anything. However, you can instead light the Harley letters by selecting it as the skillshot award. As well, Harley Multiball is lit at the beginning of the third ball. Once Multiball is lit, the motorcycle pops a wheelie and you must make a shot into the hole below it to activate multiball.
I mentioned that the motorcycle does a lot of revving during gameplay and if you're familiar with Harleys or motorcycles, you know they're loud. Thankfully, the H-D table at Euro Sports Bar is at a high volume so you really get a good sense of a revving motorcycle. On top of the loud volume, there's also a SHAKER MOTOOOOR! and boy, does it SHAKE! Getting Harley Multiball is wild because the machine is revving like crazy and just shaking all over the place. It gives you a real sense of exhiliration when you get Multiball. It was kind of a surprising feature to see on a Stern as they have not featured shaker motors until recently on their Limited Edition machines like Transformers. Harley-Davidson is one of the few machines that it makes absolute sense to have a Shaker motor installed.

Speaking of neat little gimmicks like the Shaker motor, H-D also features a drain post between the middle lane. This is something that was usually just featured on early EM machines and was pretty much done away with during the '90's. A lot of people harp on Stern for rehashing a lot of playfield designs and not straying off the beaten path but they have to be given some credit for reviving some long-forgotten gimmicks like the double wide middle outlane on Wheel of Fortune H-D and Family Guy. The difference between Family Guy and H-D is the fact that H-D's can be activated at any time, though it only stays up for a few seconds. Quick reactions with the drainpost can definitely save you from a few straight-down-the-middle shots and adds another level of strategy to Multiball; use that drainpost to catch a few stray balls when you're focusing on hitting the jackpots. Do be careful with the drainpost though because some balls may roll right off of it and into the drain.
Harley-Davidson has a pretty simple playfield which also includes the Borg signature bumper cluster skillshot and eject hole combo that I pointed out in my Star Wars at Unlovable review. Borg really hit the design on the head with Harley-Davidson; there's nothing too crazy and wild like his designs for X-MEN, what with the amount of loops and shots or NBA and it's giant friggin' basket shot.
 H-D's playfield is pretty simple with lots of easy, wide open shots. The loops are well placed and even the bumper cluster shot is not too difficult to make. The table in general just has a really smooth flow on it and you don't often find yourself waiting for the ball to quit bouncing or to find its ways around the habitrails. Many of the shots just spew the ball back at the flippers and the one shot that goes through a habitrail gets the ball back on track in no time. However, despite the table being relatively forgiving, the outlanes on H-D are naaaaaasty. I lost most of my balls to those outlanes as they are pretty open and have a tendency to swallow up any balls careening off the slingshots. The upper outlane post is placed high enough that you have to do some serious nudgin' and Harley-Davidson doesn't like being shaken too much.

The ruleset is pretty straightforward. Go to different cities by hitting the bumpers to count down the miles then collect the city's patch by hitting the patch hurry-up scoop when lit. There's a couple of modes like Video Mode and whatnot but the ruleset is pretty shallow for H-D. You usually just want to focus on getting Multiball and racking up some serious points which is what I like in a table 'cause I'm a high score hog, ya dig?
The artwork is nothing too fancy. It's some simplistic photoshopped graphics with lots of AMERICA (NEVER FORGET) imagery like bald eagles (lotsa bald eagles) Mount Rushmore, and some other Americana photos. Of course, there are motorcycles, flames, and the Bar-N-Shield H-D logo found throughout. The backglass is something you would find on a Harley-Davidson t-shirt. Just look at it!
THERE GOES THAT MYSTERY RIDER! That eagle looks so damn proud too.

If you're interesting in trying one of Stern's very first tables, I would have suggested heading over to May Cafe while Harley-Davidson still resides there but it came and went in the span of a couple of months. H-D is one of the more simple tables from Stern and so you might find yourself wanting more. On the other hand, because of it's easiness,  you won't lose your money as quickly as on some other tables. The table bears a lot of prototypical John Borg trademarks that can be found on some of his later tables, especially the bumper cluster skill shot. Take Harley-Davidson for a ride if you're looking for an easy pinball cruise.

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