Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Walking Dead Pinball Release Party

It's Halloween here on Bright Lights Bumper City! We kicked off the frightening festivities by getting Scared Stiff with Elvira then we had a Nightmare ... on Elm Street to follow up. We took a peek at The Addams Family out in Sauble Beach as well as Attack From Mars for our second half of my Michigan Pinball Expo review for October. Now it's time to walk with the dead!
AMC's The Walking Dead is the latest release from Stern and there couldn't be a more appropriate time to review this table than now! I finally, finally had the chance to make it out to one of the release parties that happen around the world with each new table release by Stern.
I've been trying to go to one of these release parties ever since Transformers but due to circumstances, money, lack of a ride, the location actually being in Mississauga, what-have-you, I have never been able to make it out to a release party. This time around, I had some folks from the Toronto Pinball Crew (click the link and join the gang!) all going and so we hopped in a car and made our way out to Wacky Wings for the release party of The Walking Dead!
The Walking Dead pinball is based on the TV show that is based on the comic series, The Walking Dead. Stern's latest table uses the license in some interesting ways.  The table pays homage to the TV series by referencing certain locales, characters, and events. One of the big toys on the table is the Well Walker which is from the Cherokee Rose episode (Season 2, Episode 4). It's a big, ugly and I mean, UGLY, zombie that got caught in a well and got all bloated up as corpses tend to do when waterlogged (not speaking from experience, mind you).
There is also the prison that the survivors hold up in for much of Season 3.
When the Prison is lit, it lights up with this eerie, pulsing red glow which is pretty cool, especially in low lighting. It reminded me of the ark on Indiana Jones.
On the top floor of the Prison, you can see a couple of zombies and what looks to be Daryl Dixon, the fella with the crossbow, in the windows. It kind of looks like the zombies are having a dance party in the prison though. The prison doors also open up to reveal a zombie head! OHH SCARY! Both of these toys, the Well Walker and the Prison, are the main shots of The Walking Dead and are hit in order to activate certain Multiball modes. In order to activate Well Walker Multiball, hit the Well Walker 4 times to spell "WELL" then continue to hit the Well Walker several more times to activate a 2-ball Multiball.
The Prison has to be hit several times in order to open the doors then the Zombie Head must get hit in order to Activate Prison Multiball. I found that this was quite a difficult task as the doors sometimes would not recognize hits (this is on a new machine, by the way) and the shot is set up in such a way that it will make you drain more often than not. After a few games, I found out that once "Clear The Prison Yard" mode is activated, you can hit the lit red arrow shots in order to kill walkers and make progress towards "The Clear The Prison Yard" Multiball. This method gives you a bit more control as you are aiming for the ramps and other assorted shots instead of risking a drain by hitting the prison.

The layout of the two toys and how they work reminds me an awful lot of X-MEN. The Well Walker is a lot like Wolverine in placement and modes( (both have 2-Ball Multiball modes) while the Prison is essentially Magneto, requiring quite a few hits to activate the associated multiball mode as well as having a magnet placed below it.
It should come as no surprise that the two tables share similarities such as this; the designer of The Walking Dead, John Borg, also designed X-MEN. While playing TWD, I noticed a bit of influence from Borg's previous tables evident in his latest design. The placement of the ramps feels a lot like Metallica as well as the Prison being sort of like Sparky. There are also some targets on the left side of the playfield, similar to the Fuel targets on Metallica.
The difference being that these are actually drop targets! Nice little addition! I also noticed a resemblance in terms of gameplay between Metallica and The Walking Dead in that it is really easy to light Extra Ball. In Metallica, Extra Ball is lit by hitting the captive ball 5 times. In The Walking Dead, you have to kill several Walkers. This is done by hitting the lit crosshair shots throughout the playfield.
Once Extra Ball is lit, you have to hit the Dead End shot on the far lower right of the playfield that drops the ball back into the plunger. It is even located in the same spot as the scoop on Metallica! Weird!
A neat trick I found is that there is a rollover located in the plunger lane that awards Extra Ball when it is lit. So, if you miss the Extra Ball during one round, you can get it the moment the next round starts. 

Despite all these semblances that The Walking Dead bears, it really feels like it's own table and not like it is aping another table's style. One thing I can say with certainty is that it is tough as nails. TWD plays really fast. There are not many shots that grab and hold the ball; instead the ball is going to be bouncing off a lot of targets and flying through the ramps. It also seems like every shot is out to get you in some way. Almost all the shots come with the risk of draining the ball. Usually, there are one or two shots you can make on a table that are safe and set you up for a shot but The Walking Dead has none of those. So many times I saw the ball hit the Well Walker or the Prison and just go flying towards the drains. The ramps are tricky as well because of how steep they are. The left ramp has a pretty wide opening but that's only to tempt you into making the shot. It's a looooong ramp with a steep incline and so if you don't hit it quite right, WOOOOOSH, it's coming right back down the middle!
The bumper cluster's exit is pretty nasty too and sends the ball into some pretty precarious areas, either into the slingshots or towards the center drain. Either way, ya don't wanna be there! The location of the exit only serves to exacerbate the trouble as it is pretty low on the playfield and gives you very little time to react. Normally, I would do my best to avoid this but the opening shot sends the ball right up in there and so it is a necessary evil.

The skill shot is pretty neat and evokes memories of old EM tables.
I haven't seen these little guys in a good long while! The starburst rollovers add a unique spin to Stern's usual skillshot, where you just hit the lit rollover lane above the bumper cluster. Instead, the rollovers light in sequence and, depending on when you plunge, will affect the skill shot score. The more lights that are lit, the higher the score so it is best to plunge the ball just before all the lights are lit. The POWER insert will flash really quickly when the skill shot is at its maximum so it's best to hit it around that point. Once you launch the ball, make sure the ball rolls through the lit rollover lane in order to cash in the skillshot score.

 Not only are the playfield hazards out to get you but even the lighting sequences of the table itself are looking to cause trouble! A lot of the shots tend to cause a "blackout" in which all the playfield lights go out momentarily. This made gameplay especially difficult because we were playing in a dark bar and sometimes that split second of darkness was enough to lose track of the ball and drain! The lighting is a bit weird on The Walking Dead. The table is awash in bright white lighting that gives the playfield a bit of a sanitary, hospital-like feeling.
The LEDs certainly help with illumination but the stark whiteness looks a bit odd for a zombie-themed table. Maybe something like a yellow or reddish light would give the table a better dingy, darker feel. Despite the brightness of the lights, it really highlights some of the cool artwork on The Walking Dead. I tend to give Stern a bit of grief for their art packages but the art package for TWD is a knock-out! Just like Mustang, they went with a red-heavy colour scheme for the backglass and cabinet art which I dig very much. The art of the backglass is really cool and features the mugs of a bunch of zombies. The surviving cast of The Walking Dead are relegated to the cabinet side art which I prefer very much. The table feels like it's based more around the zombies than about survivors which is something I will touch upon later.
The bottom of the playfield around the center drain is filled to the brim with zombies too and it looks like they're coming for you! WHOA! WATCH OUT
There's a lot of neat little touches for the artwork. The clear plastics throughout the table have little blood splatters on them that adds to the immersion of being in a zombie apocalypse.
Here's one particular little thing that I caught and really loved. The starburst rollovers aren't the only EM throwbacks!
Even the bumper caps are styled in the same way as old EM bumper caps... Except, these ones are a lot dirtier and are even chained up. It really helps build a post-apocalyptic world underneath the glass.

One thing I noticed about The Walking Dead is that the table itself is based more around the zombies than the cast of survivors from the show. It feels like YOU are the survivor in the world of The Walking Dead, taking on the zombies and trying to survive. There are all sorts of hints to this in that you have to collect weapons and supplies as well a zombie kill counter. There are references to the TV series in some of the modes and features but none of the actual  cast is featured within the game, either in modes, callouts, or DMD animations. It feels as though the table was built around a generic zombie theme and The Walking Dead license being used for brand recognition.
The one problem I see with The Walking Dead pinball is that it is a pretty violent table and so you might not see it out in the wild. It can be argued that some tables Stern has released are a little more directed towards adults, such as The Sopranos and Playboy, though those tables have "family mode" settings to content and so can be used in more family-friendly settings. The Walking Dead, however, features a lot of pretty graphic DMD animations, lots of dudes getting bit and ripped apart by zombies. The Match animation is a great lesson in human anatomy, if you catch my drift. It's a pretty scary table and so I get the feeling that certain venues and locales might be wary about having TWD pinball amongst their ranks, especially if it's a family-friendly venue. On the other hand, The Walking Dead is a very popular series and maybe that will be enough to see it pop up somewhere in the city. I know that a lot of pinball collectors have been going crazy over this table and apparently the limited edition tables have already sold out!

I have been proven wrong, though! California Sandwiches has obtained The Walking Dead and now you can eat a veal sandwich while zombies eat some humans!
I have laid claim to California Sandwiches... MUF is Number 1 once again!
Monarch Tavern now has The Walking Dead as well!
I am Arena mode champ at Monarch!
 I have also received confirmation that Done Right Inn has acquired TWD! I also heard the tilt sensors on it are real sensitive too. Dang.
I keep saying but I can't say it enough... Stern has really been on a roll with their releases lately, getting some popular licenses and putting out some great playing tables. The Walking Dead is no exception and is a great addition to the Stern line-up. The table is fast and unforgiving with many of the shots looking to drain you. The Walking Dead license is used in a very interesting way, focusing moreso on the zombies rather than the characters of the show all throughout the table. The artwork is loaded with zombies both on the backglass and in the playfield art packages. Even the gameplay is focused on zombie killin' but is also packed with all sorts of references to the show, like the Well Walker and the Prison. A far cry from the dire days of the recession, when tables like Avatar and Big Buck Hunter Pro were the few tables available, The Walking Dead is a refreshing change of pace and a great example of Stern Pinball's potential. Hopefully we will be seeing a lot more top-notch tables like this one in the future!

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