Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Sopranos

The Sopranos is one of the few Stern tables that really holds a soft spot with me due to its history and gameplay. Not the actual history of The Sopranos TV series or the pinball table but my personal memories of this fantastic machine.
My first encounter with The Sopranos was during the first St. Catherines Pinball Journey in 2011 (that trip was before Bumper City's time but check out 2013's St. Catherines Pinball Journey here and here) During our trip, we snuck into Sherkston Shores and found The Sopranos amongst their pinball line-up of Family Guy, South Park, and Cactus Canyon. Keep in mind that the arcade was catered towards kids; I don't really know why they thought those tables would be a good idea...  especially with The Sopranos having the adult mode activated. Turns out The Sopranos does not pull any punches with the foul language and the table was often yelling out "GIVE US THE F**KIN' MONEY!" in an arcade full of children.

Later, Shane and I ran into The Sopranos at a rest stop outside of Oshawa.
 It was pretty beat-up but Shane managed to get a high score.
The Sopranos then came to the local bowling alley in Oshawa, Leisure Lanes, where we proceeded to play the hell out of it, getting hella high scores in the meantime.

The Grand Champion score on The Sopranos was from MJS and was nigh unattainable at 323,000,000. Could it have been the fabled MJB with new initials or is it a new nemesis? Have I told the story of MJB? I don't think I have but that's another story for another time. Anyways, The Sopranos got swapped out of Leisure Lanes...
Unfortunately, Star Trek was the center of attention

... And popped up at my favourite local sandwich joint in Toronto, California Sandwiches! This Sopranos table was the very same one that came from the alleys of Leisure Lanes. Pinball tables are kind of like snowflakes in that no two tables are exactly alike. A pinball table may have certain unique characteristics that affect the game, like a broken ball lock, or just cosmetic quirks, like a broken plastic insert. In the case of this Sopranos, there's a few defining marks that led me to believe this is one and the same. First of all, there's the Safe which is slightly broken and sometimes doesn't register hits. Sure, that can be said about a lot of Sopranos machines; the safe gets the crap beaten out of it. Second, the Episode loop to the side and behind the safe won't activate and catch the ball, thus preventing Episode modes from being lit and, even worse, from obtaining the Extra Ball. Well, any table can have that sort of issue... Yeah, that's right but tell me how many Sopranos tables there are out there with MJS as Grand Champion HUH?! Yeh, MJS is Grand Champ on The Sopranos at California Sandwiches too! I've tried to take MJS down but no luck...
 The Sopranos is a darn fine machine and as you can see, I have spent quite a few dollars playing it. The reason I keep on coming back is because of how fun it is; if it wasn't, I probably wouldn't be writing about it! Even though there is a brand spankin' new Star Trek lined up with this old beast, I still find myself spending hella time with the table. The Sopranos has the perfect mix of flow and good playfield layout without being super complicated or lightning fast. Though the designer of The Sopranos, George Gomez, did not exactly set the pinball world on fire unlike his contemporaries, Steve Ritchie and Pat Lawlor, he certainly has some solid hits under his belt like Williams' Monster Bash and Stern's Lord of The Rings. Gomez would have to be one of my favorite designers with Stern, his resume including Playboy, Transformers, and Batman, three tables that I have spent quite a lot of time and money on. The one aspect of Gomez's tables that I enjoy the most is the sense of accomplishment you can achieve in a single game. Gomez mentioned in his interview with TOPCast that when a player is doing great, they should feel like they are on top of the world. Having done quite well for myself on several of Gomez's tables, I can say for sure that Gomez knows what he is talking about.
Let us take a quick look at the lay of the land of The Sopranos. Gomez went with a pretty middle-of-the road design; there are the orbit loops and ramps on either side of the playfield and a big target in the middle. The Sopranos is not the most innovative table but then again, you don't need to reinvent the wheel with every pinball table. The Sopranos is still fun as all get out and has managed to keep me coming back time and time again.
The art package isn't the most outstanding but it does have a neat look with what looks like a table with items related to a police investigation strewn about, such as binoculars and polaroid photos of the cast.
The sound package is a strong point, featuring the series' theme song as well as custom soundbites from the cast and Big Pussy throwing quips throughout. The music also changes depending on where you currently are in the game with the music becoming more frenetic after scoring the super jackpot from Stugots Multiball. Speaking of multiball, I made mention about how the table can make you feel like you're on top of the world and that comes from rockin' a serious round of multiball. In order to get multiball going, your first task is to aim for the Stugots Boat lock.
You can access the ball lock by hitting the lifesaver drop target and hitting the ball up the ramp into the lock. The shot can easily be made from either flipper; I usually prefer backhanding off the right flipper as it is easier to control the ball on the return from the drop target. Not only that, but if you are accurate enough, you can sneak the ball past the drop target and into the lock for a Quickie Bonus which awards a points bonus and provides immediate access to the ball lock. This is most useful after a few rounds of Stugots Multiball when the drop target takes several hits before exposing the ball lock. Anyways, Stugot Multiball is a 2-ball multiball so once you lock the first ball, get the second ball into the boat lock to activate multiball. The next thing you want to do is light the Fish Mystery award by lighting the letters in the lanes. This is similar to Wolverine Multiball on X-MEN in that if Mystery is lit during multiball, the first award will be Add-A-Ball. Now, you will have 3-ball Stugots Multiball and from there you have a couple of choices as to what to do. Play your cards right and that top-of-the-world feeling will be all yours...
One method of getting hella points is going for the Jackpot. Hit the lifesaver drop target to earn the usual jackpots and after several hits the drop target will fall and the ball lock will open for Super Jackpot. Lock one of the balls into the lock for Super Jackpot and that will start a countdown for you to get the other ball into the lock. Doing that will award Double Super Jackpot and give you HELLA POINTS!!!
What's next after you get that? You can either work on making your way up through the ranks or going for Bing Multiball. My suggestion is to aim for Bing multiball as it is a bit safer. Hit the left ramp several times to activate "Party at Da Bing!" in which you must hit the switches to earn multiball. What is meant by "switches" is really anything on the playfield that provides points, like the targets, the rollovers, ramps and what-have-you. You have to earn quite a few points in order to start Bing Multiball and so you may not be able to get it in one fell swoop with a single ball. Therefore, it is best to try and get Party at Da Bing activated during multiball. If you are able to get all the switches in the allotted time, Bing Multiball, a 3-ball mode, will activate... and if you already have Stugots Multiball lit, you have 4-ball Multiball on your hands!
MJB's initials in the reflection...
Now, this is the best time to work your way up the ranks by cracking the safe. With each different rank, there is a different award such as playfield multipliers and extra ball so it is beneficial if you want that high score! The risk comes from the fact that the safe is a drain-lure. It is a big toy to hit in the centre of the playfield and it is located right above the middle drain. The issue with this table in particular is the safe is pretty beat up and sometimes absorbs the ball's momentum or doesn't register hits so keep that in mind. It can be tough to get a good, solid shot on the safe.

I recently discovered that if you hit the shots with a lit cash envelope, you can "pay" your way up through the ranks. Hit the shots with the green cash symbol to obtain an envelope. Once you have enough, "Advance Rank" will light at the shot to the left of the safe. Hit that to move up through the ranks. It's a less risky method but you have to use accuracy to hit all necessary shots.
What I like to do when I have Multiball active is attack the safe right out of the gate; ball save is lit and you can sacrifice a few balls while it is active to score a couple of hits on the safe. Hitting the safe during multiball is the quickest way to get it open and is also less dangerous than hitting it with a single ball on the playfield. Work your way up the ranks and eventually reach BOSS! I have only ever reached Underboss but this is where that feeling of accomplishment, of feeling like a million bucks, comes into play...
I had multiball going with Stugots and Bing Multiball activated and I was just crushing my way through the ranks. Balls were going everywhere when all of a sudden, EVERYTHING on the table just stops and the display shows each letter of UNDERBOSS one-by-one with some loud sounds so you know yer top of the line! On top of that, Underboss starts a NEW multiball mode with a super long ball save. So the WHOLE table is freakin' out, everything is worth hella points and I'm tasked with hitting the safe to light all the letters of UNDERBOSS! It was insane and after that round I definitely felt on top of the world, even more so when I got to put my letters up!
The thing was... once I got that high score, I couldn't stay away... I needed to be champion.
But some chump thought they could take my title of Grand Champion...
To them I say... NO DICE!

The Sopranos is one of many solid tables by George Gomez. It may not be the most innovative or attractive table but The Sopranos more than makes up for either by being a very enjoyable table that makes you feel like you're on top of the world when you're rockin' and rollin'! The Sopranos isn't too punishing either and is a great gateway game for people that are looking to get into the scene. Unfortunately, The Sopranos is no longer at California Sandwiches. It was at Monarch Tavern for a little while but The Walking Dead took The Sopranos' spot. The good news is that The Sopranos has re-emerged at a new location! Bovine Sex Club on Queen West now has The Sopranos and Metallica! Get out there and get playing!

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