I prefer to announce to you from the start: I am a fan of the Alien license. So you’ll have some wordplay and lines in all directions in this test! So if you don’t know what’s going on before going further, I advise you to watch the whole saga to follow along! Understood 65?
Okay, I see I’m already losing half of the readers, so I’ll take it easy. But you can check out our Extra Ball video, which will be a good introduction.
“A day in the Pinball Mag. crew is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! And every formation a parade! I love the corps!” (almost Sergent Apone, Aliens)
Well… actually… that’s not quite right, especially for the millionaire part… too bad it was the funniest thing! But still, at Pinball Mag. we have little moments of Pinhead happiness. Certainly, testing the Pinball Brother’s Alien was one of them, for two reasons.
The first is that, as explained above, I am a fan of the license, and so playing a pinball game with a theme that we like is (almost) always a pleasure.
Secondly, as we announced in a podcast, this is the first time that an importer and a distributor have played the game and lent us a machine to test. By the way, let’s take this opportunity to warmly thank LG Jeux in Saint-Nazaire and France Flipper for their trust. Don’t hesitate to contact them if you are thinking of buying an Alien machine from Pinball Brothers.
A quick side note, before we start, in order to cut short all potential speculations on the forums and facebook groups, let me explain how we work.
As you know, at Pinball Mag. we want to be as honest and transparent as possible. Our integrity and therefore our credibility towards you is at stake. In this sense, LG Jeux and France Flipper have given us carte blanche to carry out this test. No instructions were given to us (except to return the pinball machine unfortunately 🙂 ). So we will frankly discuss the positive AND negative points of this machine. We keep our total independence for the good of all: players, distributors, importers and manufacturers. Things being clear, let’s get to the heart of the matter!
Alien Pinball (without an “s” to Alien!)
For those who are new to Alien pinball, a little history is in order.
The beast first appeared in 2017 with another company behind its development – Heighwey Pinball.
This Brittish company was founded by Andrew Heighwey in 2012 and it released two pinball machines, Full Throttle in 2015 and Alien in 2017. However, in April 2018, it was game over for this company, which is put into liquidation. Therefore, Pinball Brothers, a company formed in parallel to Heighwey Pinball by the directors of the latter, takes up the torch.
We are talking about two different companies with common interests and no, we will not go into details and controversies. We just want to simplify things to be understandable by the layman and therefore by the majority.
“I Say We Take Off. Nuke The Site From Orbit. It’s The Only Way To Be Sure.” (Ripley, Aliens)
After years of rumors, Pinball Brothers is making Heighwey Pinball’s Alien remake official in December 2020.
From the start, Pinball Brothers decided to rectify some things, especially the production cost. Yes, it’s nice to make beautiful and innovative machines, but they have a business to run as the other guy would say!
The remake is a widebody (a larger box) just like its predecessor. Most of the original design is still there, but there are some major changes.
The first of the modifications is made to the general design of the machine. Indeed, the body and the front panel have been completely remodeled to return to a more traditional pinball design. We say goodbye to the rounded corner front panel with its flashing lights and the screen has been reduced in size. Bye-bye also to the characteristic backlit body and the all-in-one side rails/lockbar. This is certainly a wise budgetary decision but also a loss, in my opinion, in terms of originality and design identity. You don’t get something for nothing!
The second major change is the lightening of the playfield. Gone is the screen under the playfield! Some people will say it’s a bad thing, others a good thing (we suspect the accountant to be one of those people 🙂 ). I don’t have an opinion about it. Having not played the first version, the presence or not of this screen is for me neither a plus nor a minus, just a difference. However, for sure, it does not change the gameplay.
What changes the gameplay, and this for my greatest pleasure, is the volume of the mini screen in front of the back panel. Indeed, the reduction in depth now leaves room for a secret back door shoot like in Stern’s Elvira House of Horrors. I love the hiding places, backdoors and other secret passages! I find that it always has its little effect in game phase.
For the rest, the set is globally identical except for a few details.
But then, is the new Alien a low-end version of the first one? Well then, Pinheads, think again. It’s anything but! Let’s take a closer look.
Pinball Brothers, building better worlds
Let’s say it right away: Pinball Brothers has done a remarkable job on the whole machine. The watchwords are: simplicity, efficiency, modernity. Whether it is in the backglass, under the set or on the playfield, the young company offers itself the luxury of outdoing the big manufacturers in terms of innovation and logic.
As a proof, when you lift the playfield, you find, like the manufacturers American Pinball, or Chicago Gaming do, an “apple-ization” or “tesla-ization” of the whole electromechanics. Nothing to do with Stern’s way of doing things. Even though their process has been proven over the last 30 years, it’s time for the leader to evolve and take a cue from Pinball Brothers.
The approach in terms of engineering reflects a desire to modernize the underside of the playfield. Indeed, here you don’t have 40 miles of cables and 100 pounds of scrap metal of all kinds to make your machine work: instead, you have electronic layers that are simply linked together and circulate information to the components.
This architecture has several advantages:
- Easier location of a possible breakdown. Thanks to the menu, it is easy to identify the affected area;
- A certain autonomy of repair to the individuals. You just have to unclip the connector, unscrew the card and change it;
- Fewer workshop returns and associated costs because your dealer sends you the part to be changed without soldering, without specific tools and without the risk of making a mistake;
- Provided that the components are of good quality, puncture-proof cards. We all have in our memories the NES of the 80’s which is immortal. We are in the same genre but with updated technology.
- A general reduction of the noise made by the bumpers, slingshot, etc..
However, it can also have disadvantages that we will try to anticipate:
- If the components are of bad quality or the design is flawed, it will fail repeatedly.
- Changing a whole card for a simple problem of “switch” (you will understand just below why 😉 ), led or other, it can be a pain and it can be expensive!
- Even if the supply of cards is guaranteed, what will be the delays?
An additional and rather well thought out little thing: when you lift your playfield, it locks vertically and securely thanks to two hooks at the end of the rails. Working on it in case of adjustment becomes very practical. Moreover, the tray does not press on the pediment, so there is no chance of damaging it.
Alien pinball software: a step below the rest
However, on the software side, it’s not the same! The pinball machine runs on a computer that uses Linux. So it’s smart in terms of economy because you use a free software except that it crashes from time to time and in a recurrent way… And it is frankly unpleasant!
Indeed, during our test phase, several times, the pinball machine did not want to start. And, by dint of turning it on and off successively, a fuse blew, then a second one…
But don’t panic! When you unpack your pinball machine, you will find a small box containing :
- spare plastics,
- key rings (lots of different styles and we love them),
- rubber bands,
- and… spare fuses.
Some might say “that doesn’t solve the problem”. Indeed, a system update is needed. A little exclusive for you pinheads: after shooting our two Extra Ball episodes on this machine, Pinball Brothers contacted us and we had a long video chat about the pros and cons of their machine. What we can tell you is that they are really attentive to feedback, involved, reactive, conscientious, and have a real desire to do well. So much so that, a few days later, they released an update!
Without a doubt, this way of doing things will find detractors, and like Apple or Tesla, at the slightest slip-up, the reactionaries will have a field day. Too bad, because I sincerely believe that the future of pinball lies with young companies and advances in gameplay, connectivity, crossover with video games and… Technology above, on and below the set. Let’s be honest: this brings far more advantages than disadvantages.
“Hey, maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!” (Private Hudson, Aliens)
Let’s go! Let’s play the seven differences game!
Let’s start with the front panel. It’s nothing to envy to the old model and this is despite the decrease in screen size. On the contrary, the 18.5″ screen, smaller than a JJP but larger than a Stern, clearly does the job. It offers a nice definition with good contrast during the cinematic phases and cleanly displays the game’s interactive menus. Moreover, the artwork is very well done and highlights a scene where the xenomorph’s eggs are discovered.
Original and unorthodox, the backglass is made of plexiglass. It opens like a classic backglass but it is in one piece, which does not make it easy to open or put back in place the first few times. The squeaking and rubbing noises are confusing at first because you are afraid to damage the backglass. However, once you get the hang of it, this handling is no longer a problem. The printing is of very good quality and lets the light transmitted by small leds surrounding the screen. It is also perforated to let the sound pass, and acts as a “grid” to protect the speakers for sound diffusion.
Let’s talk about the sound! It is really massive and of a very great quality with a rather effective subwoofer. Moreover if you are attentive to the picture of illustration, you will notice that the interior of the fronton is completely empty. However, I assure you that it weighs its weight! Indeed, the smart guys from Pinball Brothers had the idea to use medium for a better sound diffusion and to leave the empty pediment above to gain in resonance.
The last little detail of the front panel, which is not only very practical but also easier to use, is the little hook at the back that allows to fix it to the body. No need to bother screwing bolts like on the Stern products. Fast, solid and efficient!
The box is certainly one of the parts of the pinball machine that convinced me the least. I prefer the old version with its backlighting and its atypical design. Here, the artwork is simple, without more. On the other hand, the quality of the decals is great: they are thick, shiny and with a good definition. But we won’t spend more time on them because, in this version, we clearly find a standard pinball cabinet design.
Overall, this pinball machine has a great look and is impressive with its “wide bodied” stature. Its premium finish makes some of the market leaders’ big productions pale in comparison. But if this beast starts to convince you by its potential, wait for what follows, you won’t be disappointed!
In your gameroom, no one can hear you scream!
And it better be! Honestly, I’ve rarely been so euphoric at an unboxing. If you were there, you would have heard me exclaiming every 10 seconds or so, especially at the playfield, and you’ll understand why.
First observation: there is room! “He’s an idiot, it’s a widebody machine, it’s normal!”. So yes it’s a widebody machine, so yes it seems logical but it’s still weird to see when you’re used to the standards. And for the budding Pinheads joining us a widebody is a pinball machine with a wider body (and therefore a wider game playfield) than the standard pinball machines. So, when you have room, you can put a lot of things on it!
We start with the toys. They are numerous, all imposing, mostly aligned at the bottom of the board and very well realized with however some drawbacks for some:
- Alien head: the centerpiece is undoubtedly the head of the xenomorph that sits defiantly in the middle of the board background. In addition to being convincing, depending on the game phases, the animations (the jaw opens and its tongue comes out to catch the ball and swallow it) make it an excellent toy! However, the mechanism (a servo of modelism manages the opening of the mouth) can be improved because it requires adjustments to function correctly. Moreover, during the traditional test phase at the beginning of the game, the tongue mechanism emits a noise as surprising as unpleasant. A point to improve.
- “Hypersleep” stasis chamber: a toy not necessarily visible at first glance. It is located at the top left and manages a lock system to trigger the hypersleep multiball. Once three balls are captured, the hypersleep box cover lifts up and releases the balls for the multiball. It, too, had some problems. In the middle of a game, it would get up and down for no reason. After a reboot, still the same problem. Then, it reminded me of a failure I had on my Elvira House of Horrors pinball. An opto problem that was misaligned. After a visual search, I indeed found that the toy was working thanks to optos. I then disassembled a small part of the toy to access the optos and tightened a loose nut that was giving play to one of them and cutting its beam, thus making it work in an anarchic way. Honestly, nothing bad, but it was annoying because it was not the only nut that needed to be fixed.
- Egg bumpers : the big surprise of this pinball machine. It is one of the most beautiful toys I have seen! However, it is only bumpers. But like American Pinball on their Houdini and Oktoberfest machines, Pinball Brothers chose to make it a very special item. Extremely faithful to the saga in terms of design, they contain multiple RGB lighting and are quite eye-catching. To top it all off, as mentioned before, their mechanism is almost silent. A magnificent faultless!
- Recall screen: not original in its use, it is however useful and well animated. This 5″ LCD screen is less deep than the original and leaves room for a secret shot located behind.
- Slingshot facehugger : here again a great success. Very well sculpted, much more imposing in real than in picture, their operation is also very quiet, a bit like on the Ghostbusters. They are mounted on a metal rod which animates them to perfection reminding their movement in the saga.
The right hand ramp has a 180 degree rise and has a traditional metal wire section with a plastic overlay section like the left hand ramp.
“You secure that shit Hudson!” (Sergent Apone, Aliens)
Another great success of this pinball: the illumination. So, it’s not the debauchery of RGB led like on a Guns ‘N’ Roses pinball by Jersey Jack Pinball, but they are used judiciously and their integration is particularly successful!
Let’s recall their use in the bumpers toys as already mentioned, but also in the large fixed targets which gives a great “ice” effect. Special attention has been paid to this “ice” effect which can also be found on the whole filed with these luminous blocks adding a crazy atmosphere!
On the other hand, it is a pity that the small targets did not benefit from the same attention. Indeed, they are not bright and tend to get stuck because their design lacks precision. They are also part of the poorly tightened screws. It’s a real shame, and it’s particularly disabling in terms of gameplay, as they are essential for validating the mission objectives.
However, a few adjustments and file strokes on the parts should solve the problem.
“Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man? / No. Have you?” (Hudson and Vasquez, Aliens)
The Alien machine of Pinball Brothers has a strong gameplay.
It is not necessarily complicated to understand, it has the spirit of a Stranger Things machine with episode 1 on the left and episode 2 on the right and you have to complete the missions. Making it simple is not necessarily easy, but making it simple and attractive is even harder!
Pinball Brothers Alien is a tough game because it is not (too) difficult: it is not punishing, on the contrary, it can be described as accessible.
As a proof, there are two systems of saving the ball when the ball passes through the outlanes. The first one is similar to the Indiana Jones pinball machine of Williams: a trap door in the right outlane allows the save with a light nudge (to nudge means to slightly shake the pinball machine). The second, also playing with a slight nudge, is on the left outlane with a nod to the game of trifle, the ancestor of pinball.
Another specificity: a central stud. So, I’ll be honest, I always thought that the central stud had no interest! Well, I was wrong and I changed my mind! Here, it is an integral part of the game and really brings to the gameplay without making it easy.
The Alien machine of Pinball Brothers, it is strong because it proposes not less than 12 shots, of which a shot with the most satisfactory scoop a little like on the Monster Bash pinball, and 2 secret shots:
- one located behind the 5″ screen (like on the Elvira’s House of Horrors pinball);
- the other one on the far right behind the APC drop target with a redistribution of the ball in the inlane
Pinball Brothers’ Alien pinball is a strong game because it offers rich missions, with a terrible atmosphere thanks to its soundtrack, and all this thanks to the code that mixes animations from the movies, others created for the needs of the pinball machine and a menu with choice of weapons close to a video game.
This pinball is a tough one, because it’s just so cool to play!
“Get away from her, you bitch!” (Ripley, Aliens)
A very small paragraph just to tell you my only regret about this pinball: it is not fully licensed. So, as with Stern Pinball’s Ghostbusters, don’t expect to see or hear the “Queen of the Sci-Fi” I mean Susan Alexandra Weaver aka Sigourney Weaver.
Also, you will not have the official music. It’s not easy to have a star of this stature. However, with Ghostbusters and Avatar, this is the third pinball machine dedicated to the films of the actress. Which makes her the best featured female character in our hobby with Elvira! Snif!
Johner: Hey, Ripley. I heard you, like, ran into these things before?
Ripley: That’s right.
Johner: Wow, man. So, like, what did you do?
Ripley: I died.
For its first pinball machine, Pinball Brothers signs an almost perfect copy. The general level of manufacturing is of premium quality, the sound system is massive, the widebody is very pleasant to play, the code is well done and promises long hours of play. The toys are numerous, beautiful and take place on a robust board with promising technology.
However, there are some teething problems with an operating system that has stability flaws, but this is normally already corrected with the update. In addition, the pinball machine will require some adjustments to be properly functional as is often the case with our beautiful machines. Pinball Brothers should still strengthen the quality control to avoid tarnishing its image and nip its industrial project in the bud.
Nevertheless, it is an ambitious and courageous project that should be followed with great attention. For us, this pinball machine is one of the must-haves of the year. It is certain that in the future, Pinball Brothers will learn from its first machine and will offer us even better!
Manufacturer: Pinball Brothers
Production date: December 2020
Theme: Science-fiction / adventures / space
Type: wide body
Short name: APB
units produced: N/C
Launch price: 7 595$
Electro-mechanical alien head: the mouth opens, sticks out its tongue and swallows the ball
Hyper Sleep electro-mechanical, locks 3 balls and releases them
Eggs Bumpers electro-mechanical luminescent
Slingshot Facehuggers electro-mechanical
TECHNICAL and ART TEAM
Game Design : Dave Sanders
Mechanics: James Rees
Software: Brian Dominy, Cato Paus Skrede, Joe Schober
Artwork: Aurich Lawson
Animation: Kelly Mazurowski
Sound: David Thiel
Music: David Thiel