The Attack From Mars table is one of the pinball legends! Its value on the second-hand market is at an all-time high at the time of writing, and not even the remakes offered by Chicago Gaming Company have been able to keep up with the high demand. Let’s delve into this piece of pinball history.
- 1 Attack From Mars: Brian Eddy’s first hit
- 2 A success of esteem rather than sales
- 3 Attack From Mars: the ultimate fan layout
- 4 Get that saucer out of my face!
- 5 Wiggling Martians
- 6 Attack From Mars doesn’t take itself too seriously
- 7 Is Attack From Mars easy?
- 8 Attack From Mars: the big brother of Medieval Madness and Revenge From Mars pinball machines
Attack From Mars: Brian Eddy’s first hit
In 1995, Brian Eddy wasn’t yet 30 years old, and yet his CV was one to envy. He comes from a code background, not a mechanical one like many of his elders. Between 1990 and 1995, he collaborated on the concept or software for FunHouse, The Machine: Bride of Pinbot and Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure, to name but the most emblematic.
In 1994, he was appointed Game Designer for The Shadow pinball game. Being a Game Designer means being the boss on the project. Considering the quality of the Bally/Williams teams at the time, appointing a youngster to this position demonstrates the company’s confidence in him, as places are hard to come by. While the film of this little-known superhero may not be long remembered, its pinball adaptation is still held in some esteem.
With Attack From Mars, Brian Eddy takes things to another level: not only is he the designer, but the theme of the wacky alien invasion is his idea! And no, even though the dates roughly coincide, Bally/Williams didn’t try to capitalize on the 1996 release of Mars Attacks. In any case, who could have predicted its success in cinemas before its release?
A success of esteem rather than sales
I used to call Attack From Mars a hit, but it’s when you look in the rear-view mirror that you realize it’s an unmissable pinball machine. In fact, less than 3,500 units of the machine were produced, and in the same year other tables did better, such as the Theatre of Magic pinball machine. This was a far cry from the 20,000 units of The Addams Family pinball, the best-selling pinball machine in history.
By 1995, the market was already starting to slow down, with pinball production volumes plummeting down a slope they would never climb back up. Brian Eddy is not entirely to blame for this lacklustre success.
The machine’s reputation has been built up over time. It’s the quintessence of what the 90s knew how to do best: simple pinball machines with immediate fun and no headaches, while still providing a challenge for good players.
Attack From Mars: the ultimate fan layout
The Attack From Mars board is the archetypal fan layout, with shots fanned out across the last third of the board:
- A big toy to bash in the middle
- Two access points on either side, left to the ball lock, right to a scoop
- Two ramps on either side
- A large loop all around
- Two rows of targets on either side of the board
The upward trajectories, from the flippers to the bottom of the board, observe a surgical axial symmetry. It’s rare to stick so closely to the fan layout concept. It gives the player an immediate understanding of the shots, but loses out on the element of surprise. This ease of use makes it the pinball machine of choice for occasional players – nothing is complicated!
Get that saucer out of my face!
The storyline reinforces the accessibility of the gameplay. You must repel the Martian invasion by protecting five countries: France, Italy, Germany, the USA and England. Incidentally, why England rather than the UK? Perhaps to simplify on-screen animation, with stereotypes more easily identifiable than if we had had to make room for Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh…
In concrete terms, you, the Defender of the Earth, must knock down the three targets representing the saucer’s force field. The battle against the saucer can begin. You’ll need to hit the stationary targets beneath the saucer several times, if possible several at a time with a single shot, until the bottom target drops. Then aim for the freed-up space, and the enemy is shot down with a jig-dancing saucer and strobe lights. The operation must be repeated five times, once for each country attacked.
Now that good old Earth is protected from those infamous green men, you’re going to give them a run for their money. You steal a saucer and attack Mars, aiming at the target at the bottom until the red planet explodes. No diplomacy here!
But destroying Mars isn’t pinball’s wizard mode. Patience, we’ll get to that.
The Martian Attack is one of the game’s funniest and most challenging phases. Once all the targets under the Martians have been hit, a time-limited mission begins in the scoop. The four alien figures start wiggling in a deliberately ridiculous fashion!
You then have to aim at the green targets under the enemies to kill them all. Once the challenge has been met, a two-ball multiball is launched, during which you earn points each time you “kill” a new Martian.
Attack From Mars doesn’t take itself too seriously
Attack From Mars appeals because it makes a mockery of alien movies, in more ways than one:
- Parkinsonian green Martians
- The trembling saucer
- DMD animations with their clichés about threatened countries
- the exaggerated call-outs
But the humor is still timid, searching for its place, and doesn’t dare to assume its pastiche to the extent that the Mars Attacks film does. Only the incongruous presence of a cow in certain scenes provides a dose of absurdity.
Note that the presence of the bovid is a running gag on the part of the developers, as it can be found on many other Bally/Williams machines such as Black Rose, Junk Yard, Cactus Canyon, Twilight Zone… A private joke.
Is Attack From Mars easy?
Honestly, this is a pinball game where opinions can be particularly contradictory. There are clearly pros and cons.
The layout has one major and frustrating drawback for the player. Having a row of targets facing the outhole multiplies the risk of the ball spinning between the flippers.
To compensate for this disadvantage, a “saucer” mission only ends once the ship has been destroyed, even if you’ve lost the ball in the meantime. This reinforces the sense of progression, and reduces frustration in the event of a short game.
Furthermore, the score is generous in points, which is a simple (and completely misleading) way of rewarding the player. Scoring in billions suggests that the pinball machine is agreeable, but a pinball fan won’t fall for it!
Finally, the wizard mode is particularly hairy to achieve. Basically, you need to have completed the main scenario and all the side missions:
- At least one jackpot collected during multiball
- Super Jets started at least once
- At least one Martian Attack Multiball
- One Total Annihilation mission played
- Of course, having destroyed Mars
- A combo story I didn’t understand, and of course, never realized
I won’t reveal the contents of the wizard mode, but you should know that the billions are raining in! It’s only fair if you’ve made it this far.
In our article on pinball difficulty (soon to be translated), we consider the level of challenge to be either the length of a game, or the ability to complete the entire scenario. With this in mind, the Attack From Mars game cannot be described as easy, but rather as accessible. Easy to play, hard to master, as they say. This characteristic is the trump card of the great games (chess, go, checkers…).
Attack From Mars: the big brother of Medieval Madness and Revenge From Mars pinball machines
Two years later, Brian Eddy signed the most successful pinball machine of all time: Medieval Madness. The recipe is the same:
- Fan layout
- Classic theme revisited Monty Python-style
- Ease of use only apparent
However, the Bally/Williams team has done a little better. The playfield architecture is less conventional, more inspired. And the humor is more assertive. In a way, Attack From Mars is the promising prototype for Medieval Madness. It’s a point of view you don’t hear very often, but it’s worth defending, isn’t it?
Revenge From Mars is another offshoot of our Attack From Mars pinball machine, in its Pinball 2000 version. For the record, Pinball 2000 was the last-chance concept for the Bally/Williams teams, a mix of computer, fake holograms and pinball machine. Despite the machine’s excellent reception, however, the parent company decided to close its pinball subsidiary.
No matter, Attack From Mars was a real inspiration for the industry, and remains a benchmark to this day!
Editor’s note: All photos of the Attack From Mars pinball machine were supplied by Nico du 33, a well-known collector in France. His pinball machine is very well maintained. Nico has installed some very tasteful pinball mods and accessories!