Barry O’s Barbecue Challenge | American Pinball | Preview

A few weeks ago, American Pinball found itself at the heart of a stormbuzz surrounding a hypothetical sale of the company. The response was swift, and the manufacturer took it upon itself to (over)communicate like never before! Publications, live-streams, press releases… Everything was done to reassure potential customers and brand aficionados of the company’s financial health and its determination to remain a key player on today’s Pinball scene.

In principle, we ended up with streams on Houdini pinball, Oktoberfest and Hot Wheels, without really understanding why, but whatever… However, the release of this Barry O’s Barbecue Challenge game took everyone by surprise.

As we keep telling you, the announcement of a newcomer on the scene should always be seen as good news. But the reality of today’s market has since reshuffled the deck, and the need to stand out from the competition with innovative licenses or themes has become the norm if you don’t want to end up on the sidelines.

That doesn’t mean we can’t come up with a pinball game on the theme of barbecues!

Barry O’s Barbecue Challenge: A smoking tribute

Once we’ve got past the surprise of the announcement of this machine, and above all its theme, we take a few minutes to analyze the communication with a little hindsight.

barry o

First, the name: Barry O for Barry Oursler. If this name doesn’t ring a bell, you should know that we’re talking about a great man of pinball game design, since (among other things) he was behind such iconic machines of the 80s and 90s as Gorgar, Cyclone, Hurricane, Dr Who, BS Dracula, Junk Yard and the mythical and extremely rare Joust.

And in case you missed it, this great man sadly passed away in 2022 from cancer, having just joined the American Pinball team.

Got it? Yes, this is a pinball game in tribute to Barry Oursler.

The theme is also a tribute to American conviviality and its traditional culture: barbecue, hot sauces and hot rods!

American Pinball’s announcement also states that royalties from the sale of these machines will be donated to Barry’s family. A touching gesture in keeping with this “Tribute” machine.

Barry O's Barbecue Challenge - Flyer

Although the theme wasn’t (a priori) the product of Barry’s imagination, it could have been, given the boy’s great sense of continuity. The themes he came up with at the time weren’t lacking in audacity, and weren’t necessarily taken from licenses. In this respect, it’s fair to say that Barbecue could easily have blended in with the original themes of the time, given that just about anything was dared, Barry included (remember Junk Yard, the landfill-themed pinball machine).

But that was before. In 2024, to release a machine like this is to flirt dangerously between audacity and sabotage, especially for a pinball maker like American Pinball, which hasn’t shone with the commercial success of its latest models.

American audiences will undoubtedly rediscover the festive soul of a Sunday lunchtime in the sun, grilling ribs in barbecue sauce, drinking canned beer and emptying 5.56 magazines into the neighbor’s field. This will probably be a little more complicated for the average European to understand. In the USA, barbecue is almost a religion, so why not… let’s hope this machine finds its audience.

Beautiful like a BBQ

Once you’ve shed a tear at this vibrant tribute, you come back down to earth and look at the machine’s artwork, and then… Ouch…

While AP’s previous release, the Galactic Tank Force, had raised the bar in terms of artwork and overall design, compared with the cringe-worthy Legend of Valhala or the totally bland Hot Wheels, here… we’re sinking into the abyss of bad taste.

Without wishing to take a swipe at American Pinball, any machine, no matter what its theme, can be visually successful, as long as both the body and the playfield artworks are treated with the right pencil strokes. Whether photorealistic, caricatured, comic-book style… It doesn’t matter, but never, never, never, never mix drawings and photos on the same artwork, it’s guaranteed to be tasteless.

Barry O's Barbecue Challenge - American Pinball - Cabinet

Unluckily, the first glimpse of the box and it’s already an emotional elevator! We go from a perfectly respectable backglass with a cartoon-like design in the tradition of Bally/Williams productions of the time to a speaker panel cover depicting photographic embers. The sides of the box are photo-realistic, with wood planks covered by kitschy Hot Wheels-style flames, and last but not least, a front based on a photo of chopped logs, which, apart from being completely unsightly, stands out from the rest of the body artwork. It’s clearly a design misstep, and doesn’t visually pay tribute to the chosen theme. There would have been so many other ways to represent this theme and its fun side, while remaining in the spirit of the backglass. Too bad…

Barry O's Barbecue Challenge - American Pinball - Backglass

As for the body, it’s not much better, because even if it tries to remain coherent by favoring humorous drawing, the various dishes (corn on the cob, salads and other bits of grilled beef) present mainly on the plastic backdrops, again in photorealism, once again break the coherence of the artwork without us really understanding why.

I’ll pass over the bottom of the playfield, its flat yellow/orange coloring and the flamingo tuning that’s supposed to represent classic hot rod decor, which gives the impression of treating 1/3 of the playfield’s artwork without bothering too much, but in no way makes up for the rest of the visuals.

To top it all off, the apron cover has a completely different colorimetry from the rest of the artwork, adding to the visual incoherence of this machine.

It’s all the more of a pity given that Dan Hughes’s pencil strokes, particularly on the characters, are quite successful and convey the humor that transpires from this machine.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a pinball machine with unappealing visuals found itself saved by its gameplay, but then again, it’s 2024 and the competition is tough…

Barbecue Pinboy

The design of the playfield is minimalist in approach, and could almost be reminiscent of an electromechanical pinball machine if you forget the ramps. Three bumpers in the center, well aligned lanes, a few targets to bash, spinners, drop targets, in short… Here again, the aim is to bring us back to the very essence of pinball: raw, no-frills gameplay with simple objectives, multipliers and scoring to go after.

Only the small LCD screen in the center of the playfield reminds us that Barry O’s BBQ is a recent production. Without being innovative, this feature is generally much more legible than the traditional front screen, which means you have to juggle between board and screen while your marble tries to make its way between the flippers.

As usual, it’s too early to comment on the gameplay, since only a few videos show the pinball machine in action, and we haven’t yet had a chance to put our hands on it. Nevertheless, minimalist gameplay doesn’t mean a bad machine, far from it.

It’s worth noting, however, that announcing a new machine without a video trailer, stream or gameplay video, but only with photos, is again not the idea of the century… At the risk of repeating myself, we’re in 2024 and the competition has already established a few communication standards since then, and even if they’re not perfect, they have the merit of existing. So why not conform to them?

Give me a Barry O’s Barbecue Challenge pinball to go!

If wood-fired grills and California Reaper-based vinegar sauces are your thing, there are 2 versions available for this Barry O’s Barbecue Challenge:

  • A classic version advertised at $6,995
  • A limited edition of 100 units, including options such as the shaker, knocker, painted sides and other visual elements, advertised at $8,495.
Barry O's Barbecue Challenge - Version limitée
Limited Version

For Europe, the RS Pinball website advertises €8,100 for the Classic Edition and €10,200 for the Limited Edition.

Concluding remarks

It’s hard to make up one’s mind, as the launch of this machine comes as a bolt from the blue, in the midst of an offer already almost saturated by many manufacturers pushing their more or less innovative models.

If American Pinball had managed to get into the race with the Houdini, its shimmering design and demanding gameplay, they then rarely managed to make their mark through niche themes (OktoberFest) or more or less well-exploited licenses (Hot Wheels).

The release of Galactic Tank Force table was a pleasant surprise. But it unfortunately came a little late in the race to make it a real underdog machine. The Barry O’s BBQ Challenge pinball unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the providential machine that will be able to worry the big manufacturers already in place.

It’s a shame, because the idea is good, the homage touching and the theme rather fun. But the first glimpse doesn’t, for the moment at least, make you want to sink your teeth into the grilled steak.

The real question is: would we have any semblance of interest in this machine if it weren’t proposed as a tribute to Barry Oursler? I’m not sure…

Syl Vain
Syl Vain
Fan of 80s/90s pop culture, compulsive collector and supporter of "it was better before!"

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