This pinball wasn’t particularly expected. Parasited by the rumors of other licenses releases like Marvel’s Venom, yet another musical pinball from a nice but not iconic band, Foo Fighters Pinball could have been a false cornerstone. Meaning one of the big releases of the year for the manufacturer Stern, but nothing memorable for the whole community.
And yet, the March 1st reveal has shaken up our preconceptions, and the more the machine is revealed, the more curiosity sets in. Jack Danger, the designer and streamer, hits hard for his first cornerstone.
Foo Fighters : the nice band
Foo Fighters was founded by Dave Grohl, the drummer of the late grunge band Nirvana. But the musical affiliation ends there. Nirvana was a band that I would call “inhabited”, the spirit of a generation, the soundtrack of the western teenagers of the 90s. Its musicians called themselves mediocre, but the power of the lyrics and the riffs made them literally impossible to ignore. Add to that the tortured beauty of singer Kurt Cobain, and the legend was set.
Dave Grohl was the only one in the band with a good musical background, and the guy is more of a one-man band than a specialist. The first Foo Fighters album, after Cobain’s death and Nirvana’s dissolution, was composed by Grohl, and played by him, on all instruments on most of the tracks. If he surrounded himself with other artists afterwards, it’s only because he doesn’t have the taste for solo adventures.
Foo Fighters plays hard rock, but not ultra angry or unhealthy. There is a teenage side to the band which is also reflected in the videos, like this one.
The technical level is much higher than Dave Grohl’s previous band. If a beginner guitarist can start playing almost any Nirvana hit, this is not the case with the Foo Fighters compositions. In fact, Dave served the vision of the other members during his grunge period, to emancipate himself with Foo Fighters.
If the melodies are pleasant, they don’t have, from my point of view, the unstoppable and raw efficiency of Nirvana. Clearly, and this is again subjective, Foo Fighters, like its leader, is a serious band, endearing, but which will probably not mark the history of music.
Foo Fighters: more than a musical theme, a universe
With this introduction, one could fear a bland pinball. But the theme is not, as it is sometimes the case, to play the songs of the band during a concert. Here, the team will live an adventure that will lead them to fight an alien named Overlord.
What does this have to do with the band? There is one, rest assured: the name Foo Fighters refers to the expression used to designate the UFOs observed by American fighter pilots during the Second World War. And by the way, the hostile alien is planning to reformat Rock n’ Roll, ans it’s up to you to stop him. Pinball scenarios have never bothered with verisimilitude, so it’s not going to start now!
We’re sticking with a musical pinball game: the player chooses a song at the beginning of each round, the missions take the form of a tour through the United States, the animations recreate this roadtrip in a van.
For those who like Foo Fighters, the 15 songs listed by the pinball machine cover all the band’s hits.
Flawless playfield and artwork
Artwork by Zombie Yeti
Let’s get closer to the beast, now that we have set the scene. First of all, the artwork is signed by Zombie Yeti, Stern Pinball’s favorite artist since several years. This choice is necessary, because he also collaborated several times with the band. Why look elsewhere?
As usual, Zombie Yeti offers us a playfield and a cabinet full of details, ultra colorful. The Limited Edition features screaming green legs and armored rails. I’m not sure I like it, but it’s the only criticism I could make.
The members of the group are represented in the form of drawings, and the exercise is much more successful than on the pinball Rush, where we were bordering on caricature like Guitar Hero.
An airy playfield, interactions in the background
Let’s start with the structure of the playfield, before looking at the elements that compose it. Because of the very detailed artwork, one could think that the board is richer than it really is. The first half offers three drop targets and a kicker. At least at first sight, because the innovation is there, we’ll come to that soon.
The bottom of the playfield has three ramps:
- The one on the left does a 180° to serve the left flipper. On the Premium/LE versions, the van acts as a temporary log jam while you choose your concert destination.
- The one at the bottom right leads to an upper playfield, and on the Pro version goes against the back panel and then returns to the right flipper after a long way.
- The entrance to the 3rd ramp is more difficult to spot since it is hidden under the upper playfield and then merges with the second one. It is by looking at the Pro version which does not benefit from the upper playfield that we understand its shape. The 3rd ramp is accessible thanks to a 3rd flipper.
Without being uninteresting, these trajectories are not the main interest of the pinball machine. We will note in passing the absence of bumpers, which is quite rare. We can see there, without certainty, the will of Jack Danger to reduce the part of randomness in the gameplay. It would not be surprising from this experienced player.
A big toy and a crazy ball
It’s impossible to miss the massive, fist-powered ship that the Overlord pilots. An unobservant observer might think it’s a toy to bash, like the one of the Attack From Mars table, the legendary pinball machine from the 90s. Especially since the figure is wiggling. But it’s not!
Underneath is a small “chamber”, which encloses the ball via 2 retractable studs. Once in this small space, a magnet will make the ball dance a jig (what a boomer expression!) and hit two targets. Will this feature be completely random or will the player be able to influence the magnet’s action? You’ll have to play it to find out.
Note that the miniature is replaced by a plexiglass on the Pro version.
Upper playfield (Premium/LE) and captive ball
Also reserved for the 2 most expensive versions, the upper playfield (a board above the main board) hosts a building to cross, a loop around the building and a flipper.
The entry-level version of Stern is now almost exclusively intended for operators. The public will no longer accept such a difference in performance between the versions, and will at least go for the Premium model.
Another funny element, and this time present on all the models: your ball hits a fixed ball, which itself gives movement to a captive ball that then goes around a stud, triggering an interaction that can be activated with the lockbar button. Yeah, it’s not very clear but the picture will help you.
A pinball machine that innovates
Without talking about a revolution, Jack Danger has nevertheless shown some new initiatives, which again seem to be dictated by his experience as an expert player.
First of all, here is what we might call the “controllable death save”: it is a pin located under the left flipper that can be raised to save a lost ball. Imagine that your ball has gone through the left outlane. The round should be over. But just before reaching the outhole, the ball bounces on a peg that pops up from the board to make it come out between the two flippers.
A “death save” is a technique that consists of moving the pinball laterally when the ball passes between the two flippers. You then make it bounce on the side of the hole rather than letting it finish its course at the bottom of the outhole. Well, this clever little pad makes it possible to control this action without moving the flip’, and in the context of the outlane. Do you follow?
Targets in the inlanes !
Finally, the inlanes have a target in the curve, which can be activated during the descent or by performing a post pass. This is a technique that allows the ball to pass from one flipper to another. During the maneuver, the ball will hit the target.
The left target obviously plays a role in activating the “controllable death save”. These design choices will please the experienced player and will not hinder the amateur. Not taking advantage of them will not make the game boring, but will encourage progression.
Jack Danger, alone in charge?
Dead Flip (his streamer name) signs here a game that shows some mastery and audacity. Without doubting the man’s talent, the average person usually needs several tries before reaching this level. Jack has only one pinball machine to his credit before this one: the Jurassic Park Home Edition.
At Stern, a Home Edition, or Pin, refers to a “lighter” version of a classic pinball machine, with more economical features (wood, LCD screen size, fewer toys, etc.). The design must be rethought, but on the basis of a more elaborate model. The exercise seems much easier than designing a machine from scratch.
Jack being a human being like you and me (only bigger), it would be logical to think that he had the support of a whole experienced team for his first big time. That would be good news, because it would mean that Stern has succeeded in creating a talented organization that doesn’t just rely on the skills of a handful of designers. Knowing that the quality of a product doesn’t depend on just one person is reassuring, isn’t it?
Of course, the story telling is better when you imagine a man alone in front of his creation, but as for a video game or a movie, this image is generally far from reality. We’ll ask him about it sometime!
Prices for Foo Fighters pinball
The price of this pinball machine has not increased compared to the last James Bond pinball machine :
- Pro Edition: 6,999$
- Premium Edition : 9,699$
- Limited Edition : 12,999$
The new reference pinball machine?
Let’s be cautious until we play it. By most accounts, the best recent pinball machine from Stern Pinball is Godzilla. In fact, it will probably be the manufacturer’s best-selling product ever. There are no official figures, but those who know the market agree.
Given the reception of this Foo Fighters pinball machine, we have here a serious challenger. Even the code, glimpsed during a live session, seems to be already completed. We can’t certify it, because generally the lacks are felt on the end of the scenario, not very visible during a live session.
The impatience is at its peak!