Question: what do you get when you mix an legendary 80’s movie with a legendary 80’s pinball machine maker?
Answer: one of the most sought-after pinball machines by collectors! But for this to happen, we had to wait until 2016 for the project to see the light of day. Back to a game of character that is not unanimous in terms of its gameplay but also by its unfinished code when it was released (we’ll come back to that). For now, let’s dive into the universe of our four ghost hunters in search of their new recruit.
“Back off MAN, I’M A SCIENTIST!”
So, we are in March 2016, Stern announces their upcoming title (to be released April for the pro model) of its next pinball machine: it will be Ghostbusters. A pinball based on the famous original movies of the 80s. It’s a good thing because it’s in the same year as the reboot of the famous franchise to be released in theaters. It too will not be unanimous. However, whether it’s the movie or the pinball machine, they are both, in our opinion, excellent! But let’s get back to our ghosts. The pinball machine is one of Stern’s latest in DMD display. It comes in three versions, the classic holy trinity: Pro, Premium, LE.
They were released in April, June and May respectively (yes, the LE model was released before the premium). The artwork is by Zombie Yeti. Even if it is particularly successful, we still feel that he doesn’t have the ease that we find on the last Stern releases. The differences between each model are not immediately obvious, except for the LE, which is completely covered from the feet to the body. There are of course variations in backglass, but when you look over (and under) the board you realize the gap, if not the chasm, that separates the Pro version from the other versions.
The voices used are the original ones, those added for the purpose of the pinball are those of the actor Ernie Hudson, Winston Zeddemore himself!
“Okay, who brought the dog?”
Here are the three versions proposed by Stern. The Ghostbusters is a pinball machine where all the space is occupied. This is even truer for the Premium and LE versions because these variants offer more 3D scenery (library and lighted storage cabinet), an additional toy (the Ecto Goggles, we’ll come back to that) and an additional cross ramp which completely changes the gameplay.
Moreover, on the pro version, all the ramps are made of plastic while on the others, they are entirely made of metal except for the turn which gives access to the transverse ramp, known as P.K.E. ramp.
This is for the visible part of the Manhattan iceberg. As for the invisible part, you have to go under the plateau, near the river of slime, at your own risk!
Indeed, when we lift the tray, we notice two differences and not the least. The first one is the traditional slingshots and their mechanical action which have been replaced by electro-magnetic slingshots. Two effects on the gameplay that can be confusing at the beginning but very pleasant afterwards. First of all, they are silent, so for those who like the typical slingshot clacking sound, it can be surprising at first.
Then, when they’re used a lot, it triggers a mode where the ball can execute completely crazy and random trajectories as if it was possessed by a ghost! Not bad for paranormal, eh?
The second difference, concerns the ramp known as the subway. A rather crazy and very fast ramp: your ball enters at the top left by the ramp, then passes on the right in transverse, only to descend all the height of the plate, passing under this one and exiting either by one of the two inlanes of right-hand side or by ejection directly on your flippers! Madness! We love it!
- Everything is done to immerse you in the atmosphere of the saga:
- original music
- animations from the cult scenes of the movie
- Ecto Goggles that make a ghost hologram appear
- HQ with the roof that lights up when the ghost cupboard is full to release a six ball multiball
- retractable targets in the middle of the board that make the Scoleri brothers appear on it like in the court scene of the second opus
- rotating slimer that you have to aim at before Dr. Peter Venkman gets totally engulfed
- river of slime that runs through the underbelly of New York, the P.K.E.
- slime terror that is the only thing that can be seen on the screen
- terror dogs and Gozer
- and of course the gigantic Marshmallow bibendum!
But let’s go back to the Ecto Goggles, which uses a technology that is rarely seen on pinball machines and yet always has a small effect: the hologram. The technology is simple, it is a small LCD screen that is reflected by a mirror game on a transparent glass disc that gives the illusion that a ghost is located above a lane. You must then shoot in this direction to destroy the ghost. The detection of the passage of the ball is done by an opto placed in the lane.
On the other hand, it is fragile, very fragile. We had barely received the Ghostbusters pinball when one of our testers made a magnificent airball of which she has the secret and here are the Ecto Goggles literally burst! Indeed the ball came to hit directly the screen although hidden behind a metal part. Consequence: the screen had to be changed. But it was not an easy task because when you say rare toy, you have to say hard to find and expensive toy, very expensive… Indeed, the screen alone is worth about $450 on the rare websites having it in stock and requires a complete dismantling of the block and some plastics. To avoid this mishap, we strongly advise you to invest in a thermo-molded protective shell which is easier to find on spare parts websites. Not very sexy when the machine is off but once it is on, you hardly see it.
This pinball game is full of all kinds of craziness. Let’s take as an example the easter eggs that Stern took care to hide at different phases of the game, which to our knowledge, there are three:
– The scare feature: imagine, you are in the middle of a game, focused on your ball when suddenly, at random, the whole game shuts down as if it was simulating a power outage, making you lose your ball while a scary ghost appears on the DMD, literally screaming (because your game is set to its maximum sound) while trying to get out of the screen! We assure you that the first time, you take a step backwards and your blood runs cold!
– The second one, more classic but still effective, is the Midnight Madness. To get it, you just have to play at night (or change the time of the game) when the game’s time changes to midnight. It then goes out completely as for the scare feature, there, the twelve strokes of midnight ring out and it’s off to a six ball multiball!
“- …human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… MASS HYSTERIA!”
The last easter egg, you’ll have to earn it! Indeed, unlike the two others, this one is neither random nor automatic. To do so, you will have to collect one hundred ghosts by passing in the corridors, ramps, inlane and others where the Ghostbusters logo is illuminated. This will raise a gauge in the middle of the board until you reach the Mass Hysteria multiball with six balls (obviously) but… but… your flippers will reverse during the game phase! Yes, you read that right, the right button controls the left flipper and vice versa. And as the designers of the pinball machine found that it was not complicated enough, during the same phase of play, the pinball machines return to normal and then reverse again and so on … In short, it’s total hysteria and this easter egg lives up to its name! However, we give you a little tip: you can reverse your hands on the buttons and play normally because your brain will have kept its “normal” reflexes.
We told you, everything is done in this game to immerse you in the crazy universe of our four ghost hunters. Then, the designers have pushed things even further:
By fulfilling certain conditions (collecting ghosts for example) you can turn on the blue “negative reinforcement” in the hole on the right of the board. By going there you will trigger a bonus game mode which is played on the DMD with the two flip buttons. You can choose between the “E.S.P ability” and “don’t cross the streams”.
The first one is the famous scene at the beginning of the first movie where Dr. Peter Venkman makes his students undergo a funny divination experiment. Here, you have to guess which card Venkman is thinking of. You have a 50/50 chance. The more correct answers you get, the more millions you get and it scores pretty fast. But be careful! If you get it wrong, you lose everything! You can decide to stop whenever you want to keep your score.
The other game mode is the “don’t cross the streams”, simpler but which scores less. A little video game which consists in catching about fifteen ghosts without ever crossing the streams because as Egon says: “it’s wrong”. To do so, you use the flipper buttons on the machine to make the effluents coming out of the proton pack move. There, if you lose, you keep the points accumulated. So it’s up to you to see which mode you prefer depending on the risk you want to take.
Ghostbusters: an unloved pinball machine?
As we have just seen, Stern has pushed and exploited the basic concept. The result is a rich pinball game with a variety of missions to complete and a depth of gameplay that is rarely equaled. That’s why many players love it.
So why is this pinball machine sometimes so disliked? Some players are even very critical of it. The answer is quite simple and it consists of two factors. Can you guess which ones? Here’s a clue in pictures.
Did you find the first factor? No, still not ? Ok we give you the “solution” : the flippers!
In terms of gameplay, Ghostbusters is a nervous little buddy. Very nervous. The slingshots and crazy ramps are a big part of it. So, when Stern’s team decide to put a bigger spacing than normal on the flippers, it becomes a (very) technical pinball, therefore, quite punishing. And this, it is not necessarily to the taste of all!
To remedy this “little” problem, it is not uncommon for players to change their flippers for the famous “carrot flip”. They are called like this because of their shape which reminds the one of a carrot, simply. Some players will even add a central pin to avoid losing their ball. Personally, I am not a fan of these solutions because they destroy the interest of the game. Especially since with a little bit of practice, the pin is really easy to learn.
Keep in mind that when you buy a pinball machine, even if they are assembled on the same production line, there can be adjustments, even small ones, that can change everything and change from one table to another. For example, on the Ghostbusters game that we have in the editorial office, we had “airplanes” repeatedly when the ball went out of the right lane. To solve this problem, we slightly adjusted a foot higher, barely a quarter of a turn and we added a very thin gasket on the metal part to dampen its exit and the trick was done! Illustration on the right picture.
“- Are you a God?”
The second factor, which we will not dwell on because it speaks for itself, is the code…
To sum up, we have a very fast game, greedy outlane, more spread out flippers than the norm, so if on top of that we add a code that is not completed, yes, indeed, feelings of frustration can take precedence over the fun. Moreover, it took until 2019 for Stern to correct the problem! Now it’s the best!
That’s it! There are still many things to say about this pinball machine, we could spend hours on it. But as all good things must come to an end, we leave you with the technical sheet.
Manufacturer: Stern Pinball
Production Date: June 2016
Processor: Stern Spike System
Short Name: GB (Pro, Premium, LE)
Produced units : N/C
Launch price: $6000 Pro, $7500 Prem,$8800 LE
3D elements : luminous Bibendum Marshmallow , rotating Slimer, library, luminous Ghostbusters HQ, New-York City, lighted storage cabinet
Gadgets: electro-magnetic slingshot, Scoleri brothers drop targets, Ecto Goggles
Design: John Trudeau
TECNICAL AND ARTISTIC TEAM :
Art: Jeremy Packer aka Zombie Yeti, Steven Martin, Dave Link
Animation: Chuck Ernst, Mark Galvez, Zac Stark, Tom Kyzivat
Mechanics: Elliot Eismin, Mike Redoble
Music: Ray Parker Jr., Shawn Myers, Ian Sturgeon
Sound: Jerry Thompson
Software: Dwight Sullivan, Corey Stup, Mike Kyzivat, Tanio Klyce, Lonnie D. Ropp
Note: All game-specific voices are done by actor Ernie Hudson (Winston Zeddemore in the film) himself.