In September 2022 the James Bond Pro, Premium and Limited Edition pinball machines were released. At the same time, Stern Pinball announced that a 60th anniversary version would be released before the end of the year. But don’t think that this new edition simply improves on the previous one, because in reality everything changes:
- The theme
- The designer
- The playfield
- The artwork
- The options
- The price
In short, the proximity of the two releases makes us think that the two products are similar, but this is not the case. In this article we describe this 100% different pinball machine.
The price of the James Bond 60th Anniversary pinball machine
Let’s hit the nail on the head: this is the most expensive new pinball machine in history. OK, we’re used to it, every machine is the occasion of a price increase by now. But still, it is announced at $20,000 in the United States, and 28,000€ in Europe… Ah yes, it hurts, doesn’t it? Especially when you know that it’s a retro design, and therefore less “rich” than the current standards. And the current import costs are not helping the European market…
The James Bond Limited Edition was priced at 17 200€ in September, which was already not cheap. What justifies this monumental price increase? Not the pinball equipment, that’s for sure, as you’ll see below. Two hypotheses are possible, they are not confirmed by the manufacturer to date:
- Licenses: relying on all generations of James Bond films as is the case here, with the representation of all actors who have embodied the spy or its protagonists, costs the GDP of a Western country. Paying the rights holders could justify the difference in price, or at least part of it.
- The design cost: amortizing the design of a pinball machine over 500 copies as it is the case for this anniversary edition, and not over a few thousand units for the Pro, Premium, LE all together, it does not fit into a standard price list.
I’d like to take this opportunity to make an aside: the differences between the Stern Premium and LE versions are non-existent, and the Pro version is a version that has been stripped of some game mechanics and toys. So the time spent to imagine 3 models is about the same as the time spent to produce only one.
Another example: The 40th anniversary version of the Elvira House of Horrors pinball machine differs only in aesthetic aspects, the board is strictly the same as the LE or Premium version. Exploiting the same theme with two totally different concepts from the same manufacturer in the same year is therefore quite unusual, as is the cost of this 60th anniversary.
By the way: I’m not trying to defend the price, I’m trying to understand the reasons, avoiding the demagogic argument of greed that we like to attribute to the “powerful”.
An artwork, or rather a collage
The illustration of the box takes the posters of the movies from which the game is inspired and the sides of the front panel list their names, period. The backglass is a drawing of cult scenes, arranged in a star shape around the 007 logo. Moreover, we notice that the image of Sean Connery in jetpack is similar to the one used for the Limited Edition. Ah, so forgive my inaccuracy, there is a very small point in common with the other James Bond pinball machines.
The artwork of the plaufield is simple, and in my opinion not very successful. As for the colors, the artist Kevin O’Conner plays with sobriety, which is not a problem in itself. On the other hand, the photos of the 6 actors just cropped and enhanced by a yellow outline have an aftertaste of the ugly Photoshop practices of the 2000s. In short, without being completely ugly, this set is not up to the standard of an ultra collector edition.
What happened to Stern Pinball’s taste for detail?
But what happened to make this pinball machine deserve so little attention to detail? Why the speaker panels worthy of a Pro version? And those side rails whose laser cut is barely better than the standard straight line? Is this little button in the colors of the Union Jack as a ball launcher really supposed to raise the level? Nothing on the coin door? Just the number 60 on the front of the cash register?
OK, we are graced with a topper, but its interaction with the game is limited to a meager lightshow and the general shape is… Rectangular, the bare minimum. This is probably the most uninspired topper of the last years. It makes me look more kindly at the Netflix Stranger Things topper, which at the time only reminded me of a plexiglass overlay.
All of the above would require no more than $500 in parts and labor, and given the rate, neither Stern nor potential buyers are within $500.
A screen replaced with retro reels
No more grumbling, let’s move on to a feature that assumes its difference: the usual LCD screen is replaced by 4 reels like those found on electro-mechanical pinball machines. The whole thing is covered by a plastic screen that is backlit in certain places:
- when the score exceeds 9,999, a 10,000 light comes on, then 20,000 etc… Until the “over the TOP” value. Nice.
- The number of players, the played ball, the tilt, the game over or the shoot again benefit from the same visual treatment.
This originality is well found, consistent with the old school aspect, and well done. But now let’s tackle the gameplay.
The best of a single level pinball playfield
Keith Elwin is probably the most talented pinball designer under 60 (designers have long careers in this industry). And his love for twisted ramps is what makes his designs so appealing. One can only imagine his frustration with a specification that required an “old-fashioned” set, with no ramps or secondary playfields.
And yet, he does it remarkably well here, avoiding the major pitfall of the exercise: making a pinball machine that looks like one of those many bland copies from the 70s. Two loops on the sides, 3 bumpers in a triangle at the top of the playfield, how many tables have this structure? Far too many.
Here Elwin is inspired by the unexpected loops of his masterpiece Godzilla pinball machine. The 8-shaped trajectory on the left side arouses curiosity. The drop targets in a row to lock the balls are always a pleasure, even if the ploy brought up to date by Spooky Pinball for its Total Nuclear Annihilation game has lost its freshness. I won’t mention all the details, but the game options offered by this pinball are more numerous than its retro bias would suggest.
A little frustration though: while Spooky Pinball innovates on the bottom of the board by reinventing the ramp arrivals on its new Scooby Doo pinball machine, Stern remains very wise, too wise. 1 inlane and 1 outlane on each side, thank you, goodbye.
Finally, this playfield has been mocked for its 4 spinners, an unusual number for such a simple pinball machine. I don’t mind, it doesn’t spoil anything.
A rotating hat, an LCD screen
As far as toys are concerned, Stern falls back to the bare minimum. There is only one toy on the table: Oddjob’s hat that you have to spin, like the magic lamp in Tales of the Arabian Nights. Located in the center of the playfield, but perched on a little stick, it shouldn’t obscure the M-I-6 targets behind it. When we congratulate ourselves that a toy doesn’t interfere with the game, it means that there is a problem of attractiveness…
Just below the hat, a small LCD screen has been installed, with a set of screws that are so visible… A display of the instructions directly on the board is always a good idea in principle, because the average player often doesn’t have the leisure to look up at the pediment. On the other hand, the size of the device probably doesn’t allow for much interactivity, not like the P3 Multimorphic.
James Bond 60th anniversary : no target hit
Is this pinball machine a Home Pin that doesn’t say its name, as some people have mentioned on social networks? A Home Pin is an entry-level pinball machine from Stern Pinball. Regardless the joke, the remark points to the real problem with this pinball machine. If you think about it, the whole problem is its shaky positioning. It seems to be a victim of contradictory constraints:
- Too expensive for the regular buyer
- Not rare enough for collectors (500 copies is a lot)
- Too simple for a “big game” lover
James Bond 60th anniversary seems to be the fruit of bad compromises.
And yet, and this is what is most annoying, it is cut to be one of the best “single level” pinball we have ever known. For alongside Keith Elwin, we find Mark Penacho on the code: Fish Tales, Hurricane, Earthshaker, Elvira and the Party Monsters. Nice list of achievements, isn’t it? Clearly the software, and therefore the game mechanics, should not disappoint.
Will it sell nevertheless? Not sure, in any case we are much less sure than with the previous price increases. Stern may have pushed the envelope too far, either voluntarily or because of its own industrial contradictions.