This last Stern will have been the talk of the town! Sometimes Venom, sometimes Jaws, we even evoke Master of the Universe or sometimes an Ozzy Osbourne pinball machine (so much his participation on the Stern Pinball booth at the last San Diego Comic Con had left everyone doubtful…).
And even though the possibility of a James Bond pinball machine had already been mentioned, the least we can say is that Stern is having fun muddying the waters until the last moment.
But no matter, it’s official since September 06, 2022: It is indeed the license of the most famous secret agent who has the right to his own playfield for the… Third time! And the no less famous George Gomez (Monster Bash, Lord Of The Ring, Deadpool…) is the game designer.
After Gottlieb’s James Bond released in 1980 and Sega’s Golden Eye released in 1996, Stern tries this time to deliver its own version of this license through a machine that breaks a bit the codes of his last productions.
If we haven’t (yet) had the opportunity to lay our hands on the latest creation of the Chicago firm, we have at least the same information as you to make a first opinion.
Of course, this is a preview, so some elements should be taken with a pinch of salt.
And as usual at Pinball Mag. this one will be completed with a full test to give us a definitive opinion on this pinball machine, as soon as we will be able to test it.
The local boy…
Let’s skip the leaks that have become a quasi ceremonial for each new machine release (whether it’s Stern or not) and let’s linger for a few minutes on the reveal that has been somewhat changed, due to current events.
After a more than minimalist teaser posted on September 06 on the social networks called “Shaking Soon”, Stern announced in the wake more or less officially its new production through an event in which they regularly participate: The IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions).
Indeed, the firm had the rather judicious idea to present its new baby on the native land of the hero in a tuxedo: England. As the 2022 edition took place in London, the event was the perfect place for a symbolic reveal of their new machine.
Unfortunately, the death of Queen Elizabeth II has disrupted the daily life of the entire English population, and it is therefore with a perfectly logical and understandable respect that Stern decided, the day before its official announcement, to postpone it by one week in order not to encroach on the national mourning.
The first pictures taken during the preparation of the booth kept us in suspense until the following week, when we are entitled to our usual trailer:
What if we take the best of James Bond?
If the actors chosen to play the role of good old James are always subject to debate among fans on “who is the best James Bond?”, there is one who generally puts everyone in agreement: Sean Connery!
A true icon of the cinema, the Scottish actor embodied the class and elegance that still characterize the MI6 agent. Good news, Stern decided to offer this version of James Bond for its new toy. Let’s not sulk in our pleasure and let’s bet that this choice will leave less room for debate than if he had chosen Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan…
Besides, the choice of such a license for Stern’s second corner stone is rather judicious. There are not many releases this year and if their previous model, Rush, was a pleasant surprise, we have to admit that the overabundance of musical pinballs these last years (Guns & Roses, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Queen…) ends up becoming tiresome. It does not always satisfy most pinheads, not to mention the musical style, generally “rock” oriented, which does not necessarily please everyone.
After a critically acclaimed risk-taking through Godzilla (their last production apart from musical pinballs), Stern returns to a slightly safer license through James Bond. The theme guarantees a sufficiently rich, varied and popular universe to allow players to find what they want.
But it is necessary to catch their eye from the start…
An artwork that doesn’t trigger mass hysteria
And that’s where the problem lies! Let’s not be afraid to say it, the general visuals do not arouse enthusiasm. If the theme is a good idea, its implementation on the body is based on the posters of the time. The result is inevitably a bit “flashy”.
Yes, this kind of vintage poster is very nice when framed on the wall of your living room, but it’s another story on a complete pinball artwork…
So we find for the Pro version, a very flashy design based on the theme of the movie “James Bond vs Dr No” (“Dr No” in its original version) released in 1962:
As for the Premium version, it has the right to the most questionable version of the artwork since it is rather caricatural in its approach. It is the movie “You only live twice” (“On ne vit que deux fois” in its original version), released in 1967.
And finally, the Limited Edition is probably the one that wins all the votes since it is, without any doubt, the most successful. It is based on the legendary “Operation Thunderball”, released in 1965.
If these boxes, if not horrible, all look like a patchwork of kitsch visuals of the films (but coherent with the licence), the playfield would almost remind us of The Sopranos pinball in the choice of colors and the layout of the artworks. Of course, the exercise of putting on the same set a range of the 6 Sean Connery’s movies is not easy, but it is subject to debate. Is it beautiful? Not beautiful? It’s all subjective and we let you make up your own mind.
After Zombie Yeti’s masterpiece on Godzilla or Rush’s steampunk universe, we feel like we’re going back a few years and that there is no great artistic coherence (I’m talking about the board’s artwork), which is so essential to the player’s appropriation of a machine.
Let’s not fool ourselves though, it wouldn’t be the first time in the pinball industry that a machine with a perfectible look turned out to be a real little nugget in game.
Moreover, there is a good chance that the choice of license will erase this aspect as it is known and appreciated by all. The risk is therefore relatively small and, with equal machines, players will most certainly go for a James Bond rather than a Rush (at least in Europe).
Note also that a “James Bond 007 60th Anniversary Limited Edition” model is also planned as a 4th version. However, this last one (supposedly designed by Keith Elwin), will have nothing to do with the models presented here. This version would be more classic in its gameplay and would deal with about twenty films. All this is conditional and we will dedicate an article to it as soon as it is officially released.
The gameplay of the James Bond’s pinball
If it’s always complicated to talk about gameplay in a preview since we haven’t had the chance to launch some balls on this new machine, we can at least dwell on the toys and other game mechanics that make it up.
From a general point of view, we are dealing with a rather unstructured board with many different elements, each one scattered by “zone” according to the movie from which it is taken. If this approach, without being innovative, is generally quite pleasant to play, it remains to be seen if the flow is satisfying as the toys seem to call for precision and finesse.
For both versions we find :
- two sets of ramps,
- 3 flippers,
- a main toy “missile” accessible behind drop targets,
- a vertical up kicker hidden in an Aston Martin replica,
- a scoop hidden behind an underwater scene,
- a ball lock in the right lane
- and the traditional fixed targets, bumpers, slingshots…
The Premium and LE versions, as usual, will have a few extras, some of which bring additional gameplay mechanics. Thus, on these versions we find 3 “big” features:
The first is the presence of a jetpack attached to the back panel by means of a mechanical arm. It magnetizes a ball in play. The purpose will likely be to make it fall on the target present on a Tank, also absent from the pro version.
The second feature is located at the level of the “launching ramp” of the missile. If, on the pro version, this is only a decorative element, on this version it is a camouflaged kicker, which propels your ball in an additional ramp. According to the video, this is also where the balls for the corresponding multiball are locked.
And finally, the most dispensable feature (or at least the one that remains the least clear in its functioning at the moment), is this underwater scene that is not only, as on the pro version, a simple artwork on plastic but a kind of mobile diorama that simulates a fight between our secret agent and an enemy.
Will this scene evolve during the game or is it just a mobile set? We will see all this in our future test.
If these elements are obviously pretty, we can’t wait to understand their impact on the gameplay as they seem to be relatively “slow” in their movements.
To be continued…
Where? When? How much?
Once again, your favorite magazine had prepared the ground for you by announcing here a few months ago an upcoming increase on the next release of Stern, despite the invective of some members of the community (gamers or professionals for that matter…) who were screaming fake news…
But as good old Ian Malcolm would say in Jurassic Park :
Because yes, unfortunately (but without much surprise either), the sales prices of the new Stern productions are increasing a little more, making the entry ticket for a pro model a little more expensive. Here are the prices to pay for one of the 3 versions available for this James Bond:
- Pro Edition: $6,999
- Premium Edition: $9,699
- Limited Edition: $12,999
NB: European public prices are not yet officially known, so we will not fantasize about hypothetical sums and will wait for the information from the French importer. These are the US public prices, in dollars, which are mentioned (and therefore subject to import fees, exchange rates etc.).
From the editors’ point of view, the opinion is rather uniform: even if this latest production is a bit different from the market leader’s habits, it is still excellent news. This second corner stone 2022 tackles a theme with an almost universal appeal, tinged with nostalgia through a playfield which, if not unanimously approved by the artwork, suggests dynamic games with interesting game mechanics through original toys.