John Wick Pinball | Stern Pinball | Preview

Having barely recovered from the (very good) surprise of the Jaws pinball at the start of 2024, Stern Pinball is back at it again for its traditional spring release, with yet another film. This time, however, the world’s leading manufacturer is taking a step back from its retro classics and tackling a recent franchise as cult as it is controversial: John Wick.

A true homage to action films with scripts that fit on postage stamps for some, an unwatchable nonsense for others, a series of totally unknown films for the latter, in short… Suffice it to say that Stern’s choice of this license is even more divisive than usual.

And to make no secret of it, we at the editorial team are just as divided, for a whole host of reasons, some of which have already shaken the flippo-sphere in recent days. Because this new release is generating a lot of buzz, but not all of it for good reasons.

So let’s take a closer look at this John Wick pinball preview, and form our first opinion on the release of this machine.

He stole John Wick’s car, sir, and, uh… He killed his dog.

If you’re not familiar with the John Wick film series, I’ll try to sum it up for you in a few lines:

A repentant former hitman sees his wife die of a disease. At the same time, thugs in the pay of a local crook steal his car (which he cherishes almost as much as his wife) and kill his dog (which he considered his wife’s last memento). He decides to take revenge, wiping out the entire mafia with a full-calibre beating in action scenes worthy of a 90s action movie finale.

Violence, gore, fun… it doesn’t require any cerebral effort to capture the very essence of the film.

And the icing on the cake is that the famous John Wick is played by Keanu Reeves, and we love Keanu Reeves (yes, everyone does, it’s a fact!).

john wick 2 laffiche

All this to say that if you haven’t seen these films, watch them (at least the first one), you won’t have a bad time anyway. Unless you swear by auteur films, but then… there’s not much we can do for you.

That said, when Stern announced the release of a pinball machine based on this franchise, we were excited for several reasons:

  • It’s a recent movie license (the last one of the same ilk dates back to 2017 with Guardians of the Galaxy)
  • It’s an original theme, less fashionable than previous ones (which is also a double-edged sword, as we’ll see later)
  • It’s not a musical pinball machine
  • It’s not a Marvel pinball game or one based on another Disney franchise

BUT (yes, because there is a “but” …), we all agree that to make a beautiful world under glass and imagine attractive toys, you need a universe that’s rich enough or has a very specific identity, so that transposing it onto a pinball board has a “wow” effect from the very first glance. And that’s perhaps where the problem lies with John Wick…

Because even if the films are good, they’re still films in which the cult scenes often take place at night, in a dark universe with a fairly “classic” artistic style for action movies: guys shooting at each other, that’s all.

So, apart from a few elements specific to the franchise, such as the arsenal of guns and the famous Ford Mustang Mach 1 (in fact, there are several variants, but they’re all Ford Muscle Cars), well… there’s not much to make this series of films recognizable among so many others.

And let’s talk about the guns that are omnipresent in the saga!

John Woke…

As I was saying, the saga’s own universe isn’t necessarily the most lavish of action films, and unlike certain classics in the genre such as Terminator, Mad Max, Matrix or even Rambo, there aren’t many striking visual elements to remind us of John Wick. But at the very least, there’s John’s arsenal, which he’s cemented in a basement stash. Quite simply, the guy’s as well-equipped as a whole regiment and is a one-man tribute to the 2nd Amendment!

Except that… it’s a case of bad taste. No weapons on the playfield, not in toys, not in the artwork, not at all… Just a few bladed weapons, including the katanas used in the 3rd and 4th movies.

Flipper John Wick Stern Pinball Plateau details 1
Duh? Where are the guns?

George Gomez later indicated that this was an explicit request from Lionsgate not to include such elements on the machine’s fixed visuals (although weapons are visible in the scenes that appear on screen). One might legitimately ask “what’s the point of choosing this license then?”. Perhaps to make the machine more accessible to a younger audience? Be that as it may, this choice does not leave us indifferent, and does not, unfortunately, pay tribute to what the film really is.

Is it just me, or does it look cheap?

Let’s talk about the visuals now. First of all, the various box and backglass artworks are all pretty much of the same standard. Prettier than the ones of James Bond games, but less polished than a creation by Zombie Yeti.

That’s just as well, because we’re always saying that we don’t want to see Zombie Yeti everywhere, so let’s not sulk. Even if the graphic style isn’t the most incredible we’ve ever seen, it’s still quite honest (considering, once again, the visual poverty of the film’s own universe. This is very much in evidence on the Premium version, which is by far the blandest…).

As for the artwork on the playfield, it’s consistent and, all in all, quite pretty. The actors are clearly recognizable, and we’d rather see drawn reproductions than a silly Photoshop patchwork. There’s nothing to say about that.

Flipper John Wick Stern Pinball Plateau

But as for the rest, ouch… While the world under glass seems quite rich (even if, once again, the film’s cult elements are used to make toys, like the Continental Hotel…), the video rendering looks a little cheap as soon as the ball is rolling.

It’s certainly provided, but it doesn’t exude solidity. And the “toy” look of the few moving toys, such as the blood marker, the car or the weapons cache, reminds us of old Stern productions like Soprano. It’s well-stocked, but it rattles all over the place, vibrating and moving as soon as the marble rolls by. So much so that we hope an airball won’t come along and smash all these little plastic accessories to smithereens, held together only by hinges that look as fragile as a vegan in winter…

Then there’s the choice of green convolux on a tangle of plastic representing New York City, supposed to represent the night lights. And once again, it feels like we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to find the right visual element to slip onto the playfield as a reminder of the franchise.

Flipper John Wick Stern Pinball Convolux

The soundtrack features call-outs by actor Ian McShane (Winston in the film) and music composed by Charles Lee Benante, drummer with Trash Metal band Anthrax.

Asymmetrical gameplay?

The least we can say, however, is that the packed is packed and unstructured. Once you’ve got past the potentially bad impression of the toys, the rest of the playfield is a joy to behold!

It’s absolutely jam-packed with things to do! So much so, in fact, that we spend our time pausing the Gomez and Sexton presentation video to make sure we understand the game mechanics being explained. Judge for yourself:

  • The almost central bash toy is the famous Ford Mustang, which can be hit from the front, but also from the side when it blocks the entrance to the Continental Hotel, or from behind using a ramp that propels the ball behind its back. Quite original.
  • The blood marker is more of a gimmick, opening as the ball passes through in certain missions.
  • The weapon cover opens as the ball passes by, revealing a hole for launching contracts for each faction in the John Wick universe.
  • A ball is held captive at the entrance to the hotel (and hidden from time to time by the famous Mustang).
  • The tangle of ramps corresponding to each of the saga’s major characters seems rather well thought-out and well-stocked, allowing for unexpectedly accurate shots.
  • The one and only bumper present acts as a “zone” in its own right, hosting the multiball that falls directly on it and representing, through the fixed targets that line it, the Red Circle nightclub. Another cult location in the saga. Why not?

As for the rest, there are a number of innovations that we’ll be glad to dissect once we’ve got our hands on the machine, to see for ourselves how interesting they really are.

Flipper John Wick Stern Pinball plateau hotel 1

Soberly entitled “Dynamic Game Mode System”, it contains several concepts:

  • The first is based on the principle of enemies (or bots) in an action game, promising a different visual action (on the main screen) depending on whether you send your ball to one place or another, or whether you shoot when a mini insert is lit, or when several are lit, etc. The idea is to give the impression that you’re fighting one or more enemies in a different way each time you play, making the player an actor in the game. The idea is to give the impression that you’re fighting one or more enemies in a different way each time, making the player an actor in what happens on screen.
  • The second feature makes use of Stern Insider Connected, allowing players to challenge each other on their scores and progress, as well as receiving “contracts” via their smartphones. In other words, challenges that you have to solve while playing the game, once you’ve accepted the contract in the hope of being the first to succeed and (we imagine) establishing yourself as the best bounty hunter on the scoreboard.

While this may not revolutionize the world of pinball, it does at least offer a touch of innovation. It remains to be seen whether the game is worth the candle, or whether the concept takes on a life of its own in the early days, ending up as a false good idea. To be continued.

In any case, we can’t say that John Wick is just an empty table. So cheap or not, ugly or not, there’s plenty to do!

How many contracts to complete to afford it?

As usual, the market leader offers us 3 editions: Pro, Premium and Limited, each with its own visual and gameplay differences (for the Pro). This, of course, affects the price. Even if, for once, the differences in terms of gameplay are fairly limited between the Pro and Premium/Limited editions.

Prices should be in the same ballpark as Jaws.

So what do we think of all this?

Well, it’s not very clear!

Because even if the choice of license seems to be a good idea at first glance, the visual realization doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

The world under glass isn’t awful, but it’s certainly too lacking in originality to have any real impact on the player (far from the shark that pops out from under the boat in Jaws game, for example).

As for the game’s mechanics, they’re as intriguing as they are suspicious of their real interest once in play. For our part, we’re waiting with curiosity, without being impatient either.

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

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