I have an unexplained affection for this pinball machine. It must strike a chord with my early childhood. The pleasure of playing with a wrecking ball, perhaps? So let’s talk about the Junk Yard pinball machine, which I recently rediscovered in a bar deep in the Dordogne, but also in its Zen Studios video game version.
A pinball machine with a landfill theme: that was a daring move!
Here is the pitch: you have to collect objects in a dump to build a spacecraft. You are helped in your quest by a demon and an angel who will contradict each other on the materials to collect. Angels don’t normally have sex but Williams allows itself a lot of freedom with this machine, as you will read.
You will also be able to go back in time thanks to a magic bus and accomplish missions inspired by the iconic pinball machines of the manufacturer Williams. Oh, I forgot: you’ll have to escape from a ferocious dog, and then knock it out with toasts to save the delicate calves of a woman who’s just out of her bath.
But… But what… What? What was Barry Oursler smoking when he put the script to paper? And at Williams in 1996, we let a completely messed up story go through without batting an eyelid? Aren’t we confusing originality with hallucinogenic delirium? Wasn’t it time to stop working on original themes and start working on licenses that give a framework worked by professional scriptwriters?
This pinball leads me to the following iconoclastic thought : don’t we care about the theme? If I come to appreciate a pinball game with a concept that has no head or tail, it makes me relativize the importance I give it. The gameplay always wins.
While searching the net, I found the synopsis: you are an inventor locked up in Crazy Bob’s dump, under guard since Spike, your nemesis’ hound, bites your hocks at the slightest opportunity.
I’m feeling like a wrecking ball!
A pinball machine recommended by Miley Cyrus! The main toy is a wrecking ball, hanging a few millimeters from the playfield. You’ll have to hit it during some missions and it will deliberately interfere with the access to the hole and the targets at the upper part of the board.
This is a particularly pleasing accessory: by swinging, it makes the trajectories chaotic as it deflects the ball(s). However, the whole thing is still playable because the interactions are done at a reasonable enough pace to anticipate the changes of direction. A perfect balance of originality and simplicity.
The second innovation of this toy: to trigger the multiball, you have to hit the wrecking ball so that it hits the cars arranged in an arc above the fixed targets. Each collision lights up a letter of the word M-U-L-T-I-B-A-L-L. Once the word is completed, the ball rises, making it easier to shoot towards the central hole, which then starts the action.
A trashy pinball scenario
As I wrote above, the main scenario is to collect garbage in the dump. There are several ways to do this:
- get some with the skill shot, if you dose your shot skillfully
- Succeed in the video modes
- aim at the ramps when the right insert is on
Waste materials (hair dryer, toaster, bicycle wheels, fishbowl…) combine in pairs to become unlikely objects:
- A toast throwing gun
- a radar
- an old jalopy
- a submarine
- a flying machine
Each invention gives access to an adventure. Successful completion of the missions grants fireworks. What does this have to do with anything, you may ask? The connection is the mushrooms we used to take in the 90’s, don’t look any further.
These fireworks are nevertheless important for the wizard mode (the final goal).
Space Wizard Mode
After going through 4 adventures and collecting all the necessary items, you’ll launch your Frankenstein’s contraption into space to fight Crazy Bob. But what is a dump manager doing in space? Boah, we’re not there anymore, take that as a given.
The Wizard mode brings 4 balls into the scene with which you will aim the 5 “shots” that the game offers. Any lost ball will be returned to you as the autofire (the local name for the shoot again) is lit continuously, until you run out of the famous fireworks you collected during the previous adventures. The number of firecrackers also determines the bonus you get before the mission starts.
Junk Yard: a tribute to Williams’ hits
The cuckoo clock, one of the items to collect, triggers a different type of objective. By aiming at the ramp of the magic bus, you travel back in time! Yes oh, why not?
On the Dot Matrix Display, the current date is replaced by another date. This one is randomly chosen among 5 values, positioned a few months after the commercial launches of some major pinball machines of the Williams era. Some people think that the dates correspond to the end of production of the machines, but this is not certain. For each one, Junk Yard borrows a mission inspired by the corresponding themes:
- January 13, 1993 – Move your Car – Creature From the Black Lagoon
- August 31, 1991 – Payback Time – Terminator 2
- December 14, 1992 – The Mamushka – The Addams Family
- October 31, 1995 – Saucer Attack – Attack From Mars
Don’t expect to hear the call-outs of the games, these are forged, most probably for licensing reasons.
The secret reference
“Who are we kidding? We are advertised 5 pinball machines as references, and only 4 are listed. Pay off our free article!”
We didn’t lie, there is indeed a fifth reference. Dated February 14, 1999, it is entitled “Knight Mission”, and has nothing to do with the Black Knight pinball series. Dwight Sullivan, who collaborated with Barry Oursler, refuted this hypothesis a long time ago.
But then, which pinball machine is it? Remember that Junk Yard was released in 1996, so the designers anticipated a future that didn’t happen. And at that time, Williams’ new products were released at a much faster pace than Stern Pinball’s today. So there is little chance that a pinball machine that was already being designed and then cancelled has be mentioned here.
A subliminal message from the designers to their management? Like “we want a new Black Knight from Steve Ritchie” or “fire Ritchie, we can do better on his license”? Or a joke that history won’t remember? Contact us if you have any information.
A playfield less original than the theme
The structure of the playfield is much less crazy than its subject, which is perhaps the reason for the balance of the whole. The main toy is at the bottom of the board, the ramps and other shots more or less fanning out around it. A format close to a “fan layout” as we say in the pinball slang.
The result is a clear centerboard and fairly easy trajectories, with each target accessible from either the left or right beater. The “sewer” is the exception, with a slightly more delicate angle without being insurmountable.
The only originality of the structure comes from the initial shot: the shooter rod propels the ball through a spinner which triggers the skill shot bonus. It then goes into a tunnel that makes it reappear on a short ramp serving the left flipper. It surprises the first time!
An artwork to throw away ?
It should not be forgotten that the artwork on the playfield has above all a practical function, that of clearly indicating to the player what one must do. On this point, the Junky Yard table is particularly explicit.
But on the aesthetic level, there is something to be said for the fact that the objects to be assembled are presented on a “blue print”, i.e. graph paper on a blue background, which is totally consistent with the fact that you are an engineer. But this blue flatness and the outlines of the objects drawn in white do not help the reading. Moreover, this area is not very colorful and does not match with the top of the playfield, which is more colorful.
Finally, and this is a completely subjective opinion, I don’t like the rendering of the characters or objects, even if the backglass seems to me more successful than the tray. The box decals and this logo remind me of the bad graffiti my buddies were trying to do in the 90s. It’s consistent with the theme, again, but it’s not very nice. On the other hand, who has ever seen a beautiful dump?
A pinball machine that doesn’t get everyone’s approval
Some consider it underrated, one of those dormant nuggets that will one day be worth a small fortune, others find it no better than the garbage it’s about. Here’s what comes up most in the negatives:
- A playfield that is too empty in the middle
- A code often described as unbalanced
- A game that does not offer enough challenge to skilled players
- A theme that lacks coherence (no wonder)
On the positive side:
- A theme that you find yourself enjoying, once you get past the initial incomprehension
- The wrecking ball, one of the best toys in the history of pinball
- Various and nice video modes
Personally, I always come back to it with pleasure, in any form whatsoever. It’s one of my crushes that I won’t try to justify.