You, young Pinhead, should know that there was a time when almost every other pinball game was not based on a license.
An unlicensed pinball game was often based on a codified lore. “Lore” is a term often used in video games to explain the world in which the story takes place (for example: the magical universe around the Harry Potter saga). To give some examples of pinball lore:
- The medieval fantasy theme of Medieval Madness (princess, dragon, trolls, Merlin…)
- The old-fashioned conjuring tricks from Theatre of Magic
- The alien invasion in Attack From Mars (saucer, green martians, American army)
Tales of the Arabian Nights (TOTAN) is part of this use of generic universes, whose references are shared by the whole western world.
The tales of a thousand and one nights
Here we are, transported to a fantasy Middle East that will constitute the material of the playfield and its toys:
- a malevolent blue genie
- a magic lamp
- a snake to charm
- a princess both captive and looking like a belly dancer
- a bazaar
- a flying carpet
And so on…
All the clichés of the world of Aladdin are found on the board. But the cultural references must be seen, reviewed and assimilated for them to have the same strength as a juicy license.
A little history: the tales of the Thousand and One Nights are a compilation of popular tales of Persian (present-day Iran), Indian and Arab origins.
All this to say that cultural appropriation is not new, that it is part of the evolution of civilizations. And our little Williams pinball machine is only an emanation of it, caricatured certainly, but anecdotal.
Princess, here I come!
The story told by this pinball machine does not break the bank: you must save the princess that the evil genie has locked in a bottle. To do this, you must succeed in seven tales from the 1001 nights:
- Sinbad fighting some kind of gigantic eagles called Rocs, or Rokhs
- Ali Baba and his famous “Sesame” to spell
- Flying Horse (mechanical flying horse) to find among five nags
- Scheherazade whose name you have to spell (easier in the game than in real life)
- A Camel Race to win
- Ride a Flying Carpet with which you have to escape the 40 thieves
- A Cyclops that you have to defeat by throwing a big rock in their eye
Each completed quest gives you a jewel. Collecting seven of them will give you access to the Wizard Mode. This one consists of defeating an army of skeletons the genie summons and thus free the princess.
So much for the main scenario.
Sesame, let me see your pretty toys
This is a generous playfied according to the criteria of 2022, but classic according to those of 1996, the year it was released. Two toys stand out.
The genie of TOTAN
A big blue genie sits at the top of the playfield. Hitting him with the ball triggers a magnet at his foot that grabs and traps the ball. An animation linked to one of the tales is played on the display, and the associated mission begins.
Otherwise, hitting the genie spells G-E-N-I-E will light the locks and gives access to a 3 ball multiball. You will have to hit the toy again to get the jackpots, I’ll skip the details. I don’t like that, details.
This genie is a class act, he imposes. Contrary to the above-mentioned details, I like it.
The magic lamp
This object, taking even more space on the playfield, is both enjoyable and frustrating.
Fun because you have to rotate the lamp on itself. Each semi-rotation lights up a small blue light on the board. On the 14th, “Make a Wish” becomes available in the scoop.
The wish in question is a kind of crazy shortcut that allows you to succeed in the current mission without further formality. It offers a biased choice between two options, because you must systematically choose the jewel that makes you advance towards the rescue of the damsel in distress.
Moreover, turning the charm generates a nice bonus of points. So much for the fun part.
On the other hand, it is often reproached to break the flow, by its imposing character and its location almost in the center of the board. It hinders the shots towards the genie from the right flipper. It hinders the access and even the visibility of the targets placed behind it.
Finally, it requires careful maintenance to limit as much as possible the friction that would prevent the lamp from turning properly on itself.
In short, one cannot imagine TOTAN without its magic lamp, but one cannot help but think that designer John Popadiuk has only partially succeeded.
The last toy, if you can call it that, is a plate with three holes representing three snake baskets. Before the ball is launched, the DMD screen will tell you which basket to aim at by dosing the power of your ball launcher. If you miss, the snake bites you. If you don’t, you get the skillshot points and the possibility to follow up with the Super Skillshot, which is just aiming at the ramp.
I don’t like the dosing with the shooters, the precision exercises make me sick. Nevertheless, I would say that the exercise is of a well dosed difficulty. I read some reviews that found the result hazardous. I guess there are more Low Score Pinball Wizards than me!
One ramp, or three, it’s up to you
An amazing feature of this pinball machine is that it has only one ramp entrance. This then splits to distribute the ball on three different ramp ends.
Depending on the strength of the shot, the ball already has two options. With a hard shot, the ball will travel through the whole transparent vortex and will leave one in the two exits that I will explain below. With a soft shot, the ball will travel down a winding plastic ramp that will exit to the right flipper.
With a hard shot, and depending on the sequence of play, a magnet will be activated to direct the ball either to a metal ramp diagonally to the right flipper or to a plastic ramp that serves the left flipper.
Striking similarities with Theatre of Magic
John, John… It’s not good to be a lazy bum! It’s obvious that you’ve pumped a ton of mechanics from your previous success!
The most obvious copy/paste is the magnetic ring that grabs the ball above the ramp. It is nothing less than the Magic Ring from Theatre of Magic in a horizontal position.
In addition, a magnet is located under the tray at the entrance to the left and right outlanes. These shooting stars save the ball like… The Magna Save from Theatre of Magic!
With a very soft shot towards the ramp, the silver ball can leave it, generating a secret marble lock. Just like behind the Theatre of Magic Trunk!
At the start of each game, you can choose the first tale to succeed with the left flipper. A mechanism that we will also find on… I dare not say.
And tell me, isn’t there a captive marble sometimes? Like on… No, I’ll stop.
Of course, these commonalities will also be found on other machines, but not in such large numbers. On the other hand, the differences between the two games outweigh the similarities, so we’ll pass.
Tales of the Arabian Nights: too easy?
Like many mythical pinball games of the golden age, TOTAN is reproached for its too simple code, but also for its ease. Indeed, we are not talking about deep gameplay like Jurassic Park, but personally, this is what makes me appreciate it.
As for its easiness, I have to admit that the criticism is legitimate. The “Make a Wish” feature allows you to complete a mission without finishing it. Too convenient, right?
Moreover, a mission started continues from one ball to the next. This is a simple and attractive idea for beginners!
A pinball machine for visiting friends
So, this table is easy. But above all, its rules are easy to understand. As such, it will always be preferred by casual players.
Moreover, the layout, although imperfect, makes it a simple machine without being seen and seen again (Netflix Stranger Things by Stern, I’m looking at you).
So this is a good pinball machine that will grace your gameroom. Nevertheless, plan to supplement with a more demanding machine if you play a lot and are not in the Low Score Pinball Wizard category.
If you like the TOTAN game but want to refresh it and give it richer rules, Mirco sells a mod called TOTAN 2.0. But expensive.