Talking about “retro” pinball machines without mentioning The Addams Family is a bit like talking about Science-Fiction without mentioning Star Wars. Of course, we’re not talking about the most advanced reference of the subject, but it has at least the merit of having popularized the genre and speaking to everyone.
It is indeed rare to come across a Pinhead who frequented the cafés/bars or game rooms of the 90s who has never laid their hands on this cult machine. A pinball machine that shines in many aspects, whether it is the theme, the design, the toys or the volume of machines produced, in short… TAF (for those who know it well) is the object of all records, of all covetousness but also of all criticism.
So, is it a real masterpiece that has marked history or is it an overpriced, popular machine with undeserved success? This is what we will try to see together today! Let’s gently go back to 1992, the year of choice for pinball. Let’s go, Thing!
“He has my father’s eyes.” – “Gomez, take those out of his mouth.”
In 1991, The Addams Family movie created by Barry Sonnenfeld, based on the novels of Charles Addams was released. The film, with an incredible artistic direction at the time, was a huge commercial success. So, logically enough, Bally stepped into the breach to create a pinball machine on this theme by taking up the codes of the film, namely:
- A universe as horrific as it is beautiful
- Lively music
- Humor, humor, humor
And in fact, the gameplay makes this pinball machine as accessible to everyone as the movie could be. The objective is clear: to surf on the commercial success of the moment to attract as many players as possible through a fun and exciting machine.
Pat Lawlor, a renowned game designer (Earthshaker, WhirlWind and FunHouse are his great successes of this period) is entrusted with this mission. The latter, who is used to creating his own universes, finds himself at the helm of the creation of his very first pinball game based on a popular culture license.
And he was far from suspecting at the time, that he would sign there his greatest success (commercial at least).
As dark as the manor house…
When you say horrific, you could say abundance of dark colors. Visually, to match the atmosphere of the film, Bally doesn’t go easy on us, as they produce an entirely black body! It is surmounted by the logo of the film, lined with blue lightning and hosting in the center, the famous “Thing”, the hand so emblematic of the franchise, which is repeated on the box and on the sides of the front playing with a ball for the occasion. Sober, but effective.
As for the translite, it is incredibly fine in the line of the drawing and we recognize without any difficulty all the actors of the film who pose in front of the emblematic mansion. Linger a few minutes on it to note the many references to the highlights of the film, not to mention the cult objects scattered everywhere.
A little subtlety, Cousin Itt (a sort of Chewbacca) appears in the top left window of the mansion, but in the shadows, only when the dedicated lamp is lit, a bit like a playfield insert. Did you say attention to detail?
Last but not least, the table and its world under glass.
Again, there are so many details present that it would be indigestible to read them all. The most important element, however, is the overall artwork of the board. The latter reflects the importance of bringing legibility to pinball gameplay as it shows you how to play through two main themes: first, it shows the Addams Family mansion, each insert corresponding to a mission.
Then, the rest of the board is separated between the different game phases in which you will have to send your ball:
- The stairs, in the form of decals under the ramps
- The cemetery, at the level of the bumpers
- The library, which hides the entrance to the safe
- The swamp which shelters a huge hole for the ball
- The game room with the Gomez train
- The corridor with the telephone, the knight and the hiding place of “The Thing”
- The famous electric chair
Fun Fact: One of the most famous mods for this pinball machine is to add a Fester Addams figure to this electric chair, usually with a light bulb in the mouth. As nice as this mod is, it doesn’t make any sense in terms of the movie. Fester was never in that chair since it is Pugsley who is chained to it by his sister. The popularity of this mod has led to a lot of variants, although it is a mistake of the creator of the first version.
In short, we are dealing with a clear and well-designed playfield that does not leave room for a possible misinterpretation of the gameplay.
Last visual element to note: A topper (rare enough at the time) and animated. This last one takes the design of a cloud, transparent, which overhangs the roof of the mansion (in the extension of the translite) and is lit by 3 flashes from underneath, thus simulating the lightning of a storm during the phases of multiball games. When I tell you that there is an attention to detail…
Do you want to play a game?!
Now we come to the heart of the matter with THE main point of this pinball machine, its gameplay. And it is finally on this aspect that this machine delivers its full potential. From the very first shots, you can recognize Pat Lawlor’s particular style. It’s lively, precise, the flow is good and you alternate between “stop and go”, ramps, orbits, combos, powerful shots… in short, you feel very quickly that the goal is to have fun while having in your hands a machine demanding enough not to get bored, but permissive enough not to get annoyed.
The gameplay is divided into two main axes:
The first one is related to the mansion located in the middle of the filed described above, each window of the mansion corresponding to a mission. To activate them, all you have to do is send your marble into the hole under the chair (or into the swamp) and complete the corresponding objective. The idea is to get to the top of the mansion by completing enough missions to activate “Tour The Mansion” and thus launch the wizard mode.
It is certainly simple and classic in its approach, but the clarity of the missions, the inserts and the presence of green/yellow/red lights next to the accesses like the chair, the thing or the library allow you to know very quickly what to do and where to send the silver ball.
The second axis of gameplay is located in the library. This one tells you to spell the word “G-R-E-E-D” to open it (this is the name of the fake book that allows the opening of the secret passage to Gomez’ safe in the movie). To do this, you will just have to aim at this bookcase, each ball impact activating a letter. At the end of the 5th letter, the bookcase rotates, giving you access to the safe, a hole allowing you to lock the balls to launch one of the multiballs. As soon as you enter the multiball phase (the famous “Showtime!” yelled by Gomez), magnets hidden under the board will activate simultaneously to send your balls tumbling uncontrollably on the board. A nice way to make this pinball game totally possessed to stick a little more with the theme.
Coupled with these two main axes of gameplay, we find a whole bunch of complementary elements like :
- The letters “THING”, arranged below the screen, to be lit by taking the corresponding ramp;
- The Bear Kick ramp, which uses the “living” Addams carpet in the movie and activates different elements of the board;
- The possibility of activating the “Thing Flip”, the little flipper on the left (following a “lane/ramp” combo), which has the particularity of playing by itself and sending the marble into the swamp. (Bally even dared to talk about AI in thier promotional video at the time, justifying the fact that the game gradually learns to adjust its shooting automatically);
- Gomez’s train crash to activate in the dedicated lane;
- Orbit/ramp combos that allow you to score very high;
- A skill shot, and much more…
And that’s finally the strength of this machine. Once again, if we go back to 1992, it was rare to find a pinball machine as complete with so many features and above all, so accessible and so non-punitive. This explains, in large part, its success in operation and the craze for this pinball machine for some time now, with everyone wanting to find the machine of their “high school years”.
A golden pinball machine
Due to the incredible commercial success of this machine for the time, Bally decided in 1994 to release an edition that would be similar to what we call today a “LE” (Limited Edition) model in the great productions of Stern: The Addams Family Collector’s Edition, more commonly called “Addams Gold”, limited to 1000 copies.
It’s important to understand that at the time, releasing a special edition pinball machine for the collector’s market was not really a common occurrence. This was the golden age of pinball, and most of the machines sold were intended for professionals. In other words, operators, whose goal is to rotate machines in bars, cafés and gaming rooms to keep their business going.
This special edition for home users is a true reflection of the machine’s uniqueness, its impact on the pinball world and its enormous popularity.
So what’s different about this famous “Collector’s Edition”?
- A complete gold armor kit (side rails, lockbar & legs) (note that the gold color of the time was slightly more weathered and matte than most of the very shiny gold kits found today) ;
- The metal railings, gold color;
- Some gold-colored set elements: The pop bumper caps, the bookcase and the box that holds The Thing;
- The bluish tint of the original box decals replaced by a gold color;
- A metal plate on which is noted the version number (from 0001 to 1000), also gold color.
In short, you can easily understand why this version is called “Gold Edition”. Also there is a slight difference in the pattern of the red carpet artwork that leads to the second ramp compared to the classic version.
We also find a slightly modified code to add some more features (a v2 in a way). We have, among other things, animations on the screen, a new title screen and some changes in the missions and in the bonuses allocated that mark the software difference with the original.
Needless to say, this version is currently about as rare and sought after as good taste in a reality show! In other words, if you happen to come across one for sale, you’ll have to shell out a pretty penny to hope to lay your hands on this relic. And for that price, don’t forget to ask for the certificate of authenticity, the original documentation and to check the details mentioned above. Because most of the pieces are currently reproduced identically and it is quite easy to turn a classic Addams into a “fake” Gold Edition Addams.
It’s beautiful, it plays well but what about the animation?
On the DMD side, without being a failure, it is not the strong point of the game. The animations are globally quite poor, especially if you compare them to pinball machines released the same year and which, are equipped with much more polished animations (Creature From The Black Lagoon for example.)
Of course, there are touches of humor that pay tribute to the franchise, such as the marbles that fly into the head of Cousin Itt and some elements that are not without style, such as the animation of the “Thing Flip”. For the rest, it is mostly text, text and more text. Finally, it breaks the overall atmosphere of the pinball machine… Too bad.
On the other hand, the sound is very clean. In spite of the technical constraints of the time, the theme is very well transcribed, the music is pleasant to the ear, the sound effects are well balanced and obviously very fun. As for the call-outs, it would be difficult to do better since they are taken from the film and, moreover, from the two main characters: Morticia and Gomez Addams (played by Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia respectively). On this side, there is nothing to complain about, it completes the picture wonderfully.
It’s quite simple, try asking a forum of enthusiasts what they think of The Addams Family pinball machine and you’ll get the crowd going in much the same way as if you started the debate “For or against the Playfield Protector?”
And the reason behind is based on 2 main arguments:
- The first is its current price. And I have to admit, one can’t really prove the detractors of TAF wrong. There is nothing rational about its current price (editor’s note: this article is written in 2021, and the average selling price of a copy in “correct” condition is close to the price of a new Stern Pro machine). Even less if you consider the number of copies released. It’s quite simple, it’s the most produced pinball machine of all time, and it’s one of the most expensive on the second-hand market… Go figure.
- The second argument is its low gameplay depth, considering its price. And on this aspect, I would put a veto. We are talking about a machine released in 1992 and most of the comparisons that are made are with pinball machines that were released much later.
And this is the heart of the debate that is unleashing the passions. Comparisons, when they are too far apart, are meaningless. A TAF game is played for what it is, for this piece of pop culture history, for its atmosphere, its fidelity to the movie, its toys, its fun and of course a huge nostalgic aspect. It can’t compete with the complex and solid gameplay of a Stern or a current JJP game. But if you put it in comparison with what was being done at the time (I’m talking about the year the machine was released), you can understand the reason for such a commercial success and this master stroke by Pat Lawlor.
As for whether it is worth the price that sellers are asking for it today in view of its qualities? Obviously not, but quite honestly, what machine is really worth the price we put on it today?
Did you know ?
Culture minute on Pinball Mag. ! There are many little anecdotes more or less known around the Addams Family table, here are some of them:
- The Addams Family produced a total of 20,270 units, which still makes it the most produced pinball machine of all time. Let’s be honest, this record will never be beaten, the context of the time justified the impressive production volumes that came out of Bally/Williams, Data East or even Gottlieb production lines.
- Some end-of-production models were hybrid Gold/Classic models due to some mistakes on the assembly lines when Bally was preparing its Collector version: there are thus TAFs whose body is equipped with the decal of the Gold version while the decals of the backbox are the classic blue ones. Apart from this particularity, the rest of the pinball machine is a classic edition and not a collector’s edition.
- The inscription “To open bookcase for shot to vault spell G-R-E-E-D” on the bookcase is, on many models, a sticker that hides the original inscription. For those who have peeled off this sticker, you may have noticed that the original plastic mentions a completely different and completely incomprehensible indication. Pat Lawlor would explain years later that the mass production of the plastic was started before the gameplay testing sessions on the TAF prototypes had even begun. Since most of the players didn’t understand how to open the library, they edited new instructions and glued them to the original plastic before the final machines were assembled.
- There are cheat codes for the TAF pinball, just like in the video games of the time. They can be activated by following a specific combination of keys and allow to display hidden animations (sort of “Easter Eggs”) on the screen. There are two of them for the classic version and one more for the Collector’s Edition. Find’em all!
- When the pinball machine plays the iconic Addams Family theme music at the end of the game or in Attract Mode, the flippers activate themselves with the famous “Tac Tac” sound at the end of the chorus. This little wink is only triggered randomly and will not fail to make the player smile and appreciate, once again, the attention to detail of this machine.
Manufacturer : Bally (Midway Manufacturing Company)
Date of production : March 1992
Theme : Fiction / Licence movie
Type : Solid State / Standard Body
MPU : Williams WPC (Fliptronics 1)
Abreviation : TAF
Units produced: 20,270
TOYS / SPECIAL ITEMS:
The Library: Toy mounted on a rotating disk that counts the number of ball impacts with optos and can be rotated to allow access to a hole that locks the balls.
The Thing: Mechanical hand camouflaged in a box on top of the board and comes to “steal” your ball thanks to a magnet located between its fingers.
The electric chair: Reproduction of the Addams children’s chair under which is located the kickout hole allowing to activate the missions or the multiball. It has two lights on the sides that light up according to the game phases.
“The Power’ magnets: Set of 3 magnets located under the board which are activated to deflect the trajectory of the ball in a totally random way, according to the phases of the game.
NOTABLE FEATURES :
- Flippers (4)
- Pop bumpers (5)
- Slingshots (2)
- Standup targets (11)
- Rampss (2)
- Diverter (1)
- Kick-out holes (2)
- Multiball (3 billes)
TECHNICAL AND ARTISTIC TEAM :
Mechanics: John Krutsch
Software: Larry DeMar, Mike Boon
Artwork: John Youssi
Sound: Chris Granner
Music: Chris Granner
Dots/Animation: Scott Slomiany