Come, come, come, Pinheads, come sit your asses around this improvised campfire so I can tell you about the exploits of a community! Not ours, not from the pinball world, but from the ring!
So at this point, I realize that when you put it like that, you wonder how this intro will turn out. Besides, I can already see some of you thinking that it will end up around the asshole again! But no way, young ladies and gentlemen. Oh yes… so by the way, fuck wokism, I always use ladies and gentlemen because it’s cool. And yes! My jokes and my references are to be classifiedin the perfectly assumed cheesy. Anyway, in what… thirty, forty years my generation is exhausted and the world will be then to the frail and all the offended avatars that they will have generated and we, from where we will be, we will have a good laugh… or not!
Why am I telling you this? Well, because I’m going to talk about dwarfs and not short people; because I’m going to talk about half-molded old people who can only count up to three, and even then backwards, and I’m not going to talk about people with reduced mobility and loss of autonomy whose cognitive faculties are impaired; because I’m going to talk about big, ugly and crazy orcs and not about a minority that exceeds the ordinary measure of the mass, enjoying an alternative beauty but having an atypical neuro tendency; and that we’re going to kill a lot of animals because giant spiders and wargs are not cool and if you think it’s cool, you can take them home!
As you can see, this test is for big girls and big boys! It’s the augmented reality of the 80’s right in your face!
So ! It’s not every day that we put our hands on a Jersey Jack Pinball machine, especially on the Hobbit one, and even more so when it’s the Smaug version, that is to say the most high-end version from the manufacturer. I know that the purists will cry lèse majesté because it is not strictly speaking the community of the ring from the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien but the Hobbit still from the work of J.R.R Tolkien. Between us, I liked the idea and it made my intro and I do what I want after all! And you saw that I didn’t even talk about assholes! Uh… except for this one… oh shit…
Well, now that I’ve put my shotgun in “fragile generation”, I’m also going to put my finesse and sensibility to blur the lines of the box in which people would like to put me: am I a big bully with a near zero empathy or a utopian poet warrior who fights idealists turned ideologists?
In fact, I’m a very sensitive person and even if it’s not your case, you won’t remain insensitive to the artwork of this Hobbit version of Smaug. Let’s say it clearly : it’s a beauty !
So you’re going to tell me: “easy with Peter Jackson’s adaptation, we already have a good graphic base!” It’s not wrong! But ! The tour de force of JJP, that we will find on the playfield, is the integration of the theme. Indeed, to have an excellent graphic base does not engage for as much a success in term of finalized object.
But here, from the legs to the topper (optional by Elite topper) it is a real success! Everything is golden! The feet, side rails, hinges and lockbar are all made of the precious yellow metal jealously guarded by Smaug in Erebor, once owned by the powerful dwarves. But, detail that has its importance, the finish is hammered recalling the blows of hammers in the mines and forges once active.
A sense of detail that is found in the front panel, especially in the integration of the gigantic LCD screen, a trademark of JJP, the same one that pushed the leader Stern to switch to LCD and no longer to DMD.
A magnificent integration executed with a golden runic border, proof of power and refinement of the dwarves, surrounds the screen and offers a high-end finish! Honestly, when the pinball machine is on, it’s a blast! It’s certainly one of the most beautiful back boxes I’ve ever seen. If some of you have already had the chance to see the Pinball Brothers Alien pinball machine in action, we are clearly at that level or even a step above. In my opinion, the integration of the speakers is better managed on the JJP machine.
The box is not left behind even if it is more classic: Smaug on one side and on the other, the quality of the decals is top but not mind-blowing.
Overall the machine is a little nugget straight out of Erebor! Nothing is more beautiful except maybe the Arkenstone…
A kingdom under the empty mountain?
It’s all well and good to make a beautiful cabinet, but what does it look like on the playfield? As you know, at Pinball Mag. even if we are lent the machines, we always give you transparent and honest information. And the first time I saw this widebody, two thoughts came to my mind: it’s empty, it’s beautiful!
It doesn’t look empty for long and it’s not that true. Indeed, its widebody side allows to embark four traps with each one a toy to bash in the medieval madness sauce: the orc chief Azog, a goblin, a spider (dirty beast) and a warg (dirty beast too!).
The feeling of emptiness is more due to its architecture that leaves the center open than to an objective reality. There are :
- 11 drop targets
- 3 bumpers including 2 toy bumpers
- 2 ramps
- 2 up kickers
- 2 holes
- a diverter
- 2 slingshot toys
- 10 fixed targets
- one captive ball with target
- 3 beaters
- 2 spinners
- an imposing electro-mechanical Smaug
- 4 rollovers
- 2 magnets
- some scenery elements
- and a book-shaped screen with information that complements the main LCD.
So basically… It’s loaded but only on paper. This playfield is finally airy, surprising and I particularly like that on a pinball machine.
As for him, the artwork of the board without surprise is very faithful to the saga. By using the graphics of the movies it brings a slight immersion in the theme. Because, if there is a weak point in the whole set, it is in my opinion, a world under glass a little weak which is compensated here by the addition of well chosen mods. However, don’t get me wrong, the immersion in the atmosphere of the movies is total but it doesn’t necessarily come from the board itself!
Welcome to the Shire: an unexpected immersion
So where does this unique atmosphere and immersion come from, that every pinhead who had the pleasure to put his hands on this pinball machine talks about?
Well, in my opinion, from three things:
- The first one is obviously the images of the movies. The sequences are numerous, well chosen and the size of the screen in full HD reinforces the spectacular scenes. Moreover, let us note, as since the beginning, an excellent graphic integration of the animations and the layout realized by the teams of JJP.
- The second one is the light show which is sober but efficient. It serves the game and does not make any human in good physical condition become a school case of West syndrome. That was before JJP confused the light show with the tuning show and turned its machines into real power plants visible from the ISS. Legend has it that an astronaut saw the machines being tested while flying over Chicago… To be verified.
- And the third one, which, even if I mention it last, is for me the most important: the sound design coupled with the audio equipment. This deserves a little more attention because it is without a doubt the strongest point of this pinball machine, along with its gameplay, which we’ll see next.
The Smaug version embarks 7 speakers with a real definition in the bass in particular to deliver you a unique sound experience. It’s clearly an ambient pinball that plays loud and envelops you in the universe of the Shire as cinematically described by Peter Jackson. The music is excellent, you can’t get enough of it, the actors’ voices literally plunge us into the action (even if I want to put a buckshot in Gandalf who puts us under a lot of pressure with his countdown) and the sound design is just perfect! Each action on the ramps, bumpers, drop target etc. is accompanied by a sound and it’s a full hit! This is a part on which JJP had already distinguished himself in the past with The Wizard of Oz game.
Let’s not forget that JJP signs at this time his second release only. It is really a tour de force of the manufacturer.
Gameplay : this way, you fools !
For those who have never played a JJP game and even more so a widebody, the gameplay of the Hobbit version of Smaug can confuse many people. Widebody is often criticized for being slow. The extra centimeters on the width of the pinball machine make the trajectories longer and therefore the ball can easily decelerate. In addition, JJP flippers have a reputation for being “soft”. Compared to other brands, especially Stern, players tend to report a weaker, “softer” feeling once again. In reality, it is just different! Each manufacturer has its own characteristics and JJP is simply no exception to the rule.
So, once you are familiar with this different touch, you will be able to discover the joys of a widebody cabinet and its wider trajectories. Don’t be mistaken, this is not a slow game! Indeed, the objectives to reach can be located at the bottom of the playfield, on the sides in the middle of the board, in the middle of the board with the rollovers or just in front of your flippers with the traps that reveal toys to bash. In short, you can shoot everywhere, it’s bound to hit something, it creates a real dynamic to the game and it quickly comes back to your drummers. And what is valid in single ball is even more valid in multiball phases.
Multiballs are what players often criticize JJP’s pinball machines for: they find them too long and too frequent. As a result, they lose their flavor: everyone remembers the interminable multiball of Guns ‘n’ Roses pinball, which becomes tiresome and even painful… However, here, I did not have this feeling. Even if the multiballs are not rare, they are not legion and you’ll have to play with your flippers to get them. They are pleasant to play and are well integrated in the game phases which gives the whole something balanced.
Moreover, this pinball machine is not punishing. Even if you don’t have a ball save, the central outhole (a real game element and not a palliative equivalent to two small wheels on a bicycle) allows you to save a lot of balls if you know how to use it, the kick back of the left outlane is often lit, the distribution and the circulation of the ball are very satisfactory. Your real enemy will be this damn left outlane which is particularly greedy. Good luck if you try to nudge because the beast weighs the weight of a dead donkey.
“If we are to be successful, this will need to be handled with tact, and respect, and no small degree of charm…which is why you will leave the talking to me.”Gandalf
So, I would rather say that he should shut his mouth, Gandalf the homeless! First of all because we can feel that hygiene is not his strong point, right? One suspects that the corners must not be cleaned every day! It’s not a pretty sight ! And especially that he becomes quickly annoying with his countdown 3, 2, 1…
Oh yes! In case you didn’t understand, we’re going to attack the code here. So when I say attack, it’s not an attack as such, it’s rather a figure of speech.
So here we go for the classic modern pinball game: it’s a mission or quest pinball game. In this case “quest” is more classy and it fits the theme like the rest of the guano stuck in Radagast’s hair. Remember the musty old man, who breeds mutant wild rabbits in his altermondialist hut at the bottom of the garden. Gandalf’s buddy! He too could use a little shampoo in his hair.
So basically the objective is simple (so to speak): you will have to collect 5 gems that will open the way to the Arkenstone and its mini wizard mode.
The easiest gem to collect is Smaug’s. To do so, you just have to spell “LOCK” while passing your ball on the rollover and go lock your ball in the right ramp (which goes on the left in fact). Repeat the operation 3 times and you can trigger the multiball.
My game advice: at the beginning of the game, you have the choice between different skillshots. The inlane, the drop target or the rollover. Choose the rollover and with your launcher, slowly, aim at them. With a little practice you will be able to light them all up at once. With one shot you can lock your first ball in place. Then lock your second marble, trigger a mission or the beast mode and launch the multi-marble afterwards. This will give you a definite advantage to finish your missions “easily”.
To launch a mission, you have to refer to the book represented by the mini screen at the top right of the board. Qualify a mission either with the ramps, the vertical up kicker, the targets or drop targets. Use the left ramp to turn the pages of the book and start the mission with the right ramp. Once your mission is completed, you will get a gem.
The beast mode in multiball is quite simple to complete but you have to be on your guard because the ball comes back quickly. To start this mode, you just have to let the marble pass through the inlanes whose inserts are lit and bash the pop-ups on the board. You have four in all: the spider, the warg, the orc and the goblin. Once finished, you get a gem.
Come on, you’re halfway through! Now you have to do some dwarf throwing ! Noooo I’m kidding ! You will have to collect them (I don’t know if it’s better). To do this, you will have to aim once in the shoots and all the targets. This mode is done quite naturally without necessarily trying to reach it, especially in multiball. Once your Panini collection is complete, you will get a gem.
To finally reach the mini wizard arkenstone mode, you will have to go all the way to Erebor using the spinners in the right and left orbits. At the end of the path is the last gem.
Well that’s it, you have your five gems but there is one last step to access the mini wizard mode : aim at the holes and you will go on one of the three mini wizard modes (Into the fire, Barrel escape, Battle of five armies).
It’s easy to say but not so easy to do! You will have at least a scoring which scores little BUT not frustrating either. If you get to a few hundred thousand it’s not bad at all and if you get over a million, you’ve reached the mini wizard mode at least once.
“Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage”Gandalf
Yes, this pinball machine scared me when I discovered it: a huge widebody, certainly beautiful but heavy as a tank and with a playfield that looks as empty as the head of an influencer from Dubai. When you put it like that, it doesn’t sell dreams.
However, as soon as you put your hands on it, its size fits in the palm of your hands, its beauty is even greater than at first glance, the lightness of the flow annihilates its mass effect and the board turns into a plain of heroic fantasy soon to witness fabulous adventures.
In my opinion, this is one of the best JJP’s alongside Toy Story 4. So go for it! Run to the adventure that this great machine offers you. When you search, you usually find something, but it’s not always exactly what you expected. That’s what happened in this case: I had even more of a dream than I expected!