The Pinball Hall of Fame (PHOF) is an essential stop in Las Vegas for anyone who has an interest in pinball. It's filled with over 200 machines, some of which are so rare you are unlikely to see them anywhere else. I arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday night, and set out to visit the PHOF on Friday a little after it opened at 11 am. I dragged my friend Alan along, who isn't a pinball player but he lives in Las Vegas and had visited the PHOF before with another friend. For more about the PHOF, you can see the website here. The following is a small blurb from the website that describes what the PHOF is:
"The Pinball Hall of Fame is an attempt by the members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club to house and display the world's largest pinball collection, open to the public. A not-for-profit corporation was established to further this cause. The games belong to one club member (Tim Arnold), and range from 1950s up to 1990s pinball machines. Since it is a non-profit museum, older games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are the prevelant, as this was the 'heyday' of pinball. There are no 'ticket spitters' here (aka kiddie casinos or redemption). It's all pure pinball (and a few arcade novelty games) from the past. And since it's a non-profit, excess revenues go to non-denominational charities."
Located a few minutes away from the strip and the airport on 1610 E. Tropicana, the games inside are organized by era, with all the EMs on one side of the room and SS games on the other, and several newer Sterns displayed near the front. I had read that Arnold had been unhappy with Stern's build quality on some previous games, so I was very surprised to find a lot of the latest Sterns, including Metallica, AC/DC, X-Men, and Transformers (no Avengers, although there was an Iron Man). I was also surprised to find a Wizard of Oz at the far side of the room, hidden back by some of the novelty games and EMs...I'm not sure why it's not more prominently displayed. There are several change machines in the place, and game pricing seems to vary wildly...WOZ was $1, and most of the Sterns were 75 cents. Other machines ranged from 50 cents to a quarter, with some set up for 3 balls per play and others set up for 5 balls.
Like the Seattle Pinball Museum, several of the machines, most notably the Sterns, were not leveled, causing the ball to gravitate towards one side of the table, and making some shots almost impossible to hit. Other machines felt properly leveled and were more fun to play. Some machines did have playfield damage that caused ball hiccups. Also, some machines had note cards explaining some of the history of the machine, but many did not. I did not actually get to meet Tim Arnold, but I did talk briefly with one of the staff, who had to rescue a stuck ball for me, and he was a very nice guy.
The highlight of the trip was definitely The Pinball Circus, an upright pinball machine similar in appearance to a videogame cabinet, with an elephant ball lift, 4 playfields (!) and 7 flippers. Since only 2 machines were ever built, I was thrilled to find this working and not down for maintenance, and actually got a ball up to the top playfield and scored a jackpot. Alan and I were both very impressed by the design of this machine. It was a bit pricey at $1 per game, so I only got in 1 play.
Another highlight was Challenger, a head to head EM machine that tilts towards a player until a "goal" is scored, and then tilts back towards the other player. Each player has two flippers in front of their drain, and two smaller flippers at the top of the other player's play area, allowing you to try to shoot past has flippers and into his drain. There are also some bumpers scattered about. It very much has an air hockey feel to it, although it it quite a bit slower, and it was a blast to play. For not being a pinball player, Alan got into it and actually beat me, admitting it was pretty fun.
In fact, Alan stated that he had a very good time when he thought he would be standing around watching me play. Because I managed to win several free games, I passed those off to Alan, so he got to play quite a few games for free. He mentioned that the last time he was there, he didn't have much fun, but the family he was with was only there for about an hour...the kids weren't much interested in pinball and preferred redemption games, so they ended up going to a Gameworks for several hours. Note to parents: if your kids aren't much into pinball, this place may not be for them.
I had several bad games, in some part due to table leveling, but I wasn't really feeling it on some games. As I've done with other places, below are my quick takes on each machine played, with games I've played before in green and games I've never played before in red:
See description above. Slow but lots of fun!
As I mentioned in a previous post, this is the game that got me hooked on pinball, so it does have some nostalgia value, but since I've grown in age and in skill, it doesn't quite have the appeal it once did. It's kind of like when you see an old TV show you saw as a kid and you think, how did I watch that? I still played one game for old times sake, but I don't think I'd ever own it.
Remember DJ, the guy that I mentioned sold me the empty Lethal Weapon cabinet? He invited me to try playing his Orbitor One, and that was the first time I had ever seen or played one. It was even wackier than I remember, with the ball rolling in broad circles around the playfield that it no way corresponds to the vacuum-formed terrain underneath. Very unsettling. I really don't like this game.
Star Trek 25th Anniversary
Not an awful game, but not among the best Data East games I've played.
I played this game a lot back in the 80s. I didn't have a good game and left it with the feeling that I don't like it as much as I used to.
I also played this one a bit back in the 90s, but I was reminded how much the callouts annoy me. If it wasn't for that, I might like it more than I do. But as it is, I can't stand it. I gave Alan my free game.
This game was a little too easy, and the callouts began to annoy me by the second ball. I gave my free game to Alan.
Bugs Bunny's Birthday Ball
I was thoroughly bored with this game, there just isn't much to do or shoot for. I gave Alan my free game.
Bride of Pinbot
Like Pinbot, I think this game is okay but not great. It has a lot more things to shoot at than Xenon does, and it has some sexually suggestive elements in the playfield and good callouts. I'm just not a big fan.
Let's face it, you either love this theme or you hate it. I wanted to like it, and there are some neat playfield features, but I didn't love it, especially the repetitive music. I gave my free game to Alan.
I played one game, did poorly and moved on.
I finally got to play Dr. Who! Although I didn't do very well, I saw some intriguing elements there. I need to give it more plays to form a better opinion.
Didn't have a great game here, either, so I moved on. I would have liked to have won a free game for Alan as he likes the Terminator theme.
Last Action Hero
I wanted to like this game but it just didn't click with me. Maybe more plays would change my mind.
Creature From the Black Lagoon
Again another bad game that was over pretty quickly. I need to get mine up and running so that I can build up my skills.
I really thought I would love this one, because I really like the theme, but I walked away with a bit of a letdown. Maybe I need more plays on it, but as of right now it's off my wishlist.
This was better than I expected, and I thought the ski lift was pretty cool. I had a good time with this one and Alan picked up the free game.
I loved all the toys and sculpts on the playfield, there's a lot of detail there. But as far as actually game play I found this machine lacking. And the theme totally kills it, especially with the repetitive theme music. I also hated the movie, which didn't help my experience. A terrible machine.
Guns N Roses
I loved the music and theme, including the half-naked girls on the playfield artwork, and game play was pretty good. I wouldn't add it to my collection, but it was fun.
I loved this game! The loops are well done and blazing fast. The game was leveled way too far forward, making it almost too fast, but it was a blast to play despite that. A very fun game for me, and Alan picked up a free game that he said was over pretty quickly.
I was disappointed with this one. I put about 2 dollars in to try to get to the 13 ball multiball. During the first game the flippers froze and the game ended. This happened again during the second game. When I went to play the third game, that's when I noticed the "novice mode" on the DMD, which has a time limit. Although the game allows you to choose between novice and standard, novice was the default, so when I had pressed start on the first 2 games it was playing novice mode. I was really ticked off! I played a couple more games but couldn't get a rhythm going and walked away in disgust. I haven't played a lot of Sega machines (see Goldeneye below) but I can believe this is not one of their best.
This game played incredibly fast and was over pretty quickly, so I didn't get a good feel for it.
Note: There are moments in pinball that have completely captured my imagination, such as the experiences I've documented with Xenon and White Water. Playing The Pinball Circus was another such experience.
I absolutely fell in love with this game. It's a shame that more weren't made, because I'd pursue this one very hard for my collection. It reminds me a little of the first Gravitram kinetic sculpture made here in Portland by Shab Levy in 1973 (which as a kid I would sit and watch for hours at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). I left with the feeling that after I complete my virtual pinball machine, I would like to try to build something like this.
This was a pretty fun game, just not my favorite theme. Alan got a free game on this one.
This was in my wishlist despite not having played it. I was not disappointed, as it turned out to be a fun game. I can see why some players complain that multiball is too easy, as it seemed like I almost always had 2 balls (or more) going on the playfield. But I thought it was a cool game and would still like to own one someday.
I liked this game, although at times it seemed a little too easy, but it was fun and Alan's free game lasted for awhile, so he must have done well too.
I really wanted to like this one as the Pat Lawlor design seemed intriguing to me - a timed countdown rather than a score. It was smaller than I expected, and unfortunately I walked away from it feeling disappointed. I think it was probably a lack of experience and not knowing the rules, so I'll give it more time if I ever get the chance again.
I've never played a Sega pinball machine in the wild before, so this was a first. Goldeneye is a great game with a solid feel, equivalent to anything Bally & Williams were putting out around the same period. It doesn't feel clunky like some Data East machines. And the 5 ball multiball was intense. Since this machine is fairly inexpensive, you get a lot of bang for the buck.
Tales of the Arabian Knights
I had a bad game and didn't even get multiball.
As with other locations, this was an attempt to compare a location machine with mine. This machine was pretty beat up, with the hinge pin sticking outside of the crate door, and the boney beast head missing, as well as several of the ribs. I put a couple of dollars in and played one game, thankful that I have one in good condition. I let Alan play the remainder of the games. He liked it so much, he talked about owning one, but the price of this game has climbed so outrageously high, he will probably never pull the trigger.
The Lost World Jurassic Park (Stern)
Another solid feeling game from Sega, unfortunately the difficulty level seemed way too high, like The Shadow. I didn't really care for it despite loving the theme.
This is another game I really wanted to like, because of its rarity and high price. Sadly, I don't think it's worth the price it commands. I had a pretty good game and handed a free one over to Alan. It was good but not outstanding.
Ripley's Believe It or Not
A poorly leveled game that was agonizingly slow as a result. I turned over my free game to Alan.
A boring game with boring music. Yuck.
I didn't care for this game to much, although some of the callouts are pretty funny. I gave the free game to Alan and he did better than I did.
Wheel of Fortune
I approached this game with some trepidation. Designed by my favorite designer (Dennis Nordman), I thought it would be tough to overcome the terrible theme. I shouldn't have worried, though, as WOF is a great game and another Nordman winner. I handed the free game off to Alan, although secretly I would have loved to take it for another spin (pun intended). I don't think I'd own it as there are others I want more, but it is a good game. I think it would have been awesome to have Nordman's face on one of the bobblehead contestants, so that it resembled Bigfoot in White Water. Now that would have been funny!
Batman (The Dark Knight)
I did just okay on this game, but the fact that it was unlevel didn't help. I got both Scarecrow and Joker multiball but just missed winning a free game for Alan. Oh well.
Indiana Jones (Stern)
Much to my surprise, I might actually like this machine better than the Williams version (I know, I'm crazy). I can see how it might get repetitive to hit each movie mode over and over, but I still think it's a blast to play and much more affordable than its Williams counterpart. I had thought that White Water had one of the best uses of multiball, but this is better...watching the ark tip over and puke out balls onto the playfield in 8 ball multiball was insane! Alan and I were still talking about how awesome that was the next day. This game is definitely being added to the wishlist.
Not a bad game at all, great layout and lots of features. Alan received a free game.
I didn't really care for this game much...I'm not a fan of the comic book characters with their goofy yellow and blue costumes, and the playfield magnets and spinner loved to toss my ball into the outlanes. Way too unpredictable ball movement. With more time on it I might change my opinion but this one initially seems pretty weak.
This game seemed pretty boring to me. I'm not much of a fan of the theme, but if the game play was good I could overlook it. I just didn't care for it much and let Alan have the free game.
I'm really liking this game more and more, especially since it functioned better than the one at the Seattle Pinball Museum, and actually had the train instead of a piece of plastic. Again I couldn't hear it very well, and Alan had to put his ear down next to the playfield to confirm the song was actually playing. But the game was a blast, and I hit multiball a couple of times. Both Alan and I loved ringing the big bell and we both talked up the machine the rest of the weekend. I think AC/DC might have been Alan's second favorite machine behind Scared Stiff, as he loves the band's music and got a free game in.
Wizard of Oz
This is probably the most beautiful game ever released. I liked it, but my game was over pretty quickly, and I was a little disappointed that I couldn't make some of the shots. I don't really understand the point of an LCD in the backbox - a DMD screen is hard enough to look at during play, let alone an entire TV screen, but the colorful images on it certainly add to the beauty. It was also expensive to play, being $1 per game. I'd like more time on it to form more of an opinion, but at that price that won't be any time soon. Would I pay $8000 to own one? Not unless I hit the lottery. But I think Jersey Jack has done a great job here and forced Stern to up their game.
Games Not Played
I wanted to play this game badly, as I've never played it before, but it was not working.
I probably should have played it because I may not get another chance. But when I looked at the playfield, it just looked a little dull.
I've always wanted to play this game, but it was not working.
Star Wars (Data East)
I've played this game quite a bit in the past but I don't really care for it.
This game was not working.
This wasn't working either.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I had no desire to play this due to theme.
Nightmare on Elm Street
Another non-functioning machine.
I had planned on playing this in order to compare it to mine, I just never got around to it.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
I ran out of time and didn't get to this one.
Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure (Williams)
Down for maintenance.
I owned this game and I've had my fill of it. No need to go down that road again.
Ran out of time.
No time available.
No time for this either.
Definitely not interested.
I passed on this one.
I passed on this one too.
No time left to play, although I really wanted to.
Not a fan of their music, but I'd probably play it if there had been more time.
Games I had hoped to see that weren't there
No Good Gofers
Elvira and the Party Monsters
Tales From the Crypt
Big Bang Bar
Lots of games to choose from
Prices are pretty reasonable - many games are 50 cents
Unique and hard-to-find games
Money earned goes to charity
Nice friendly staff
Great hours - open 7 days a week and until midnight on some days
Several games unlevel and a couple are in rough shape
No food or drinks on site
List of games on website doesn't quite match what's on the floor
Hours played: 5
Credits played: 42 (plus another 16 free games for Alan)
Drinks consumed: 0
Cost: total = $29
I had a great time at the PHOF, despite leveling issues that led to some bad games. Alan thought he'd be bored watching me play a few games and then leaving, but he had fun. Even after 5 hours there were still several games I didn't have time to play. Maybe someday I'll go back again, but if not, no big deal - I can cross it off my bucket list now. Highly recommended!