Every so often, I'll stumble across a pinball machine I've never played before. Usually I don't review them, because I only get a few plays in and that's not enough to really form an educated opinion about the machine. This is why on my Ground Kontrol and Seattle Pinball Museum posts, I just give quick impressions rather than full-blown reviews. If I have an opportunity to play several games on a machine, however, I feel that's more than enough for an in-depth analysis. Such was the case with a Stern Batman that I encountered recently.
After returning from Seattle, I went out for pizza with my dad and grandmother, before my dad headed back up to Seattle. We went to Juliano's, a great pizza parlor in Vancouver. The last few times I went to Juliano's, the game was a Stern Avatar, which I think is a terrible game. Imagine my surprise to find Batman sitting there instead! I knew I had to take a shot at playing it, and since my grandmother hadn't arrived yet, I figured I had some time, and fed $2 into the machine to get 5 plays.
Batman (The Dark Knight) was released in 2008, and was designed by George Gomez, a former Williams employee who created games such as Johnny Mnemonic, Monster Bash, NBA Fastbreak, and the ill-fated Pinball 2000 concept of Revenge From Mars. Joining Stern after Williams shut its doors, Gomez designed Playboy, Lord of the Rings, The Sopranos, Batman, Transformers, and Avengers, and he is currently the head of design at Stern. The game has a 7.9 out of 10 rating on IPDB and is ranked at #50; on Pinside it has a 7.923 out of 10 rating and is ranked #38.
There are some great features in Batman, the foremost of which is the crane. Take the crane toy from Junk Yard (one of the best toys ever made), and move it around the playfield, and you have Scarecrow Crane, an incredibly fun toy and better than the one in Junkyard (and that's saying a lot)! As the crane moves across the playfield from point to point, hitting it enough times starts 2 ball Scarecrow Multiball. Each subsequent hit of the crane delivers a jackpot.
The Joker Multiball is also fun to get going. There's a drop target to hit (nice graphic of the Joker graffiti on it), then a special diverter that you have to move through in order to lock the ball, and it's in a very good spot, reachable by either flipper. It reminds me a lot of the crate shot in Scared Stiff, and like the crate, shots to the diverter during Joker Multiball award a jackpot. The joker toy is a little lackluster - it's simply a platform that spins to reveal an action figure, but it doesn't do anything else.
The Batmobile with the upper playfield (taken straight from Lord of the Rings) made no sense to me. Once you trigger this mode, a bonus countdown begins and requires you to shoot the right loop. This is a difficult shot that doesn't make a lot of sense, because 66% of the time the ball is working off the right flipper. I don't think I managed to make this shot once during play, making it a rather useless feature in my opinion. There is a drawbridge on the left side in which your ball races a Hot Wheel toy, but since I never activated this mode I didn't get to see it in action.
One final thought about the playfield: the bumpers and top of the playfield are partially obscured by other features, similar to Creature From the Black Lagoon or Popeye...some people hate this, and others (like me) don't really mind. There's also a ball lock at the top right above the bumpers that gives awards at certain points in the game. Finally, I loved the addition of a spinner (always like to see those!), the DMD animations were good, and the graphics on the playfield and translight are attractive enough...I usually don't like to see so many actors on the backglass because it adds to licensing costs (and thus game costs), but hey, it's Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, so I approve. Some of the voice callouts are terrible, though (no one can imitate Morgan Freeman). The bumpers are strange looking, with flat, unlit caps on them that allow the bulb to protrude, which was not very attractive. And on this game, one of the bumpers was working intermittently, one time causing an SDTM drain when it didn't fire.
So how did I do? On the 5 games I played for my initial $2, I got an extra ball on every game and a free game on 4 out of 5 games. On the 4 free games, I got an extra ball on every game, won another free game and matched for an additional free game. So total I played 11 games at 4 balls per game, for $2. Outstanding! Once the pizza arrived I had to walk away from it with 4 credits still sitting there, but fortunately no one else played it, so I resumed play after pizza. My high score was 92 million, so I came somewhat close to getting my name up (lowest high score was 120 million). Overall I think this is a great game, and one I would move up on my wishlist - I liked it better than Spiderman...