The most talked about and touted pinball machine of 2012 was Stern’s AC/DC Premium (and Limited Edition) pinball machine. AC/DC was a giant hit for Stern and brought a classic music-themed pinball machine to fans that had been aching for something like that for years.
2013 saw the advent of a new player in the pinball game. Jersey Jack Pinball released their Wizard of Oz pinball machine. Wizard of Oz promised many new features and technologies never seen in a pinball machine and generated a lot of buzz.
Both of these machines are still readily available to purchase new. So why not look back a bit and see which one is true champion?
Which machine should you get? The fancy machine with the bells and whistles from a new company or one from the old standby?
Let’s run these two through the paces. There are a lot of ways to review the assets of a particular pinball machine. The categories we will use here are:
- Playfield Design/Shots
- Fun Factor
Theme is a very personal thing. You may not be a fan of AC/DC music and thus would not want to pay $7000 to put one in your game room. Personally I am a long time fan of AC/DC, so this is a big win for me.
Wizard of Oz is a classic theme and I give them credit for thinking outside of the box on this one. It also promises to appeal better to children and women — a big plus in trying to expand the audience of pinball.
However the theme of AC/DC was a great pick and probably one of the best theme decisions for a pinball machine in the past several years. There was a lot of excitement for the machine strictly due to the theme, because of a long-term thirst. Very few rock-n-roll themed pinball machines have been released in the past years and none very highly regarded since 1995’s Guns & Roses machine by Data East.
The Wizard of Oz theme may be a hit in the online bingo hall, but AC/DC is bigger badder element in the pinball hall — Angus wins this one.
Let’s start with AC/DC, as the layout is basically a copy of 1991’s Terminator 2 pinball machine (also designed by Steve Ritchie).
Just look at that machine and you have a pretty good idea of what you are going to get, cannon and all.
But hey if you happened to be the guy that came up with that design, why not copy from yourself? And it is not like T2 was a bad or unpopular game.
This layout is nothing new, but it is fun and you can backhand every major shot in the game, which is a big plus. Making the center shot tied to the giant swinging bell was simply an act of genius.
Premium models feature Hell — a submerged mini-playfield with itty-bitty flippers and narration by the Devil (voiced by Steve Ritchie himself). This is actually a fun distraction and hitting the outer orbit shots is a fun challenge.
Wizard of Oz also features a designer looking back on a previous design.
This layout has many similarities to The Simpson Pinball Party that Joe Balcer had previously done. Like that machine, there is an upper playfield and Wizard of Oz ups the ante with an additional upper playfield.
This sounds all fine and dandy till you get to playing the game. The upper playfields are not a big plus like you would think. They are slow and not very fun or interesting to play after the first few tries at it. They also obstruct the view of the main playfield shots.
The main playfield’s most satisfying shot is to the only ramp. But for some reason, the one shot that you can get some fun flow going steals the ball in a contraption and spits out a different ball. This creates a slight hiccup effect that I absolutely dislike.
So what you end up with is a very slow layout without flow compared to a fast playing and fun flowing game.
Angus nearly kills Dorothy in this battle.
Can Dorothy make a come back? Here is her big chance.
Unlike the excellent art in their recent Metallica game, AC/DC features a lot of photographic “Photoshop” art that Stern has gotten a bad reputation for. The AC/DC playfield is not very attractive or special.
Stern did do a nice job on the cabinet artwork and the translites (there different versions of it for each version of game) are not too bad either.
Wizard of Oz features entirely hand drawn artwork all around done by one of the greatest artists in pinball history.
It is simply stunning.
Additionally the quality of the cabinet printing (done on a $300,000 printer) achieves a level of quality never seen before ever in a pinball machine. This is world-class art all around both in form and function. There is not one thing I can pinpoint out that could be better.
Add some unusual items such as the haunted forest tree bumpers and you probably have the greatest art package in a pinball machine since Williams was still making games 15 years ago. Dorothy is still in the fight…for now.
An important part of buying a new pinball machine is the technology. Outside of just being new, this is how today’s games earn your dollar. Otherwise you could save thousands of dollars and buy a classic pinball machine from the 90’s.
Let’s look at some of the interesting bits of technology in these games.
Both machines feature LED color changing technology. This was previously unseen in pinball. I love the way this color changing is used on AC/DC. Different modes feature different colors and it creates a wonderful effect. There is also a use of color to indicate shots that are worth more than normal. This is a noted improvement and novel feature that instantly made all of my other pinball machines feel old.
Wizard of Oz also features color changing LED lights, but I do not like at all how they implemented. They went with a clown pants implementation. What I mean by that is that there are colors and lights going off all over the place at all times. It is disconcerting and provides no clear indication of what is going on or where to shoot.
They failed to create much mood in the lighting from going to one color extreme to another — which is a wasted opportunity.
I talked earlier about the AC/DC bell. This is a simple idea, but it is fun and satisfying. When you hit the bell shot newton ball, a magnet will put additional pull on the bell to make it really swing like crazy. It is simple fun and something I never get tired of. It reminds me of the feeling of hitting the Twilight Zone clock shot during the clock modes — only better.
Another new thing I love in AC/DC is that they feature actual music and feature entire songs. Prior to AC/DC I don’t recall any games featuring entire length tunes of high-fidelity music. The music, while not in stereo, sounds great even on stock speakers — especially if you add a cheap subwoofer amplifier to help give the huge subwoofer the power it truly needs and deserves.
Wizard of Oz does have full stereo sound and 600 watts of amplification. You do not need to bolt in your own amplifier to get things cranking on WoZ. There also is an audio jack for listening with headphones. A very nice touch indeed.
Jersey Jack clearly spared no expense to bring a full-featured game to production. That is clear when you play this machine in person.
The most talked about tech feature is the new LCD screen backglass. I was pretty excited about this feature, but in the end am kind of torn about it. In a way I miss the classic static backglass, but that is probably just out of habit and tradition. The LCD backglass on Wizard of OZ has garnished a great deal of attention, and for good reason. This is more real estate than any display in pinball history and is the most interesting use of video tech in a pinball machine since Revenge from Mars was released back in 1999.
Instead of simple dot matrix animations, like we have mostly seen for the past 25 years in pinball, Jersey Jack has brought full color and high fidelity video. The special animations created for the game were very well done and it adds something uniquely new to the pinball experience. Can you imagine playing AC/DC and the band is performing the song on stage while you are playing?
AC/DC does some great things, but Jersey Jack is just bringing too much to the table here. Dorothy wins another category.
To break the tie, we will focus on the most important category — the fun factor.
The combination of a good theme, nice playfield, immersive art, and technology that brings is all together will hopefully lead to a title that is fun to play.
I can say that about one of these games for sure. AC/DC has an amazing amount of fun factor. With the music blaring, the bright lights, amazing ruleset, and satisfying shots — this game just keeps calling me back again and again. The rest of my collection is gathering dust — as the games in the game room are finally starting to feel old and dated.
Wizard of Oz is amazing to behold and feast your eyes upon. There was a lot of technological wizardry produced in bringing this game to life. They just are missing the fun. Playing the game feels like more of a chore than fun and is surprisingly unsatisfying.
And the winner is…
AC/DC did not score the knockout, but looking at the scorecard comes up with a decisive victory.
While Wizard of Oz may be nicer to look at and have fancier toys, we are not diaper-wipers here — games are for playing and for fun and not as museum pieces.
I had a Wizard of Oz Limited Edition on pre-order all paid for, with a spot reserved in the game room. I sold a few games and worked hard to save up to pay for what I anticipated to be the most out of this world pinball experience since Twilight Zone.
I had been keeping up on the JJP news with every new update, every new feature and felt like a kid waiting for Christmas to come. But then a funny thing happened, I finally played the game.
The look of it is spectacular and maybe even more amazing than I had expected — and I expected a lot! But the game just did not click for me, no matter how many times I played it and tried to enjoy it.
I just could not get over the lack of enjoyable shots, slow ball speed, and the troubled lighting.
The Wizard of Oz pinball machine is a great technical demo, but not a very fun game to play.
AC/DC Premium is here to stay and earned a permanent spot in the game room in its place. For those about to rock, we salute you!