| IN-DEPTH REVIEW
Hello and welcome to this second part of the Pinball News In-Depth Review of Stern's Transformers game.
In the first part we delved into the game's hardware and artwork to see how the machine was made, how the mechanisms worked and what all the various components looked like.
Now we'll examine at the rules, see how the game plays and then give our opinions and ratings for the various elements which go to make up Transformers.
We'll start with those rules.
The game we are reviewing was running V1.02 software which is the version nearly all Pro games had when they were shipped from the Stern factory, and so - barring an unusually diligent operator - will be the version most commonly found on location.
From the moment we press the start button, it's obvious Transformers is a different type of game. Rather than being invited to attempt a skill shot, we're instead asked to make a decision. Who do we want to be; an Autobot or a Decepticon?
Although not specifically named, the logo for the Decepticons is on the left and the Autobots on the right. Pressing the left flipper button selects the Decepticons while the right one chooses the Autobots, with the appropriate logo growing in size.
There is also a robotic voice to repeat your choice of either Autobots or Decepticons which you may or may not be able to hear depending on the set-up and location of the machine. If you're not familiar with the two sides' logos, it's probably easier to remember that the factions match their position on the playfield; all the Decepticons - led by Megatron - are on the left, while Optimus Prime's Autobots occupy the right side of the playfield.
You could just ignore all this and plunge the ball (as many casual players will), but which side you choose does have implications throughout the game, including basic things such as the main gameplay music. We'll point out many of these differences as we come to them.
The ball has been sitting in the shooter lane ever since we pressed start, so now we plunge it into play and our selection of being either an Autobot or a Decepticon is locked-in.
Transformers has a manual plunger and this gives us three ways to put the ball into play.
The first, and easiest, is to give it a good whack and send the ball up shooter lane, around the right orbit, and into the one-way gate at the top of the left orbit lane. From here it falls into one of the two top rollover lanes.
The inserts of your chosen side will be flashing, but they can be changed to the other side with the flipper buttons. Get the ball to roll through the flashing lane and you score a skill shot award of 250K for the first time, increasing by 25K each time you score the skill shot in the same game.
An new variation has been added in a recent software update which provides an extra bonus if you plunge the ball into the flashing top lane without using the flipper buttons to change the lit lane. This 'hands-free' award is something we have been requesting for some time, so it's good to see it making its way into Transformers.
The second ball-launch option involves plunging the ball a little less strongly so it doesn't quite make it through the controlled gate and drops into the skill shot lane between the right pop bumper and Optimus Prime.
This scores a super skill shot award of double the regular skill shot value and is very similar to the super skill shot found in The Rolling Stones where you can plunge into the records lane for extra points.
In Transformers, the super skill shot lane leads into the back of the Megatron ball lock, from where the ball is kicked out onto the flippers. You don't, however, get a locked ball out of it, even if Megatron is lit to lock balls.
The third option serves no particular purpose but you could, if you so wanted, plunge the ball less hard so it rolls up the shooter lane and into the right orbit lane, but doesn't make it up to the top. The will mean the ball rolls back down the right orbit towards the right flipper.
In the Limited Edition version of the game there is an additional skill shot option not available to Pro model players.
Because there is an additional controlled gate in place of the Pro's one-way gate at the top of the rollover lanes, holding in the left flipper button when plunging the ball opens this gate and allows the ball to make a complete orbit to end up at the left flipper. From there, shooting the right ramp scores a third skill shot award.
Let's assume you went for the regular skill shot option and the ball ends up rolling through the top lanes. Beyond the skill shot award, these lanes provide some important score-boosting opportunities.
Rolling through either lane will light one of the two inserts above it. If both are unlit, it lights the top one, otherwise it lights which ever is not yet lit.
As we mentioned in part one, the two inserts above the lane are half of a group of four which also include the inlane and outlane inserts on the same side. Each press of the left flipper button cycles the lit and unlit Decepticon inserts in the left group just like regular lane change, while the right flipper button does the same for the right group of four Autobot inserts.
If you chose to be a Decepticon and complete all four Decepticon inserts, you can then light one of the six triangular X multiplier inserts on the major shots - the AllSpark Cube saucer, the left orbit, the left ramp, the centre Megatron lane, the right ramp and the right orbit.
Similarly, if you choose the Autobot team, you need to light all four Autobot inserts.
All the X inserts not already lit flash, and whichever of the flashing shots you make next will have its insert lit and a 2x multiplier applied to all points scored from that shot.
If the shot you make already has its 2x multiplier lit, then the game waits for the next shot you make which doesn't already have a multiplier lit.
You cannot stack pending multipliers, so you need to collect one shot multiplier before you can light the next. In version 1.2 software, completing your team's inserts while the shot multipliers are still flashing gave a "0X multipliers lit" message, but this has been fixed in later versions.
If you manage to keep the ball in play for a decent length of time, you'll soon rack up these shot multipliers and they are very important in achieving a top score.
Consequently, you may settle on a strategy where you choose to be a Decepticon, keep shooting the right orbit until you have lit all four Decepticon inserts, make one of the flashing shots and go back to the right orbit again to light the next shot, and so on, lighting all six multipliers before starting any of the modes.
If you do manage to get all six lit, the next completion of your team's inserts will enable a roving 3x multiplier, which moves left and right across all six X inserts, flashing one of them for a couple of seconds before moving on to the next.
When a shot's X insert is flashing, scores are multiplied by three instead of the usual two, but because the 3x multiplier roves, timing your shot is critical to getting the most out of this award.
That's what happens when you light all your team's inserts, but what about the opposition?
The same 'group of four' rule applies and when you light all four of the inserts, instead of a 2x shot multiplier, you increase the end-of-ball bonus multiplier by 1x.
There's no additional shot needed to achieve the bonus multiplier, so if the ball is being particularly active in the pop bumpers you can get several increases before it escapes.
And talking of the pop bumper area....
Each of the three pop bumpers represents one of the grinder gears in Devastator and all three are shown on the DMD as soon as a pop bumper hit is registered. Each pop bumper hit scores points which start at with a base value of 3K and increase by 1K with each hit.
At the bottom of the display is the total scored in the pop bumpers on this visit. It appears to be for information only.
The pop value tops out at 20K per hit and returns to its base value the next time you visit the bumpers.
That base value can be boosted by a whole 1K, thanks to one of the mystery awards at the AllSpark Cube.
With the ball out of the pop bumpers and down at the flippers, it's time to consider the game's main objectives and that means looking up at the feature grid.
Like most of the rest of the table, the feature grid is split in two with the Decepticons on the left and the Autobots on the right. If you chose to be a Decepticon then you get to play the modes on the left. Be an Autobot, and the modes on the right are for you.
That's not to say you can't play the opposition's modes, but you have to play and complete all yours first before you can move on to the others. The only exceptions to this rule are Megatron and Optimum Prime which are are the main multiball modes and can be played by both sides.
Each mode has a insert which can be in one of three different states. If the mode's insert is unlit then you haven't yet played it. If it is flashing slowly then you have started playing the mode but not yet completed it, and if it is flashing quickly then it is the next mode you will start.
The next mode can be changed by getting the ball into the pop bumpers where each bumper hit cycles the flashing 'next mode' light through all the un-played modes, or if they have all been played, then it cycles through all the incomplete modes instead. That means you get to play all the modes before going back to play any you didn't finish.
Now, we mentioned completed and incomplete modes several times there, so we'd better explain what that means.
Whenever a mode is started, it has a goal for you to achieve. That goal has to be reached before the available time runs out, or - if it's a multiball mode - before you're down to just one ball in play.
Reach the goal, and the mode's insert lights solidly. Fail, and it taunts you by flashing continuously until you replay it and reach the required target.
In all instances, if you only get part way through, the next time you play the mode (in the same game, of course), you pick up where you left off last time rather than starting back at the beginning. For normal players, most of the modes expect you to take 2 or more tries to complete them, so don't be disheartened if you end up with a lot of flashing inserts.
You do need to complete all the modes on your team's side before you can progress, though.
So what are the modes, how do you start them, how do you complete them, and why should you care?
As we said, you only get to play just over half the modes initially. Each side has a four modes based around their Transformer characters and a major multiball themed on their leader. They are:
The two major multiball modes can be advanced and started at any time by shooting the Megatron and Optimus Prime shots, but only one of the regular modes can be running at once.
These regular modes are started by shooting the shots with the lit orange arrows which are lit on all six major shots at the start of the game and whenever the current mode ends. Each mode needs four lit shots, and as each shot is made, it extinguishes and the number of shots remaining is shown, unless you also have a shot multiplier waiting to be assigned, in which case the display for that takes precedence.
Along with the number of shots remaining, the vehicle form of the next mode's character traverses the screen. In the images above we see the helicopter form of the next mode - Blackout.
Once all the shots have been made, the flashing mode starts immediately.
The name of each mode is comprised of the character's name with the "Battle" suffix and as soon as the opening animation is completed, your target and the time remaining to achieve it are shown.
If the sound is turned down and you're concentrating on the playfield. then it's possible to miss the fact that a mode has begun. But not trapping the ball in the AllSpark Cube saucer or the Megatron trough to start a mode means the game keeps flowing and there's no break in the action.
So let's look at the four 'Battle' modes for each side, starting with the Decepticons.
Starscream's alternate form is as an F-15 fighter plane and it is that form which is shown on the display as the number of shots counts down.
Once the mode begins though, he is shown in his robotic form with a cannon for his right arm which he occasionally fires into the air.
Like many of the modes in Transformers, Starscream is a timed mode where you have to shoot a certain number of lit shots before the time runs out. This is 10 shots on standard settings.
There are 45 seconds on the clock and initially two shots - the left orbit and the AllSpark saucer - are lit. Shooting either of those scores 100K (or 200K if a 2x shot multiplier is lit, as below).
Once one of the two lit shots is made, the two shots move on place to the right, meaning the left orbit and left ramp are now lit. Shooting either of these two scores 112.5K (225K if multiplied 2x, or 337.5K if the 3x multiplier is flashing on that shot).
Once again, the two lit shots move once position to the right, leaving the left ramp and the centre shot now the ones to go for.
This continues until you have the right ramp and right orbit to choose from. Each lit shot is worth 12.5K more than the previous one.
Something which is new to Transformers is the way in which the video clips play.
Previous games showed a short clip which ran to a freeze and had the points display superimposed over the top. Sometimes there was a quick dimming of the freeze frame, sometimes it was a dot dissolve and other times a simple cut.
In Transformers things are reversed, starting with the points display over a freeze frame, which then does a dot dissolve to the clip which runs. This has the advantage of showing the points awarded while the player may still be looking up at the display but means the background image makes no sense because you haven't seen it in context yet.
Anyway, back to Starscream, and after making either of the two shots on the right side of the playfield, things get harder as you now have a series of roving shots to make before the lit insert moves on . This roving shot pans left and right across the playfield's six major shots. Shoot a shot when it's lit to knock one of the number of shots remaining, and then shoot another 4 until you have completed the 10 shots needed at the start of the mode, or the time runs out.
We mentioned earlier how you are unlikely to complete too many modes in just one attempt, so if you run out of time, you get your total shown on the display and the relevant insert on the feature grid flashes to indicate you have started, but not completed, the mode.
Starscream can only be played again once you have started all the other 3 regular modes of your chosen team.
If you come back to continue the mode later on, the clock resets to the original 45 seconds and all the shot values reset to a base points value of 100K plus 12.5K for each time you've replayed the mode. So that's 112.5K for your second attempt, 125K for your third, and so on.
The number of shots remaining picks up where you left it though - otherwise the game would be way too hard to complete - and you continue with the same shots that were lit when the time ran out.
There are three little helpers which can make your task of completing the 10 shots in 45 seconds just a little bit easier. They are the Energon targets.
These three blue targets, when completed, activate the AllSpark Cube saucer to give pseudo-random mystery awards. We'll look at all the options later on, but it's 'pseudo-random' because some of the mystery awards are really very predictable, while others are more of a true mystery.
Fortunately, once you start a timed mode, the next AllSpark award you collect is highly likely to be one of the more predictable ones, and in particular, this one:
This adds 15 seconds to your clock but will only normally be awarded once per mode.
However many attempts it takes, once you make the required 10 Starscream shots, the mode ends and the Starscream insert lights solidly.
After that, you cannot replay Starscream until you have completed all the modes and played the big wizard mode at the end.
Hasbro Toys actually lost the rights to use the name Shockwave to another toy company for a year, and had to use the name Shockblast for their models instead. However, they managed to get the name back and Shockwave has been licensed by Hasbro for use in the Transformers pinball. This is his mode.
Sometimes taking the form of a Mazda RX-8 car, Shockwave is the Decepticon's cold, calculating and brutal Military Operations Commander, and he is fitted with a large gun on one of this arms (though which one seems to vary depending on the depiction)
Shockwave is one of the easier mode to finish, starting out with 45 seconds on the clock, 10 shots to complete but just one shot lit on the left - the AllSpark Cube saucer - for 200K points (400K with a 2x multiplier, or 600K if 3x).
Once that shot is made, another on the right lights - the right ramp. This scores 225K and is the key to finishing this mode because once the ramp is made, all six major shots are lit and all but the last shot remain lit until you collect all the required shots. That's to stop you repeating the same shot - such as backhanding the left ramp - over and over.
So if you can make the AllSpark and the right ramp, and then string together a series of ramp and/or orbit combos, you can complete Shockwave fairly easily.
As before, the AllSpark Cube award will usually give you more time if it is lit, and the value of the lit shot increases by 25K each time.
Blackout takes the alternate form of a Sikorsky MH-53 and that his how he is portrayed on the display during the countdown to the start of his mode.
After making four lit shots, Blackout Battle begins.
Unlike Starscream's 10 shots, Blackout asks you to make 11 shots to complete his mode. The time allowed is the same at 45 seconds with the possibility of boosting that from an AllSpark Cube award.
Blackout begins with just one shot lit - the left orbit.
Once this is made for a score of 200K points (400K if 2x lit, 600K is the 3x multiplier is flashing), then a single shot on the right side becomes available instead.
In this instance it's the Optimus Prime centre lane, which is is worth 50K more at 250K points (or 500K, or 750K).
The action returns to the left side with the left ramp now added to the left orbit. Make either of those two for 300K and you'll find the right ramp has been added to the right orbit for 350K. Either of those will send you back to the left where all three shots are now lit thanks to the addition of the AllSpark saucer. Pick whichever one of those three you prefer for 400K and it's no surprise that the three right side shots are lit for 450K.
The two sides then continue to swap with all three shots lit and the value increasing by 50K each time until you either complete all 11 shots, drain the ball or run out of time. If it's either of the latter two, the Blackout insert flashes to show it's incomplete and you get to see the points earned from Blackout Battle so far.
If you don't complete the mode, the next time you play it you start back at the beginning of the sequence with just one shot lit at a time but with a new base value of 200K + one 50K increment for each time you've played Blackout Battle so far.
Get all 11 indicated shots and Blackout Battle ends immediately, solidly lighting the insert on the feature grid.
Devastator is unusual in that he is actually the combined form of between five and seven other Constructicon robots (depending on which generation of Transformers you take your reference from). Each individual constructicon takes the alternate form of a construction vehicle, and it is these which are shown on the dot matrix display as you build up to starting Devastator Battle.
Another timed mode with 45 seconds, Devastator Battle asks you to make 10 shots to complete it, starting with the right orbit which it helpfully tells you on the display.
Making the orbit scores you 150K (or 300K or 450K depending on multipliers) and lets you know how many shots remain.
This lights the AllSpark Cube saucer and the Optimus Prime centre lane for your next shot, worth 50K more at 200K. Whichever shot you choose becomes you even-numbered shot, alternating with the right orbit for the odd-numbered shots.
So that means it's back to the right orbit for your third shot at 250K, followed by the same shot you selected for your second shot again for 300K. The required shot alternates between these two until you finish the mode.
Devastator is a difficult mode to complete on the Pro because each right orbit shot almost inevitably sends the ball into the pop bumpers due to there being no controlled gate at the top of the left orbit lane. That wouldn't be so bad, but the clock doesn't seem to stop counting down until the ball hits the first bumper which can take a while, so each right orbit shot can eat up quite a chunk of your time.
If you don't manage to make all ten shots in time (or drain the ball), the next time you start Devastator Battle you keep the same even-numbered shot you made before, and keep alternating between it and the right orbit. Shot values begin at the original base value of 150K + 50K more for each previous time you've played Devastator Battle in the same game.
There have been some significant changes to the Devestator mode in the most recent software release which changes the way it plays entirely.
The mode now starts with a 20 second timer during which you have to make two shots. The first is always the right orbit which sends the ball into the pop bumpers. Each hit of the bumpers changes the second shot and produces a nice strobing insert effect on the newly selected shot.
Once the ball exits the pop bumpers, your 20 seconds countdown continues and you have to make the new lit shot. Do that, and the timer resets to 20 seconds and the right orbit relights.
You repeat this five times to get you ten shots in total. The AllSpark Cube still awards an additional 15 seconds of time, but that boost disappears when the right orbit relights and resets to timer to 20 seconds.
At any point during the game you can start building towards Megatron Multiball. It's unlike the other modes because it can be started at any point during a regular mode.
Let's take a look at it.
The Megatron shot is used almost exclusively to build towards, and play, Megatron Multiball. It doesn't feature as one the the game's major shots because of this, but it's quite a dominant feature on the playfield and one of the more satisfying shots to make.
At the start of the game the 'Challenge Megatron' insert is lit. This would normally be labeled 'lock' on most other games, since it indicates shooting the Megatron scoop will lock the ball and score 25K.
The display shows a camera track around the White House as the Defense Secretary (Jon Voight) announces the President's order to dump the 'dead' Transformers held in the Sector Seven facility into the Laurentian Abyss, seven miles below sea level.
These are real, physical ball locks, using the 4-ball trough we look at in part one. So another ball is auto-launched into play. The Challenge Megatron ball lock insert remains lit, and so a second shot to Megatron scores another 25K as it locks the second ball.
This time the display clip is of the naval ships taking the bodies of the Transformers out to the dropping-off point.
Another ball is auto-launched, and this is your chance to lock the third ball.
The final clip shows the Transformers being lowered by helicopters into the Abyss where the pressure and cold will surely crush and entomb them forever. Won't it? Yeah, it'll be fine.
At this point you might be expecting something good like multiball to begin, but we're not quite there yet because Transformers actually needs four ball to be locked before it gives up it's multiball treats.
Consequently, another ball is launched into play and you need to lock this too.
In the case of a multi-player game, some of these auto-launched ball may have to come from the Megatron scoop if there are no balls left to serve up from the main ball trough. It's unavoidable, but a little unfair as it means you miss out on the chance to add a shot multiplier or increase the bonus multiplier, as well as making the ball temporarily out of control.
But we've got three balls locked, we shoot the the Megatron lock one more time and we're off...
Oh no! The Transformers weren't dead after all, and here comes a rather wet and unhappy Megatron.
Megatron Multiball plays a little differently depending on whether you chose to be a Decepticon or an Autobot at the start of the game. It's definitely easier if you're a Decepticon which is only fair as Megatron is on your side, after all.
We'll play this as a Decepticon but also mention the differences as we go along.
When Megatron Multiball begins, you score an immediate 100K as all four balls are rapidly kicked out of the Megatron trough and onto the right flipper with a powerful punch and within a total time of just 1.4 seconds. This creates a moment of mayhem as none of the balls are under control yet, but there is at least a short ball saver to catch any which quickly find their way down an outlane or between the flippers.
All six major shots are now flashing for jackpots which start at 275K points. Shooting any shot collects the points and turns it off. You also get various clips shown of Megatron doing what he does best and destroying stuff.
Shot multipliers are still in force, so timing it right to get the roving 3x multiplier can make that 275K a rather more tasty 825K.
Unlike the display effects in the regular modes, the jackpot animations revert to the old style of showing the clip first and then displaying the jackpot score once the clip ends. The clips are all very dynamic and show plenty of buildings, cars and other Transformers being blown apart.
But back to Megatron Multiball, and your target is to collect ten jackpots. With the six shots lit at the start of Megatron Multiball and each one going out once collected, that's going to be a bit tricky. But Megatron has you covered, because a shot to the Megatron trough will not only count as one of the jackpots, it will also relight all six shots for you.
This behaviour is slightly different if you're playing as an Autobot because Megatron only relights all six shots for a short time before they all go out and you have to hit Megatron again to relight them before collecting a jackpot. This obviously makes collecting your ten jackpots that much more difficult
The jackpot values start at 275K (550K or 825K with shot multipliers applied) and increase by 25K each time. That sounds like an odd starting value but it does mean by the time you've collected all ten jackpots, the tenth one is worth a round 500K (1M or 1.5M).
There is a slight wrinkle to this scoring, because any shot to Megatron will only score a jackpot of 50K, instead of whatever the current jackpot value should be. Shooting Megatron still adds another 25K to the jackpot value though, so you still end up with 500K for the tenth jackpot (unless that's a 50K Megatron shot too).
Once you've collected the tenth jackpot, the display tells you to shoot Megatron.
This has probably been fixed in later software, but shooting Megatron at this point does nothing. That's fairly predictable because it is now the arrow pointing at Optimus which is flashing, and the ramp in front of Optimus has also raised, giving some big clues that you might want to try shooting him instead.
Take the hint, shoot Optimus Prime and get your payoff in the form of a super jackpot.
As you can see, that's a spicy meatball, more-or-less equal to our total score up to that point.
The actual super jackpot value is the total of the ten jackpots - including any shot multipliers - you scored to get there. As it's collected from the Optimus Prime shot, if there's a shot multiplier on that too, you multiply the super jackpot as well. Nice!
We got the score above by having the 2x shot multiplier running on all the six jackpot shots, collecting one jackpot when the 3x shot multiplier was active on it, and also shooting Optimus Prime when the 3x shot multiplier was active.
Without any multipliers, the super jackpot could be as low as 2.125M or as much as 125.4M if you nail all the multiplier opportunities available to you (including one we haven't got round to telling you about yet!).
In later software revisions, playing Megatron Multiball as a Decepticon limits your super jackpot value to a measly 1M (plus any shot multiplier) which severly restricts your scoring potential. If you're an Autobot though, that limit doesn't apply and your super jackpot still builds by each jackpot you score as described above.
Anyway, once we've got the super jackpot nailed, it's back to shooting ten regular jackpots. This time the base value has risen by 100K to 375K, but although it still increases by 25K per jackpot, the jackpots are capped at at maximum of 500K each.
The third time you play Megatron multiball, the base jackpot value increases another 100K to 475K, so you're almost immediately hitting that 500K limit, and thereafter all jackpots will be worth 500K (1M or 1.5M with the 2x or 3x shot multiplier).
If you have the AllSpark Cube lit before going into Megatron Multiball, you can use it judiciously to collect another of those not-such-a-mystery awards.
This doesn't just add one ball to the multiball, but in fact returns any lost balls so you end up with the original four. The AllSpark Cube will still give you this award even if you already have all four of the game's balls in play. This effectively wastes the award, so you have to be careful not to collect it too soon, especially as you cannot relight the AllSpark Cube mystery award during Megatron Multiball, and so only have one award you can collect.
There's no further development in the Megatron Multiball mode. It's simply a case of shooting ten jackpots and then hitting Optimus to collect the super jackpot, over and over until you're down to one ball or the location owner is pushing you out the front door with a broom long after closing time.
Starting Megatron Multiball flashes the associated insert on the feature grid. Collecting a super jackpot lights it solidly.
When you've lost all but one of the balls in play, Megatron Multiball ends and you have a brief period to collect any lit jackpots or the super jackpot before you are shown your total points earned during multiball, and no more awards can be collected.
The text on the right is centre-aligned which results in multiball totals of 100M or more not being displayed correctly. It's not easy to get that kind of score though, so you probably won't see it too often.
We've now completed all the modes on our chosen side of the feature grid and we get a reward for that in the form of the mode at the top of the grid - Sentinel Prime.
We'll come to Sentinel Prime a little later, but before that, let's look to see what you would get if you had chosen to be an Autobot instead.
As an Autobot, you initially play the four modes on the right of the feature grid - shooting the lit major shots to count down towards the mode's start. You can still play Megatron or Optimus Prime multiballs whenever you want, but as with the Decepticon side, you have to play and complete all four Autobot modes and Optimus Prime Multiball before you can move on to Sentinel Prime.
Here are the details of all the Autobot modes.
It's easy to be confused by this mode because Bumblebee has a dedicated captive ball shot on the playfield and this mode has nothing to do with that, other than sharing the same name.
In case it's not clear from the captive ball shot, Bumblebee takes the alternate form of a bright yellow Chevy Camaro and we see this vehicle pass across the screen as the number of shots needed to start the mode counts down.
As with all the other regular modes' animations, the vehicle crosses the display's dividing line and briefly covers the scores as it drives by. It also has an animation from the opposite direction which is used for the '1 more shot' display.
As Bumblebee Battle begins, we see the car engage gear and wheel-spin away.
As soon as Bumblebee Battle starts, all six major shots are lit to collect a hurry-up award which begins at 750K and rapidly counts down.
For those interested in such trivia, the way it counts down is a little odd. It initially drops by 1,150 points to 748,850 but then drops by 2,300 points followed by two 3,450 point drops, and then repeats the 2,300 and 2 x 3,450 pattern until it reaches the minimum value of 400K. Just though you'd like to know.
While the hurry-up value is counting down, any shot to one of the six flashing major shots will collect the hurry-up (applying any shot multiplier in force) and add that score to a 'Bee' total shown on the display. Of course, any shot multipliers also take effect on both the value scored and the points added to the Bee total.
Once made, a shot goes out so you can't loop the same shot over and over. Meanwhile, the hurry-up value counts down so fast you'll never complete it in one go unless you get some help, and that help comes in form of the AllSpark Cube mystery award.
Usually, the first mystery award you get will be to give you more time to complete the mode.
Of course, there's no timer as such running during Bumblebee Battle, just the hurry-up value. So to give you more time the hurry-up value is boosted to 800K, from where it starts counting down again.
Even from 800K, it takes just just under 15 seconds to reach the minimum 400K and during that time you need to complete all six shots and so collect six hurry-up values.
If you don't make it before the value hits 400K, Bumblebee Battle ends and the insert on the feature grid does the flash of failure at you.
To recovery your dignity, you have to restart Bumblebee Battle and complete it. Any shots you didn't collect before are flashing again and the hurry-up value is boosted from its original base of 750K by 50K to 800K. If you get an AllSpark award of 'Add More Time' then it would reset to 850K.
It all sounds great so far. Unfortunately though, your Bee total is also reset to a big, fat zero. Or zero zero.
Anyway, once you collect the sixth hurry-up, the game changes and you now have 15 seconds to collect your Bee total by shooting the Bumblebee shot, which is the captive ball and Camaro.
The Bumblebee captive ball isn't one of the six major shots and so you can't have a 2x or 3x shot multiplier on it.
Once the Bee total has been awarded, Bumblebee Battle ends and the insert lights solidly on the feature grid.
The latest software makes a few changes to the way the Bumblebee mode works. Where the minimum hurry-up value in the version we reviewed here was 400K, it is now 100K which give more time to make the shots. As compensation though, the AllSpark award now only resets the timer to 750K instead of the 850K we had before. Also, the hurry-up value always starts at 750K and doesn't increase by 50K each time.
Next we have the Autobot's weapons specialist and the only Transformer here with a California license plate.
Ironhide, when he's not a 22ft-tall killing machine, takes many forms. One of those is GM Topkick C4500 truck and that is how he is shown on the dot matrix display during the run-up to his mode starting.
Shoot another four lit shots and Ironhide gets his moment in the spotlight.
Once Ironhide Battle begins, a timer is set to 45 seconds and you have to make 10 lit shots. Sound familiar?
The left and right ramps, and the left orbit flash to show they are the your required shots. You can shoot any of them to collect a points award which starts at 200K (400K with 2x, 600K if 3x) and increase by 50K per award.
The shots do not go out when collected and they do not change either, making Ironhide a rather unimaginative mode. You just keep shooting those three until you get all ten or the time runs out.
Once again, the AllSpark Cube mystery award can give your timer a shot in the arm and add 15 seconds to the clock.
If you don't make all ten shots in time, you get your total shown and the next time you play you pick up Ironhide Battle where you left it, but with the shot values now starting at 250K.
Get all ten and Ironhide Battle ends, lighting the feature grid insert.
Once again, things have been changed in the latest software to give some added variety to the modes and make them a little more considered.
Ironhide now has four pre-set groups of shots you need to make within a 25 second timer. It starts off easy with just one shot to make - the Optimus Prime centre lane.
Then it ups the ante with both ramp shots to make with a new 25 seconds timer. Complete those and it's another 25 seconds and three shots - the centre lane and both orbits.
Finally it's the biggest challenge of all as both orbits and both ramps are all lit and have to be completed in 25 seconds.
Only when you complete all four groups (10 shots in total) is Ironhide completed, making it much more challenging than before.
Like Bumblebee, Mudflap & Skids are also represented on the playfield with their own shot and feature, but once again that's unrelated to their mode on the feature grid.
Mudflap & Skids are twins who join together to form and an old ice-cream van (amongst other things) in the recent movies. They are shown both joined together and separating on the display, as the number of shots needed to start their mode counts down.
This is another fairly straightforward mode where all six major shots are initially lit for points starting at 200K (or 400K/600K) and increasing by 50K each time.
You have to collect 11 shot this time and you have the usual 45 seconds to get them all.
As each shot is made its insert extinguishes. Once you've got all six, they all relight and you can collect the remaining five.
Mudflap & Skids changed in versions 1.3 onwards and became a multiball mode instead of a timed one, thus making Mudflap & Skids the only multiball out of the eight regular modes. Like all the modes, it can run concurrently with any other multiball and will add an extra ball to Optimus Prime Multiball to make it a four ball mode.
The eighth and final regular mode is named after the Autobot's peace-loving medical officer who, in his spare time, turns into an ambulance. Well, we all need a hobby.
Although the ambulance form is common amongst the Transformers cartoons and comics, in the three recent feature films he takes the more macho form of a Hummer H2 truck. But here he appears as a kind of hybrid of the two, as the shots needed to start his mode count down.
Get the four lit shots and Ratchet Battle begins.
Ratchet is another of those modes with a 45 second timer where you have to collect a certain number of shots.
In this case it's 10 shots you need and at the start, all six of the major shots are flashing. Shooting any of them earns you 200K (with 2x or 3x multipliers).
That shot goes out and the remaining five are lit for 250K. This continues until you have collected all six shots when they all re-light. In other words, exactly the same as Mudflap & Skids. Presumably this is why Mudflap & Skids was made into a multiball mode instead to differentiate it from Ratchet.
As usual, the AllSpark Cube award will most likely be 'More Time' and that adds 15 seconds to the clock.
Ratchet Battle ends when you either get all the ten shots or run out of time. If you run out of time then you have to replay the mode before you can move on the the next stage.
Once you get all ten shots, Ratchet Battle ends.
Which brings us to the final mode on the Autobot side of the feature grid, the one we've all been waiting for. Ladies and gentlemen, Optimus Prime Multiball.
Optimus Prime Multiball is started exclusively by shooting the centre lane when it's not lit for one of the other modes.
Starting Optimus Prime Multiball is a two-stage process. First, shots to the centre lane count down from four. Once you have made the four centre lanes shots, the ramp rises to turn those centre lane shots into shots at Optimus Prime.
Four shots are now needed to crash into Optimus. These need to register as hits, but due to the rather unreliable sensing mechanism, you may actually need to make more than four shots to register four hits.
Once you've made the fourth hit, Optimus Prime Multiball starts automatically and you earn 2M points as an instant reward.
Optimus Prime Multiball is a three-ball multiball but you can bump that up to four by shooting the AllSpark Cube shot if it is lit for a mystery award. It's important to light it before starting Optimus Prime Multiball, because once you're in it, shots to the blue Energon targets only score 5K points and won't relight the AllSpark Cube.
The rules for Optimus Prime Multiball change depending on whether you are playing as a Decepticon or an Autobot.
As a Decepticon, all six major shots are flashing - the AllSpark, the left and right orbits, the left and right ramps and the centre lane - and shooting any of these scores a regular jackpot of 150K with the usual 2x or 3x shot multiplier opportunities, as we see below.
After collecting the regular jackpot, the ramp in front of Optimus Prime rises and just the centre lane's big red arrow flashes. A shot to Optimus Prime now scores a double jackpot with a base value of 300K, but if you've got a 2x multiplier, then...
The centre lane ramp then lowers and all the major shots are relit except for the one you just collected. Shoot any of those for another regular 150K jackpot, then shoot Optimus Prime again for a second double jackpot.
This process continues over and over until you have collected jackpots from all six major shots, each followed by a double jackpot.
After the sixth super jackpot, the centre lane ramp remains raised and one final shot at Optimus is needed for...
The super jackpot value is the total of the six jackpots and the six super jackpots (complete with any shot multipliers you may have in effect), and if you have a shot multiplier on the centre lane, that kicks in too to double or triple the super jackpot score.
With the super jackpot collected it's back to the start and shooting six jackpot/double jackpot combos to work towards a super jackpot and then collecting that too. This repeats over and over until you're down to one ball or fewer with each repeat increasing the jackpot value by 100K.
If you're playing as an Autobot then you start off the same as if you were a Decepticon with all six major shots lit for a jackpot.
Shoot one to collect the jackpot of 375K but instead of Optimus Prime being the double jackpot shot, the same shot you just shot to collect the jackpot is now lit for a double jackpot of 750K. The remaining shots then relight.
You shoot each major shot twice to score the jackpots and double jackpots, and when all six have been completed, it is Megatron who is now lit for the super jackpot which is once again equal to the total of the six jackpots and double jackpots with any multipliers applied. This can lead to some quite large super jackpot scores if you get the most from your 2x and 3x shot multipliers.
You repeat this until your multiball ends.
As with Megatron Multiball, starting Optimus Prime Multiball gets the insert on the feature grid to flash, while collecting a super jackpot lights it solidly.
The next time you play Megatron Multiball you need to qualify the locks by shooting the three Energon stanup targets. For the second multiball completing the targets lights all four locks, but thereafter you need to light each lock individually.
We've gone through all eight of the regular modes and the two multiball modes, but in practice you'll only play one side or the other to begin with, plus perhaps the big multiball mode from the other side. Once you've solidly lit (i.e. fully completed the related mode for) all five character's inserts on your chosen side, you get to move on to the second stage which is the the mini-wizard mode at the top of the feature grid.
When the fifth mode on your selected side is completed and it comes to an end, the four inserts at the AllSpark Cube strobe to direct your attention to the saucer, while the flasher lamp inside the cube itself flashes away furiously.
Take the hint, shoot the saucer, and off we go.
Sentinel Prime Battle is the half-way house mode which stands between your side of the feature grid and the opposite side, and it starts as soon as the ball lands in the AllSpark Cube saucer.
Sentinel Prime is a legendary warrior who once led the Autobots before Optimus Prime, but turned to the Decepticon side in an effort to restore Cybertron to it's former glory. At least that's the plot in the recent movies. Before that he appeared in many guises in the cartoons and comic books but it's the big guy from the movie version we have here.
As his history spans both Autobots and Decepticons, so do the shots needed to play his mode.
Sentinel Prime Battle is a single ball affair, without a timer, but with the Decepticon and Autobot inserts flashing on all six of the major shots.
The idea is to shoot each shot twice for jackpots which start at 500K and increase by 50K with each subsequent flashing shot. Multipliers on the shots still count, and the points you earn from each flashing shot also go into the super jackpot pot, just like they do in the two major multiball modes.
When you shoot a flashing shot the first time, the bottom Decepticon insert lights solidly and the upper Autobot one keeps flashing. Shoot it a second time and the Autobot insert is lit solidly too and the shot no longer scores jackpots.
The super jackpot value can get pretty high as you near the end, as the value of each of the remaining shots rises to 1M or more.
Shots can be made in any order and with any other shots in between, but you need the twelve shots to get to the end. Once you nail it, that super jackpot awaits you. And you collect it where you started Sentinel Prime Battle - back in the AllSpark Saucer, which has resumed its self-absorbed "look at me" flashing and strobing.
Pop the ball back in and the points are yours. Naturally, shot multipliers are still in effect, so things get serious if you've got a 2x multiplier on the AllSpark and even more so if you get the timing right and hit it when the 3x multiplier is in effect.
Collecting the super jackpot completes Sentinel Prime Battle and ends the mode.
If you lose the ball before completing Sentinel Prime Battle (and have some remaining balls to continue playing), Sentinel Prime Battle ends. You don't get the opportunity to restart it on your next ball and your super jackpot points are lost, so it's important to see it through to the end.
Once Sentinel Prime Battle has ended, you can now start counting down lit shots towards the first of the four regular modes on the other side of the feature grid. As before, it's four lit shots to start the mode and it's the same rules as before to flash or light the character's insert on the grid.
We covered all the rules for the modes above, so your big challenge is to solidly light all ten of the Autobot and Decepticon characters on the feature grid.
It's no easy task but that's what you have to do if you want to get to the wizard mode, and that's what we're going to look at next.
So here's the chance for anyone who doesn't want to know what happens at the very end of the game to skip this section and re-join us afterwards.
If that means you, click here and we'll see you a couple of pages on.
So you want to know the good stuff, eh? Right, here we go.
Once the five Autobot and five Decepticon inserts are lit solidly, our old friend the AllSpark Cube saucer lights up like a Christmas tree and tells us to put the ball in there.
Shoot the saucer and prepare for battle.
You get an instant 2M points which is always nice, but you also start a four-ball multiball as the ball is kicked out of the AllSpark saucer and the other three balls are auto-launched up the shooter lane to the top rollover lanes.
The display just calls it Wizard Multiball in this version but the scoring looks strangely familiar and not at all unlike the Sentinel Prime Battle we just saw. And in fact it is very similar.
This time, though, three inserts are flashing on each of the six major shots - the Decepticon logo, the Autobot logo and the orange arrow insert above them.
If you have any shot multipliers, their inserts are lit too, although for some reason when Battle for Cybertron begins, the AllSpark multiplier goes out. It comes back later though and still seems to take effect, so it's not a big deal.
Battle for Cybertron plays just like Sentinel Prime Battle too. Each time you shoot one of the six major shots, it turns one of the inserts solid starting with the Decepticon one, followed by the Autobot one and then the orange arrow. Points start at 500K and increase by 50K each time.
With eighteen shots to make instead of the twelve you get with Sentinel Prime, the total number of points available is significantly higher, rising to 1.35M for the last shot. Plus of course this is a four-ball multiball, so it's easier to collect them.
When each shot has been made three times and all three of their inserts are lit solidly, the super jackpot is lit for collection.
As before, the AllSpark is the place to collect the big points, with a 2x or 3x multiplier if at all possible.
With the super jackpot collected, it's back to the start of the mode with all three inserts on each shot flashing for jackpots and the value back to 500K.
This sequence continues until you lose three of the four balls at which point Battle for Cybertron Multiball ends.
Once the Battle for Cybertron wizard mode is over, all the characters on the feature grid are unlit and you're effectively back at the start of the game, only with a slightly higher base value for each mode and a whole heap of points to your credit.
Welcome back to those who skipped the wizard mode section and we continue with three of the other features within the game.
Although they have their position on the feature grid, Mudflap & Skids also star in their own scoring feature started by their two standup targets on the right of the playfield.
Hitting either of the two targets during regular gameplay will score 75K and count down the number of hits needed to start Fast Scoring. Every hit is accompanied by an animation of one of the twins being hit with the ball and a different quote each time. Our favourite is this one.
The first time you count down towards Fast Scoring you need 10 hits on either of the targets to start the mode. That number increases by one each subsequent time you play it.
When you finally get enough hits, Fast Scoring begins and as expected, it is a timed 'Frenzy' mode where all switch closures score 15K points. At least that's what the display says, but in this version it actually started at 16K.
The timer is initially set for 25 seconds and every switch hit puts its value on the display and lets it drift upwards and off the top.
Fast Scoring is probably not lucrative enough to spend much time maximising the number of hits, so it's best combined with a multiball mode where all those pop bumper hits will come in handy.
However, there are a couple of things you can do to make it more worthwhile.
Once Fast Scoring is running, a hit to either of the pair of Mudflap or Skids standup targets will increase the points value by 1K.
The insert in front of the hit target lights solidly,while the other insert flashes. Shoot the other target and you get an extension of the timer.
Ten seconds are added every time you hit both Mudflap and Skids and that time can increase up to a maximum of 90 seconds.
When the time runs out or you drain the ball, Fast Scoring ends and you get to see the total points earned from it.
Our next feature is another score-booster and, when used in conjunction with the shot multipliers, can lead to some big point awards.
At long last it's time for the captive ball and the Bumblebee Camaro to get some attention, because it is here that you can start the game's Double Scoring feature.
As with Mudflap & Skids, although Bumblebee has a mode on the feature grid, this is nothing to do with that.
Each hit on the captive ball knocks the ball behind it forward, pushing it into the yellow Camaro car. There are two switches in the lane - one rollover switch to sense when the car starts moving forward and produce a sound effect, and a standup target at the end which is the one which actually registers a valid hit on the captive ball.
When hit, much of the energy from the captive ball is conveyed through the non-captive ball to the Camaro, but not all of it, so both the car and the non-captive ball both roll up the lane. The non-captive ball rolls back to its rest position earlier than the Camaro, so you don't have to wait for the car to return before you can make a second hit.
Each hit adds a letter to B-U-M-B-L-E-B-E-E which, when completed, starts Double Scoring.
The first two letters are already completed at the start of the game on default settings, so you only need seven more hits to add the remaining letters and complete the name.
When you make the successful seventh hit on the captive ball, Double Scoring starts straight away.
It starts so fast, that by the time you get to see the timer, it's already down to 37 seconds.
The 40 seconds you are given is fixed and doesn't get extended with a More Time award from the AllSpark Cube. Similarly, hitting the Bumblebee captive ball to spell out B-U-M-B-L-E-B-E-E again during Double Scoring only resets the timer to 40 seconds, and doesn't add another 40 seconds or increase the multiplier to 3x.
Double scoring ends 40 seconds after you started it. There's no display or total to let you know when Double Scoring ends, and if you're in another mode you won't get the timer shown either. When the time runs out, your scores just return to normal. However in later software, extra sound effects are added to let you know when Double Scoring (as well as Fast Scoring) is running and when it ends, as long as you know what effect to listen for and have the sound turned up on your machine.
Bumblebee Double Scoring seems to be available most of the time, as the yellow arrowhead insert in front of the captive ball is lit more or less constantly. You can start it during the multiballs and even during the wizard mode, which would make those features even more valuable when combined with the 2x or 3x shot multipliers. Not only are the jackpots multiplied 4x or 6x, but that multiplied value is added to the super jackpot which can itself be multiplied in the same way, making each jackpot worth potentially 42x its normal value (that's collected at 6x plus added to the super jackpot at 6x which is then multiplied 6x when collected).
The AllSpark Cube saucer is enabled for mystery awards by shooting the three blue Energon targets at the entrance to the two ramps.
Each one has a blue insert in front which lights up when the target is hit. Each target corresponds to an object on the display, with a blender on the left and a toaster on the right (and, we think, a printer in the middle). When a target is hit, the related object transforms in into a flash symbol. You also get 75K for the first two targets and 425K for the third.
Once you get all three transformed, the AllSpark saucer is lit.
Shoot the ball into the saucer and on the display the AllSpark Cube flies at you, showing a range of possible awards before settling on one of them.
Some of the awards shown (but not given) are a little odd and may, or may not, be something you'd want to receive.
The awards we've actually seen given so far include:
although others may have been added in later software revisions.
Something which has changed in later software is the ability to stack AllSpark awards, so you can complete the Energon targets twice or more and then collect the awards one after another with consecutive visits to the AllSpark Cube saucer.
This offers the possibility to collect more than just the one AllSpark Mystery Award during multiballs which was not previously possible.
Even the best of games must end eventually, and when it does, the end-of-ball bonus is there to make it all better.
The bonus count is a simple one, based on the number of switch hits during the preceding ball and multiplied by the bonus multiplier achieved from the top rollover lane and the AllSpark Cube award.
The multiplier counts up...
and so on, up to...
The bonus is unlikely to be a significant part of your overall score even with the fairly decent 8x multiplier seen above. With no elements related to your achievements during the game, it's not going to be part of your scoring strategy.
As usual, this is your chance to win a free game for having the foresight to end the game with a score where the last two digits match the game's selection.
With the split screen, the scores are on the left while the word 'MATCH' transforms into the magic number on the right.
However, we do have a little something for those of you who have read the rules and not skipped straight to the end. If you click on the display frames shown above for all the mode titles, the multiball titles and the choice of side, you'll find we've linked them to the mp3 music loops used in the mode or during game play. Don't tell anyone though - it will be our little secret! Also, bear in mind a couple of modes use the same music.
What we've shown you so far has been purely factual, but now it's time to look at each aspect of the game and give our thoughts about how they are implemented, what works well, what is perhaps not so good, and then conclude with our ratings.
We'll start with the subject of the previous 10,000 words.
In some ways Transformers breaks new ground with the way the rules work, while in other ways it is very traditional and conservative.
Making the player choose who they want to be at the start of the game is a feature we haven't seen for a long time and while it's will appeal to Transformers fans, it is something which often confuses casual players - especially those who don't care one way or the other.
The Transformers theme is all about the two sides, and this concept is nicely designed into everything about the game, from the artwork to the playfield layout, the lighting and the whole colour scheme, so it's right it carries into the ruleset too.
The way the rules and the music change depending on whether you're an Autobot or a Decepticon is an innovative feature which not only integrates well with the theme, but also provides a second level of challenges to maintain home buyers' interest over the medium to long term.
There are some downsides though.
Choosing one side or the other can give the impression to the player that they are only getting to play half the game. Hopefully our explanation of the rules will dispel that notion and show how you can get to play all the modes and features, but when Transformers first came out lots of pinball fans thought you could only ever play half the modes.
The other problem is that while there are lots of modes, none of them are explained well or actually all that interesting to play.
What often separates good games from mediocre games is the storyline. The part of the game which explains the role you are meant to be playing, what your objectives are, how you're supposed to achieve them, what your motivation is to do them , and how the story develops are you progress through the game. The old "who?, what?, where?, how? and why?"
Transformers starts off well, putting you in the role of either an Autobot or a Decepticon, but then leaves you to get on with it without any instructions, guidance or compelling reason to make the indicated shots.
From the seemingly arbitrary number of shots needed to start a mode:
to the equally obscure number and nature of the shots needed once it begins:
nothing is explained.
Why 3 shots? Why 11 shots? Why those 11 shots and what do they represent? The mode is called Blackout Battle, so am I battling Blackout, or battling with him? To get the player to feel truly involved in the game you have to sell them a reason to care beyond simply improving their score, and seeing 'shoot 11 shots' is a pretty depressing sight when you don't know why.
Consider a game such as Attack from Mars, where each shot to the right orbit adds another part to the Atomic Blaster and the accompanying quote progresses through that storyline. When it's complete, you can do something with it. You have a reason to make that shot four times.
There may well have been a story behind each of the modes which explains the shot choices, but they're not explained to the player in any way, and as a result Transformers appears random and lacks a sense of involvement or emotional attachment. Part of that is down to the way modes just start, instead of trapping the ball in a saucer or a scoop, where explanations can be given.
Having said all this, we do appreciate that this is just the Pro version of the game, and that the various Limited Edition models have additional modes and playfield features. Developing two different versions of the software and, to an extent, two versions of the rules within each must use a lot of resources. We also don't want to give the impression the game isn't fun to play because it is, and it provides plenty of bang for the buck, but we're always looking for ways to improve the gameplay and this is one area where Stern games do sometimes seem to be lacking.
As for the difficulty level, we'd probably have made the modes easier to complete. Most of them are very unlikely to be completed in one attempt, and some will be tricky even after two goes. So that means anyone hoping to get to the wizard mode will need to play 16 modes, plus the two main multiballs at least once each, if not more, plus Sentinel Prime. On a game designed for short ball times, that's a tall order.
So we'd suggest dropping the number of shots needed in the modes from 10 or 11 down to around 7 which is just about achievable in one attempt.
If you've been reading the rules then you'll already have seen over 200 frames from the display and have a good idea about the overall look of the game.
The game maintains the 70:30 split to put all the scores on the left-hand side throughout. As on earlier games, some animations will extend outside the right-hand area to briefly cover the scores but it's only a momentary interruption. Interestingly, this may be the last game to feature this split-screen format, as Stern's next game AC/DC reverts back to full-screen animations mixed with scores, while the company's new LCD display is expected to debut at the end of this year, leaving only one - or possibly two - more games after AC/DC using the DMD.
But back to the current game and it's worth noting how several of the display effects we've shown you have been improved in versions of the software released since we did our recordings, with more decoration and some bug fixes. Whether those changes will ever be installed on the Pro games used on location will vary, but it's worth asking your operator if they haven't updated your game.
Transformers uses a mix of movie clips and hand-drawn animations. We haven't shown many movie clips because when you freeze-frame them it's not clear what they are showing, but when animating they do look pretty good on the dot matrix display, despite its obvious limitations on resolution and colour depth.
In fact the clips are the highlights of the display effects, and given the amount of money spent on the movies, it's quite understandable that they should dominate. The in-house animations are all competent enough but are rather understated and don't have any stand-out moments.
The Transformers themselves are hugely detailed 3D objects which - as we saw with the backglass images - are difficult to separate from their background (or each other) when shown in full colour, so rendering them small, in 12 shades of orange, on a very low resolution screen isn't an easy task. As a result, they do tend to be almost indistinguishable from each other, with the backgrounds being the most individualistic feature.
Ultimately, it doesn't really matter who they are. You're only interested in which shots you have to make and its here that the display doesn't give you much beyond the bare minimum information. When there's a super jackpot with potentially tens of millions of points available, there's hardly any change in the display to draw your attention to the fact or build any excitement.
Having different countdown animations for each of the Transformer's mode - and left-to-right and right-to-left versions of each of those - showing their alternate mode is a nice touch. Some manage to get a little humour in there - I'm looking at you Mudflap & Skids - although most are pretty straight-laced.
So overall the display effects are a mixed bag. The fighting/exploding movie clips convey the battle action and excitement far better than the in-house displays which are largely static and relatively sedate. More information would be helpful, while more movement overall would make the informational graphics a better match with the clips.
The Transformers licence brings with it a number of music themes but the pinball includes numerous specially-written music tracks for the different modes and for the Decepticon and Autobot sides.
Having different themes for the two sides during main game play and also when the ball is sitting in the shooter lane enhances the sense of playing two separate games. The bespoke music tracks extend the original theme and maintain the same sense of action combined with the gravitas of the fate facing the human race.
There are plenty of musical effects when lit shots are hit or when awards are given but also numerous sound effects, the most prominent of which is the klaxon which sounds when balls are kicked out of the Megatron ball lock. It successfully cuts through most other sounds to let you know a ball is heading your way - and fast.
A variety of voices are used. Some come from the movies' soundtracks but most are recorded just for the game.
There's no commentary as such during gameplay, only the Transformers themselves calling out achievements or insults during their related modes. As with the animations, Mudflap & Skids provide the only moments of light relief with everyone else taking themselves deadly seriously.
Hard-core Transformers fans may be disappointed Peter Cullen isn't the voice of Optimus Prime in the game, but for everyone else, the voice talent used is just fine and an acceptably close approximation to Cullen's. Thankfully there are no long, drawn out, patronising monologues from Optimus Prime at the end of the game either. Sometimes, having limited memory in the game can be a good thing.
We mentioned before the difficulty compositing multiple Transformers characters while keeping separation between them and their backgrounds, and that's something which affects all versions of the game's backglass image to some extent and most particularly on the Limited Edition variants.
It's certainly a radical departure for Stern to produce unique art packages for the Pro and three LE variants, and of course it's not only the artwork which changes. So does the trim colour and finish, with some beautiful side rails, backbox hinges, lock bars and legs to complete the package.
Clearly, a much larger amount of effort and money has been spent on the appearance of the LE versions of Transformers than any previous game. And, naturally, the prices reflect this.
Back at the Pro level, while the trim is regular black, the cabinet artwork is as good as that on the more expensive versions.
This artwork doesn't attempt the photo-realistic look, but sits halfway between the movie and the cartoon versions, indicating that this game is a hybrid of both. The light beams behind Optimus Prime and Megatron help lift them away from the background and improve their definition too. It's simple, clean and tells the story.
Of course, let's not forget that Transformers is the first Stern game to use cabinet decals and although it's early days, we've not had any reports of the decals lifting or wrinkling. The main thing about the decals though is the vast improvement in the qualify of the printing compared to the old silk screen process directly on the wood. The difference really is huge and if the decals prove to be suitable durable, is definitely the way to go. Stern have made a change in the sample AC/DC games which are currently being shown at trade shows. These newer decals don't wrap around the back of the cabinet like the Transformers ones do.
The next printed element ripe for improvement has to be the apron decals which always appear very granular and low resolution.
Down on the playfield the Decepticon/Autobot divide is more gradual than on the dual Limited Edition backglass, although still very much apparent.
The large rectangular inserts for the feature grid are given a new shape thanks to the artwork printed over them which continues the metallic, mechanical, industrial theme, although the actual battlefield is saved for the back of the game where Optimus Prime and Ironhide are joined by Starscream on the Limited Editions.
All in all, we like the art package and in some ways the Pro looks cleaner and less cluttered than the LE models, especially with the translite image. The playfield conveys the crimson and violet colours of the two sides without becoming too dark and gloomy thanks to yellow accents and splashes of blue around the place.
One other new feature which can vaguely be described as artwork is the use of quick response or QR codes. These appear on the apron, the translite and on the cabinet front, and when scanned with a smartphone direct the player to pages on a special Stern website which gives then extra information about the game.
Here are the links we've found so far on the Pro and LE versions of the game:
There may be others, so if you've got any new ones send them in and we'll update this list.
We often don't have a huge amount to say about the lighting in a game beyond how well illuminated the playing area is and noting any impressive lighting effects.
Not so with Transformers, because lighting plays a huge part in producing the overall look of the playfield. Getting the violet and crimson colour across the left and right playfield sides respectively either meant using masses of coloured lamps, or using coloured plastics. Transformers Pro largely uses the latter option to spread its coloured light around.
In a darkened room, even the stock Pro model's playfield looks beautiful, bathed in red and purple... sorry George, 'crimson' and 'violet' illumination.
The regular lighting effects and the use of flashers are all present and correct, though there's just a single flash lamp under the pop bumper central insert. We're sure Stern will address that and put some meatier flashers back in there real soon.
There are no set-piece lighting effects which darken the whole playfield or switch to just the flashers. This is mainly because, despite this being a game where you are out to defeat enemy robots, there are no real victory moments and there are very few times where there isn't a ball in play - really just during an AllSpark mystery award or at the start of Megatron Multiball - so players need the playfield properly lit most of the time. A shame really, as the Transformers theme really lends itself to the playfield lighting powering down or doing the same kind of flasher effects Scared Stiff does.
When looking at the playfield we noted how the usual spotlights on the slingshots are missing from the Pro model. Although we thought they weren't really needed, they did return in the LE models so the central playfield area should be a little brighter on those games.
The use of plastic ramps and translucent panels in various places really helps lift the overall lighting level and avoid any excessively dark area, and by using appropriately coloured panels the Decepticon/Autobot split can be further defined.
If there's one disappointing area for lighting it has to be the AllSpark Cube which would really have benefited from translucent sections which could really make it come alive once the flasher inside fired. In fact, the AllSpark Cube is one area where an after-market replacement could make a significant improvement.
Although we've included several features from the Limited Edition versions of the game, this review is primarily about the Pro model so we'll write about the layout and features present on that game.
Like all George's designs for Stern, Transformers is a two-flippered game, so by its nature it is what many people will can a 'fan' layout. The usual left and right ramps and orbits are there, along with the left-side saucer from The Sopranos, NBA Fastbreak and Monster Bash.
But while these are familiar features, there are also some more unusual ones. The rapid-fire Megatron kickout is very effective in firing a fast barrage of pinballs back at the player while the construction of the ramps make them worthy of more attention.
While the design section of these reviews usually talks just about shot placement and flow, pinball design also involves drawing all the parts which go to make the game playable, and Transformers takes the aesthetics and detail to a whole new level.
Other than the metal incline, the ramp is made entirely from flat plastic sections dove-tailed together. While this might make then awkward to clean, they do permit much more light to pass through and also allow for the ramp base and sides to be artworked to provide texture and colour which is not otherwise possible.
While it's undoubtedly beautifully crafted, the playfield's plush look belies the lack of actual playfield mechanisms and, probably most importantly with this theme, anything which actually transforms. Strip it down to the basics and you only have one saucer, one kickout, one captive ball and one bash toy with a moving ramp in front.
Looking at each of those, the AllSpark saucer does a good job of holding onto a fast ball and not letting it bounce out. It's a shame the eject is so limp and out-of-keeping with the theme where anything less than flipper-shattering speed is met with ridicule.
To be fair, the Megatron trough and kickout is far more impressive and takes on the Velociraptor/Ram/General Yagov role of firing the ball back at you so fast you have no opportunity to get it under control. But Megatron improves on this by firing not one but four balls back at you like this in quick succession. Shots into Megatron tend to be fast and produce a satisfying 'thunk' when made.
Less satisfying is Megatron's nemesis, Optimus Prime, who has proved unreliable in registering hits and generally unimpressive when struck, despite having a solenoid under his right foot to propel him backwards.
Getting back to shot design, the orbit lane only has a short guide rail on the left which makes that a little harder than expected, but the right orbit makes up for it with it's long lead-in. The one-way gate at the top prevents complete circuits from the right which inhibits flow but does provide a reliable way to get the ball back up to the top for shot and bonus multiplier opportunities.
Getting a good flow going isn't too hard on Transformers with ramp combos mixed with left orbits and centre lane shots. And while that is fun, there's really no reward for doing that unless they happen to be lit to advance towards - or play - a mode. Also, the centre lane sends the ball back into the right orbit where it is almost crying out for a Tron-like upper flipper to keep the action going by sending up a side ramp. Without that upper flipper, a centre lane shot feels a little wasted when the ramp is not sending the ball into Optimus Prime.
Before we finish with the design section though, here is a look at a couple more design flourishes with the Optimus Prime and Megatron laser-cut plates fitted to the LE models.
Over the last half dozen Stern games, we - along with a great many other players and potential customers - have decried the lack of playfield features and the apparent poor value of recent releases compared with those from thirty months before.
Stern have acknowledged this, initially by a small increase in the playfield budget to allow games such as Tron:Legacy to at least have an upper flipper. Transformers takes things in a different direction on two fronts.
First, rather than have more costly playfield mechanisms, the perceived value has been given a boost by giving this pinball a cosmetic makeover. Crafted plastics, themed lighting and integrated artwork show the thought and design effort put into making the game look as good as it possibly can.
If the game can't afford big custom mechs or anything which actually transforms, it can at least make what is there look expensive.
The second front where Transformers breaks new ground is with the number of different Limited Editions produced and additional features they provide. Decepticons, Autobots and a split version make Transformers the first game where the total number of LEs might actually outstrip Pro sales. Stern are milking the LE market for all they can by increasing numbers, increasing costs and increasing the differentiation between the LEs and the Pros.
So here we are with the base Pro model aimed at operators.
It looks great, it flows pretty well, if being somewhat conventional, and it features a novel split set of rules and some exciting music and effects. What tends to let it down is the unimaginative nature of the modes and multiballs. Someone e-mailed the other day and asked if all the modes are - as they appear to be - 'shoot 10 lit shots', to which the answer is "yes, pretty much".
The movie clips shown on the display and the crashing sound effects do a good job of illustrating the battle taking place but we're not fans of modes which just start during regular gameplay. They lose their definition as distinct modes and confuse the casual players. Heck, they confuse the seasoned players too.
But maybe we're taking it all to seriously and should treat Stern's Transformers pinball like Michael Bay's Transformers movies.
Sit back, switch off and enjoy the spectacle. But don't think too hard about it, or you'll start to realise there's not a whole lot of substance underneath.
Pass the popcorn.
Finally, we come to that part of the review where we give our ratings to the individual elements of the game and come up with a total for the game as a whole.
While most of the details in this review are objective and factual, these rating are entirely subjective, describing our feelings about the game, how it plays and how much fun we had playing it.
Each element is scored out of a maximum of 10 points. If a game gets a 10, then it’s the best we’ve ever seen in that category. Consequently, it’s pretty rare to see a 10. Scoring an 8 means that element is 80% as good as the best example we've ever seen, which is pretty good too. You get the idea.
Although the software version we reviewed has since been updated, we're including the changes made in our ratings. Remember, this is the Pro model we are reviewing. The Limited Editions will have more features and more rules, but as we've seen before, adding a mode or a new mechanism doesn't necessarily make the game more fun to play. It's how its implemented which counts.
Anyway, here are our scores for Transformers Pro:
Don’t get upset if our ratings don’t match your own – it’s quite unlikely you’ll think exactly the same way we do. You should, however, be able to see why we rated them as we did if you’ve read right through this review and noted our comments along the way.
Finally, a huge thanks to Stern's UK distributors Electrocoin and to Evert Brochez, Yves Havermaet, Eric Andries and Colin MacAlpine for their assistance in the making of this review.
And so we come to the end of this in-depth review of Transformers. Thank you for reading it. We hope you enjoyed it and we'll be back very soon with our in-depth review of Stern's AC/DC game.
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© Pinball News 2012