THE WALKING DEAD:
Date: June 2015
Review by Adriaan van Roeden
PART 1 : OVERVIEW
I had played this machine at the ‘Boom Chicago’ location in Amsterdam several times and really liked it, not just as a follower of the series, but also because the machine has a good flow, (steep) ramps, good shots and some original layout touches here and there.
So I was kind of eager to read the Pinball News review of it (which are always very thorough and complete) - but it didn’t happen, due to a lack of time on Martin’s side. I then decided to offer my help with the review, which Martin gladly accepted.
I got in touch with Dieter van Es, the operator (who apparently is trying to make sure Amsterdam always has the latest Stern games) and Andrew Moskos, who runs Boom Chicago and is a genuine pinhead himself (not surprisingly he held the high score on the game, which was a nice additional challenge for me).
Both Dieter and Andrew were very cooperative, and so I was able to arrange access to the machine with the glass removed. This way I could take some good pictures, and test some of the shots and switches.
So, with this background out of the way, let’s go ahead and take a look at the The Walking Dead pinball machine.
This pinball machine is designed by John Borg and came out in October 2014. It comes in the familiar Pro, Premium and LE editions, which have already been described here and here on Pinball News.
The game I reviewed was a Pro edition, which kind of surprised me because based on the overall look and feel, I had until recently thought it was a Premium edition model (which is quite a bit more expensive).
The game is based on the very popular The Walking Dead TV series. The series is about a group of people who against all odds (try to) survive an America that, after some kind of mystery disease happened, is full of zombies.
The group varies over time. Some members get killed or turn into zombies themselves, while new people also join the group.
The pinball machine has incorporated several locations from the series, but the farm - featuring the barn and the Well Walker - and the prison/Woodbury - featuring the governor and the fish tank - are the most prominent. The LE model adds, amongst other things, a crossbow toy which happens to be the favourite weapon of one of the main characters (Daryl).
As you may have guessed by now, the theme is definitely not family friendly, and I can easily imagine spouses and girlfriends being put off by all the violence, the appearance of zombies on the backglass, and the noises they make during gameplay.
A big thumbs up to Stern for going ahead with this theme anyway, but the potential homeowner should probably bury the game in the deepest corner of his man-cave he can find..
OK, so lets stick to the regular review template of Pinball News and start at the outside before going in.
The Pro and Premium models have different colour schemes, red for the Pro and greenish for the Premium model – which goes quite nicely with the fish tank translite.
Both models feature the same side art, showing the main characters of the series in a vigilant pose on the cabinet. On top of that, ‘AMC the WALKING DEAD’ is put there in big white letters, leaving no doubt as to which show this game is based on.
The backbox side art shows some more zombies ready to attack as well as the prison tower in the background.
The backbox translite differs, however. On the Pro we see yet more zombies and it looks like they’re trying to break through the glass – which adds to the ‘survival’ theme of the game.
On the premium translite the fish tank heads are featured, which look cool, but showing the title of the game again in big white letters is maybe overdoing it.
The LE is different in all aspects : the colour scheme is brownish with brown metal hinges, side rails, legs and lockdown bar.
The cabinet and backbox art makes the game look like a big crate complete with bloods splatters and the words ‘DEAD INSIDE’ and ‘DON'T OPEN’ across it. The backglass features the same zombies as on the Pro, but in a different brownish colour scheme.
So the LE looks pretty gruesome, which of course fits the theme, but it does take a certain mind-set to appreciate it.
For the playfield we will do things in the usual way by looking at the features and shots, starting from the bottom of the playfield and going clockwise via the top, back to the bottom.
As you can see, the game has the standard ‘Italian bottom’ with two outlanes, two inlanes, and two slingshots - nothing special there. On this game the flippers were equipped with some pretty bouncy Superbands, making it much harder to control the ball.
I will try to explain as much of these rules as possible, covering the major shots and features. Note that at the time of writing, the machine had an early software version and not all the rules had been implemented, such as Horde and Last Man Standing. Also, I didn’t play the game long enough to find out all the details of the current rules, so feel free to add your insights in the comments section of this review.
Just above the ‘dead walker counter’, we find some inserts showing various tools. OK, technically a gun and a sword are not tools, but maybe in this context they are, as they will all be used to kill off zombies.
Each of these can be lit for a ‘multi-kill’, which will happen after you shoot a number of shots in the currently active mode. Getting all multi-kill inserts lit will enable Horde Multiball.
So from here, let’s start going around the playfield. On the bottom left, there’s the left slingshot showing Daryl’s crossbow, and the left inlane and outlane. Above the left inlane a yellow ‘X’ arrow can light up, which can be controlled by the flippers (there’s also one above the right inlane and you can light the right or left one). When lit, the inlane switch will collect extra points.
The outlane has ‘bit’ insert and a rollover switch, which will award the ‘bit’ value which is built-up during game play (it is raised by each pop bumper hit). Just above the ‘bit’ insert there’s an adjustable post, which can be set to narrow or widen the outlane.
There’s quite a bit of rubber in this area, so in theory some well-timed nudging may prevent a ball going into the outlane.
Moving up, the next shot is to the drop targets. Surprisingly, these are real drop targets, not stand-ups like you might expect in a Pro version. These drop targets can be used to:
Next up is the first long shot, which we’ll call the ‘Barn’ shot for now. Like the other shots it is marked by an arrow with several inserts on top of it.
The first insert can be lit for killing a walker/zombie, the second yellow insert will be lit when a multi- kill is active and the third insert can be lit for one of the modes (the Barn mode in this case).
The last red arrow insert can be lit for jackpots and combo shots.
The Barn shot goes all around the playfield and ends up in the bumper area on the top right.
The next shot is the left (plastic) ramp or ‘Bicycle Girl’ ramp. Again, we find the arrow/inserts in front of the shot, the only difference being the ‘CDC’ insert instead of a Barn insert as this shot is the main shot of the CDC mode.
This mode is about breaking into the CDC (the CDC has to do with one of the storylines of the series and is about the ‘Center for Disease Control’ where the protagonists hope to find a cure), where each shot gets you deeper into the building until you finally break through the doors of the main room. After that, you can score enormous amounts of points (values of 10 million or more) making this shot.
This ramp is also used during the Bicycle Girl mode. At a certain point a call-out will announce "Bicycle Girl is lit", and you will need to make this shot. It will take a dedicated fan of the series to recognise the zombie on the plastic above the ramp entrance as the Bicycle Girl. A bit of text here would have been nice.
The ramp is quite steep and goes behind the backboard (thereby ‘extending’ the playfield) then drops a little, re-appears on the upper right corner of the playfield and goes all the way down to end up above the right inlane.
Although steep, the shot wasn’t that difficult to make, as the opening is pretty wide and the posts next to it are relatively narrow. On the LE model, this ramp can lift up, to reveal a bash toy in the form of a zombie head.
Moving on, we come to the very narrow ‘Riot/Tower’ shot, again featuring the arrow/inserts (this time with a ‘Riot’ insert). This is much like the lock shot in Attack from Mars, in that it has the same position and narrowness.
The shot can end up against the ‘Tower’ target (the Tower being part of the Prison) and bounce from there into one of the two bonus multiplier lanes above the bumper area. In front of the Tower target is a Tower insert. When this is lit, the '2X playfield' insert will be lit for a few seconds, making all shots score double.
Making this shot is normally the only way to get to this area, besides the skill shot at the start of the game and the ‘Woodbury’ shot which will end up in the shooter lane and launch the ball toward this area as well.
Next to the Riot shot is the first of two stand-up targets. These advance the P-R-I-S-O-N letters below the magnet. Bashing the doors of the prison (which is the next shot) also advances these letters.
On our review game, four out of the six letters were already lit at the start of the game, but when P-R-I-S-O-N is completed fully, the prison doors will open, revealing a big zombie head waiting to be bashed.
The magnet will grab the ball, hold it for a few seconds and then throw it back in some random fashion - which can result in a STDM between the flippers. If you survive this, you can play the ‘Clear the Prison Yard’ mode.
Here, you have to make all the shots indicated by red arrows. Shooting the head will also help to clear the yard - which is indicated on the DMD by animations of falling zombies. Strangely, the individual hits to this head don’t get any other visual feedback from the game - maybe a software update will address this.
All these shots will once more advance the letters and when P-R-I-S-O-N is completed again, this will immediately start Prison Multiball.
During this multiball all shots will be lit for jackpots, and you have to alternate between making a shot and hitting the head in the prison to relight the shots (much like the Fellowship of the Ring multiball in The Lord of the Rings).
The ‘Riot’ shot next to the prison can be used to collect super jackpots. These can become quite valuable; I’ve seen values of 12 and 18 million during testing.
The big SIEGE insert below the P-R-I-S-O-N letters is lit during the Siege mode. This mode can be started after scoring twelve jackpots in Prison Multiball. In this mode you will have to bash the prison doors and you will see animations of the Governor’s tank during this.
Again, for a Pro version of the game this prison toy is quite nicely done - one could imagine this being done in a cheaper way.
Hitting the doors is pretty easy from the left flipper, but much harder from the right flipper as our friend the Well Walker tends to get in the way.
Ah, yes the Well Walker. He’s quite a looker isn’t he ? Another reason this game is not suitable for kids.
This is our next shot and the next major toy.
To the right of the Well Walker we find the next shot, which is again quite narrow (and therefore satisfying to make) and also features the arrow/insert combination in front of it - this time with a ‘Tunnel’ insert to indicate, well, the Tunnel mode.
In true Pat Lawlor style, this shot goes through the bumper area, orbits around the playfield, rolls over a little hump on the left side, and finally ends up above the left flipper area.
The ‘Arena’ shot is next. It leads up to a very steep ramp and features - you guessed it - the familiar arrow/insert combination in front.
The ramp entrance has a switch and on top of that, a plastic holding two lamps. These are used for the ‘crossbow’ and ‘fish tank’ modes.
The ramp goes behind the backboard and ends up above the left inlane. The game will often indicate the narrow Tunnel shot as the next shot to make, which is quite a satisfying combo - and is rewarded as such.
The last shot is the ‘Woodbury’ shot. It’s a pretty hard shot, but can be made from the very edge of the left flipper. It feeds to the shooter lane and when the extra ball insert is lit, will reward you with an extra ball.
When the Woodbury insert is lit, you can launch the ball to the Tower area above the bumpers, giving you a chance to make the Woodbury skill shot
Yes, this game is the only game I know of that features two skill shots :
All the shots have been discussed, so we now end up in the bottom right area where we find the right slingshot, inlane and outlane. There’s nothing remarkable here and as with the left outlane, there’s an adjustable post, a ‘bit’ insert and a rollover switch.
The left inlane is also pretty much the same as the right one, featuring an ‘X’ insert and a switch.
Although the theme is quite gruesome, I really like the playfield artwork. There’s great attention to detail, as there is with the toys, which look much better than the ones in previous Stern machines like the 24.
The colour scheme is quite subdued and fits nicely with the theme, with red, orange, yellow, white and brown being the most prominent couloirs.
The white LEDs are very (too) bright, and it would be nice if these could be adjusted (they can always be replaced of course).
The animations on the DMD were adequate, certainly better than the pieces of digitised video used on some Stern games, which usually look like crap.
For completeness, I probably should say that the review game featured some mods : the little roof above the prison door and the ‘guts’ of the Walker, both by Mezel Mods.
MUSIC AND SOUND EFFECTS
I haven’t heard this game on a very loud volume, but what I could hear sounded OK, with some soundtracks from the show and lots of zombie growls (of course), all creating a sense of urgency.
The software is probably still an early version, but there are certainly a lot of modes and multiballs and various combinations of these.
The scoring seems to be very multiball-oriented however, as you can get a LOT of points during a multiball (some of which can be stacked), especially with modes and multi-kills going on at the same time. It appears that the most recent version of the software (1.24) attempts to even things out a little bit, with less focus on the multiballs.
I really like this game, although because of the theme and artwork I would not place it in my living room (It would be perfect in my basement however) ;-).
The latest on the rules is that industry veteran and code wizard Lyman Sheats has worked on a HUGE update, so it will probably make this already good game better still.
And that’s not the end of it, as they plan to do at least two additional updates.
A big readme about this update can be found here: sternpinball.com/game-code/game-code-the-walking-dead-le
Here’s a video of code version 1.24 in action : facebook.com/sternpinball/videos/10153297363564244/
And here's another one by Pinside member ‘ezeltmann’:
Finally for this part, here are some more pictures showing details of the game:
Now you've had the chance to see and play The Walking Dead, what's your opinion of the game? Is the Stern's best yet, or just too gruesome for you? How does it compare to other recent Stern's such as Kiss, Metallica and Mustang? What do you like and dislike about it?
Share your comments with other readers by sending us your thoughts with the message box below:
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