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We’ve posted a few articles here on Robot Panic that should give you all an indication that we’re big fans of pinball. From the Midwest Gaming Classic to awesome arcades like SS Billiards, our lives are blessedly filled with avenues in which to play them. Which makes it all the more sad when you notice just how few new pinball experiences there are these days. Sure, the classic games still hold all their power but it certainly is nice to get a new board to play on every once and awhile.
Those that continue to have an obsessive love for pinball all know that there still is one company (and I mean that. Only ONE) still holding the torch aloft. Despite the glory days of pinball going the way of the dinosaur, one company is still giving fans of the silver ball something to look forward to every year. And that company is Stern Pinball.
Stern Electronics was first founded in 1977 after the Sam Stern family bought out a troubled company by the name of Chicago Coin. Sam Stern had made a name for himself by co-founding Williams Manufacturing Company, which would go on to become the legendary Williams Electronics. While never mounting to the success that it’s top rivals Williams and Bally had, Stern managed to stay in the mix largely due to the success of their classic video game machine, Berzerk. When the dreaded year of 1985 hit, with the amusement industry essentially crashing, Stern Electronics went out of business.
In 1999, Gary Stern (son of Sam Stern) took advantage of the waning pinball market and bought Sega Pinball, Inc. when it went up for sale that year. With all the major contenders long out of the market and the pinball leader Williams announcing it would close it’s pinball division, Gary Stern created Stern Pinball, Inc. and was in prime position to be a successful pinball company again. As a result, to this day the Stern Pinball company is the only manufacturer of original pinball tables in the world. That’s right, the world
What I love about Stern Pinball is their commitment to the basics. Their website says it best:
Stern Pinball Inc. has adopted a philosophy that may secure the game’s future: keep it simple. In an age when many game manufacturers are looking for ways to apply the latest computer and information technologies to coin-op game designs and business models, this small factory realizes that it’s the nostalgic appeal of pinball that has become the game’s most attractive characteristic.
Check out this video from Made in America, which gives a great look inside the inner workings of Stern Pinball. Plus, it’s got John Ratzenberger in it. How can you not love that?
Stern brings out two or three new pinball machines a year. What makes these machines fantastic is not only the solid adherence to the basics of old school pinball, but also to the wonderful design and play of these machines. With legendary pinball designers like Steve Ritchie (designer of Black Knight and T2: Judgment Day among others, as well as the voice of Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat!), Pat Lawlor (Funhouse, Addam’s Family, Twilight Zone. All around pinball GOD.) and George Gomez on board, these pinball games are some of the best around.
Check out these fantastic games that were released this year, Indiana Jones and The Dark Knight:
When I played this machine for the first time and the Arc of the Covenent opened and all those balls flooded out, I almost crapped my pants.
That last video is from our friend over at SS Billiards, where I had a chance to play this machine. It’s one of the best pinball games I’ve played in years. And that’s how all Stern Pinball games feel to me. As if I’m transported to the days when pinball machines were all the rage and great machines were out each year. From great designs, to great play experiences, these machines really are special.
Another cool feature of these Stern Pinball machines is the included Tournament Mode. What’s great about this feature is how it’s built for both skilled and casual players alike. For those that are more casual, they have what’s called “Bump N’ Win” where players are fighting for second place. The idea is to keep bumping the person who’s in second down on the leader-board. Fro the pros out there, the idea is to get first place. Money and prizes are often included, depending on where you go and if they have it activated. All modern Stern machines have this feature built in and you can tell if it’s turned on or not by the sign-age on the machine itself.
If you’re looking for a great time and you have fond memories of pinball, you owe it to yourself to check out Stern Pinball machines. You won’t be disappointed.