Throughout the history of pinball there has been a lot of attempts to try to create the next big machine. Some have failed while others have helped move the world of pinball further into the future, and there have been some truly innovative pinball machines over the years.
The 20 most innovative pinball machines are:
- Whiffle Board – Automatic Industries, 1931
- Whirls Fair – K&F Specialty Company, 1933
- Bolo – Pacent Novelty Company, 1936
- Humpty Dumpty – Gottlieb, 1947
- Balls-a-Poppin – Bally, 1956
- Bank-a-Ball – Gottlieb, 1965
- Wizard! – Bally, 1975
- Rock On – Allied Leisure Industries, 1975
- Spectra IV – Valley Company, 1978
- Gorgar – Williams, 1979
- Black Knight – Williams, 1980
- Joust – Williams, 1983
- Checkpoint – Data East, 1991
- The Addams Family – Bally, 1992
- Twilight Zone – Bally, 1993
- NBA Fastbreak – Midway Manufacturing, 1997
- Revenge from Mars – Bally, 1999
- Family Guy – Stern, 2006
- Wizard of Oz – Jersey Jack, 2013
- Dialed In – Jersey Jack, 2017
While there have been other innovative pinball machines over the years, these are our top picks. We’ve gone through them in chronological order, so you can really see how the game of pinball has evolved over the years as technology has improved.
The 20 Most Innovative Pinball Machines
1. Whiffle Board – Automatic Industries, 1931
This machine paved the way for coin operation pinball machines. Earl Froom, salesman for Automatic Industries, solved a lot of issues pinball machines faced. He separated the machine and customers by using glass over the field, since before this, players could cheat to win free games. He introduced a way to recirculate the balls back into the game and the coin mechanism.
There had been previous coin operated games with glass covers, but this game was the first to reach mass popularity around the US. More commonly known for the coin mechanism was Baffle Ball. That is probably because Baffle Ball was the “first game to top the 50,000 mark in production and deliveries”.
2. Whirls Fair – K&F Specialty Company, 1933
Whirls Fair was the first machine to introduce a tilt mechanism that registered when the machine was nudged too far. As machines back then had no flippers, the only way you would score in holes was from tilting the machine for aim.
This led to many owners getting very upset due to abuse of their machines. K&F also sold the tilt machine separately so it could be put on other pinball machines as well. One month later, Brokers Tip by Gottlieb was introduced with what is commonly known as the first tilt mechanics.
3. Bolo – Pacent Novelty Company, 1936
Bolo’s bowling-themed game was the first machine to introduce bumpers onto the playfield. These bumpers where bowling pin shaped that later on took on a lot of passive bumper styles.
Bally had taken advantage of this idea and created bumpers they could patent themselves in their game Bumper. In December of that year, they released their game with bumpers that looked more like bumpers that are used today, but technically Bolo was first.
4. Humpty Dumpty – Gottlieb, 1947
Gottlieb introduced the first electronic flippers with this game. While there was legal pressure on pinball machines and gambling, it led to companies to try to convince the public that the game involved skill and not luck.
This led them to creating six flippers on the field facing the outside of the field. Although these were not the first flippers on the field, they were the first electronic flippers. Earlier games had flippers that were moved mechanically, such as baseball bats on baseball themed games.
5. Balls-a-Poppin – Bally, 1956
This was the first machine to introduce multi-ball with flippers. This allowed players to access up to 9 balls in the machine if you could land the ball into the kick-out hole. This would make for a very hectic game! This was not the first machine to use multi-ball, as previous titles did include them, but they had no flippers.
6. Bank-a-Ball – Gottlieb, 1965
Bank-a-Ball introduced the inlane to the playfield. This would allow the ball to go behind the slingshot and roll down to the flippers instead of leading straight to the drain. Gottlieb changed their scheduling to release Bank-a-Ball first instead of Paradise. Paradise was originally supposed to be the first machine with an inlane feature.
7. Wizard! – Bally, 1975
Bally introduced the idea of using a movie title as their theme for a pinball machine. After this, many companies used this method and expanded to TV shows and bands. Today, a pinball machine wouldn’t even make it anywhere if it didn’t have a well-known title. This is why this machine makes our list, as it introduced the idea of bringing in new customers from movie goers to fans of comic books.
8. Rock On – Allied Leisure Industries, 1975
Allied industries had produced the first Solid State (SS) pinball machine. This introduced pinball machines with a lighter feel and fewer moving parts. Adopting upgraded computer systems instead of using big electrical reels meant that machines could now have simple animations, digital displays and would be less likely to break.
Spirit of 76’ is also considered one of the first SS machines to be produced, but did come out a month or less later than Rock On.
9. Spectra IV – Valley Company, 1978
Spectra introduced a modern revolving pinball machine playfield. This game was played like an average pinball game, but the playfield would rotate. The only other machine like this was made by Midway Manufacturing, called Rotation VIII, 5 months later.
10. Gorgar – Williams, 1979
Williams introduced a machine that would talk to the player. The owner of the machine would have an option to add this feature to the machine which would cost $70. Many operators chose to pay the extra price as they were installed on the majority of their machines.
11. Black Knight – Williams, 1980
Black Knight introduced players to a new multi-level playfield accessed via a ramp. Magna-Save was also introduced, and this allowed players to press a button on either side of the cabinet where the ball would stop as it heads to the outlane. This was achieved using magnets, hence the name Magna-Save, and it would drop the ball through the inlane.
It was the first game to introduce transparent windows on the playfield as well. This allowed windows to show lights below the field for lighting up paths and targets.
12. Joust – Williams, 1983
Williams introduced a real head-to-head game where you were not just competing for high scores on one machine. This allowed two players to shoot the pinball back and forth on the field trying to score on each other. While not many were made, it was still very innovative.
13. Checkpoint – Data East, 1991
Data East unveiled the first Dot Matrix Machine (DMD). This really kicked off the 1990’s era for pinball machines as before the scoring was on spinning wheels. It also upgraded the displays using the dot matrix technology, allowing for better animations. The 1990s introduced many innovations to the pinball machine as they were now competing with arcade games.
14. The Addams Family – Bally, 1992
Not only is it the bestselling game, also making our list of the greatest pinball machine art, but The Addams Family also introduced different scoring modes. Specialized audio was recorded by the actors of the movie for this machine. The “Thing” was also placed in the field, which was a hand that would grab the ball and take it below the playfield.
15. Twilight Zone – Bally, 1993
Bally recreated the iconic TV series in a fun and unique pinball machine. Users could actually modify the game, by adding their own characters or game modes. This machine was packed full of features, and it even had its own gumball machine that can drop balls into the field to be played with.
16. NBA Fastbreak – Midway Manufacturing, 1997
This game brought with it lots of different game modes. From Egyptian Soda and Hotdog Mania to Pizza Powershot, where the player took shots at the backbox landing one, two, or three pointers. If that isn’t enough, you could play head-to-head with another machine. If two NBA Fastbreak machines were placed next to each other, you could battle it out with your friends each on your own machine.
17. Revenge From Mars – Bally, 1999
Bally introduced one of the most high-tech machines of its time with Revenge from Mars using the Pinball 2000 concept. This included picking your side of the battle and hologram targets appearing on the field.
18. Family Guy – Stern, 2006
If you love the show, you’ll definitely enjoy this Stern machine. Family Guy introduced not just a new level, but a whole other mini pinball machine within the main pinball machine. When activated, you would be able to play a minigame on a smaller table on the top right of the playfield.
19. Wizard Of Oz – Jersey Jack, 2013
Jersey Jack added a flatscreen TV to the backglass. This 26” LCD TV plays high-definition videos with a new quality standard for displays, making the pinball machine look visually incredible.
20. Dialed In – Jersey Jack, 2017
This machine has Bluetooth connectivity that can be linked to the player’s smartphone. This allows for control of the machine’s flippers and access to different game modes through your phone. “Crazy selfie mode” allows you to have your picture taken and displayed on the screen, making for some truly innovative pinball fun!
These are definitely not the only innovative pinball machines in history, but they are what we believe to be the most innovative ones. Hopefully this innovation will continue long into the future as technology advances even further, and as pinball remains a popular arcade game.