Pinball machine design has changed subtly over the decades, from the introduction of electrical parts to the progression of solid-state electronics and digital displays. As the technology has advanced, so have the designs, leading to some weird odd pinball machines being created.
The 10 weirdest pinball machines of all time are:
- Orbitor 1
- Banzai Run
- Pinball Circus
- Haunted House
- Revenge From Mars
- Doctor Who
- Baby Pac-Man
Pinball fans crave exciting pinball gameplay that still retains the essence of true pinball, and as pinball innovation has evolved, pinball creators’ imaginations have been let loose to design some really weird machines. While the aim of the game remains the same, let’s look at the 10 weirdest.
A classic pinball machine created by Stern in 1982, Orbitor 1 is an outer Space-themed masterpiece of pinball design. The key design innovation of Orbitor 1 is the contoured playfield, shaped to a moon surface, which allowed the ball to be flipped backward.
Even better, two spin bumpers have a magnet that kicks in, causing the ball to orbit in erratic circles, which makes predicting its trajectory almost a skill in itself. The Orbitor 1 pinball machine is one of the older, more minimalist designs, yet all the better for it.
For its weirdly exciting gameplay and innovative design, especially for a machine made in 1982, it is a superb example of how great design can make an incredibly simple game weirdly wonderful. Only 889 units were made of Orbitor 1, and if the opportunity to play one comes your way, grasp it with both hands.
One of the very few head-to-head pinball machines ever created, and also one of the rarest, Joust is the epitome of weird pinball at its very best. Unlike many player vs player pinball machines, Joust could also be played in single-player mode, although that would be missing out on the novel experience of going up against another skilled player.
The rule set for Joust is excellent, and even in single-player mode the gameplay is still very robust, the artwork on the playfield is very reminiscent of the 1982 Williams arcade game of the same name, with scenes of knights battling on the backs of giant birds.
The sounds and lighting on joust are also noteworthy, as they integrate with the ongoing gameplay very well, and are also ported over from the arcade game, which brings the game together nicely. Overall, Joust is arguably the best player vs player pinball machine around, the problem is, there were only 402 units ever made, so there aren’t that many around to find.
Banzai Run is a Williams Electronics made motocross-themed pinball machine with a great looking playfield and backglass; the weird thing was that the backglass was also a playfield, with magnets ensuring players could traverse the bike track-themed second playfield, Banzai Run was a blast to play.
Vertical playfields are fairly rare and difficult to master, the magnetic randomness of the upper playfield on Banzai Run made it extremely hard to control, but great fun to play. The cabinet has stunning artwork of motocross bikes on it, and with the overall look and rule set being solid, Banzai Run is a popular, if hard to find, pinball machine.
Banzai Run takes some getting used to, it feels weird to get a ball to the top of the playfield, only to see it dragged up vertically by invisible forces, the feeling of a loss of balance can make it hard to master, although once finished with the vertical playfield, the ball returns to the lower, horizontal playfield to continue the game.
One of the rarest and weirdest pinball machines ever made, and by rarest, we mean two units ever made, Pinball Circus, Midways’ 1994 experiment is a unique piece of pinball history. A four-level playfield means a lot of the gameplay of Pinball Circus is played almost vertically, with each playfield needing to be completed before moving on to the next.
This progressive, vertical gameplay lends the feeling that you are playing a platform game on an arcade machine, rather than a game of pinball, and the tall cabinet that the game is housed in adds to the arcade-like feel of The Pinball Circus.
What would have to be described as the backglass is adorned with a weird-looking clown, there is an elephant that needs to be navigated, itself an odd addition to an already strange pinball experiment. For its rarity and weirdness, there are few pinball machines to match the Pinball Circus for novelty and innovation.
Head-to-head competition is the name of the game with Challenger, a Gottlieb & Company created rarity from 1971, taking it in turns to get a high score isn’t an option with Challenger, as an extra-long double-ended playfield allows for two players to try and get the ball past their opponents’ flippers.
Challenger boasts 8 flippers, four at each end of the twin playfield, two backglasses, one for each player, and due to its rarity, is a highly collectible item. Only 110 units were ever built of Challenger, and the playfield has unique tilts to it that when it tilts in your favor, the game gets really interesting.
Given how rare Challenger is, it is a shame that more people don’t get the opportunity to try out head-to-head pinball, much like table football, the competitive element that this very odd pinball machine would offer to players would surely make it a huge success.
With more flippers than a pod of dolphins, Haunted House is one of the weirdest and most complex pinball machines ever created. Not content with the usual two, or even four, flipper models usually found on most pinball machines, haunted House goes with an impressive eight flippers.
Things get even weirder when playing the game, as Haunted House also comes with a hidden sub-level, and once a ball falls into the hole, backward-facing flippers are used to return the lost ball. Kick-out holes, up-kickers, and a three-tier playfield are just a few of the incredible features on offer with Haunted House.
The machine has superb artwork and graphics, including great lightning animations on the backglass, all of which help make this one of the spookiest and weirdest pinball machines ever made.
Bally broke the mold when they created Revenge From Mars, the first pinball machine ever put into production under the Pinball 2000 (PB2K) platform, not only is Revenge From Mars equipped with a holographic display that superimposes holographic animated targets onto the playfield, but it looks fantastic and plays like a weird dream.
A surprisingly complex game, Revenge From Mars has nine different modes, split into three categories that can be completed to obtain Saucer Light, and has six different multi-ball scenarios within the game.
Overlaying the interactive holographic display onto the playfield is a real highlight of this Midway-built classic, and with almost 7,000 units built, the chances are that with a bit of research you could find this martian-themed machine locally.
A list of the weirdest pinball machines of all time can’t be complete without this Atari-built goliath of a pinball machine, widely regarded as the biggest pinball machine ever created. Hercules was built so big that the pinball looks more like a pool ball, and the Atari marketing slogan “18 square feet of excitement for 1 to 4 players” gives some idea of how big Hercules was.
Sadly for Atari, the gameplay and overall player response to Hercules was poor, the weird size aside, it appears more focus went into the novelty size than the actual playfield and gameplay. The large ball has difficulty moving around the playfield, and the flippers can barely hit it far enough to reach the top end of the cabinet anyway.
But for all-out weirdness, Hercules is a worthy addition. Atari may have taken their eye off the oversized ball when it came to actually play Hercules, but it is certainly weird enough to stand out in a crowd.
Doctor Who has one of the weirdest rule sets ever seen on a pinball machine, which given the multi-level playfield that raises and lowers during gameplay, should come as no surprise to anyone lucky enough to have tried this very odd pinball machine.
At the time of manufacture, there had been seven Doctors, each played by different actors, and the gameplay of Doctor Who is focused on collecting each of the seven Doctors, and each comes with a new rule set that needs to be followed in order to progress onto the next.
This highly complex rule set often puts players off this weird yet interesting pinball machine; it would quickly become too complex to remember what rules needed to be followed, although, at the start of each new ball, the player gets to choose which Doctor to save next, which opens up even more strategies for scoring.
The moving mini-playfield offered up a multitude of options for players to increase their scores, and with the three different platform levels opening up either kick-out holes, stand-up targets, or three flyaway targets, the options available to players became increased.
Another feature of the Doctor Who pinball machine, was Midways’ cunning plan to make the lower flippers slightly smaller than standard, they did this in the hopes that it would shorten game times, and thus mean players needed to deposit more money, earning more profits, crafty indeed.
Pinball and arcades go together like ice cream and summer, so why not combine a pinball machine with an arcade machine? And that is exactly what Bally created with Baby Pac-Man, where the player flips between the video screen and pinball playfield and back again.
Being a great pinball player counts with Baby Pac-Man, but so does being a good arcade game player, as this unique machine makes players play Pac-Man on the video screen, before switching to pinball, and the more energizers and fruit collected while playing pinball, the more chance a player has of winning at the video game.
This hybrid pinball machine by Bally is a great example of thinking outside the box and is a weird and yet highly addictive example of pinball design at its wacky best.
The weirder the design, and the stranger the gameplay, the happier the pinball player, some of the best-loved pinball machines ever are also some of the weirdest. It is the very uniqueness of these great machines that burn them into fans’ memories forever, and as technology advances, this trend looks like continuing into the future. An underwater VR pinball might be your favorite game in ten years.