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Joystiq visits: The Pinball Hall of Fame

Joystiq visits: The Pinball Hall of Fame
Kevin Kelly
Kevin Kelly|February 6, 2009 1:00 AM

click for entire pinball-licious gallery!

Vegas isn't just a mecca for gambling, strip clubs and CES -- it's also the home of the Pinball Hall of Fame, situated a couple of miles off the strip. Although once you walk through these hallowed halls of gaming past, it's hard to figure out why a place like this isn't showcased in the middle of Mandalay Bay or in a sparkletronic gaming rotunda inside the Bellagio.

That's because Tim Arnold and the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club have made this a non-profit labor of love. They aren't interested in razzle-dazzle showmanship or a high-priced entry fee -- which is why you can enter for free anytime they're open and play one of their 141 pinball machines for a couple of quarters.

Joystiq took some time off during this year's CES to visit to the place, and we only left because they wouldn't let us stay overnight. The sheer amount of pinball games they have on display is staggering, including some extremely rare games like The Pinball Circus and Gottleib's two-player, head-to-head Challenger pinball machine.

Check out the highlights of our visit after the break, and make it a point to stop by the place if you're ever in Sin City. It's the most fun you can have without blowing your entire bankroll.

There were plenty of video game related pinball machines available to play, including Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter II and even a Q*bert's Quest machine. Did anyone even know that existed? Most of these seem like they fell straight out of an alternate universe time warp and just landed here, ready to go.

Games ranged from the familiar -- like the uber-popular Addams Family pinball machine -- to the extremely rare, like the aforementioned The Pinball Circus. Just to put it in perspective, The Pinball Circus was developed by Williams Electronics in 1994 at a cost of $1.5 million dollars. It was an effort to break away from the "table" style and games produce a vertical pinball machine.

Two full, working units were produced, but when German pinball importer/distributor Nova told Williams it wouldn't pay the extra $1000 to import this game, it killed the project. Williams later shut down its pinball division in 1999 to focus on producing slot machines, and for years the two prototype units were heard about, but never seen. Luckily, pinball wizards Larry Demar and Steve Kordek have loaned one of them to the Pinball Hall of Fame, where you can actually play it yourself. Check out a video of the gameplay here.

Another rare game they have waiting for your quarters is Gottleib's Challenger, from 1971. This is a head-to-head pinball machine that has a tilting playfield and plays a bit like soccer. If you're "kicking off," the playfield tilts down towards your end, and vice-versa. It's a really different way to square off against someone, and rather than trying to beat their high score on the same machine, you're literally trying to score via their goal, which they have to defend.

Other strange and interesting highlights included both Ted Nugent and Elton John pinball machines, a truly bizarre-looking Popeye game, the ultra-funky Space Pilot contraption where you have to properly land a spaceship, and a creepy puppet doll that you could make dance. (We just know he'll be sneaking into our bedrooms at night to exact revenge.)

Of course, the personal highlight for this writer was the chance to play the greatest pinball machine ever made: The Machine: Bride of Pinbot. Through the course of the game you have to turn this robotic machine into a living, breathing woman. When you finally turn her fully human, the game comes to life with a beating heart.

If you have a love for pinball machines or just plain gaming in general, we can't recommend stopping by this place highly enough. Save your quarters.
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