Well, the thing has hit the trade shows, Stern has released details and it looks like we have a great new pin coming out soon. Of course final judgment will be reserved until I get a chance to play it but initially it looks very good.
The Avatar theme has somewhat limited appeal to me to begin with, I saw the movie in theater and while it was visually impressive the storyline was trite and of course the arrival of the pin 10 months after the movie is questionable timing for a tie in product, although Avatar II has been announced so maybe ahead of the curve?. So, all that said, what about the pin itself? I have said before that there are some games that are great even if you don't care for the theme and I had this proven to be true again when Stern re-themed Family Guy as Shrek. The game was now a theme I didn't like and yet it was still as impressive and engaging as FG, although not as funny, but as for gameplay it was just as good.
In some recent Stern releases there was a bit of cost reduction and I was nervous we might never see a full featured pin again. Avatar has gone a long way toward coming back to a fully optioned out pin. But before I hit all the highs there are a few lows in terms of cost reduction that are worth noting, let me just get them out of the way because there are some rally cool positives to talk about.
1. The first negative is that the tried and true lockbar ( the bar that retains the glass, where you rest your hands while playing) has been redesigned to a double latch like you see holding down a control panel on a video game. I have always hated those, trying to find them (and for sure while powered up....) then the snap back on the fingers that can occur.
2. The goodie bag is mighty empty. For those of you who have ever unboxed a new pin there has always been the goodie bad; manual, spare platics, key fob, bulbs, stickers, schematics, and various other items for maintenance. This one has just a small manual, a few decals, and bulbs.
3. The plastic apron (part that covers the ball serve and drain hole) is back again (face palm). It will crack, it will break, and it will not be available as we have seen on pinball 2000.
4. Paddle targets in place of drop targets to spell NAVI. I have talked about this one before, drops would have been so much nicer but they are a favorite cut first feature.
5. Static toys. There is a Jake Sully in an Avatar control pod that is fixed open, in the game it animates it opening, that could have been done for a few extra $$. However one thing they did that was cool was create gate that closes when the ball rolls under it, trapping the ball and turning it into a captive target.
Ok, so those are the negatives, on with the good stuff.
1. The SAM board set is still being used. The boardset is proven, reliable, and soo easy to troubleshoot. Despite being out for a few years now it has plenty of life left and will contribute to a reliable game.
2. The playfield layout is very balanced, open enough for shots without looking too sparse and cheap. The ramps are not too many and not too few and they have a clean look. They went with clear, I think a transparent blue might have been better but they don't look bad.
3. Adjustable playfield difficulty. In the age of aggressive cost control it would have been easy enough to skip drilling a few extra holes. They kept in multiple holes so you can loosen the gameplay up for home ownership until you improve, or if your like me and don't improve you can have a game you can play for more than 5 min.
4. The classic 3 pops with a multiple gate sort of like Bad Cats is used in this game which really helps to add to that pinball feel. The three gates are RDA (the mining company) and as always you have R and A and just nudge and hope for that D.
5. The lead up to the big payoff. They did use a motorized three target unit that once you hit all three it lowers into the playfield to reveal a path to a target to allow you to battle with the power armor wearing Col. And just to spice it up a bit, a disruptor magnet to screw up your shots is positioned in front of the target bank.
6. The big payoff is the return of the "big toy" in pinball. There is a nicely done, fairly detailed power armor suite that you battle with after making your way through the barriers. The suite is animated so it will stand and squat as the game progresses. As well done as it is there are a few shortcomings. There is no Col. figure in the suite, really. Ok, so you can add one for a few bucks but that should have been in there. But the really cool thing is it is about the same as a retail toy that was made which came with a figure, guns, ammo belts, and lots of Avatar fans have been doing all sorts of upgrades to it, and all those will adapt right over to this so you can really detail your big toy. It would also be a great candidate for LED flashers, LEDs in the gun etc.
7. There are allot of nice visual and gameplay features that pop out as well. The backglass is a pretty impressive 3D image for starters. The captive ball has been brought back for this game as well.
The game incorporates allot of the "missions" from the movie and it should be easy for a novice to know what to do, which is the hardest part of getting started in pins. You have the orbit lane, shooting down the gyro copters. Making the "bond". Riding the banshee on the ramp. Horse riding on the right ramp. All of the missions are pretty obvious in what you need to do.
Overall this is a good looking pin that I as sure will be fun to play. While it is not one that I would buy for my home arcade it is one that I would drop quite a few quarters in which is sort of the main point of putting them on location. The one thing I wish Stern would do is recognize the home market wants to option out a machine where an opperator usuall does not care. If they just built in the software needed to reset a drop target, open the Avatar link pod, and then sell those parts or pass it on to the 3rd party company allot of home buyers would respond by upgrading their games. All things considered, I can't wait for CGE 2011 and a trip to the pinball hall of fame to play this one.
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