What’s The Best Pinball Machine?


What’s The Best Pinball Machine?

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If you’re a pinball fanatic or even just interested in owning a machine to hone in on your skills, it can be helpful to know the best machines out there. Choosing the best machine is somewhat subjective. There are classic and modern games that all pack in amazing themes and playfields, while others keep it simple but are more affordable.

What’s the best pinball machine? Choosing the best pinball machine will depend on your intended use. Some machines rank highly continuously in the pinball world, including: 

  • Fireball (1971)
  • Pin-Bot (1986)
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (1993)
  • The Twilight Zone (1993)
  • The Addams Family (1993)
  • The Pinball Circus (1994)
  • Tales of the Arabian Nights (1996)
  • The Lord of the Rings (2003)
  • Elvis (2004)
  • KISS (2015)

Choosing the best pinball machine is not an easy task, and not every pinball expert will agree with our list. However, we believe that we’ve chosen the machines that hold up to the test of time with their ruleset and playfield that holds the player’s interest, time, and time again. 

Throughout this article, we not only layout our top 10 pinball machines of all time, but we delve into choosing the best pinball machine for your home, the best budget machine, and the best pinball machines for beginners. 

To see the most popular pinball machines on the market today just click here.

What’s the Best Pinball Machine?

Pinball has been a fixture in the gaming world since the 1940s. As electronic and mechanical games became more and more popular, arcades began to pop up in almost every city in America. Across time, pinball fanaticism has come in waves, but in recent years we have seen an increased interest across the board. 

With so much history tied to pinball, it is exceedingly hard to choose the best of the best games out there. New games are released each year still, and they become more electronic and flashy. Some players like to stick to the retro and classic game boards, but one thing that all pinball players can agree on is some games just have a better playing field and ruleset. 

So, without further ado, here are our top 10 best pinball machines that stood the test of time (in order by year):

Fireball (1971)

We had to have a mechanical era game on the list, and Fireball is one of the greatest of its time. The Fireball character isn’t from any movie or TV-show; he is simply a pinball character. Along with the mechanical era board features, this game has a spinning turntable in the middle of the playing field. The turntable adds some extra flair and unpredictability to the game.

Pin-Bot (1986)

This game will give you mad 80s throwback vibes as it becomes more of an experience than just a pinball game. The table boasts a countless number of LED light features, and excellent robot voice commands to boost a player’s enthusiasm and put the pressure on each move. Plus, you’ll love the multi-level playing field. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1993)

Star Trek can offer you many pinball options, but The Next Generation machine is a classic. All the Trekkies out there will love the theme, music, and voice of Patrick Stewart. The game also features three spacecrafts in the playing field and an amazingly long spiral ramp. 

The Twilight Zone (1993)

When released, it was one of a kind and drove innovation in the pinball world. This game is often one of the most exciting pinball machines to play. It features four flippers, two ramps, magnets, and a ceramic Powerball that’s lighter and faster than the rest. 

The Addams Family (1993)

The film-themed game does a fantastic job capturing the characters from the movie with the case design. The game itself also incorporates everything Addams Family into the ball action, and the game features themselves. The game is modern, complex, and amazingly fun. 

The Pinball Circus (1994)

So, this will be one of the games on the list that you won’t be lucky enough to own, but there is one on display and play in the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, NV. There are only two machines left of this game design in the world, which is a shame because this game features seven flippers and four tiers of play. This gives the game a unique vertical design that requires some players to use a booster stool just to see all the levels. 

Tales of the Arabian Nights (1996)

This game had to make the list even if it were just for aesthetic reasons. It is a gorgeous play area, and the back glass is filled with Arabian night themed features. There is a flying carpet ramp, a magic lamp for bonuses, and shooting stars that let you grab balls before they drain in the outlanes. 

The Lord of the Rings (2003)

Another movie-themed game that topped the list, the Lord of the Rings offers movie and pinball fanatics a little of everything. They have built-in music, miniature movie characters, and game rules that will reflect the action of the movie. Plus, the game itself is incredibly intense, varied, and challenging. 

Elvis (2004)

Of course, a pinball machine had to be dedicated to the King himself, Elvis. This game features an Elvis doll, 1950s Elvis music, and a second-level playing field. Test out your skills to see if you can make it onto the secondary pinball area for an added challenge. 

KISS (1979 and 2015)

There are many pinball machines based on musicians in the world, but the KISS machine should be at the top of the list. The updated version features some of KISS’s greatest hits and a Gene Simmon’s motorized head that shoots balls.

Types of Pinball Machines

As technology improved, so did the pinball machine. Well, to some, that is a matter of opinion, but many pinball players can agree that with additions like the flappers and lights, the game began to be more interesting. 

There are various types of pinball machines to choose from when you are deciding which is best for you. You will want to consider the brand, the age of the machine/game, and which generation it is. All of this will be explained in more detail below.

Pinball Machine Brands

Now, there are more pinball brands than we had time to explain in detail here today, but we chose the three most commonly purchased. You will see the brands in many arcades, and they have manufactured many of the classics. 

Stern Pinball 

Stern Pinball will likely be the most commonly recognized brands out there. They make a wide array of machines from commercial to consumer quality. They also sell numerous pinball machine parts and accessories. That makes fixing and maintaining your Stern Pinball machine easy. 

They are continuously coming up with new game ideas and releasing new, innovative machine designs. They even have a Stranger Things pinball game! They stay up to date with all the sci-fi and themes that hardcore gamers will enjoy. 

On their website, they also have a nifty pinball machine locator. So, if you want to test a few Stern Pinball machines out before you buy, you can track down a machine in your neighborhood to try! 

Sega Pinball Inc.

When you see a pinball machine branded with the Sega logo, you know that you are in for a classic treat. As one of the first brands to incorporate film into their themes, they became forerunners in innovation and theme design. 

However, they had a short success run. They started as Data East Pinball Inc only to be sold in 1994, thus becoming Sega Pinball Inc. After that financial burnout, Sega’s popularity was on the rise until the late 90s when the pinball fad began to die down again. That only left two primary pinball producers: Sega and Stern. 

During that time, Sega decided to cut its losses, and they sold the rest of their assets to Stern Pinball. Most of the Sega library was discontinued during this transition, but some classics remained. 

Nowadays, you can find many Sega classic design features in Stern Pinball games. Plus, there were a few Sega classics that received subsequent production runs, such as Harley Davidson, Starship Troopers, and The Pinball Arcade.  

Bally Entertainment

If you’ve ever heard the song “Pinball Wizard” by The Who, then you’ve heard of Bally Entertainment. They once were owned by WMS Industries, only to be sold to an Australian company, The Pinball Factory in 2005. 

They began not only as a pinball manufacturer but also as a slot machine producer. This made their name staple amongst arcades, casinos, and hotel lobbies. Since splitting assets, their logo and Bally name are still used by various businesses. 

They’re most notably Bally Technologies, but you’ll also see ties to Bally Entertainment and Bally Manufacturing. You will see their name frequently in Las Vegas, as many casinos have adopted the name as well. Bally Pinball machines will have been developed by Bally, Bally-Midway, and The Pinball Factory. 

Some of the most famous games produced by them include Fireball and the Addams Family. Both of which made it into our top 10 list. 

3 Generations of Play

With so many different games to choose from, there had to be a better way to categorize them all. That’s where the three generations come into play. Knowing the type of gameplay that you prefer will help you narrow down your search. Machine operation, game design, and overall ruleset will be influenced by the generation in which the game was produced. We’ve broken them down for you below. 

Electro-Mechanical (EM) Machines

These will be your classic games filled with nostalgic images and themes from your childhood. They were produced up until about 1978. They will be the oldest machines available on the market and have proven to be extremely durable. 

While many of them are still functioning with minimal issues today, they need to be well maintained for longevity. As the classic generation, there are more mechanical parts to upkeep, and if left with no maintenance, they’re likely to deteriorate and break down. 

These machines are a relay-based system that is operated by a score motor and stepper units. 

Since the EM Machines are classified as classics, they tend to be collector’s items. So, you aren’t likely to see them in public places to be played. If you’re willing to spend a fair amount of money upfront and have the mechanical knowledge, then an EM Machine could be perfect for you. 

Solid State (SS) Versions

These pinball machines came into play with the electronic gaming boom. They were primarily manufactured between 1975 and 1990. As an electronic system, they have been computerized with the use of microprocessors. 

This means that the score is displayed on an electronic screen. Along with animations and light design, the SS Versions also were well equipped with more sound effects and began to introduce more elaborate gameplay and ruleset. 

While these are a step up from the EM Machines, the older SS Versions often do not last as long. They often need electrical parts replaced, and upkeep can be more complicated as it is not merely a mechanical design. Overall, they will still be relatively durable machines. 

Dot Matrix Display (DMD) Machine 

From the 1990s until now, DMD Machines have been the avid gamer’s pinball machine of choice. Many players still appreciate the classic machines, but they tend to spend more time on the new, more stimulating designs. 

Now in the digital age, the score is displayed on a screen still, but there is often a video that plays during the game. The additional lighting and up to date sound effects and music make these machines especially accessible in arcades today.

Choosing a Pinball Machine 

Beyond the type of machine comes the little things about each game that can help you to decide on the perfect one for you. If you haven’t spent much time playing pinball, we recommend finding some of the public locations near you so you can learn more about your personal preferences. 

Ruleset

The pinball game’s ruleset should be a determining factor in a game that you choose for your home as you will (hopefully) plan to play it often. A ruleset should be when the ball time matches the rule depth. So, if you have a short ruleset compared to playtime, you can quickly get bored. 

You should be looking for games that have a ruleset greater or, at the very least equal to the play time. Boredom comes into play when you have a game that allows you to keep the ball in play for an extended period of time, but you end up repeating the same game. 

Durability

Honestly, this aspect of durability or reliability will come down to your mechanical ability. If you want a machine in your home that you can play day in and day out, or maybe you are investing in one for your kids, and you don’t want to spend much time on upkeep. Then, you should be looking for a game that has a good track record of having very few issues.

Your best bet with this is investing in a newer game model. More modern games tend to have fewer issues, well, because they are new. The more the game is played throughout the years, the more wear and tear parts of the machine will see. So, if you can buy new, it can be a good investment. 

You may also want to look at games that maybe aren’t so complicated. The more bells and whistles to the game mean more parts. The more parts there are, the more pieces there may be to fix down the line. Games with less often break less often, and games with fewer moving parts have less to break. 

Theme

Another vital aspect of a home game will be the theme. If you want a game that you aren’t going to lose interest in very fast, it should be something that is appealing to you. So, while all of the games on our list are top-rated for gameplay, there might not be one we’ve listed that has a theme interesting to you. 

With that in mind, you also don’t want to buy a pinball machine based solely on a theme. The theme should be one of the factors, but not the only thing that drives your decisions. Some companies use the theme as a fast way to turn out new products without investing a lot of time in the actual ruleset or game. 

So, once you find a game with an interesting theme, also consider ruleset and durability in your final decision. 

Availability

With the rise of the internet, it has become much easier to buy products from anywhere in the world. Now, with a pinball machine, that will come at an extra cost, but if you’re genuinely drawn to one specific game, the shipping cost can be worth it. 

You may want to start by looking into retail locations in the city that you live though. This gives you an option to go out and test the game to see if you like it. Being able to see the game itself and the size of the machine can help determine if it is right for your space. ‘

The age of the machine will also determine the availability of the game. If you are looking for a classic game, it may be much harder to find. Plus, when you find it, you can guarantee that you will be paying a much higher price than if you buy a new machine. 

Budget

Availability and budget kind of go hand in hand. If you are looking for an affordable option, you almost always want to be looking at retail locations nearest to you. While you might be able to find machines online for a lower price, you will be paying more in the end due to the shipping costs. 

If you are on a budget, check out a few of our sections below, as we will go into more detail about which games are most affordable without sacrificing the gameplay. 

Best Pinball Machine for Beginners

One of the best ways to get better at pinball is to have a machine in your house that you can practice daily. Since pinball has become somewhat of a niche hobby, it can be hard to find machines open to the public. 

So, we’ve put together this list of the best pinball machines for beginners:

Medieval Madness

The game is often regarded as one of the best of all-time. We put it on the beginner list only because it doesn’t have the most complex story, and you don’t need mad skills to get points. The game itself is incredibly fun and keeps you interested, and all you need to do to get points is to hit the drawbridge.

The Shadow

You can play this 007 based game even if you’ve never heard of pinball before. This is one of the best beginner games out there. It does help to know the story a bit, and as you gain a strategy, it will become even easier. Still, you can jump right in with this game and rack up points no problem. Plus, it’s super fun. 

Doozie

This is an older, mechanical game. Mechanical games can be suitable for beginners simply because the parts won’t move as fast. This helps new players get used to using the flippers and can build up confidence in their skills before moving on to fast-moving electronic games. 

Jungle Queen

Another mechanical game, this is a good one if you have some experience but want a more complicated story. The movements will be slow like on Doozie, but the gameplay will become more complex. This will help you get even better at pinball basics as it is slow but keeps playing smooth.

Best Budget Pinball Machines (that don’t sacrifice playfield)

Pinball machines can be quite the investment moneywise. Some games can cost you thousands of dollars, and while they are fun to play, many of us just don’t have that extra spending money. 

The good news is that there are plenty of more affordable game options out there. Now, you should be careful when buying a cheap machine, mainly if it is used. That may mean that there are mechanical issues or that there will be some very soon. You also need to inspect the game itself to be sure that it will be enjoyable to play. Many cheaper games tend to have a short ball time with little ruleset.

The games we listed below are all great budget buys that don’t make you sacrifice ruleset or gameplay: 

Hot Hand

This SS machine is a stellar game! It features the usual features plus a spinning target, rotating flipper, and is generally a super accessible buy. 

Demolition Man

This film based pinball machine has some epic features. There are numerous multi-ball modes, some using up to 5 balls at a time. Another notable feature is the games cryo-claw that releases awards and new gameplay action. 

Sweet Hearts

A playing card themed game with stand up targets and a famous gobble hole. This vintage beauty will be one of the most durable options for our money. 

Evil Knievel

A Bally classic machine that is another durable game that will last a lifetime. It is known for its kick-out hole, rollunder spinners, and for simply being a classic.

Old Chicago

One of the cheaper on the budget list, the game is simple and well designed. Known for the spinning target, this classic Bally machine will be a great talking point in any home. 

Jurassic Park

There have been three different pinball adaptations of Jurassic Park since the first movie release. All of the game versions are awesome, but the most affordable is going to be the Data East 1993 edition. All three versions have different features, but the 1993 game will have 11 stackable gameplay modes. This keeps the game exciting, no matter how often you play! 

Taxi

Sometimes features as one of the best of all time, Taxi is a great budget find that features a complex playfield. You will have a table that isn’t necessarily for beginners, but you will have a fantastic time playing. The progression to a jackpot takes some time, and hitting it requires only a single ball, which is complicated.

Last Action Hero

This budget machine has a very complex playfield. Based on the motion picture, it features a shaker motor, a crane toy, and an auto plunger. With magnetic potions of the playfield, it has often been compared to The Addams Family game. 

World Poker Tour

Depending on where you find it, this will be on the higher end of the affordability range. However, if you find a good deal, it is worth it for the deep ruleset it offers. One of the most notable features of this game is the size of the cabinet. It will be much larger than other games. This is a game for poker enthusiasts as the game incorporates the rules to Texas Hold ‘Em into the rules. It also features a second-level playfield and a mousetrap for multi-ball play. 

Do you have a favorite pinball machine already? Did it make any of the lists above? If not don’t worry! Here is a short video of the top 10 greatest pinball machines and why they are the best!

Conclusion

No matter what pinball machine you choose or what amount of money you pay, if you follow the guidelines above you are bound to have a good time! All the machines are high quality, and are extremely fun to play. Growing up with a pinball machine in the house has created many great memories with the family! I was able to have friends over, and it gave us something fun to do that no matter how often they played they were always coming back for more! 

Matt Robbs

There is nothing quite so enjoyable as bringing back memories from your childhood. We used to spend hours playing pinball in my friends basement and that really got me involved in everything retro!

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