The Walking Dead (Stern, 2014)
The Walking Dead (TWD), released in 2014 by Stern was designed by John Borg (of Tales from the Crypt, Tron, Metallica and Munsters design fame) with code being written by “King of the Code” Lyman Sheats Jr. (Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness, Tron, Batman ’66). Early code of the game was a huge disappointment leading to many questioning why it was released in such a poor state, but eventually Stern gave Lyman and the theme the deserved amount of time and what came out of it was a stone cold classic. This game was produced in 3 variants, the Pro, Premium and LE, for this review I will be talking solely about the Pro version.
Glancing past this game the glaring red jumps out at you (red?!?! what, in a Zombie game?!) and it is simply gorgeous. The front of the game takes a nod from the classic zombie tropes of hordes of the undead mindlessly trying to get at you through whatever material was available to barricade yourself from their relentless onslaught. If this was foreshadowing to the game that lies within, it’s deftly executed.
I have this in my line up and always wonder why I put it between other machines, this art needs to be seen.
Moving around the cabinet and AMC ensured they got the branding in a premium position and with great effect, after all, in 2014 this was AMC’s golden goose; Season 5 was about to air and the show was hot off of the recent Prison escape from The Governor – arguably the show was at its height of popularity (before slumping slightly and becoming resurgent through the Negan seasons) and featured the at the time leads Michonne, Rick, Daryl and Glenn. Even plastered with the AMC logo, I personally feel that this side art really works and compared to the backglass, is a seriously strong part of the art package. Set against a backdrop of the prison, the key actors strike a stunning contrast to the blood red home that wasn’t to be. I have this in my line up and always wonder why I put it between other machines, this art needs to be seen. Further up the prison tower can be seen overlooking yet more zombies – and it looks great.
The backglass is less impressive, a few zombies from the show and a debatable appearance from Sophia (remember her? The debate is out as to whether this is, or is indeed not Sophia) attempting to break through and attack the player, it is a nice touch, but I just don’t personally feel it works out too well. The great effect of feeling immersed in the prison scene is lost, as the zombie heads take up all but the smallest chunk of real-estate. A final insult is once more, AMC had their way taking up a chunk of the space… Now I get it, backglasses should show us the game title, of course, but why centre the title with the writing in that block? Across the bottom would give so much more space to work with and get what I believe the artist was trying to deliver. A good idea, that was poorly executed.
Getting into the playfield the artwork is incredible, I have heard some call it boring, or gives off a lazy sepia tone feel, but to the naysayers I say nay! This is an apocalyptic world and the playfield is the map of that universe, with shots leading to the CDC, Barn, Prison, Terminus and Woodbury. The horde of zombies coming towards you looks great and both the bicycle girl under the left ramp and zombie under the right look great too, there’s a nice touch with a callback to the show’s “Got Bit” poem scrawled across various areas too. Most shots have an arrow that lights, a zombie target and yellow “multikill” light (more on that later) as well as inserts over to the left for the 3 drop targets (Food, First Aid and Weapons), as well as a “Blood Bath” insert. Towards the centre of the playfield a giant HORDE insert rests upon a myriad of weapons, along with a counter up to 40 and 5 sandwiching the LAST MAN STANDING insert. To the right the WOODBURY insert nestles below the Woodbury Shot.
The pop bumber area on this game is really neat and tucked away but the art here is nothing to talk about, what is left to say is how great the Well Walker bash toy looks, even straight from the factory. If this playfield is drab, it’s because it is supposed to be and whilst it can seem slightly at odds with the constant red theming of the cabinet, I am unsure how the designers could have carried that through into the playfield.
Overall the artwork on this game is great to look at, it has the amazing AMC artwork on the side and the really well done front area to draw you in, but in truth the backglass is a bit of a let down, onto the playfield and it is a really workable and suitable art package for the theme. I give this a solid 4 out of 5.
I won’t even get into the sounds on this game, unless we are talking Cleland code. If you have this game, you have to get the Cleland code. There is no debate, there is no middle ground, that folks is how it is. There are two versions, the X-Rated and the Clean version… Why there is a clean version you ask? Well, whilst this game is clearly intended for a more mature audience, callouts such as “So now I am gonna beat the holy f*** f***ing f***edy f** out of one of you” (as heard here) and “I’m just screwing around man a baseball bat doesn’t have a p*****” (which can be heard here) – you can see why some may opt for the more… sensitive of the two.
Cleland has done an incredible job of taking famous callouts from Daryl, Rick, Michone, Negan and Hershel amongst others along with the standard unknown redneck (presumably supposed to be Daryl) and pulling it into something which further immerses the player into the universe. Whilst it could be said that the callouts don’t have any game specific huge moments, I would say that the little things add up in the Cleland code. Great callouts from the show, a solid soundtrack and some nice if not spectacular “SUPER JACKPOT” callout means that the Cleland code is a must have and that the soundtrack in my mind is excellent for this.
OK – it isn’t the original sound package, but why should you judge the game based on that when the this code is so readily available and is such a game changer. My answer, you shouldn’t. Simple one from me, 5 out of 5.
Shots and Flow
Oh man…. Oh man now are we talking. The game has a total of 6 major shots (Barn, CDC, Riot, Tunnel, Arena and Woodbury) as well as the highly important drops (which is marked as Bloodbath, important for later) the Prison bash area and the Well bash toy.
The left shot Barn feeds around the back into the pops returning through the tunnel shot, this is also where your plunge will feed to with two rollovers above the pops. This game is notorious for the feed out of the tunnel area dropping straight down the middle, I have to say personally – it does happen but isn’t a major issue. The feed down should invariably hit your left flipper which can either be trapped or bounced back over to the right flipper. That feed which starts you up being a bit of a risk, to me, is exactly what the game is about. It wants you to feel on edge and it starts exactly that way. This game asks that you move it, and move it you must to survive.
The CDC shot is a ramp shot that feeds back down to the right flipper, the ball travels up through the backboard of the game and is so very, very satisfying. It is, however, unlike Barn a dangerous shot, the ramp lulls you in with its width, however miss this shot at your peril, a slight miss will either run straight down the middle or into either sling which in this game are a deadly feed to the eventual left outlane drain. Whilst on drains, the right outlane doesn’t feel like it gets much use, however, a sling sling rainbow is something that could be on the cards.
The riot shot is a tough but again incredibly satisfying shot, it can be banked off by skimming off of the the well walker from the left, or a straight shot up from the right. Once again, this shot feeds the pops, making that the second in the game to head you back into the pop bumper frenzy.
Tunnel is a tight shot from the left flipper and whilst not feeding the pops, guess what? Miss by a mm or so and you are in the pops once more, a direct hit will send the ball screaming round and back to the left flipper via the barn return. You need to be on guard to catch or bat the ball away – a really fun combo is to hit the arena straight after this, it’s a risk and you have to like to play on the fly but if you nail it, ahh man, so good.
Arena is another beautiful ramp shot, again heading behind the backboard and this time returning onto the left flipper, it feels the most controlled of the game when hit, and almost the only break from the furore of the playfield. This game has no subway, no lock shots, no where to hide, no way to stop, it’s relentless. The only respite you will get is on this shot, so of course, miss it and drain, that’s the way this game plays and it suits the theme so perfectly, in a world where you’re either on your game or dinner, this shot typifies the sentiment exactly.
The game flows like a river, but don’t let the seamlessness of the shots hypnotise you into a false sense of security, there’s an undercurrent waiting for you to make a wrong move; and if you do – it’s ball over.
The Woodbury shot is over to the right and made from the left flipper, it’s tight and far over on the flipper – in true Walking Dead style, it’s usually for something important, be it the “Mini Wizard” mode HORDE, or an extra ball, you want to hit that shot. In my experience, it isn’t the most dangerous shot, and can be forgiving when missed, however when the pressure is on, trying to nail it, you may get one or two more tries, but doom is certain if you play with your food too much.
The left bank of three drops marked by the sign “Bloodbath” is pivotal to starting modes (one bank for the first mode, two thereafter) and it is, of course, brutal. Miss it and guess what? Yep. Zombie food. Of the three targets, the bottom one can be a nightmare to hit and is of course the most dangerous of the three.
Prison has a lovely magnet which puts the ball out of control and is needed to start the prison multiball, very reminiscent of the Scared Stiff crate with the added complexity of the magnet. It is what it is, a classic shot with the twist this game gives.
Well is available off of either flipper and is also a fairly easy shot, watching that walker dance as you smash it is a lot of fun though.
The game flows like a river, but don’t let the seamlessness of the shots hypnotise you into a false sense of security, there’s an undercurrent waiting for you to make a wrong move; and if you do – it’s ball over. An incredible layout that fits the theme so so well, how can it not be 5 out of 5.
When you say someone is “The Master of Code” – generally they will have a lot to live up to, but my word does TWD do just that. When talking about code, I won’t get into the rules specifically (if you want in depth pinball rules – check out PAPA) but I will focus on some of the areas I think make it great.
The multikill awards are given for achieving specific objectives within a game (again check those rules at PAPA for a full breakdown). In doing so whatever you used to achieve that multikill will allow you to get a 10% payback by hitting the lit multikill shot on the playfield. You can be having a poor game and yet start nailing the Barn shot, build up a great score on Barn and then rinse the multikill shots, this game is so good at it’s non-linear scoring (I will come on to that in a bit) and the multikill function is one of the deciding factors in that. You want to get multikill in whatever you do, be it the mode, or bicycle girl and when you have a great multikill value, that drain becomes even more annoying, so you tighten up. This game has an incredible way of making you feel more and more tense, like every shot means something, and this is just another element of that
Prison, Well and Bloodbath Multiball
These multiballs are another one of those times that you feel a little safe in the game, like being behind those prison walls in the show, however there is also a massive sense of urgency Prison is a 3 ball, Well a 2 ball with an extended ball saver time and Bloodbath is only stackable multiball, with an add a ball for further drop completions (up to 2). Where the game gets you is that in these multiballs, you feel that you have to achieve something, because this is truly the only time you are safe. If you have the pops set up like I do (snappy), after a drain that ball is hanging around in the pops, so you aren’t getting it back as quickly as you like, to make further shots. Again, this is just how the code makes you feel such a part of the universe, sometimes there is safety, but you know it isn’t going to last long, so you want to get stuff done. Remember, there are no places for the ball to hang up on this game, so you are constantly looking for that next shot, you can trap up but the heavy left sided bias of returns means you’ll either be post passing a lot or flailing to keep control once that time is over. You have to think on your toes with this game.
Each mode has good variety and you feel that each one isn’t just a rinse and repeat of the last. I especially like the switch based Riot mode which can have some interesting decisions if stacked into a multiball, which can be very lucrative. Tunnel is huge points if played out well and just so much fun to nail those shots especially if you can stack a multiplier, which leads me on to…
Here is where you can seriously, seriously increase your score. After every few zombie kills (you make kills by hitting lit zombie shots that move around) you will be awarded a multiplier starting at 3X and increasing by 1X each time (so 4X, 5X, 6X and so on). This is activated through the inlanes and can be “moved” via a flip to either allow you to take the X or forgo it to set up a better time. Once again, this is such a great callout to the show and the game in general rewarding longer play time and savvy play. You can waste a multiplier with a poor judgement of a shot. You can nail it by playing it deftly. Most importantly, survive long enough and you can absolutely hammer a score out through this multiplier bonus. My best ever score involved a 9X multiplier stacked on a mode with a crossbow shot, insane points and fitting for the ball I had. Play this right and you will blow the game up. Gorgeous coding.
I’ll keep this short. This is the best mini-wizard in pinball for me. It takes elements of video games and pinball in an all out war against zombies, take a look at the video below from 25:50 to see what I mean and I recommend for a great code breakdown watching the whole thing. Simply. HORDE RULES!
This game demands to be played – it demands to have the time taken to truly understand exactly what it is about – the code is absolutely top drawer. If you get 2 to 3 hours on this game take the time first to understand the code first, because this is a great example of where knowledge is power, and taking that few moments to understand the code before play will help no end. It’s really simple again, 5 out of 5.
It will come as no shock that the conclusion here is extremely positive. This game is a stone cold classic and an incredible game. Whilst I try to take off my rose tinted glasses, as clearly I have great affection for this game, I can appreciate others view that this game can be a bit of a drain monster, especially that out of the pop area straight down the middle (it is a note that some have had magnet issues slinging it between the flippers too, I have not so cannot comment on this) – as said before though, you need to fight this game to get it to bend to your will, just like a post apocalyptic world, take charge or pay the price.
This game delivers such a huge high when you hit those shots that mean so much. Getting to Horde is within the players grasp and the journey to get there is as good as the prize for making it, most times it’s all about the prize but this game makes you want to be a part of the journey. Huge scores are there for the player who is willing to learn the table, and wait for “that game” and when they come around it is magic. I can understand why some people aren’t willing to give a table such as this time to gel with their play style, a “pick up and play” game this is not – and as pinball fans I can see why this can be an issue, if you don’t have time to understand this game, it can seem complex and possibly boring, but for those who can dedicate a little to feel out it’s style, the rewards are there to be enjoyed.
Own a TWD? Cannot stand the game? Think I nailed this review? Is that in fact Sophia? Comment below to let others know your views on this game.