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Back to Black Knight 2000 info page

Review: James Greenhalgh on 22/08/2004

The original Black Knight was a popular and successful game - so much so, that Williams and Steve Ritchie decided to make a sequel. The result is actually a very different game indeed, about the only thing in common is the theme. So how does it stand up on its own?

The first noticeable thing about the playfield layout is the twin levels. Not a mini playfield, or small plastic playfield - but a great big full level, almost as large as the lower playfield minus the apron area. The upper playfield is almost like a triangle with curved corners, one side against the back of the machine, one on the right, and the third joining them in a diagonal. At the top of this are three rollovers, where the ball drops into play from a wireform fed from the shooter lane. To the left and right of these are orbit lanes, and below these are three pop bumpers. To the left of these are a wireform outhole (more on that later), and a bank of 3 targets on a Pinbot visor style lowering mechanism. When lowered, these give access to an almost triangular ramp, which feeds the ball locks on the left side. Under the pop bumpers are another set of three rollovers, which feed a metal rail that runs along the very edge of the upper playfield (this is also where balls leaving the lock area are sent to at the far left. This rail feeds yet another rail on the right, which drops the ball in front of the right slingshot. At the bottom of the right hand edge of the upper playfield, there's a single flipper which can be used to hit the clockwise orbit shot, the targets and ramp, and so on. Beneath the flipper is the start of the right ball rail.

The lower playfield is very tightly packed. There's the normal flipper and slingshot arrangement, with a kickback on the left outlane, and magnasave on the right. Above the left slingshot against the side is a bank of 3 drop targets, and above the right slingshot is a short saucer lane heading under the feed rail above. Along the back end of this playfield from left to right are a long under playfield ramp which feeds to the upper field, the left loop entrance, another bank of three targets, the right loop entrance, and the Lightning Wheel lane which runs all the way under the upper playfield, to a saucer. A VUK kicks this ball up to the upper playfield, ejecting from the outhole wireform. It's actually a tricky one to describe - take a look at the flyers.

The artwork is as striking as the layout. There's a lot of strong colours, mostly reds. As seems to be a Steve Ritchie trademark, the lanes are all very clearly marked by contrasting shades. There's lots of lightning flash style shapes, including a large ring of them in the middle of the lower playfield (known as the Lightning Wheel). The plastics resemble battlement type shapes on later models - the original art was slightly abstract and was changed due to feedback from operators and owners. The cabinet art is black based, with Black Knight 2000 logos on the sides, and a gauntlet covered fist holding lightning bolts on the backbox sides. The backglass (apparently repro translights are available, but the originals are glass) is a picture of the Black Knight on his horse, with some futuristic backgrounds and yet more zigzag artwork around the edges. The light show is fantastic - the flashers on the game are well placed for visual effect, around the underplayfield entrance lanes, under the top playfield plastics, in the backbox, even under the outlane/return lane divider plastics. In some modes these can go berserk, flashing madly and lighting up the whole room! The insert lights are well done too, the Lightning Wheel lights spin in sequence in time to the music and action - and to top it all off the alphanumeric displays are put to good use too.

The audio is some of the very best heard in a pinball, ever. This is no overstatement - Brian Schmidt did an excellent job creating a fast paced electronic guitar (sounding) led set of tunes, which actually suit the artwork perfectly. The main theme even contains vocals (played by the sample hardware in perfect timing with the music board) and taunts by the Black Knight himself. It sounds great during multiball and Ransom modes, the multiball tune in particular leading up to a fast synth guitar solo (with flasher overdrive joining in..) as the Jackpot timer approaches the end. The sounds and samples used are also perfectly clear - it sounds simply amazing!

The gameplay on this game has been cause for a lot of discussion for a long time now. The Lightning Wheel awards are triggered by shooting the ball up to the rear saucer under the upper playfield, these are random and can be anything from points to features. The scores are pretty worthless, but the awards can be useful if you get a re-lit kickback, or a RANSOM letter. The 6 drop targets are timed. The more times all are knocked down, the shorter time between resets - so you have to be fast to light all of BLACK for a big bonus. Dropping these also re-lights the kickback - you'll want to do this whenever possible. A good source of points can be the hurry up awards - lighting the WAR rollovers (the three under the pop bumpers) lights the left lower to upper playfield ramp for a decreasing score. The faster you hit it the more it's worth. The award gets higher the more times you do it, and the shot is tricky but learnable, as after lighting WAR, the ball will head along the feed rails and land at the right slingshot, perfectly placed for a ramp shot. Another way to get points is by building up the loop awards - the lower mini orbit (loop lanes that curve around behind the three middle playfield drop targets, under the upper playfield overhang) and the upper clockwise orbit shot will build this bonus. Getting the top orbit a few times in succession will light the long left ramp for extra ball, which you can quickly collect by not flipping the ball for another loop, and letting it rail off to the right slingshot and flipper.

Shooting the ball into the right saucer when lit, will start two ball multiball - the Knights Challenge. In this mode while keeping both balls in play, you must light the WAR rollovers to score a million points. Actually very difficult as it requires a lot of left ramp shooting, or backflips to the rear saucer on the Lightning Wheel lane. Three ball multiball is achieved by dropping the drawbridge on the upper playfield, and then shooting three balls in. During this mode, just hit as many targets as you can, while trying to send one more ball up the drawbridge ramp to score the jackpot. One last nice mode is Ransom - sometimes the Ransom lamp is lit in front of the drawbridge ramp. This lights one of the RANSOM letters under the alphanumeric displays - when this is completed the game start playing a racy tune, and ups every score feature to maximum, also lighting every feature. The RANSOM lamps carry across games, so you don't have to build up all six from the beginning more often than not.

In terms of the ball actually rolling around the playfield, this is a very fast game - very fast and very harsh. The lower playfield has a tendency on both the machines I've played, to left drain frequently. Almost any lower playfield shot that isn't an attempt on the left ramp or Lightning Wheel lane is a potential deathshot, as they come straight back at you. The upper playfield is less dangerous, but the ball can build up incredible speed being sent around the orbit several times. There's a trick shot to be made here - lower right flipper, shooting up the left lower to upper playfield ramp, around the back of the upper orbit to the upper right flipper, then shoot this around the upper orbit again, and when it reaches the right upper flipper again, fire it up the drawbridge ramp. The game does actually notice this shot and gives you some points. Now, here is the problem - that's it really, while there are numerous little scores to go for, many are too dangerous to attempt on the lower playfield, and the only thing to do really is try to shoot the ball back to the upper - which has one loop, one ramp, and the rollovers and pop bumpers. It drains back down, and you're looking to send it back up again. And repeat. Until all the balls have drained down the left. It's a shame as this spoils what would have been a top 5 game ever from the effort the rest of the machine has had.

So what do I think of the game? The art and sound are just amazing - and reason enough if you have the space and enjoy the game to own it. If you're pushed for space, or want a deep and involving game that will last a while rather than a quick blast - you'd be better off looking at something else. The game also limits its appeal by being as fast and punishing as it is. While it has beginner friendly rules, it will punish them for mistakes repeatedly. The bottom line - while this game may be one of the best shots in pinball, it is just a one shot wonder. Try before you buy.