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Review: James Greenhalgh on 08/07/2004

Diner was one of the later System 11 games released, and in my opinion easily ranks among the best - here's why..

The Diner playfield is a busy and colourful place. The most obvious features are the large crossing ramps - in normal use the left ramp will carry the ball back over to the right inlane, and vice versa. Where things change is a weak shot up the right ramp, which can result in feed back to the right flipper (pity this doesn't award some kind of trick shot bonus!) In addition to this, the left ramp can raise, giving access to the multiball lock - while the right ramp has a diverter halfway up, which can send the ball into the big coffee cup (which works like the Taxi skillshot and Transporter teleport funnels). The skill shot is a timing thing, fire the ball into play and it locks above the rollovers - whatever bonus the jukebox stops on is what you get. On the middle of the right hand side is a scoop used for starting multiball - which uses something I hadn't seen since Centaur - a metal flap on the shooter lane so the ball can be shot back up into play on that lane, from below the playfield. Nice. The backglass hasn't been left out in terms of gameplay items either - there's a large clock built into it, which uses a similar motor system to the Jokerz poker hand and Cyclone wheel of fortune.

Did I mention the playfield is colourful? It's one of the brightest games I've seen, without being garish at all. We're stuck very firmly in 60s americana here, there's a diner tablecloth pattern all over the playfield (black and red chessboard), white and red elsewhere, the jukebox is chrome, the backglass has a nice classic car on it parked outside an old fashioned diner, the music is rock n roll styled and the food is authentic - maybe. Some nice touches are a special apron which carries the red and white too (not common on System 11 games), and holes in the translight to make the streetlamps outside the diner really shine. The backbox also has customers on springs fitted to the main door, so they appear to move around slightly through the windows. The sound as mentioned is styled for the era, and is very high quality - some of the nicest audio I've heard in a pin to date. Yup, this really does the business artwise and soundwise.

One odd thing is the customers - while the pin is stuck firmly in the 60s, the customers are very much from the late 80s. The Indian guy is definitely supposed to be someone famous - I forget who. "Babs" is Margeret Thatcher, "Boris" is clearly Boris Yeltsin, and I imagine the Mexican (?) and American customers are famous too - if anyone can identify them let me know! Political correctness wasn't yet fashionable thankfully, so we get some silly stereotyped voices for their food orders.

All this is great, but pointless if the game plays like a rock. Luckily, it doesn't. The skill shot is pretty cool but definitely a hit+miss affair as to award - you'd have to be very skilled to follow the jukebox and time accordingly. The rest happens exactly as you'd want it to. Essentially you need to reach 'Dine Time' for the big scores - to do this, you need to serve all 5 customers their orders, then shoot the top saucer (same one as used by the skill shot) to win 1 million x the clock time. Serving customers is fairly simple - regardless of their order you need to hit all the red drop targets, and all the yellow (side order and main order respectively, looking at the playfield art). It would have been nice to have to hit the right target first to select the right food, but this isn't in the code - certainly not on mine anyway (claims "home proto 0"). Multiball is hit fairly easily, lock a ball under the left ramp and then shoot the top saucer when the spinner is lit, or the special scoop on the right. For a rundown of the full rules you should read up on the rules sheet - but they aren't very complicated.

Other than that, in terms of how it actually feels to play, this is a really SMOOTH game. Shots to either ramp, diverted or not just flow along them, the drop targets come away quickly and easily without causing odd ball deflections, side drains are uncommon, and very few shots will result in the ball hitting something dead and coming right back at you. It doesn't have the fastest ball travel in the world, but can certainly get up some speed for the ramp shots. From what I saw at a recent pinball/jukebox show - this is one of the few that is girlfriend/wife friendly ;) It's not easy to get the high scores - Dine Time and Rush are essential for this, but it's definitely quite forgiving to a less skilled player (sorry to any girls who actively play pinball) who likes to just bat the ball around a bit and watch the flashing lights.

To sum up - I love this game (I like most System 11s, but this is a real favourite). As mentioned it just feels 'right' to play - there's no akwardness to the playfield layout, it looks great and it sounds great - and it won't look ugly in any room in the house. If you see one of these at a good price, don't overlook it!

Oh - one last thing. Whatever you do, do NOT try to tell your wife/girlfriend that "you'll like my new pin, it's female friendly - there's cooking AND serving involved!". This will not score you any positive points.