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Review: James Greenhalgh on 17/08/2004

Another month, another machine restored, and another review.

Jokerz is an unusual machine from Williams, and one that doesn't get much time in the spotlight. I rescued one from a friends lock-up recently, and having stripped it, cleaned it, repaired its boards, repainted it, and reinforced some delicate irreplaceable parts, I've finally had time to put some plays on it. Side note - isn't it depressing that no matter how well you clean an old pin, the rubbers are slightly dirty again after only 30 plays? Forgot to do the trough again - take note...

The Jokerz playfield is quite open and symmetrical. Space has been used really well, and there are a lot of things to shoot for without it feeling cluttered at all. At the top of the playfield is a raised mini playfield, this has 5 rollovers for the playing cards and a drop hole to just above the pop bumpers. This playfield is fed by a long ramp on each side which starts roughly halfway up the table. Beneath this playfield are the three multiplier rollovers, which are fed by the saucers. The saucers are hit by lanes to the left and right of the rollover/pop bumper area, and live under the big ramps. One spots a card on the mini playfield, the other is for poker hands. Under the left saucer entry lane is the upper left set of drop targets, and to the right of this directly under the three rollovers and the mini playfield drop hole, is a triangle of pop bumpers, point down. Directly down from the third of these is the raised middle ramp which feeds a twin ball lock lane in the left of the playfield. This raised ramp has a spot target underneath it, which causes a drawbridge to raise up from under the playfield for access. To the left and right of this section, just under the long left and right ramps, are the lower left and right drop target banks. Beneath these on the left is the ball lock eject, and on the right a scoring switch on a similar shaped plastic. Then we have a standard outlane/return lane/slingshot/flipper arrangement. As usual, a picture paints a thousand words - please see the media section for images! One final note is the backbox, which has a rotating disc with cards on it, to complete the kings hand in the translight. A nice touch, and similar to the Cyclone Wheel Of Fortune, and the Diner clock.

The artwork on the machine is quaint and quirky too just like the layout. It's clean and simple looking, but actually contains lots of nice detail. The king and queen beside the playing table in the middle (which counts bonuses, multipliers and so on) are very well drawn, and there are small jesters (or jokerz?) hidden in pretty much every nook and cranny of the playfield. The jokerz are on the playfield art itself, on plastics, hidden right at the back under the ramps, on the cabinet art, the score panel, literally all over the place. It's lit well too, the lights at the mini playfield rollovers are particularly nice and individually controlled for highlighting skill shots and for effect. The flashers on the middle ramp don't actually do anything and are purely for show, but the ones around the edges are used to great effect when cycled and strobed, especially when the game has ended and the backbox and playfield are cycling in unison. The translight is an absolute work of art, it really is one of the best I have seen on a game, and continues the theme of old fashioned looks, and jokerz hidden all over the picture. Note artist John Youssi as the servant! Just below this are twin long displays, which have a variety of small animations to accompany the game.

The audio fits the game perfectly. It's a mixture of baroque or medieval sounding classical (if anyone can put their finger on it more accurately, let me know :) Jokerz has a special stereo sound board only used on this game, and it's used to good effect giving the tunes lots of depth, and leaving the sound effects nicely separated - which include a selection of little laughs from the jokerz - triggered by hitting two of the switches on the playfield, and heard randomly all the way through multiball. When multiball ends, the king says "Quiet! We are playing." and the jokerz fall quiet again. Very unusual, and very welcome - another System 11 game with great audio!

Jokerz looks simple, and essentially it is, but it has a selection of good scoring elements if you're aiming to get your initials up on the displays. Spotting all the cards on the mini playfield earns you the table bonus - but this is dependant on which cards were hit to light all 5, as they're on a lane switch with the flipper buttons. Hitting the ramps repeatedly is a good way to earn points, as they build up bonuses individually. Getting up to the 7x bonus is well worth while, as hitting the three rollovers more times gives an increasing award, and shooting for the 'draw poker' lane is essential. This causes the wheel in the backglass to spin, awarding you a score based on the kings hand shown (yes, the game knows which cards are where. Nice). The three sets of targets can be dropped to give 5 seconds chance to drop any single set for 1 million, but better scoring can be gained from multiball. If you manage to raise the ramp and lock a ball twice, both will be ejected and the ramp stays up. To score the jackpot you need to make 4 middle ramp shots while both balls are still in play. Much harder than it sounds and a lot of fun! The final trick is 'double your score'. This happens on the third (and last, so you get it again with extras) ball - hitting both long ramps within 20 seconds will double your score. Obviously the trick here is to trigger multiball on your third ball just after the bonus countdown starts, make 4 ramp hits to get the jackpot, and then both long ramps to double it.

As I said - simple, but clever. No complaints with the flow either - all the shots feel pretty solid when aimed correctly, the ramps are very smooth including the middle one, which due to the steep drawbridge you'd expect to be a bit lumpy. If you're very accurate any of the three drop target banks can be hit with a sweeping shot for extra bonus, although the lower pair are much harder than the upper one. Learning to juggle the balls in play during multi is challenging, it's definitely wise to use the upper playfield rollover areas to take a ball out of play for a few moments. It's not the fastest game in the world by any means, but it can move at a fair pace around the lower playfield.

Overall, I like this game. I know I say that about many, but truly there aren't many bad games on this hardware. Jokerz does stand out though from the rest, with its unique sound and distinctive look. It's very involving trying to build up the points, and I think is one of the more technical games from the period. As for downsides, I think it would be nice if the flashers on the middle ramp did something. I suspect modifying the game to provide these wouldn't be very difficult as there's an ideal pair to twin them up with underneath the drawbridge (maybe the proto had some here, but airballs would annihilate them).

The biggest downside with Jokerz is that it's a rare machine now - anyone who wants something a bit different should be on the lookout!