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Review: Andy Thorn on ??/??/2000

1986 was a good year for pinball. Building on the success of games like Space Shuttle and Comet, High Speed had taken the amusement world by storm, sending the message that after the lean video game years, pinball was back! However, this was no time for resting on laurels, as a few dogs might see this renaissance come juddering to a halt. So at the tail end of 1986 Williams' release of Pinbot was possibly more important than might at first be thought - so was it any good?

Pinbot sports a conventional flipper arrangement, with return and out lanes on either side. Above the left slingshot lies a bank of three drop targets, above which is the ramp entrance. Knock down one drop target and you have a timed period to get the rest to advance the planet value. Feature lights in the centre of the playfield map the solar system from Pluto to the Sun. Each lit planet scores a 20k bonus, while reaching a pre-selected planet, usually Jupiter, scores Special, as does reaching the Sun. If the three targets are not made in time they will reset. With all three standing, a light strobes between them, hitting the lit target first raises the ramp for a timed period. Shooting under the ramp scores the energy value, this is raised by the jet bumpers.

A ramp shot brings the ball around the top of the playfield to the transparent mini-playfield, which is situated above the jet bumpers. The ball travels bagatelle style through the mini-post maze that makes up the mini-playfield. The path of the ball through this part of the machine can only be influenced by nudging. The ball can drop through a hole into the bumper area, enter the main playfield, drop into the right return lane or proceed to the plunger lane. (Here it will benefit from the vortex multiplier.) The ramp also increases the solar value (Jackpot) as well as the bonus multiplier, up to 5X.

At the top of the main playfield is Pinbot's visor, in front of which is a bank of five spot targets. Between the two exits from the bumper area, almost at 90 degrees to the flippers, are another five targets. These correspond with a 5x5 grid of lamps that make up the chest panel of Pinbot. Making all these 25 lights or hitting the flashing line first, causes the visor to rise and the top target bank drops flush with the playfield. This reveals two eject holes, Pinbot's eyes. Locking a ball in each eye causes the game to announce, 'Now I see you' and multiball begins. The idea is to relock one eye and then make the ramp shot to collect the solar value, which can be anything from 100k to 5M. This sequence can be repeated any number of times but the solar value will reset to 100k once collected.

Other features of note on the playfield include a spot target above the right slingshot that advances the planet value when lit. In the top left corner is a saucer which scores from 25k through to lighting extra ball. The extra ball can be gained by making the lit return or outlane, and the lit lane may be rotated via the flipper lane change. Finally, located between. the flippers is a mini-post which, of course, bounces the ball back into play half as often as you think it should!

In conclusion, I think Pinbot is a great game. It has powerful looks, even today the light bar atop the backbox draws attention. The raising visor was unique at the time, even if we are now blase about features like T-Rex eating the balls, or whatever. Williams have seen fit to make two sequels; The Machine, Bride of Pinbot and Jackbot (Backglass pictured right). The former was inspired by the success of the original, features mini-playfield, enclosed bumpers and benefits from a few more body parts. The latter, released in 1995, uses exactly the same playfield as Pinbot, features dot matrix display and has significant changes to the artwork and rules. Jackbot also utilises the 'Casino Run' feature which has the ability to either significantly benefit your score or take away without warning what you thought you had earned. Which is good when it's the former option....!

Whatever, these two siblings highlight the quality and innovation of Barry Oursler's original design and there are still many original Pinbot games around - if you are keen on an alpha-numeric game it is defintely rated it as a good machine to own.