I am a TRON fan. Discs of Tron was the first arcade game I have memory of, I watched the original movie more times than I can count over the years, played through Tron 2.0 several times and I liked Tron Legacy despite some of it’s flaws. I loved video games and as a kid, it was the only film I was really familiar with that was about video games (I missed out on stuff like War Games until years later). Stern’s TRON Legacy Pinball is the first time since Discs of TRON that we have a TRON-related product making it’s way to arcades and since I started blogging, I have never seen a similar level of excitement for one of Stern’s products than I have seen with TRON Pinball. Being a TRON fan, it should appeal to me right away just due to the license. There is plenty of hype and hope about it but does it live up to either one? My thoughts below
Just to offer some additional background, I’m not a pinball wizard who can manage to keep a ball in play for an hour. I like pinball but it’s only been in recent years after starting my own arcade that I’ve taken up interest in it. I think that it still holds great potential for arcades because it’s a unique type of game that is best played in an arcade environment. I have played a few classic pins, including a couple of EM machines and some of the popular pins from the 90’s, but I certainly have a long way to go before experiencing every game produced. I currently have two Stern pins at my own arcade, a Shrek and an Indiana Jones, both from 2008. So I will be comparing somethings to these two games as they are the pinball machines I am most familiar with. I completely understand that there have been plenty of cool things done in pinball machines from the 80’s and 90’s but the time I’ve spent on those amounts to maybe about an hour across several games.
My local distributor, Mountain Coin got a standard TRON Legacy pinball unit in so while there to pick up a replacement coil for my Indiana Jones pinball machine which has failed twice now, I had to give the game a spin. The software installed is v1.2 and if you know anything about Stern games, the initial software revisions usually have some bugs or other problems they resolve before too long with subsequent revisions. So the game could be a slightly different beast in a couple of months depending upon software changes made.
They had it setup in the back showroom with several other pins but unlike the other games they had, it wasn’t set to free play yet. Because of the large interest in the game, they didn’t want to have it on free play causing a bunch of people to sit there and tear up the machine, one they would be selling before too long. Understandable. Besides, by not playing it on free play, I get the feel for having my 75¢ on the line, which is a different feeling than putting nothing into it. The back room was dark, only one window on the north wall to illuminate anything, with the TRON setup directly south of that. Normally they have lights on in there but I was happy to play the game in a darker room. The sound was a bit low but because everything else was off and I was the only person around, I could hear everything fine. This uses a 3D backglass just like Avatar pinball did, and it’s a cool effect that doesn’t show up right in most videos. They used the same image you see to the right, just in glorious 3D.
After turning the game on and coining it up, I gave it a quick play. My first turn didn’t last as long as I had hoped it would. Usually I can spend several minutes between three balls on Shrek or Indy, maybe longer after I’ve played them several times in a day but I’ve had those games for a while and they are always free to me. Overall I got to try it out six times, earning a match in one of the attempts.
The skill shot requires you to get the ball into the Flynn’s Arcade scoop before anything else and the orange display pretty much tells you to go there first. I didn’t have any luck in finding a hidden skill shot, like I did with Shrek, but who knows if a hidden shot is there or not. The TRON Arcade cabinet set above Flynn’s Arcade scoop is a nice touch and it lights up. It would have been cooler for it to be set on a motor like the guy on Indiana Jones above the map room which would have made this similar in operation (I’m thinking of having the TRON machine cover up a secret passage and after hitting the target it opens to reveal the scoop below that you then enter into. Would have been more like the film in that sense).
When people occasionally have TRON on their minds, the two most recognizable events from the movies is the Light-cycle races and the Disc Combat (Disc Wars if you prefer). As such, if you play a TRON game, you expect these two things to be represented and to be exciting. There are two plastic ramps (nope, no wire ramps) to aim for which has some Light-Cycle toys on top of them (and thank goodness, no silly plastic cutouts with a picture of a light-cycle on them here but molded toys), one of them is accessed by timing a shot on the upper left flipper, the other requires a powerful shot from one of the main flippers. I managed to hit the 3rd flipper ramp more than the light-cycle ramp over my six games but did manage to initiate a Light-Cycle multiball once. It was ok but not terribly exciting like a light-cycle battle should be. Obviously it’s impossible to actually recreate a light-cycle battle itself with pinballs (I guess they could have done a mini-game on the screen which you use to do a classic LC battle, one button switches your bike right, the other left; but they haven’t done screen mini-games that I know of in a really long time for some reason). I think it would have made for a good 8-ball multiball given the multiple racers on the Grid in the movie but it starts off with one extra ball and then it seems like after I lost that, it shot two more onto the playfield. The screen did have some light-cycle action on it though, at least they got some clips from the movie here. Next up, how they handled the disc wars.
Beyond the standard bumpers and spinners, there is the Recognizer target in the upper center part of the playfield, reminding me of the Sandman shot in Spiderman. The Recognizer lights up but doesn’t move, you hit the barrier target beneath it enough times and it lowers to reveal the spinning disc. As the only moving “toy” on the playfield I found it disappointing, if not pointless. It is necessary to initiate the Disc Multiball, which shoots out more pins onto the playfield than Light-Cycle multiball and has the disc spinning. That was fun at least but beyond that, any time the disc is revealed, it’s not for very long and I didn’t manage to hit it as much as I would have liked to. Part of that was the fact that the pinball was doing something else at the time, not giving me the opportunity to shoot for the disc and the other part was missing the shot. But I did make the shot enough times over six games to create my disappointment in it. It’s too far up the playfield to seem useful. Disc targets like this have been used in multiple Stern games like Ironman, NBA, Pirates of the Carribean, CSI, etc. and it’s been used to create another random and very fast effect that can send your pinball anywhere. But what I found it doing was just shooting the pinball back at your flippers and not much else. It sucks when you manage that shot and next thing you know, it sends the ball straight down the center where you can’t do a thing about it ending that turn. It’s enough to send more than just the Angry/Irate Gamers of the world into a small frenzy. Because of this, a ball post would have been nice (again, ala Stern’s Indiana Jones).
Like the movie, the point of the game, is to find Flynn and presumably escape the Grid. In the process you want to post a ginormous score for all to see and bow down before. I didn’t really manage any of that like I was supposed to, although I heard plenty of Kevin Flynn/Jeff Bridges quotes from Legacy. They didn’t skimp on the quotes which is good and it was here that the game surprised me. I didn’t expect them to insert something like Kevin Flynn humming the original TRON theme song from the beginning of the movie. The sounds are also very “arcadey”- best way I can describe them is to use compare them to “8-bit”/retro sounds of the past with a slight modern touch to them. Between those and some of Daft Punk’s amazing sound track, the sound on the game is highlight for me. I would have liked the volume to have been cranked up on the machine to get a better feel in this area and adding even more Daft Punk tracks wouldn’t hurt the game by any means. But I’ll give it a thumbs up here.
Overall, it’s a fast paced game that certainly could use some fine tuning along with some ideas that could have been implemented using technology we’ve seen in past pinball games to make it more appealing(but the counter argument is cost, which Tron does cost more already than other recent Stern games). I mentioned a moving arcade cabinet to be like the secret passage wall in Legacy; a magnet could have been placed somewhere to represent being captured by Clu; could have had a mini-playfield representing the End of Line Club and probably something else added to do with the light-jets seen at the end of the movie. I guess until I have designed a pinball machine there’s only so much I can say for what should be done at a reasonable price.
I don’t really give out ratings since I find those too arbitrary so I’ll say, I do find it more enjoyable than Avatar or Rolling Stones but that’s not just the TRON license talking – I’m just trying to look at it from a “whatever license they could have used” in the design here. At the end of the day, I didn’t find it more exciting than my Indiana Jones pinball. It’s not at the same level of that actually. Now who knows, perhaps the Limited Edition of the game that 400 people will get their hands on will be different and more exciting but it’s going to need more than special ramp lighting to do that. The lighted ramps is a cool idea and it’s in the right direction but when you look at a license like TRON, you expect more from the pinball game than that.
The real question is (and should be) would I put one in my arcade? For free, sure. But these aren’t free and before I can make a decision on that, I would have to play the Pro and Limited Editions of the game to compare and see if it’s worth it at all. I admit that the TRON fan in me wants one, I like enough for that so far but would my customers be drawn into replaying the game? Would it ever pay itself off? That is hard to say – I played it multiple times but I want to play the Pro/Limited Edition before I spent any more time or money on this. I wish I could put it next to my Shrek and Indy and see what happens. The only problem is that I’m not sure if a non-Tron fan would find a lot to appreciate here but fortunately, a lot of TRON fans are arcaders who are willing to go out and find a game. Because of that I think it certainly has the potential to do well. It’s too bad those light-tubes are not found on the standard version of the game as that would certainly help it stand out next to other Stern machines. An upgrade kit to add those would be welcome, perhaps one of the enterprising pinball modders out there will manage that. To backtrack for a second, one thing I hate about having multiple versions of a pinball game, since changes made to the playfield can have a much more significant effect on how the game plays compared to an arcade game, where differences between standard and deluxe is the screen/cabinet size and perhaps a slightly different control setup but the software is the same, keeping the core experience similar. I admit that if there was a choice between a new TRON video arcade game and Stern’s TRON offering, I would likely take the video game (unless it sucked) over the pinball. But at the same time I completely understand the choice to pay for differences in versions and sometimes it’s nice to have those choices.
The standard version of the game is out now and hopefully you will be able to find one near you. If you’re an operator, the best advice I could give you is poll your customers about it – Do they like Tron? Do they want to see something different at your venue? There are various sources to get the game from, such as one of our advertisers, BMI Gaming.
I’ll keep an eye out for the Pro or Limited Edition versions of this game and if I’m lucky enough, hopefully I’ll get a chance to share my thoughts on any differences in those from the version I played here. I did capture some video footage without commentary, I will try and find a way to edit it up and do a video review that way, we’ll see how that works out. In the meantime, if you have played the game, share your thoughts below! Need help finding a machine? Try Stern’s Pinball finder. Also try different location finders, like Aurcade.com, ArcadeFly.com and GamerSpots.com