Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pinball: Destroy Centaur!

I've been playing a LOT of Pinball Arcade on my Kindle Fire. Many modern for-phone-or-tablet pinball games are created for the platforms, so there's all kinds of effects you could never achieve with a classic, real-life pinball table. Pinball Arcade is cool because it provides digital replicas of actual classic machines. While playing, I've become interested in the history of pinball tables. Over the next few weeks I'll share some of my favorites. Let's start with Centaur.

This table was released in 1981 by Bally. About 3,700 were produced, and about 2,500 of those are accounted for today by collectors. Designer Jim Patla was inspired by the 1956 game Balls-a-Poppin, in terms of game play. Artist Jim Faris gave the Centaur table its distinctive look.

Centaur was ahead of its time in many ways. It was one of the earliest games to have speech effects - most notably the stern instruction at the beginning of the game, when a computerized voice says, with much gravity, "DESTROY CENTAUR!" The player is supposed to defeat Centaur, a human/motorcycle hybrid with a hot goth girlfriend. The game also features a constant background sound, which, again, is rare for the time period.

The coolest thing about it is the graphic design. Compared to other games from the late 1970s and early 1980s, this one is strikingly different. Most graphics are black and white, with a touch of red and some other colors when various targets light up. The art sets it apart from almost every other game of the period, and, frankly, feels very modern by comparison. The game was re-released several years later as Centaur II, but it was the exact same game with different back glass.

Play-wise, the biggest challenge is to hit various banks of drop targets. You also have a bit of control over the ball when it sinks into the out-lanes. A multi-ball effect is in play as well. A ball can be captured, but you can knock it free later. You can have up to 5 balls on the table this way, but I've never even come close to pulling that off. In fact, I've never been able to keep even two balls in play for very long, though that hasn't stopped me from achieving a few top 5 scores on the online leaderboards.

This game is not included in the free Pinball Arcade Underground. It is included in Pinball Arcade, and you can play free but only up to the first high score. Then you've got to pay $4.99 if you want to get past that score. I did and haven't regretted it. I've played hours and hours of it, and if you see "JP" on the leaderboards, that's little old me.

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