Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pinball: Visit Lovely El Dorado!

Next up in our exploration of classic pinball tables is El Dorado, produced in 1975 by industry giants Gottlieb. Designed by Ed Krynksi, with art by the great Gordon Morison (who I've blogged about elsewhere) this table is by far one of my favorites in the Pinball Arcade lineup. About 2,880 machines were produced.

Being a 1975 game, it's all electro-mechanical (of course, I'm playing a digital replica). The old-school bells and clacking targets give it real charm compared to the barrage of synthesized digital noise we get from many post-mid-1980s games. The art must have been "retro" even for the 1970s, because it looks like nothing so much as the illustrations from 1950s and 60s Western comics like you can find here. Overall, the graphic design is very pleasing, with a great color scheme of mustard yellow, burnt orange, sandy tan, and saddle-leather brown. Sometimes that brown was tinged with purple, as in the illustration above.

The basic goal of the game is to hit the two sets of drop-down targets. This is very common in pre-1980s games, and it's a clear, unambiguous goal. Unlike most games, these targets don't re-set with every single ball, so you've got a fairly good chance of hitting them all if you're even remotely skilled (or, as is the case so often with pinball, lucky). There are also a few roll-over buttons to go for. Other than that, the gameplay is very simple. The theme is, of course, a simulated Western gunfight. One innovation that was pretty cool for the time (and still is): four flippers. There's a separate playfield in the upper left with two small flippers. If you start the ball just right, it will sail right into this area and you can keep the ball up there for quite a while - it's a great way to knock out a bunch of the upper drop-down targets at the beginning. But the upper flippers are so close to their targets that you've got to have lightning-quick reflexes to pull this off. The lower set of drop-down targets are set at an oblique angle to the lower flippers. It's much easier to hit these with the left flipper, so when the ball heads toward my right flipper, I try to hit it lightly and knock it over to the left flipper before going for these targets.

This was a very popular game in its day, and the playfield worked so well, Gottlieb exploited the crap out of it by re-branding the same game with new artwork over and over and over

You can play a faithful digital replica of this game in the free version of Pinball Arcade, but once you hit the high score it won't let you go any higher. I bought the game for $4.99 after a few plays, and it's been worth every penny. If you like your pinball games loud, flashy, with booming sounds, disembodied voices, toys, ramps, and multiple goals and missions, you might find El Dorado fairly tame. If you like a clean table with old-school graphic design and some "buzzers and bells" worthy of The Who, you might find this game a pleasing diversion.

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