Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Perfect Classic Pinball: The Lord Of The Rings Pinball By Stern Rules!

The Good: Fun, Easy to learn and fun to play, Great bonus games, Looks cool, Save ability.
The Bad: None that I could find!
The Basics: The perfect pinball machine, The Lord Of The Rings pinball is reasonably priced, offers hours of fun and great playability for fans of pinball or the movies!

It is rare that I spend so much time playing games as I have in the last few days. My wife and I have made a few trips to Vernon Downs Racino because we found a pair of video slot machines that we both enjoy playing, so we are able to sit beside one another and gamble. As well, she has been looking for work at a nearby mall and that mall happens to have an arcade with possibly the coolest pinball machine I have ever played. That pinball machine is The Lord Of The Rings pinball by Stern. And someday, when I am successful in a material way and have a game room, this is the pinball machine that will be in the game room!

For those who do not read my many reviews, I have a love of pinball and recently I enjoyed the advanced technology of the Star Wars - The Phantom Menace pinball machine while on a trip (I was pretty psyched to discover there was one of these machines at the local Zebbs!). The weekend I spent playing in Towson, Maryland reminded me how much I love pinball; a few trips to the arcade at Sangertown Square Mall to play The Lord Of The Rings pinball reminded me just how good I could be at it! The Lord Of The Rings pinball machines do not use fancy new video technology, relying instead on great gaming options within the playing field and a simple LED display on the backboard.


The Lord Of The Rings pinball is a machine manufactured by Stern and it is worth noting that it has been on the market since the 2003 release of The Return Of The King and was part of the hype for the film. Encompassing material from the entire trilogy, The Lord Of The Rings pinball offers an amazing amount of play options within a limited physical play field. In other words, unlike some of the newer, more technically advanced pinball machines, The Lord Of The Rings pinball has a remarkably traditional sense of play; physical ramps, balls and games that rely on skill and physics as opposed to interactions with video games in the back field. The The Lord Of The Rings pinball machine has the standard glass-topped table which is angled so balls will end up at a central chute, buttons on the sides for players to activate flippers on that side, and a pull launcher which fires a ball up the right ramp into the backfield to start the game. There are targets to be hit with the balls and bumpers in the backfield. As well, The Lord Of The Rings pinball has a higher number of ramps and orbits than any other pinball machine I have played and had good experiences with. The back of the machine has a lit backing that runs perpendicular to the table and includes images of most of the main characters from The Lord Of The Rings.

The Lord Of The Rings pinball machine is almost a two-level machine whatwith all of the raised ramps. Still, the game operates as a remarkably direct pinball game with players hitting balls with left or right flippers to aim for targets, ramps and obstacles that the ball might overcome. Throughout the play experience, players face challenges on the playfield which require them to aim the ball up various ramps or orbits and given the sheer number of games within the game, it is entirely possible to play for hours and not hit all of the bonuses. This keeps the gameplay fresh and enduring for years. In other words, The Lord Of The Rings pinball is not a machine one will likely ever get sick of playing!

One suspects that more people play pinball than buy the machines, but for those looking to own one, the The Lord Of The Rings machine carries a pretty steep price tag over $5000, but given the sophistication of the game, it is hard to feel cheated by the expense! For those of us simply playing the game, it is $.50 per credit and Stern graciously offers players five credits (five plays) for $2.00. One of the truly nice aspects of this pinball machine is that more than any other pinball machine I have played, winning free play seems fairly common or easy. My wife and I stretched $2.00 for over two hours of play on at least ten games one afternoon!


As a pinball machine, there are not so much accessories as there are features. The Lord Of The Rings pinball machine features all sorts of interesting features within the play field. For ease of discussing these, I'll use standard clockface positions to list some of the best features. At nine o'clock there is a little trap that gives players Fellowship bonuses that help them collect members of the Fellowship of the Ring for point bonuses. This trap actually ejects the ball into a wire ball return that leads directly to the left flipper. That ball return is common to the Orthanc and Paths Of The Dead sidegames. At eleven o'clock at the very back of the backfield is a miniature Tower Of Orthanc which both collects balls and ejects them if one is able to get the ball into it. When it ejects balls, it raises them to a secondary field above the main playing field at ten o'clock, releasing them on an alternate field of the Paths Of The Dead. The Paths Of The Dead has four triggers - arranged two and two - which triggers soul collection for a bonus Return Of The King multiball game (which I have never been so fortunate to activate, as it requires the collection of 5000 souls and at best I have had 3100 souls!). At the base of the Paths Of The Dead, balls fall into the ball return to the left flipper or into the trap for additional bonuses!

At twelve o'clock is the ultimate combination of play experiences. When activated, a rubbery Balrog blocks the central ramp. The Balrog is hit with balls for bonuses and when it is hit enough times, the Balrog rotates ninety degrees to reveal a central ramp that is a real skill shot to hit. The ramp leads to a jump at . . . The One Ring. The One Ring in The Lord Of The Rings pinball is essentially a target that has a slight funnel shape to it and hitting the ball up the ramp at the right velocity causes the ball to go right through the center and come out a right hand wire ball return that also activates additional games within the playfield, like having to outrun the Nine Riders and a very cool battle between Saruman and Gandalf (which I only hit once, but was neat).

The right side of the playfield is brightly lit and loaded with options as well. At one and two o'clock in the backfield are three bumpers which are Warg attack bonuses as the ball is bounced between them. At the extreme back of the backfield at one o'clock is a miniature Tower Of Barad-Dur. Managing to hit Barad-Dur on the left side causes the tower to tip and hitting it three times activates a side game. In front of the miniature Barad-Dur tower at about two-o'clock is the hardest to hit ramp, a steep ramp that leads to a Black Rider. This ramp leads to a ball lock which is released when the Gollum multiball game is activated and hitting that can lead one to rack up the points with great speed. Just to the left of that ramp is a trap similar to the one on the right which also launches balls into a wire ball return that goes to the right flipper.

In addition to the various ramps, there are two orbits and targets on the sides and center that generate points when hit.


The Lord Of The Rings pinball plays like a very straightforward pinball machine; players launch a ball, it goes up a ramp and when it comes toward a central chute closest to them, they attempt to deflect the metal ball back into the playing field to hit targets and earn points. Points can accrue fast on The Lord Of The Rings pinball, but only through hitting certain orbits and ramps. After a few hours of play, my record was 22,250,000 (the record on the machine was only 75,000,000, so this is a very easy game to learn and play).

Hitting the One Ring in the backfield activates the most extensive sidegames within the machine. Some of these, like "War Of The Ents," require players to hit certain targets while a countdown ticks off. So, for example, when the War Of The Ents is initiated, each time one hits the Tower Of Orthanc, they receive a bonus of a quarter million points! Because some of the games get activated while I was playing with multiball, I have no clue how some are played. For example, the Black Rider escape involves hitting the Black Rider ramp, but simply keeping the ball in the backfield seems to keep the game going and each time the Black Rider ramp is hit while that game is activated, time is added to the countdown!

There are lights on the playing field which indicate such things as where to hit the ball to pick up additional Fellowship members. When all of the targets representing the Fellowship Of The Rings are hit, there is an extensive bonus. Having played this game for hours and seen such things as Shelob and flying Fell Beasts for only a few seconds, there seem to be limitless options for play, all of which is based in the physical reality of the playing field of this pinball machine.


I've no idea how many of The Lord Of The Rings machines were made, but I have seen at least three in my lifetime so far. And honestly, if you ever see one, whether you like pinball or not, this is a great game to play and a lot of fun!


The Lord Of The Rings pinball offers pinball players a real intriguing diversion and the games are exciting and play progresses at a reasonable pace. I have never played a pinball machine where it is as easy to keep the ball in play and rescue it from the central chute while still being a fun and challenging game as The Lord Of The Rings pinball. With the reasonable price per game, this pinball machine offers a great value, wonderful playability and more fun than any other pinball machine I have yet encountered.

This pinball machine utilizes graphics and scenarios from The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, which is reviewed here!

For other Lord Of The Rings games and toys, please check out my reviews of:
The Lord Of The Rings RISK
The Fellowship Of The Ring Trading Card Game
Witchking Ringwraith figure


For other toy reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing.

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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