I have been listening to pinball podcasts for the last couple of years, and within that bubble of personalities and opinions (at least the ones I listen to) there seems to be an overwhelming dislike of The Addams Family (TAF). Right now it is even a finalist for being the most over rated pinball in The Final Round’s Overrated Pinball Battle Royal.
I personally find this to be strange because not only is TAF the best selling machine of all time (20,270 units), but it is one of my favorite machines! It always puts a smile on my face! I totally understand why it is ranked in the Pinside top 20.
So here is the problem as I see it. Much of the pinball media is made up of the pinball elite. They are often very skilled players that are used to playing in competitions. And competition TAF is totally different than playing for fun.
Since I kind of bridge the gap between playing for fun and being competitive, I am going to make my arguments in defense of The Addams Family.
Amazing call outs and sound!
Getting call outs from the film’s actors is something that doesn’t often happen anymore. And Raul Julia’s call outs are amazing! They are humorous and build excitement throughout the game. Add to that the few call outs using Anjelica Huston’s voice and TAF just can’t be beat!
In addition to the call outs, the rest of the sounds greatly enhance the game. There are discrete sounds for almost every shot, so you can tell what you have hit just by listening to the sounds. The sounds associated with the modes make sense with the theme, and give you the feeling like you are making progress and accomplishing things. And when you start multiball, get a jackpot, or Tour the Mansion, the sound really lets you know you have done something special!
And from a personal stand point, the four-way combo sound is my favorite in all of pinball!
The Thing hand is amazing and may be one of the most iconic pinball toys of all time. Thing coming out of the far right corner and stealing the ball from the playfield was mind boggling in the 90’s. Not only is it visually impressive, but it also completely fits in with the theme!
The Power is one of the best applications of forced randomness ever to be placed in a pinball machine! Invisible magnets under the playfield engage during the Seance mode, when you are trying to start multiball, and during all multiballs in order to change the path that the ball is traveling. The Power makes simple shots more difficult and makes regaining control much harder. And it totally fits in with the strange, mystical, and electrical themes of the movie and TV show.
At certain times the machine will flip all by itself! If the Thing Flips light is lit and you hit the Bear Ramp, when the ball drops down to the left mini flipper the machine will automatically flip to try to make the shot in the Graveyard. And often times it shoots better than the player! Also after the bonus count, the flippers will sometimes both flip by themselves in time to the Addams Family theme song when the characters would snap their fingers, making a distinct “click click”! Seeing new players react with surprise and humor is an absolute joy. Having the game take over and flip without your control once again adds to the strange and mystical nature of the machine. It makes it feel like the machine has a life of its own.
The best theme integration ever?
One could argue that TAF has the best theme integration ever. The Addams Family movie and TV show were about a quirky, strange, humorous, and lovable family living in an enormous house interacting with the normal everyday world. In TAF you are going through the mansion, encountering strange and wondrous things, including the Power and Thing, with Raul Julie cracking jokes and celebrating when you do something well. Everything in the machine draws you in to the game and keeps you smiling!
The beginning of modes
The Addams Family was the start of real modes. Earlier games like Whirlwind and Funhouse sort of had modes, but TAF was really the beginning of modes with goals and specialized scoring. Fester’s Tunnel Hunt and Seance each have three shots for increasingly higher points and Raise the Dead focuses on the often avoided pop bumpers. Mamushka and Hit Cousin It accumulate points on all switch hits, but Hit Cousin It adds in significant points for hitting the Cousin It standup targets.
To add layers to the game, all the scoring modes can stack and continue to run during any multiball, and you therefore have an amazing amount of possible strategy. Then make some of the scoring modes part of the players bonus and players have to judge the risk of nudging to tilting away their bonus!
Finally finish all the Mansion Rooms and you get to Tour the Mansion! One of the best celebrations in pinball with huge points and the opportunity to try to run through all the modes one after another!
So not only did TAF start modes in pinball, but it did them really well!
All of this put together makes an amazing game!
Most “normal” people I meet really enjoy playing TAF. It still makes tons of money on location and tends to be a favorite among operators. And it continues to be on many people’s wish list.
So why all the dislike and even hate?
I find that the problem is competitive pinball. Playing competitively breaks the enjoyment of TAF. And most of the pinball elite and pinball media are competitive players.
The first problem with competitive play is you don’t play extra balls. Usually in TAF there are two extra balls that are readily available, one of the mansion rooms and one after a fairly low number of Bear Ramps. Without those two extra balls, the likelihood of Touring the Mansion is pretty slim and sometimes even the main multiball is hard to start. Take away those two goals and yes the game loses a lot of its excitement.
In competitive play, high level players value safety above fun. Modes (and the points associated with them) are often totally ignored because they require more dangerous shots. I have never seen a player in competition shoot the right orbit to feed the pop bumpers during Raise the Dead. Most competitive players would rather take the time to control the ball and trap it on a flipper instead of trying to beat the timer to make all three shots during Tunnel Hunt or Seance. Few will shoot for the Graveyard from the left mini-flipper because of the dreaded side-to-side action a miss creates. The most telling example is players that hold the ball on a flipper for the 15-20 seconds it takes for the Power to automatically turn off so they can make a shot without the risk of the magnets changing the ball’s direction. This is such a common (and time consuming) strategy that the Power is simply turned off for high level tournaments. A huge feature of the game is disabled because competitive players aren’t willing to play with the risk and uncertainty that the Power creates!
People complain that there is a lack of flow to the game because of the many shots that end in a pause before being ejected (the chair, the graveyard, and Thing). During gameplay, there are indeed frequent stops, but they tend to be short and have interesting or fun graphics and sounds associated with them. Ironically elite players often try to trap the ball on a flipper and hold it still before every shot. This allows them to more accurately aim and reduces risk. Strangely this is seen as being a skillful player, not breaking the flow of play with constant ball stopping. I know people that will only shoot at the chair from the left flipper, but trapping the ball after every Bear Ramp and post passing to the left flipper is seen as good strategy, not slowing the game down to a crawl!
Finally there are many complaints that the game is just two shots, Bear Ramp and the chair. Or a three shot strategy of Bookcase, Thing ramp to lock, and then multiball start. And if that is all you want to do while playing TAF then yes it is a boring game. But that is only if your strategy is to narrow shot selection in an attempt to be safe. And that is the players decision, not the game’s! The game provides a huge variety of shots that are very valid ways to score points.
There are a lot of EMs and Stern Electronics games that are just one or two shots but are seen as great competitive games. A single rip-able spinner is often enough to make a “fun” game and sometimes even a classic. How that is more interesting and exciting than TAF is beyond me!
To give you a bit of contrast, my strategy, even in competition, is to quickly make bear ramps and chair shots (yes on the roll from the right flipper) in order to get Quick Multiball lit and Tunnel Hunt and Seance running. I then dead bounce the chair eject and try to hit the start for Quick Multiball. During the multiball, where the Power is running anyway, I try to complete both modes with quick ramp shots and mostly random tunnel collects. And if I am successful the two modes give me 60 million, which is three times the main multiball double jackpot!
The Closing Argument
I hope this illustrates how the strategies and mind sets that go along with high level competitive pinball can suck the life out of The Addams Family (or any other game)! If you are willing to break out of the habit of making the safe shot and instead let the game draw you in with its humor, excitement, and randomness, maybe you will re-experience the joy that most of us mere mortals get from a couple of quarters.
The defense rests!