Hello and welcome to the second half of our exclusive in-depth review of Stern's new Avatar game.
In this part we'll examine the game's rules, describe the lighting and sound effects, show you many of the display frames, and wrap everything up with our conclusions and ratings for the various elements which make up Avatar.
So let's waste no more time and get on with finding out how the rules work.
The version of game software we reviewed initially was V1.3 with system software version 1.57. However, that version was missing significant parts of the game's rules - in particular the wizard mode - and was a somewhat rough round the edges, so we waited until a more complete version was available and reviewed it again running version 1.6 of the software.
All settings are on their factory default values. There are quite a few adjustments in the menus to make various features harder to complete, but by and large the settings are made reasonably easy so even the novice player will start several modes. Home owners will probably want to toughen things up a little.
Avatar has four balls installed (plus the two in the captive ball feature). When we press the start button, the first of those four is kicked out of the trough and into the shooter lane. The game is on.
As you can see, Avatar continues with the one-third/two-thirds split-screen format with player scores and score awards shown on the left, while display animations take place on the right. When no animations are taking place, a larger version of the current player's score is shown on the right along with the ball number and credits status which alternate with the replay score.
There's a nice subdued rhythm which plays as soon as the game starts for as long as the ball remains in the shooter lane.
The score starts at zero and stays that way until the ball is plunged and triggers the first switch.
A regular plunge will send the ball up the shooter lane, into the right orbit and - thanks to the one-way gate at the top of the orbit lane - into the top rollover lanes.
It is possible to make a weaker plunge so the ball doesn't reach the top of the right orbit lane. In that case, it rolls back down the orbit to the right slingshot and (hopefully) onto the right flipper.
There's no obvious reason to do that at the start of the game, so let's assume the ball made it to the top rollover lanes.
The ball triggers the right orbit switch on its way, scoring our first points of the game.
At the start of each ball, the R and A lanes are unlit and the D lane is flashing for a skill shot award. The flashing lane can be changed with the flipper buttons as usual, and if the ball rolls through flashing lane you get the skill shot award which begins at 250K for the first ball and increases by 25K for each subsequent ball.
There's no skill shot available if you're plunging after locking a ball, only at the start of each new ball (including extra balls). There's also no 'hands-free' bonus if you plunge the ball into the flashing lane without having to change your selection which always seems like a missed opportunity.
The rollover lanes also perform other functions which can be more lucrative than a measly quarter-of-a-million.
Once the skill shot is over, the lanes revert to their customary function of increasing the end-of-ball bonus multiplier. Light all three R-D-A inserts and apart from the 2,560 points you get for each lane and the 10K for completing them, you get an increase of 1x in your bonus multiplier.
The bonus multiplier can also be increased from the mystery award collected at the Eywa captive ball. It says 2x but it actually means +2x since it increases the multiplier by two, rather than setting it to two times.
It can be increased by the R-D-A lanes and the Eywa awards up to a maximum of 25x.
After that, completing the R-D-A lanes just shows the same display and awards nothing other than the 2,560 points.
But more important than increasing your end-of-ball bonus, with all three inserts lit, you get the opportunity to increase the scoring on one of 7 major shots in the game.
There are seven lime green 'X' inserts on the playfield, each one corresponding to a major shot.
When the R-D-A lane inserts have all been lit for the first time, the seven 'X' inserts flash as the display says 2X MULTIPLIERS LIT. The next shot to any of the seven will light its 'X' insert solidly and all points awards earned from shooting it are doubled for the remainder of the ball.
The second time the R-D-A lanes are completed, the remaining six 'X' inserts flash and once again, shooting one of them lights it solidly and doubles all the scores it awards.
This continues until all seven shots have been multiplied.
Once that is done, the next completion of R-D-A starts one of the 'X' inserts flashing for triple scoring.
This doesn't work like the 2x multipliers, since the 3x scoring multiplier is a roving flashing shot, moving from left to right across the X inserts and back again, only giving triple scores to the shot which is currently flashing.
Also, it doesn't multiply every score awarded from the flashing shot. Minor scores such as spinners spins and rollover switches are unaffected, but the big points from jackpots or hurry-ups are tripled, and those are the important ones.
Completing R-D-A after that doesn't give you any additional flashing inserts or playfield multipliers to collect, just the regular bonus multipliers up to that 25x limit.
After the rollover lanes, we're into the pop bumpers.
The pop bumpers all build up a score value which starts at 3K and increases by 1K up to a maximum of 20K. Each bumper hit collects the current value and also increases it. On the display, each bumper is represented by a helicoradian - one of the plants which disappears into the ground when touched - and shows the points scored while the total number of pop bumper points scored during this visit is displayed at the bottom.
Once the value reaches 20K, all further hits continue to score that until the ball exits the pops.
Because there's no switch to detect when the ball has left the pop bumper area, after a couple of seconds of inactivity - or if the game senses other switches have been triggered - the pop bumper value returns to its 3K base and builds up again with subsequent hits.
Once the ball is out of the pops and rolling down to the flippers, it's time to choose which of the game's features to shoot for.
Our guides are the two progress ladders above the flippers. At the top we have all the different features we can play, while running down the centre we have the six characters to collect.
Let's start with the horizontal feature ladder, and the first item to light on that is the Na'vi insert.
This insert relates - not unreasonably - to the N-A-V-I target bank on the left, so let's take a look at that.
At the start of each game, the four blue N-A-V-I inserts are flashing. Shooting one of the targets scores 75K and lights the appropriate letter solidly, both on the playfield and on the display.
The default settings for the N-A-V-I targets is 'easy', which means any target you shoot will light the associated letter unless it is already lit, in which case it lights the letter on the left, or if that's lit too, the letter on the right.
If all three letters are lit (or it's one of the end letters and the letter next to it is also lit), the target does nothing except score 10K points.
The idea is to light all four letters and enable Na'vi scoring.
Na'vi scoring doesn't start as soon as the fourth letter is collected. You still need to shoot the target bank (which is now flashing) one more time to actually begin the mode.
There are two objectives in Na'vi scoring. The first is to collect countdown awards by shooting the six flashing red arrows on the playfield.
These are all the major shots with the exception of the unobtainium target.
There is a countdown value which starts at 750K for the first Na'vi scoring mode (increasing by 50K each additional time you play it in a single game) and counts down in 1,150 point chunks until it reaches a 400K minimum.
Shooting any flashing arrow scores the currently displayed points, and if there's a 2x multiplier lit on that shot, the points are doubled.
If you're fortunate enough to have the 3x multiplier flashing on your shot...
...you get triple points instead.
When you shoot one of the red arrowed shots, it extinguishes.
Na'vi scoring continues until the value counts down to 400K, where it holds for a second to give you a last chance at a final award. The mode then ends and you are shown the points you earned during Na'vi scoring.
It is possible to get an Eywa time extended award during Na'vi scoring which resets the current value to the starting value, giving you longer to collect awards and increasing their value at the same time. Unless, that is, you are right at the start of the mode when you collect it in which case it does nothing and those lit shots are worth the same points and lit for the same time.
There is a more important function to collecting the lit shots, however, and it can be seen if we take a look at those red arrow inserts again.
Each arrow has the name of a character from the movie and these relate directly to the names on the vertical ladder above the flippers.
During the Na'vi scoring mode, shooting a flashing red arrow also lights up the corresponding character on the ladder. They can be collected in any order but the idea is to collect all six during Na'vi scoring mode.
If you don't have all six lit, the next time you play Na'vi scoring, only the shots you need to complete the ladder will be flashing for Na'vi scoring awards.
Na'vi scoring is the easiest way to complete all the characters, but it's not the only way. They can also be collected thanks to 'The Bond'.
There are three The Bond inserts on the playfield - one above each inlane. So that's two on the left side and one on the right.
As expected, rolling the ball through one of these inlanes will light its respective The Bond insert. Get all three lit and one of the uncollected character's red arrow inserts will flash for a few seconds. You also get 100K points for your trouble.
Because you really only have one shot at making it before the arrow extinguishes, the flashing shot is sensitive to which flipper the ball is rolling onto. If you complete The Bond with one of the two left inlanes, one of the unlit characters on the right will flash their red arrow insert. Similarly, if your final The Bond insert is lit by the right inlane, an arrow insert on the left will flash instead.
Obviously that's not possible if you've already collected all the characters on one side of the playfield or the other, but the software does its best to give you something you can shoot without having to do a flipper pass first.
Make the shot and it lights the character on the ladder and gives you 250K points, although sometimes you get 300K even though the display says 250K.
The chosen red arrow really does only flash for a couple of seconds at most, and there's very little grace (excuse the pun) period to nail it, so these characters are best completed during Na'vi scoring where not only do you get much longer, you also get a nicer points bonus for each one you collect.
If you complete the four N-A-V-I targets (and then hit them again) before you have collected all six characters, you will always start Na'vi scoring mode.
But if you have collected all six characters, Na'vi scoring goes away and the next feature from the N-A-V-I targets becomes Na'vi multiball instead.
You collect the N-A-V-I letters in just the same way you would for Na'vi scoring, until you have all four, when it tells you multiball is ready. As with Na'vi scoring, completing all 4 letters earns you a 250K points bonus.
One more shot on the N-A-V-I targets is all it takes to start Na'vi multiball and get yourself another 250K.
At this point it's worth remembering the feature ladder running across the playfield.
The feature ladder shows your progress towards the game's wizard mode - final battle. All six inserts need to be lit to qualify it, and reaching a certain milestone in each feature will light its corresponding insert.
Starting Na'vi multiball is enough to light the Na'vi insert.
So back to Na'vi multiball and this is a two-ball mode initially, although you can add another ball, as we'll show you later.
You've collected all six characters to start it, so their corresponding red arrow inserts on the playfield are now flashing for jackpots. Shoot them in any order and they extinguish, awarding you a jackpot of 150K per shot.
If you manage to collect all six, Na'vi multiball moves on to stage two where you have to shoot the N-A-V-I targets four times to spell out N-A-V-I and collect double jackpots.
The display and the playfield inserts don't tell you how many double jackpots or N-A-V-I letters you have left to collect, so you have to count them for yourself.
When you have all four double jackpots, the only red arrow insert not lit at the start of the mode - at the unobtainium standup target - is now flashing. Shoot it and you collect the Na'vi multiball super jackpot.
The value of the super jackpot is the sum of all six regular jackpots (6 x 150K = 900K) plus the four double jackpots (4 x 300K = 1,200K), which comes to 2.1M points. If you have any shot multipliers in effect, these are taken into account too, so 2.1M is the minimum super jackpot value you can collect and it will probably be higher.
Collecting the super jackpot has three more effects.
Firstly, it puts you back at the start of Na'vi multiball with all six arrowed shots flashing for regular jackpots. Second, it increases the jackpot value from 150K to 250K, which in turn boosts the super jackpot base value to 3.5M.
The third thing collecting the super jackpot does is to flash the Na'vi insert on the feature ladder.
Getting the insert to flash is not vital to reaching final battle, but it is very useful because - just as in Iron Man - any solidly lit inserts go out at the start of each new ball, while flashing ones carry over from ball to ball.
Completing all six in just one ball is quite a task, so having some which remain lit at the start of the next ball is a great help.
If the flashing insert on the playfield is not enough of a clue, collecting the Na'vi multiball super jackpot also gives you a display showing how many features you have fully completed on your way to the final battle wizard mode.
Na'vi multiball continues until you are down to just one ball, but you can help prevent that happening too quickly by adding a third ball to the two you get at the start of multiball.
On the centre-right of the playfield is the Eywa captive ball. Eywa is the mystical guiding force and deity for the Na'vi and it is her mission to help you complete yours, by throwing out mystery awards.
Eywa is lit after a certain number of switch hits.
The number needed increases during the game, so it's fairly easy to light Eywa initially but harder later on in the game. That said, as you get into the game and start multiball modes, those switch hits soon rack up.
Hit the captive ball and the mystery award is given instantly. It is also possible to stack up uncollected Eywa awards so you can have several available from successive hits. During a multiball such as Na'vi multiball, the first Eywa award is quite likely to add another ball to those currently in play, so it can make sense to keep them in reserve until you need them.
Eywa seems to be the only way to get extra balls in Avatar, and they tend to be relatively uncommon too so don't expect to see a lot of them awarded.
The more common awards are bonus multiplier increases, points awards or pop bumper scoring boosts.
After Na'vi scoring and multiball, the next feature on the ladder is 'banshee'.
Ride a banshee mode is started by shooting the ramp to spell out B-A-N-S-H-E-E. With default settings, the first three letters are given to you and you only need to shoot the ramp four more times to complete the letters. This is even true for the second and third times you play the mode in the same game.
So, shoot the ramp to add S-H-E.
The fourth ramp shot will complete all the letters and immediately start ride a banshee as the said banshee flies across the screen.
Starting ride a banshee is enough to light the banshee insert on the feature ladder - making it one of the easiest to collect.
Ride a banshee is a timed feature in which you have 25 seconds to collect the required number of awards. The display shows you the number of banshee awards you need to complete the mode and start the banshee insert flashing.
Incidentally, if you have already completed ride a banshee, or are playing it a second or third time, that number is missing.
Shooting the left ramp scores banshee awards which start at 200K and increase by 100K each time, making it much like moose on the loose from Big Buck Hunter Pro.
One of the Eywa awards which can come in useful here - although it's not always given - is the time extended one which adds another 25 seconds to the clock for ride a banshee.
If you collect all the required banshee awards in the time available...
...you light banshee on the final battle grid and start the banshee insert flashing on the feature ladder.
Banshee isn't exactly the most exciting mode by itself, but add in a multiplier on the ramp, a timer extension and a multiball or two and it's soon adds some valuable millions to your score. Even just looping the ramp can be quite lucrative.
Banshee can also run alongside most other modes, although if it is running with Na'vi scoring and you get the time extended mystery award, it only adds time to one of the modes, not both.
The next feature on our ladder can be found in the blue-lit lock lane under Jake's pod - link multiball.
The link lock mechanism is the latest in a long line of ball traps using posts to create a captive ball. The link takes its cues directly from the ace-in-the-hole feature in World Poker Tour, using two pins which can rise up to trap the ball on a rollover switch.
To start link multiball, you first have to lock a ball. On default settings, just a single shot to the link lane is enough to cause the pins to pop up and trap the ball.
You get a clip of Jake entering the pod on the display, as the ball is held and another is auto-launched into play.
With the ball trapped, you now have to hit it to free it and start multiball. The first time you shoot for link multiball in a game, you only need one shot into the link lane to lock the ball and two shots to the trapped ball to release it. For subsequent link multiballs, you need additional shots for both.
Hit the trapped ball once and you see you still need one more hit.
Make the shot again, and the trapped ball is released as the 2 ball link multiball begins.
Starting link multiball is sufficient to light the link insert on the feature ladder.
Now we're into link multiball, it's time to start collecting those jackpots.
In fact you need to collect quite a lot of jackpots - 15 in all - to get past the first round of link multiball.
They're worth 250K each and are available initially at 5 of the game's major shots; the N-A-V-I targets (any of them), the link lane, the Eywa captive ball, the seeds targets (again, either of them) and the unobtainium target.
Shooting any the first four shots scores the jackpot value, while the unobtainium target scores double the jackpot (although it's not called a double jackpot).
Once either of the N-A-V-I and seeds targets banks have been hit, they are lit alternately, so collecting a jackpot at one, turns it off and lights the other for the next jackpot. The link lane and the captive ball also alternate in the same way.
This stops you repeatedly shooting the same shot to collect jackpot after jackpot. That plan beaks down though, because the unobtainium target is always lit for double-value jackpots, but perhaps because it is forward-facing, it is deemed a riskier shot and so worthy of special treatment.
The link lane shot is also special, because the first time you shoot it, it captures the ball and holds it for 10 seconds while launching another ball into play.
If you hit the trapped ball, it is released and the countdown aborted while a jackpot is awarded, or you can leave it there and continue scoring more jackpots elsewhere with the other balls.
Despite being one of the jackpot shots, Eywa's mystery awards are at hand if you want to try adding another ball to the multiball. You can also advance and start amp suit multiball as well, but more on that later.
Some features are locked out though. Shooting the N-A-V-I targets doesn't advance you towards Na'vi scoring or Na'vi multiball, while the seeds targets don't help you to complete their feature either.
OK then, with 15 jackpots to collect we'd better not waste any more time. Once the 15th jackpot is collected, the link shot is the one to head for, as that's where the super jackpot can be collected.
Yes indeed, 3 million smackeroos await you at the link lane, so shoot it as soon as you can (unless you haven't multiplied the link shot yet, in which case you should really head for those top rollover lanes and get a 2x shot multiplier ready to deploy).
But wait, because there's more. When the ball enters the link lane, the pins rise again to trap it, starting a countdown timer during which you need to hit it with one of the remaining balls for a double super jackpot.
Shoot the trapped ball before the time runs out and...
Surely that's the end? Well, no actually, but we'll come to that in a moment because scoring the double super jackpot is what you need to get that feature ladder insert flashing and the link entry on the final battle grid lit.
If you don't manage to get the double super jackpot before the timer runs out, the trapped ball is released and you have to try again.
With the link multiball double super jackpot collected, do we go back to the start and start collecting regular jackpots again? No, we start victory laps instead.
OK, victory laps do behave very much like you would expect jackpots to behave - worth 100K more than jackpots in the first round and with the same shots available (N-A-V-I/Seeds, link/captive ball and unobtainium), only this time unobtainium is not worth double the others and victory laps don't count down towards anything.
In fact, victory laps continue until you either lose all but one of the balls, or the will to live. What you should now do is start amp suit multiball because victory laps will continue to run alongside whatever else is happening until link multiball ends.
We just mentioned amp suit multiball, and guess what the next feature on our ladder is?
Amp suit multiball is the major multiball mode in Avatar. Compared to link multiball, it's Iron Monger to Whiplash, it's Big Buck to Elk. It's the one where the money went, so it's got two motors and a magnet.
The amp suit playfield feature itself consists of three parts. The front section is a motorised 3-bank of standup targets which operates just like the one in Spider-Man, except it has an additional disrupter magnet in front to throw the ball around every time the 3-bank is hit.
Each standup target has an associated A-M-P letter insert, positioned on the other side of the magnet.
At the start of the game, one of the letter inserts is flashing and the flashing letter moves left and right continuously. If the first shot to the 3-bank hits the flashing letter's target, the bank lowers immediately, scoring 200K in the process.
Otherwise, the hit target's letter lights and the other two have to be hit as well in order to lower the bank and score the 200K. Default settings mean you can hit either the required target or the one next to it to light the letter. There is no display to show you which letters are hit or remain, so you need to look at the inserts.
Whether you lower it with a single shot or several, once the target bank is down you can access the second part of the amp suit feature. This consists of three more standup targets which you need to shoot, as amp suit battle begins.
Amp suit battle is the pre-cursor to amp suit multiball, and to complete it you have to shoot the amp suit targets multiple times.
With normal settings, the first time you play amp suit battle you need to hit the targets five times, each one scoring 300K points.
For the first four hits, either of the yellow side targets or the centre bullseye target will suffice, but for the fifth and final shot, only the bullseye target will do.
So shoot the bullseye and you get a tasty 2 million points as amp suit multiball begins.
As with link multiball, starting amp suit (two words, whatever the inconsistencies in the display frames say) multiball is enough to light the amp insert on the playfield.
As the ball rolls down from the bullseye target, it is grabbed by the magnet and held, while the 3-bank is raised and two more balls are auto-launched into play to give your normal complement of three. As with the other multiball modes, you can usually shoot Eywa when she is lit to add another ball.
When the additional balls are auto-launched into the pop bumpers, regular pop bumper scoring (where each hit increases the value of the bumpers) is suspended and all pop bumpers score the minimum 3K.
Starting amp suit multiball lights jackpots on six of the seven major shots - left & right orbits, the ramp, the link lane, the unobtainium target and the Eywa captive ball.
The ball on the magnet is flicked - Shadow style - against the 3-bank targets to effectively score the seventh shot for you, although it doesn't light in the first place and it doesn't score a jackpot either.
So with the six shots flashing, shoot one and collect a jackpot worth 150K.
All six jackpot shots are worth 150K and turn off once collected.
If your shot to the link lane produces a ball lock, the game does an odd thing where it briefly holds the ball for the lock animation, releases it by dropping the two pins, and then raises the pins again momentarily with nothing in the lane.
It doesn't physically lock the ball, and doesn't auto-launch another one either.
Collecting the sixth jackpot won't earn you any special points, but it does move you on to the second stage of amp suit multiball, where three double jackpot shots are lit on the red arrows not lit in stage one; the N-A-V-I targets, the seeds targets and the amp suit 3-bank.
Shooting any of these (you can hit any N-A-V-I target and either seeds target) scores you a double jackpot of 300K and turns off that shot. As with all these single and double jackpots, lit shot multipliers can double or triple their values.
When the third double jackpot has been collected, the amp suit 3-bank lowers and the insert in front of the bullseye target flashes to indicate this is your next required shot.
As with the 5th amp suit battle shot, neither of the side amp suit standup targets will do at this stage and you need to hit the bullseye target. Make the correct shot though, and you defeat Colonel Quaritch in his amp suit. The toy falls forward and you score a super jackpot with a base value of 1.8 million points.
Just as it was in Na'vi multiball, the super jackpot is the sum of all the single and double jackpots, so any shot multipliers you have running will double or triple some of those scores and potentially double or triple the super jackpot itself as well, up to a maximum of 16.2 million.
If that's not enough, then good news. After collecting one super jackpot, a second one is also available at the same bullseye target (which is now underneath the fallen amp suit).
Collecting the second super jackpot starts the amp insert on the feature ladder flashing and lights amp suit on the final battle display grid.
This takes us back to the start of amp suit multiball with the six shots lit for single jackpots which have now jumped in value by 200K to be worth 350K each. The amp suit toy also resets to its vertical position.
Double jackpots and super jackpots are then increased accordingly making the maximum super jackpot value (with a 3x multiplier on all shots) an eye-watering 37.8 million points.
When you are down to just one ball in play, amp suit multiball ends and the total number of points earned from the mode is displayed.
We have two more feature inserts to light, and the next one is the curiously named Valkyrie.
A Valkyrie is the name given to the transporter vehicle which ferries people and cargo between the main ISV spaceship and Pandora's surface. Later in the movie, these Valkyries are converted to be able to drop "daisy cutter" bombs.
The use of the Valkyrie name is odd in the game because the feature associated with it is referred to as both Valkyrie and bomber battle.
One area of the playfield we've not really explored yet is the orbit with its left and right entrance/exit lanes, and it's here that we start the mode we'll now call bomber battle.
Making a shot to either orbit counts down towards the start of bomber battle. The first time you play it, just 4 orbit shots are required to start it and each shot to the orbit shows the number remaining.
The number of shots required increases by two each time you play the mode and shots have to be made outside multiball play to qualify, otherwise it would be running all the time.
Because shots to the right orbit always hit the one-way gate above the top rollovers, it's not necessary to make a full orbit shot to count down towards bomber battle. Just triggering the rollover switch at the top of the left and right orbit lanes is enough, although these are quite a long way up the lane so the shot needs to be pretty solid to register.
The two lanes are also associated with different types of battle vehicles. On the left is the mechanical version in the form of a Scorpion gunship, while the right shows the animal variety with the Direhorse. The sounds and the displays are different for the two lanes.
Both lanes have spinners mounted over them with images which match the display and sound effects. The left side depicts the Scorpion gunship, with it exploding on the flip side.
The right shows a direhorse running on the front and rearing on the reverse.
These spinners only score 2,500 points and don't have any special modes associated with them, but they are useful in counting down the number of switch hits until Eywa is lit, especially the right one which always leads to the pop bumpers for even more switches.
When the required number of orbit shots have been made, bomber battle starts and you earn an instant 500K for doing so.
Starting bomber battle is enough to light the Valkyrie insert on the feature ladder, making it another of the easy ones to collect.
Like ride a banshee, bomber battle is a timed mode with an initial 25 seconds to complete it and the possibility of extending that with an Eywa mystery award.
The display and the Colonel both tell us to shoot the lit arrows and they are; the left and right orbits, the N-A-V-I target bank, the seeds targets and the ramp. Shooting any of them scores a 200K award for the first, increasing by 50K for each subsequent one.
If you have a shot multiplier then that value can be doubled or tripled.
You may have noticed the '15' number in the corners of the timer display above. Well, that's the number of bomber awards you need to collect to complete the feature and get the bomber insert flashing.
Clearly you're not expected to collect 15 awards in one go, so the number remaining carries over from ball to ball, although the awards reset to 200K every time you start the mode.
So, bomber battle is a feature you're going to have to play two, three or more times in a game if you want that insert to flash.
Once you get that 15th award...
...and light valkyrie on the final battle grid...
...the number of awards remaining disappears, although the scoring continues as normal.
Bomber battle ends when the timer reaches zero (plus a short grace period), when you get to see your total points scored in the mode.
Which brings us to the final feature on our ladder which is also the simplest of the lot; the seeds of Eywa.
The seeds of Eywa are very pure guiding spirits in the movie and seeds fast scoring mode is started equally purely by shooting the two rectangular standup targets above the right outlane.
Although there are two of them and they each have their own insert, the targets act as one throughout the game. In fact, from examining the wiring, they appear to be electrically connected together as well.
The first time you start seeds fast scoring it takes 4 hits on the targets to qualify it.
So after 3 more target hits, seeds fast scoring is ready. Like Na'vi scoring, the feature doesn't start right away but needs one more shot to activate it, making the initial count a little disingenuous.
Make the extra shot and seeds fast scoring starts.
Starting seeds fast scoring is enough to light its insert on the feature grid.
Seeds is a fairly regular 'frenzy'-style mode where all switches score. They initially score 10K each, but this can be increased by shooting the seeds targets where each hit adds 1K to the value.
In addition, the next time you start seeds fast scoring the value starts at 15K, and it increases by another 5K each subsequent time as well.
Seeds is another 25 second timed mode, so Eywa can extend that time and the mode ends when the time runs out. Before that though, you have a target to reach in order to complete the mode and flash the feature ladder insert. 100 switch hits is that target and it counts down as switches are registered, so spinners and the pop bumpers are good places to send the ball, and starting a multiball is not a bad idea either.
Each switch hit launches a seed on the display, so multiple hits (from a spinner for example) cover the display. It's no Stewie's sexy party, but it's quite a nice effect nonetheless.
If you get all 100 switch hits within the time limit, you get the insert flashing and light seeds on the final battle grid.
If you don't complete seeds fast scoring before the time runs out (or you drain), the number of hits remaining holds over to the next time you start it in the same game.
When the time runs out, you get the usual short grace period to score a few more hits and then the total for the mode is shown.
Seeds fast scoring isn't a high scoring mode but it's something you can kick off now and then - during regular gameplay or before a multiball - to help get it out of the way.
With all the feature lights either lit or flashing, we come to the game's wizard mode.
If you want to skip this part (so it comes as a surprise) and carry on with the remaining rules, just click here and we'll see you on the other side.
Final battle is Avatar's wizard mode. That's 'wizard mode' singular. Unlike Iron Man, it makes no difference whether you get all the inserts lit solidly or flashing, you appear get the same feature either way.
Getting them flashing just means you don't have to complete them all in one ball, because any solidly lit inserts on the feature ladder extinguish with the start of each new ball (including extra balls). Getting them all lit on one ball is too ambitious for most people, so having a few already lit at the start of each ball is a big help.
When all six inserts are lit they all begin to flash, which can look like you've completed all the features even when you haven't but just means final battle is ready. They are joined by the four blue flashers above the N-A-V-I and seeds target banks and the red arrow pointing at the unobtainium target.
You start final battle - and collect one million points - by shooting that unobtainium target.
Starting final battle kills the flippers and as soon as the ball has drained, all four of the game's balls are auto-launched into play.
Final battle is akin to playing seeds fast scoring, as you have to collect a certain number of switch hits to light the jackpot. That number starts at 75 for the first jackpot and increases by 25 for each subsequent one.
Each switch is also worth 25K, meaning you get 1.875 million points for getting all 75 hits. The switch hits can come from anywhere and the final battle is not timed, so you can The outlanes score five switch hits for some reason, but they only score 4 switch hits' worth of points (100K). Go figure.
When final battle begins, all the playfield inserts are turned off, but as you start collecting the switches, the insert lamps start lighting. They start at the bottom with shoot again and work their way up the playfield, with the R-D-A top rollover lanes being the last to light.
In fact the 'A' of R-D-A never lights, because when you get the number of switches needed down to zero, nearly all the playfield inserts go out and a 5 million jackpot is available at the flashing unobtainium target.
Although it doesn't tell you, that 5 million shot is not the best option at this point because much greater rewards are available elsewhere; more specifically, by draining the balls.
Remember those unobtainium inserts on the outlanes? When all the necessary switch hits have been made and all the other playfield lights go out, they - along with the unobtainium target - remain lit.
However, the unobtainium inserts are positioned above the outlane switches. So to find out what they give you, you have to lose a ball down an outlane.
Crazy, eh? Well, not as crazy as it sounds, and not as easy either. While the outlanes might seem to happily grab any ball in the vicinity during normal play, shooting for them is much harder than you'd think.
If you do manage it though, riches beyond your wildest dreams await. Well OK, maybe not that much, but you get 10 million points and add 10 million to the unobtainium target's value, boosting it to 15 million.
The unobtainium insert in the outlane you just collected now goes out, but the one in the opposite lane is still lit, and it can be moved between the two lanes with the flippers. And if you though the 10 million award was good, the award from the second lit outlane is even better.
Yes, not only does it give you an instant 15 million, it also adds the same to the unobtainium target's value, doubling that award to 30 million.
With both unobtainium outlanes collected, the only thing left is to hit the unobtainium target itself and collect that huge payoff.
We didn't try it, but we doubt very much whether shot multipliers would still work during final battle. If you find out that they do, please let us know as that would be important for your strategy going in to final battle.
I know what you're thinking; we got 30 million but had to lose two balls to get it. That's true, but the unobtainium target has one more trick up its sleeve, as it also re-launches all the lost balls back into play and activates a short ball saver when you collect its points. This is an important feature not just to get back the balls you deliberately drained, but it can also restart a final battle which is about to end due to unintentionally lost balls.
Having completed the first round of final battle, it's back to collecting switch hits to build towards the next unobtainium score awards. The number of hits needed has gone up from 75 to 100, but the points scored for each one remains at 25K.
Collect all the switches and the same unobtainium awards await you - an initial 5 million with boosts and scores of 10 and 15 million from the outlanes. The rewards remain the same with each round, just the number of switch hits needed increases to make it harder.
Final battle continues until you are down to one ball or fewer and, as you can see, it can be worth significant points if you can counter your natural reactions and actually try to lose the balls down the outlanes.
One slight bug can occur during final battle as it's possible to collect an Eywa add-a-ball award even though all the game's four balls are already in play. So if you have Eywa lit during final battle it's probably best to try and keep the award until you've lost a ball.
After final battle ends, all the feature ladder inserts go out - even the previously flashing ones - and you have to build towards final battle again.
Welcome back to those who skipped the wizard mode section.
As you may have seen earlier, above the two outlanes are circular inserts labeled 'unobtainium'.
These can be lit, reasonably enough, by shooting the unobtainium standup target.
Each hit of the unobtainium target lights one of the two outlane inserts for an unobtainium award which starts at 200K. When both outlanes have been lit, additional hits on the unobtainium target increase the unobtainium value by 25K up to a maximum of 1M points.
When it reaches the maximum, the display still continues to say it grows, but it doesn't go above the 1 million level.
Rolling over one of the lit outlanes' switches collects the current value and turns off the insert. During regular play that makes it a consolation prize for losing the ball, but during the ball saver time at the start of multiball, it's a free points award.
The next hit on the unobtainium target relights the unlit outlane and sets its value to 200K. The other (uncollected) outlane retains the value it has built up, though.
The extra ball in Avatar is very much like the one in Iron Man, in that there is no automatic extra ball award lit after completing a certain shot a fixed number of times or progressing to a preset level.
Extra balls are purely a gift from Eywa, and consequently appear to be given out on a random basis. They are also only rarely awarded on default settings - something presumably designed to help reduce the total ball time during a game.
When they do come up, they can be collected by shooting the ramp.
If you do manage to get an extra ball lit and collected, the display effect is equally frugal with just plain text on a black background.
Specials are awarded in the same way and like the extra ball, their frequency depends upon the percentaging set up in the menus, along with how many replays have been awarded through reaching scoring thresholds or matches.
Speaking of replays, there's the same minimal amount of effort put into this display effect as with the extra ball.
Many games have multiple elements to their end-of-ball bonus counts, but Avatar is not one of them. It's the product of a value based on the number of switch closures and your bonus multiplier value, and that's it.
In the same rather irritating way all the recent Stern games do, your total score is not shown until the start of the next ball, until after the match animation or, if you get a high score, not until after you've entered your initials.
The match sequence is also similar to Iron Man in style, if not pace.
It consists of a four second, 3 shot clip of the Eywa seeds surrounding Jake, over which the match number is superimposed.
After awarding a credit to any matching numbers we're into the game over attract mode.
Now we'll look at each element of the game and sum up or thoughts about them, following that with our individual ratings and the overall total.
Taking quite a few ideas from Iron Man, Avatar’s ruleset manages to add a couple of interesting twists to the familiar formula. The N-A-V-I targets only have a single mode (Na’vi scoring) but make up for that by adding a multiball for completing all the characters. But the way in which characters are collected and what doing that achieves could have been better implemented, as there’s no obvious link between the characters and the Na’vi feature either in the playfield artwork or on the display.
The Bond is a curious variation on completing the inlane rollovers, and works to some degree, but hitting the relatively safe N-A-V-I targets and starting Na’vi scoring is always an easier way to collect the characters.
On the other side of the playfield, the seeds targets really aren’t worth bothering with which is rather a shame as they could have done much more.
Of the two main multiball modes, amp suit is where the money went, having the motorised 3-bank, its disrupter magnet and the collapsing toy. As a feature it works pretty well. The magnet is effective in randomising the ball’s movement, without being as downright nasty as the Iron Monger one, while behind the 3-bank, the combination of side targets and a harder centre target is well implemented.
As for the amp suit toy itself, well it’s certainly disappointing that it doesn’t interact better with the game like the Iron Monger toy does. Its single trick of falling forward over the amp suit lane targets might impress players playing the game for the first time, but when the inevitable question ‘what else does it do?’ is asked, the answer is bound to lead to disappointment.
The only good thing about that is the way a broken amp suit toy doesn’t impact negatively on the gameplay, but that’s scant consolation for a device which seemed so full of possibilities when we first saw it.
The amp suit multiball is quite standard, with jackpots, double jackpots and super jackpots, while the link multiball varies things by alternating shots and offering victory laps for completing it. The two complement each other well although having both running together can get confusing when it’s not clear which shot is lit for which multiball.
If the amp suit model is a let down, the pod toy over the link lock is even more disappointing. It must have been the intention to motorise it, and taking that effect out leaves it looking very lacklustre, which is a shame because the ball locking mechanism itself works well and is an improvement on the single up-post used in Big Buck Hunter Pro. Not only does it look better, it is also less intrusive, making the shot easier.
So overall the rules prove to be entertaining and fairly challenging, although we would like to see more features and better explanation of how they work and what they achieve on the dot matrix display.
The frames and clips shown on the dot matrix display are probably Avatar’s weakest point. In version 1.6, many parts of the package look as though they were rushed through to provide something, and lacking the regular polish we have come to expect.
Background images are missing, frames around text clash with the vertical score divider and numbers count down with no explanation of what they are.
In the main, these are fairly simple things to address in a future update, so we won’t get too hung up on them, and they have improved a little since version 1.3 we first reviewed.
The display format is the familiar one-third score, two-thirds effects with only occasional breaks outs from the right hand side to briefly cover the scores. The text font used is the standard Stern version combined with a few Avatar script-style scribblings, mainly used as backgrounds layers to jackpot awards.
Avatar uses quite a few video clips in the same kind of way games such as Spider-Man do (a short clip which runs to a freeze and dims with text superimposed). It’s not so effective in Avatar because some of the clips lack the dynamic movement of the characters you see in an action film like Spider-Man. Not all, but some. Also, the large cast of characters in some of the shots makes the scenes confusing when rendered at 128x32 pixels and as with Spider-man, when the clips freeze and dim, they often become a blobby mess rather than a clearly defined image.
Things improve during the battle scenes for amp suit multiball and the link lock as Jake enters the pod. The match animation looks great too and the shading of the Na’vi faces works well.
If display effects are the weak point of the game, the sound package is one of Avatar’s strengths.
The custom speech from Stephen Lang as Colonel Quaritch provides both encouragement and jibes, along with a few “did he really say that” moments. He provides just the right amount of enthusiasm, seriousness and levity at the appropriate points of the game which shows again, when Stern get one of the cast to do speech for them, they get much better results than trying to use clips from the movie.
The only criticisms would be the over use of certain phrases (the same quote every time the motorised 3-bank is completed, for example), the need for audible cues to tell you which shot to make after completing the bond (you’re looking at the flippers, not up at the red arrow inserts) and a slightly irritating “sooooooper jackpot” call out.
Those minor niggles aside, there is enough variety of samples and effects to be able to track what’s happening in the game from a different room. With the spinners giving sound effects matching their images, you can even tell which orbit lane has been shot.
There are some movie speech samples in there as well, but they’re mostly used to confirm a successful shot to one of the related targets rather than for guidance or status information.
The sequencing of events in the pinball doesn’t usually follow the linear nature of the movie where there can be a gradual build up of excitement and tension towards the finale. In the pinball, you can be into the main battle almost immediately, returning to the more sedate features such as seeds, ride a banshee and the bond later in the game. The music tracks the pace of the game, starting serenely with the seductive main theme, but soon increasing in pace and urgency as amp suit multiball begins.
The transition from the dramatic mode themes back to the leisurely main theme helps accentuate when a mode has finished, and reminds you of that precious second or two where you can squeeze in just one more award.
Any look at the game’s artwork has to begin with the 3D backglass which instantly sets Avatar apart from any adjacent machines. It’s a highly effective product which draws the eye to the game. Jake and Neytiri are the two main characters, but they are placed in the background while it is the Pandoran terrain and the moon’s fauna which form the mid- and foreground elements.
Licensing information is thankfully kept to a minimum both on the backglass and the cabinet where, predictably, the dominant colour is blue.
The cabinet sides portray a dramatic battle scene where the bright orange flames of the explosion contrasts violently with the blue landscape, amp suits and assorted creatures. It shows a dynamic snapshot of the conflict rather than a montage of disparate elements or just a logo as we’ve seen on other games in the past.
The overall package is both highly attractive and, of course, in-brand for the Avatar licence. Being largely blue means it will never achieve the richness of colour and warmth found in Lord of the Rings, but it’s probably Stern’s second best cabinet art.
On the playfield we have another depiction of Pandora. From the dense flora at the bottom to the bright skies filled with flying creatures both animal and mechanical up at the top rollovers, every square inch is filled with one texture or another. It’s quite easy to overlook just how many different elements have been included but examine it closely and you soon realise there are no flat colours here – everything is textured in one form or another.
There is colour-coding of the various features – from purple for Na’vi to orange for seeds – but no shot guidance in the artwork to give hints about where to shoot. All the inserts are big and bright though, so there’s rarely any doubt once a feature starts, and the multitude of different hues bring warmth to what might otherwise appear a cold, blue playfield.
Avatar makes a change from the usual layout by moving the flasher domes from atop the slingshots over to the sides and slightly up the playfield. This allows them to pair up with similar flashers further up still to create more powerful effects. They also incorporate a number of pulsing effects like the globes on Scared Stiff.
The playfield is quite well illuminated with just a strip across the middle where the playfield colours darken and light levels are dimmer. It’s not until we move up the playfield a little more that we come to some of the game’s mechanical devices where extra lamps can be placed.
It’s a little shady down at the flippers but the white bats and red rubbers ensure there’s plenty of definition at those critical moments.
There are some nice lighting effects at the key shots. Under Jake’s pod there are blue lamps to flood that area with light, while flashers at the amp suit make it clear when that feature is available or hit, as do the flashers above and behind the N-A-V-I targets.
Curiously, the lamps in the lane guides at the top rollovers are not general illumination but controlled lamps. Whether that is to provide some additional lighting effects up there we don’t know (we didn't see them used that way), but browsing through the lamp matrix did show quite a few unused lamps, so it's good they are making some of them available for potential additional effects.
Staying in that area, only having one flash lamp beneath the insert in the middle of the pop bumpers means the flash effect with each pop bumper hit is rather underpowered. A larger insert and some additional flashers would really make that whole area ‘pop’.
When people first see Avatar they are usually struck by how bare the playfield is and it’s hard to deny there’s a lack of features in the lower two-thirds of the game. All the other stripped-down Stern games of late have contained one feature in the centre. NBA had the spinning disc, Big Buck Hunter Pro had the buck and Iron Man had the Iron Monger. With Avatar, though, everything is pushed up to the top of the playfield.
That means fewer ‘sucker shots’ where you have to shoot something near the flippers even though it’s a dangerous shot to make, and the range of angles where the magnet can throw the ball into the drain or outlanes is reduced too. So ball times are longer than Iron Man or Big Buck, but not excessively so thanks to a fairly voracious left outlane and an occasional tendency for the ball to exit the pop bumpers and head straight down the middle (although Stern supposedly fixed this on later games).
With the key shots further back, accuracy become more important than reaction times and Avatar has a number of shots which require precision shooting. Both the link lane and the amp suit bullseye target lane fit that description, but even the orbits only have relatively short lead-ins giving you the minimum of help.
The single ramp is slightly disappointing, as is the fact it doesn’t do anything other than send the ball back to the same flipper. Having a diverter to send it to the left flipper would have added some variety and created a rule or two.
Otherwise, it's a fairly standard playfield layout with two target banks on the sides and 5 shots fanned out across the upper third, surrounded by an orbit lane.
We won't pretend we like Stern's cut-down playfield design. We didn't like it on NBA, Big Buck Hunter Pro or Iron Man and with quite a chunk of the spend going on the 3D backglass, there not a lot left to put on Avatar's playfield either. You can't help but look at Avatar and wonder where everything's gone.
Without show-stealing toys in the lead roles, it's up to the rest of the supporting cast to put in impressive performances and make the overall production delight the paying customers.
Fortunately there's a luscious art package - just as you'd expect from a movie where the visuals are the main selling point - which boosts the game's initial appeal before the disappointment over the lack of hardware has a chance to kick in.
The music and speech both draw us into the world of Avatar, making us feel a comfortable part of James Cameron's extraordinary creation.
But this is essentially where the licence ends and Stern picks up, with their playfield design, rules, lights, sounds and display effects trying to hook into the big budget production values and draw some of that creative energy into their game.
Avatar was always going to be a clash of two worlds. Twentieth Century Fox with the most expensive, highest grossing movie ever made, and Stern with... well, you get where we're going with this. Stern have done just enough to make the collaboration work.
The Stern part of the game is not super-polished, but it's sufficient to make it enjoyable and challenging which in the current climate is probably the place they want to be. By using as much of the cachet and prestige of the Avatar license as possible, Stern can make somebody else's hugely expensive assets work for them, reducing what they have to invest themselves.
Hopefully some of those display effects will be improved in upcoming software releases which will add a little of that missing polish, but what's on the playfield isn't going to change (at least in the regular edition) and that's probably where the improvements most need to be. The amp suit just doesn't cut it in the way the Iron Monger (or even the big buck) does. A lovely 3D backglass doesn't make up for the lack of a compelling mechanical device to battle. And Colonel Quaritch should be in every amp suit, dammit, not just the limited edition ones.
In the end though, you have to play Avatar for what it is, not what it could have been. So get out there, play it, and let us know what you think.
Finally, we come to that part of the review where we give our ratings to the individual elements of the game and come up with a total.
While nearly everything else in this review is objective and factual, these rating are entirely subjective and describe our feelings about the game, how it plays and how much fun we had playing it.
Each element is scored out of a maximum of 10 points. If a game gets a 10, then it’s the best we’ve ever seen in that category. Consequently, it’s pretty rare to see a 10. Scoring an 8 means that element is 80% as good as the best example we've ever seen. You get the idea.
Editor's Ratings for Avatar
Don’t get upset if our ratings don’t match your own – it’s quite unlikely you’ll think exactly the same way we do. You should, however, be able to see why we rated them as we did if you’ve read right through this review and noted our comments along the way.
Finally, a big “thank you” to the good folks at Electrocoin and to Evert Brochez and his family for all their help and hospitality in the making of this review.
With that, we end this in-depth review of Avatar. Thank you for reading it. We hope you enjoyed it and we'll be back early in 2011 with another in-depth review.
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