|BIG BUCK HUNTER PRO|
Hello and welcome to the second part of the exclusive Pinball News In-Depth Review of Stern's Big Buck Hunter Pro pinball.
In this part we will explain all the rules of the game, show what each feature scores, how it advances you through the game and what happens when you complete everything. Then we'll close by summing up our thoughts and by rating various different aspects of the game.
For reference, the review machine was running a freshly installed version 1.4 of the software, which meant everything was reset to default settings. As usual on modern Stern games, the display is split with the score for players 1-4 and the points earned by each shot on the left, and the display effects and animations on the right. A few standard displays - such as extra ball - do fill the screen and, unusually, some overlaid effects of deer or moose running manage to cross the boundary to use the whole screen.
As with the video game, the basic premise of Big Buck Hunter Pro pinball is to shoot anything and everything. The video game requires that you don't shoot the female deer (the does) or your turn ends. In the pinball version, shooting a doe is equivalent to draining down an outlane but apart from that, everything - the buck, the moose, the elk, the birds, the ram, the cow, the critters, even Pappy's moonshine - is fair game.
Now, you may or may not like the idea of shooting animals in this way but we're not going to be judgemental about this aspect of the game. The theme is hunting and it is portrayed in a reasonably matter-of-fact way, without making it too trivial or comedic. What humour there is will always be directed towards either creatures which don't get killed, or at inanimate objects.
In case there's any doubt about which is which, the largest animals are introduced by some nicely animated clips during attract mode.
These clips have the look of video digitised from the video game but we don't know the video game well enough to be sure.
The actual killing of these animals and the assorted varieties of birds is downplayed somewhat anyway, with only the only the buck, elk and wild boars being seen as they hit the ground. Everything else is either an implied kill, an explosion of feathers or just relates in a general way to the animal in question. This works because unlike with the video game, when you're playing pinball the weapon in your hand is a flipper button, not a large plastic gun. Both shoot, but the 1 1/16th inch steel ball can be made to represent many things, whereas a bullet only has one meaning.
So, let's get on with the rules.
We press start and the ball is kicked out into the shooter lane. The announcer greets us with "Welcome to Big Buck Hunter Pro. Today we'll be hunting for whitetail."
Whitetail, eh? Well, let's just check...
Well, at least the translite image shows a whitetail and at the start of the game the buck is hidden behind the blind anyway, so you can't tell.
The display shows a deer prancing around in front and behind the score, which is superimposed over a forest scene.
Occasionally you'll get a critter hopping across the screen instead of the buck.
The ball shooter lane has the regular combined manual/auto shooter, but as we mentioned in part one, there's really only one shot to make at the start and that is to shoot the ball to the C-O-W rollover lanes for the skill shot.
Initially, the 'O' lane is flashing for the skill shot award, but it can be steered with the flipper buttons.
Getting the correct flashing lane scores 250K the first time, increasing by 25K for each subsequent skill shot whether it comes from regular balls or from extra balls.
There is no "hands-free" bonus for plunging straight to the flashing 'O' lane without moving it and nothing extra for getting the skill shot on all three balls.
Completing the three rollover lane inserts advances the end-of-ball bonus multiplier by one and awards 10K points. The display shows a cow producing "prairie coal" as Pappy calls it and, with this being Big Buck Hunter, this too is fair game for shooting.
The bonus multiplier is added at the very end of the bonus count and it can climb as high as 25X, at which point completing the C-O-W rollover lanes just awards the 10K points.
The bonus multiplier can also be increased by mystery awards from Pappy's Porch but more about that in a moment.
Before we go any further, it's worth talking about a couple of features which affect the way the game works. The first of these impacts on the scoring of everything else; that's the ram double scoring kicker.
Shooting the ram scores 100K and adds a letter to spell out R-A-M. There are no inserts to show your progress towards completing R-A-M so you need to keep an eye on the display.
When you do complete R-A-M, a 20 second period of double scoring begins.
If you manage to spell out R-A-M again, the clock resets to 20 seconds and double scoring continues.
Ram double scoring can obviously have a big impact on your score, so it makes sense to keep it running through big scoring features such as multiballs whenever possible.
The second feature comprises the three green standup targets on the left side of the playfield and is called Pappy's Porch.
There are three jug inserts corresponding to the three standup targets and these light when their target is hit, scoring 75K points. Lighting all three extinguishes them, scores 250K (increasing by 25K each time) and awards a mystery bonus, which can be a points award, more time for a mode, lighting the extra ball, increasing the bonus multiplier, boosting the pop bumper value, lighting the special or adding another ball to a multiball mode.
So with double scoring and Pappy's Porch explained, let's get back to the point we left the ball.
After getting past the rollover lanes, the ball falls into the pop bumper area.
The display shows three UFOs representing the three bumpers and explosions appear on each saucer whenever the ball hits the corresponding bumper.
Hits on the pop bumpers score 3K at the start of each ball but can be increased by 1K up to a maximum of 10K per hit by shooting the right orbit.
Although they max out at 10K, when the ram double scoring feature is running, that 'bumps' up to 20K per hit.
The pop bumpers also count down towards lighting the next bonus round mode, which we'll look at later.
There is only one exit out of the pop bumpers and that's between the bottom bumper and the U standup.
From there the ball hopefully rolls down to the flippers and we have to decide which feature to shoot for. The progress grid should be our guide here, so let's take a look at it.
Our aim here is to light all 11 achievement inserts to advance to open season which is the game's wizard mode.
Running up the centre of the grid are five inserts which all relate to the game's main multiball - big buck multiball - as does the top left insert. Big Buck Hunter has a total of seven regular multiballs - one for the buck, one for the elk, four for the birds and one for a bonus round. There is an eighth, but we'll save that until later. The first three of these multiballs can be combined and can also be used to restart a multiball which is just ending.
The buck is clearly the money shot in this game, so we'll start with his multiball mode.
Big Buck Multiball
Starting big buck multiball is done by hitting the buck with the ball in each of the five positions it moves to. To do that you need to get the buck out from behind the blind and this can be done in two ways.
Firstly, strike him with the ball when he's behind the deer blind and he'll leg it to one of the unlit cartridge positions.
But because it's not entirely obvious you need to do that, or because it's a slightly tricky shot for novices to make, if you don't hit the buck for about 10 seconds, he will come out of hiding anyway.
This means you can actually trap the ball on the flipper and just wait for the buck to appear if you want. It's not the most exciting way to play but if you're one shot away from multiball, why risk it?
When the buck moves across the playfield, he will head for one of the unlit cartridge positions where he'll wait for a few seconds before returning home. The amount of time he waits shortens with successive big buck multiballs in the same game, so initially you have about ten seconds and by the third of fourth time of playing you have about two seconds. As the buck moves across the playfield, the display shows one doing much the same thing and tells you what you need to do.
Each of the five positions matches one of the major shots on the playfield - the left orbit, the moose ramp, the ram, the bird or the spinner lane - so when he is standing there, that shot is effectively blocked.
If you shoot him when he's moving or when he's reached his destination position then you'll light the related cartridge insert on the playfield and send him back home. You will also light the first - and the easiest - insert on the progress grid; the buck.
The objective is to hit the buck in each of the five positions and light all five cartridge shells.
Shooting the buck produces a nicely animated display effect of the deer falling over which as we said earlier is one of the few real kill shots in the main section of the game
Chances are you'll miss it if you're playing alone because when the ball bounces off the buck it can go in many different directions, so you want to be concentrating on keeping the ball in play instead of enjoying the animation on the display.
As we noted before, the cartridge shell is quite inappropriate in this context but perhaps Stern didn't want to make it too similar to CSI which has bullet inserts to light up.
If you have lit four of the five shells, the display scrolls 'MULTIBALL READY' in place of your score to let you know the next kill will start big buck multiball.
When the buck moves out to the final unlit position and you shoot it, big buck multiball begins immediately.
There's actually something of a delay before the the first added ball is kicked into the shooter lane and auto-launched, giving a moment of doubt about whether you really have started multiball or not. This can be a real heart-stopper if the ball drained after shooting the buck and you're not sure if it registered and started multiball or not.
With big buck multiball started, the buck multiball insert in the progress grid lights up and two more balls are kicked into play for a total of three.
From this point on for the duration of multiball, completing the three Pappy's Shack mystery targets will usually add another ball and start a short ball saver.
This can be used at any time and is especially useful during the grace period at the end of multiball where jackpots can still be scored, as it effectively restarts the multiball as a two ball mode. You can only reliably use this feature once per multiball, although if you collect enough mystery awards you'll probably get back to add-a-ball at some point.
There seemed to be a small bug in the mystery award where it would try to award "add-a-ball" when all four balls were already in play. It didn't affect the play at all, but did waste the award. This may well be fixed in a future release.
No matter how many balls you have in play, the objective is the same. The buck moves out again to one of the five preset positions. If you shoot him, it scores a jackpot, lights the cartridge insert and lights the red arrow on shot he is blocking for a double jackpot.
The buck then moves to a different unlit position where you can shoot him again to score a jackpot and light the shot behind him for a double jackpot.
During this first stage of big buck multiball, the display tells you to shoot the flashing arrows, although initially there are no flashing arrows and it's up to you to light them.
Your jackpot value starts at 150K for the first big buck multiball but it can be increased by completing the four B-U-C-K standups scattered around the playfield.
Spelling out B-U-C-K scores 50K and increases the jackpot value by 25K which doesn't sound a lot but these targets tend to complete themselves a few times during a game so you'll probably boost the jackpot without even realising it. Plus, that 25K can be collected and multiplied several times during big buck multiball, as we shall see.
So by the end of a long game, those B-U-C-K targets all add up and can lead to quite a nice jackpot value.
The first time you hit the buck and collect a single jackpot, the jackpot insert on the progress grid will light.
Shooting a flashing double jackpot shot scores, as expected, double the single jackpot value. It also disables that shot from scoring any more double jackpots, so you can only score one double jackpot per flashing arrow.
You can collect any of the double jackpots from the lit arrow shots before you hit the buck in all five positions, but the aim is to hit the buck, score a jackpot, light the double jackpot and then collect it in all five positions. When the buck has been hit in all five positions it will return behind the blind so you can go for the double jackpots without it hindering you.
The first double jackpot you collect will light the double jackpot insert on the grid.
If you collect all five double jackpots then the buck comes out again. This isn't so you can shoot it - in fact shots on the buck do nothing at this stage - but so the spinner lane is revealed for the super jackpot shot.
The spinner lane doesn't have any switches or sensors in it apart from the spinner itself, so it is the spinner which registers a shot to the lane and awards the super jackpot value which is the total of the five regular jackpots plus the five double jackpots you scored on the way to the super jackpot.
If you had ram double scoring activated during the build up, the double values you earned for jackpots and double jackpots will also add to the super jackpot total, making them even more valuable. Of course if you have double scoring running when you collect the super jackpot, that is doubled too making a minimum of 4.5M. Not too bad when you consider it all started with a 150K jackpot value.
Collecting the super jackpot, naturally enough, lights the super jackpot insert in the progress grid.
With the super jackpot collected, things kick up a notch as we head towards the monster buck jackpot.
Instead of hitting the buck in each of the five positions, you have to shoot him twenty times - yes that's right, twenty times - in any position to score monster jackpots.
The buck darts across the playfield, pausing at each position briefly before moving on. Each time you hit him, the counter for the number of monster jackpots remaining ticks down by one.
By this stage, we've presumably moved beyond the casual player and headed into good or expert player territory. Even so, twenty shots is a lot. Imagine Attack Mars mode in AFM where you have to shoot the saucer scoop 10 times. Now make it twice as long.
Having the buck moving around does make it more challenging but shooting something 20 times doesn't make for a lot of fun, just as shooting the ark 16 times in IJ4 wasn't much fun. With the multiple angles the ball will take from the buck, it's inviting the ball to drain unless you trap the ball and only shoot the buck when its in the position furthest from the flippers (or wherever you're most comfortable shooting it).
Each shot scores 250K, making a total of 5M if you complete all twenty hits.
If you do manage to hit the buck twenty times, the twentieth shot lights the monster buck insert in the progress grid and takes you back to the start of big buck multiball where you have to hit the buck in all 5 positions to score jackpots and light double jackpots.
Completing all twenty shots comes as something of an anti-climax since there's no big fanfare or payoff, just the announcer telling you the monster buck insert is now lit as you find yourself back at the start of big buck multiball.
The second time you work your way through big buck multiball in the same game, all values increase by 100K, so jackpots begin at 250K, doubles at 500K, super at 3.75M and monsters at 350K.
As you can see, lighting all five inserts isn't a trivial task and monster buck is probably the hardest insert to light on the grid as it has to be done in one ball.
So let's look at something a little easier to achieve with the second multiball in the game which comes to us courtesy of the elk.
Elk multiball alternates the action between the three flipper inlanes at the bottom of the playfield and the left orbit at the top.
To enable elk multiball you need to light all three inlanes to spell E-L-K.
That sounds pretty easy, but it's made a little trickier by the fact that the lit inlanes can't be changed with the flipper buttons. So to counterbalance that, there's a much easier way to light the lanes and that is to shoot the left orbit. Each shot to the left orbit spots an unlit E-L-K lamp which is much safer than toying with the inlanes, because these have an unnerving habit of unexpectedly dumping the ball down the outlane when you least expect it.
When all three E-L-K inlanes are lit, the second stage of the build-up to elk multiball begins and action moves - or perhaps, returns - to the left orbit.
The elk insert on the left orbit flashes and a hurry-up begins counting down on the display.
The initial value is 350K and it starts dropping in 650 point chunks until it is either collected, reaches its minimum of 150K and times out, or the value is boosted by triggering any of the E-L-K inlanes, which adds 50K to the value and briefly pauses the countdown.
The hurry-up value can be collected by shooting the left orbit.
If this is your first elk multiball, that's all you need to do to start multiball. For the second elk multiball, you need to spell E-L-K twice and collect two hurry-ups before multiball begins. The third time you need to spell E-L-K three times and collect three hurry-ups and so on. In all cases though, the last hurry-up value you collect becomes your base multiball jackpot value.
As we said, for the first elk multiball this starts multiball, but if you're playing it for a second time this starts a second hurry up which also has to be collected before multiball begins.
However many hurry-ups are needed, when you collect the final countdown value the elk diverter opens to send the ball into the shooter lane and elk multiball begins.
Getting this far lights the elk insert on the progress grid.
Elk multiball is a 3 ball mode, so the original ball is kicked out of the shooter lane and joined by two more. As with big buck multiball, shooting the three standups which form Pappy's Porch will probably add another ball to the mix as a mystery award.
Once multiball is under way, the objective is to score as many jackpots as possible. The first of these is collected by shooting the elk diverter which is indicated by the slightly inconspicuous elk jackpot insert in front which lights up.
The jackpot value, as we said, starts at the hurry-up value, but it can be boosted by 10K by rolling over any of the E-L-K inlanes, all of which are now lit and also score an immediate 50K.
The elk jackpot value can be boosted up to 500K in this way and don't forget the ram double scoring feature can apply too, making it worth up to 1M points. In fact, the ram double scoring helps build the jackpot as well, since it doubles the jackpot boost to 20K for the duration of double scoring and that boost is locked in, even when double scoring ends.
Shooting the elk diverter hard enough so it registers a hit will collect the jackpot and close the diverter. Because it is basically just a large flipper, you need to shoot the elk diverter with enough power to overcome the force it is applying to keep it open. Once you manage to do that and the end-of-stroke switch is opened, power to the diverter is switched off and it closes.
There is a second option available to collect the jackpot though, and that involves heading back to the left orbit.
Because the diverter is open, any balls shot round the orbit from the left entrance will be sent into the shooter lane and then re-launched. If you manage to do this, you'll start a five second timer where the elk jackpot value is doubled.
This again is in addition to any ram double scoring you may have running. It is also just possible to shoot the ball with the left flipper off the deer blind, onto the diverter and into the shooter lane. It is the ball ending up in the shooter lane which triggers the five second double scoring period, regard less of how it got there.
So, shoot the elk diverter during those five seconds to score the double jackpot. If the time runs out, the jackpot reverts to its original value, but can be doubled again by shooting the left orbit for a further five seconds.
Whether you collected a single or a double jackpot, the elk diverter is now closed and needs to be re-opened to offer up another jackpot.
Once again, there are two ways to do this. One way is to roll a ball through any of the three E-L-K inlanes. This boosts the jackpot by 10K as before and opens the diverter. The other is to shoot the left orbit which not only opens the diverter but scores a jackpot value at the same time.
With the diverter open we're back to the point where we can either collect the jackpot or shoot the left orbit for five seconds of double jackpot scoring.
This cycle of opening the diverter via the inlanes or the left orbit and then collecting single or double jackpots continues for the rest of multiball until you're down to one ball in play, at which point you get your total points for elk multiball displayed.
Elk multiball is the easiest of Big Buck Hunter Pro's multiball modes to start and most players will get to play it at least once in a game even if they never get big buck multiball. It's a little confusing for beginners as it's not immediately clear where the jackpot shot lies; something which stems from a combination of a relatively modest insert in the playfield, no associated flasher and on-screen instructions which say to shoot the elk, when the left orbit is also labeled 'elk'.
The moose's home is the game's only ramp, so moose on the loose is started and played out on the ramp.
There's really only one rule for moose on the loose - shoot the ramp.
Initially, each ramp shot adds one letter to M-O-O-S-E and scores 30K points as the ATV rider chases the moose across the display.
Keep shooting the ramp to add more letters.
Collecting the fifth letter spells M-O-O-S-E, scores a nice 500K and starts moose on the loose mode. It also lights the moose insert in the progress grid.
Moose on the loose is a 30 second timed mode where the theme of shooting the ramp continues as the moose gets its revenge and turns the tables on the ATV rider.
Each ramp shot scores a points value which starts at 200K and increases by 100K each time up to a maximum of 1M points per ramp shot. The number of moose chasing the ATV rider also increases with each shot, much like Stewie's sexy party in Family Guy, except with moose, obviously.
Before long, the screen is packed with moose every time you make the ramp shot.
The number of seconds remaining is shown on the display when you're not shooting ramps. The image looks oddly reminiscent of one featured in Harley Davisdson. Notice the moose in the ATV's mirror.
One of the mystery awards from Pappy's Porch can help you during moose on the loose.
Moose on the loose ends when the timer counts down to zero.
Actually, there is a brief grace period where you can grab a final ramp shot before the total for the mode is displayed and it's all over.
Although moose on the loose isn't the most demanding mode, it's reasonably satisfying to loop the ramp over and over to see the number of moose increase.
Bird multiball is actually a set of four very similar multiball modes based around different species of birds - Pheasant, Dove, Duck and Turkey.
As with big buck multiball and moose on the loose, starting the feature involves shooting the same shot several times to qualify it. In this case, it's the bird lane which is your target.
At the start of the game, a random bird is picked from the four and it is lit on the lamp board at the end of the lane.
Each time the bird lane is shot, the number of hits needed to start the next bird multiball reduces by one. The first multiball needs four shots to start, the second one needs five, the third one needs six and the the fourth one needs seven shots.
All four bird multiballs work in much the same way so we'll show you excepts from all of them throughout this section.
When the ball is shot into the bird lane to count down towards the start of multiball, it is held briefly by an up-post while the display shows our hunter using his bird call to attract the appropriate type of bird.
We're not experts on bird calls, in fact we don't know the first thing about them, but it sounded to us like each bird had its own call. Regardless, once the bird call has been sounded three times the ball is released back into play.
However, if the shot into the bird lane starts a bird multiball, the ball is held there as the first part of bird multiball begins.
Starting the first bird multiball awards 100K immediately (200K if you have ram double scoring running), sets the base jackpot value at 200K and starts a 15 second long period where that can be increased by 1K for every switch hit.
The second bird multiball raises the initial jackpot to 300K and increases the amount each switch adds to 2K.
The third one has a 400K base jackpot which is boosted by 3K for every switch hit.
Finally, the fourth bird multiball starts with 500K and adds 4K for each switch closure detected in the 15 second build-up period.
Once multiball starts, the original ball is held in the bird lane for the duration of the countdown as a captive ball while two more are auto-launched for a total of three balls. Shooting the now captive original ball so it hits the bird standup at the end of the lane, scores an immediate jackpot of the current value, releases the ball and adds a fourth ball into the mix.
If you don't hit the captive original ball during the 15 second jackpot build period then it is automatically released once the timer hits zero for a three ball multiball. You can still use Pappy's Porch to add a fourth ball, but it only starts with three balls and you don't get the first jackpot.
In both cases, once the jackpot build period ends, the current value becomes your jackpot for the remainder of this bird multiball during which all switches score 10K.
With the build period over and multiball underway we have some more jackpots to collect.
All red arrows flash to score bird jackpots and for the first round of jackpots they stay flashing when collected so they can be collected again and again. From the second round of jackpots onwards, the arrows extinguish when the shot is made and cannot be collected again until the next time round.
The target is to collect a total of six jackpots by shooting the red arrowed shots.
If you freed the captive ball, the jackpot awarded then counts for one, so there are only five left. Each flashing arrow shot scores the jackpot value we built up earlier.
Collecting all six jackpots the first time isn't too hard, especially if you can readily loop the ramp shot.
When you've collected the sixth jackpot, all the arrows will stop flashing with the exception of the bird lane. This is now lit for a super jackpot, the value of which is shown at the bottom of the screen between jackpot shots.
The first bird multiball has a super jackpot value of 2M, which climbs to 2.5M for the second and to 3M for the third, where it stays for the fourth bird multiball.
Simply shoot the bird lane to collect it.
But there's more. The ball is then trapped in the bird lane again and a fifteen second timer begins. If you shoot the captive ball during those fifteen seconds, you score the double super jackpot which, as you can probably guess, is worth double the super jackpot value.
If you don't make the shot in the time allowed, the double super jackpot goes away.
Once the double super jackpot has either been collected or timed out, we're back to collecting six regular jackpots to light another super jackpot, except - as we mentioned before - this time the five shots extinguish once collected.
The sharp-eyed amongst you might be thinking "hang on, if there are five shots which go out when collected and we have to collect six jackpots, how does that work?". Well, the answer is that the bird lane is lit for the sixth jackpot, before then being lit for the super jackpot. So you just have to shoot it twice from the second round of jackpots onwards - once for the sixth jackpot and then again for the super jackpot..
As a minimum, going through the first bird multiball once is worth 7.2M. That of course can be both repeated by going through it several times and doubled courtesy of the ram. So some big points are available for what is a reasonably safe mode, with all the shots up in the top half of the playfield.
One thing you many have noticed we haven't covered in bird multiball is the point at which the bird insert lights on the progress grid. That's because the bird insert is one of the hardest to light, demanding you start all four bird multiballs before it deigns to light up for you.
Start the fourth bird bird multiball and you'll light it but if it's the last one you light - and it may well be - you can't actually do anything with the fully lit grid until you finish bird multiball.
Now, a single multiball is all very nice, but to get the big points you need to combine them. Elk multiball can be combined with big buck multiball and bird multiball can be added to either of them, allowing all three multiballs to run concurrently.
And bonus round modes can often be combined with any of them, so let's see how they work.
Just as in the Big Buck Hunter Pro video game, the bonus rounds offer a little light relief from the bloodbath of the preceding rounds by swapping the large animals for smaller ones such as frogs, gophers and, most cruelly of all, innocent containers of alcoholic beverages.
Bonus rounds are qualified after a certain number of pop bumper hits have been registered. The first bonus round is qualified after twenty-five pop bumper hits and that number increases by five for each subsequent round. The number of hits remaining is shown at the bottom of the display when the ball is in the bumpers and counts down with each bumper hit.
Once the count reaches zero, the bonus round can be started by shooting the right orbit. The display shows the UFOs beaming up all the characters and creatures who appear in the six bonus rounds.
The bonus round insert lights on the right orbit and making the shot starts the mode instantly while also awarding 100K points.
It's not necessary to completely make the orbit shot, just triggering the single rollover switch at the top of the lane is enough.
There are six bonus rounds in total - Boars Gone Wild, Frog Flippin' Bonus, Gopher Garden Bonus, Mars Needs Cattle, Mug Shot Bonus and Pappy's Moonshine Bonus.
We originally thought there was no way of knowing which of the six bonus rounds would be next and no way of choosing, but Josh Sharpe tells us the bumpers change the next bonus round when the final pop bumper hit is made, the bonus round insert flashes and the number of flashes indicates which of the six rounds is available.
Apparently, one flash indicates the bottom mode shown in the artwork on the right orbit (Frog Flippin') and six equates to the top bonus round (Mars Needs Cattle). Yes it seems an incredibly convoluted and ineffective way to show which bonus round is next when there's a dot matrix display nearby, but that's the way it is.
All but one of the bonus rounds use the five bullseye inserts to indicate the required shots, while the other uses the standup targets. This allows the modes to run in tandem with multiball modes which use the red arrows to indicate jackpots. The bullseyes are located on the same shots as the red arrows, except for the super jackpot arrow which doesn't have one. So that's the left orbit, the moose ramp, the ram, the bird lane and the right orbit. This biases the shots very much over to the left side of the playfield, but it's the same with the red arrow shots as well, and most can be backhanded without too much difficulty - even the ramp.
Happily - and unlike the bird multiball modes - each of the bonus rounds is very different from the others and has its own set of rules. Let's take a look at them now.
Mug Shot Bonus
This is a mode which increases in difficulty as you are asked to shoot first a single shot, then two, then three, then four and finally five shots. It is also a timed mode but in a slightly different way as we shall see.
To start with, our barmaid serves up a single beer and a single bullseye is lit on the playfield. A timer starts counting down from twenty seconds.
You have to shoot the single lit bullseye shot before the time counts down to score 100K points.
Do that, and the number of beers doubles, as does the number of lit bullseye shots.
Fortunately, though, the timer resets when you get all the required shots, so we now have twenty seconds to make the two shots. Each shot scores 200K (100K times the number of beers) when made and blows up the beers. Naturally, having ram double scoring running is a good idea to boost that to 400K per shot.
Got those two shots? Then our trusty barmaid lines up three beers and lights three shots for us. She also resets the timer to twenty seconds to give us a fighting chance.
Each shot is worth 300K and completing them only gets us more, as four beers slide their way down the counter and four bullseye shots light for 400K each.
By now you're probably getting the idea. Round five resets the clock and lights all five bullseyes for 500K per shot.
Five shots in twenty seconds requires a little work to pull off, but if you manage it the mode restarts with just a single beer, one shot to complete and twent more seconds.
The mode continues until all that beer kicks in and you have to drain, or until you fail to make the requisite number of shots in the time available.
If shooting containers of alcohol is to your liking, let's keep the theme going as we take some pot shots at Pappy's moonshine.
This is a very straightforward mode which guarantees you a mystery award if you complete it.
It's a pretty simple proposition - shoot the seven standup targets which comprise Pappy's Porch and spell out B-U-C-K in the time available to earn big(ish) points. You get thirty seconds to make all seven shots but that can be boosted by adding more time from the mystery award which gives you another thirty seconds.
There are seven standups in all and they are represented by the seven jugs of moonshine on the display.
The left three equate to Pappy's Porch and the four on the right are the B-U-C-K targets. All inserts in front of all seven flash to identify the shots which is just as well, since the display gives no clues what you have to do.
Shooting the first target earns you 200K, disables that shot and blows up the jug.
The following jugs increase their value by 50K each time you hit their associated standup.
Because the three left jugs match up with the mystery targets at Pappy's Porch, completing them gives a mystery award. Any targets you had already lit at Pappy's before starting moonshine mode carry over, so you only need to hit the remaining targets to get they mystery which, in this case, it adds another thirty seconds to the clock.
Subsequent flashing standups continue to increase in value by 50K.
So the last one is worth 500K. Shooting it ends the round.
If alcohol isn't to your taste, how about being a good samaritan to some of our bovine friends?
OK, so the title is a homage to Mars Needs Women from Revenge From Mars but the concept of cows being beamed up by UFOs is actually from the video game.
The idea is the same though; shoot the saucers to prevent them beaming up cows.
To do this in Big Buck Hunter Pro pinball involves shooting the two orbit lanes repeatedly for forty seconds as the timer counts down.
Either orbit blows up a UFO and earns you 200K for the first one...
...which increases by 50K for each subsequent sauce. If you don't shoot the orbit in time, daisy becomes a double cheese McMartian.
The value of the orbits increases by 50K up to a maximum of 500K after which all orbits destroy a saucer and score 500K.
Soon enough, the timer has ticked down to zero and the mode ends.
The third bonus round we're looking at takes us onto the water as we flip off Kermit and go frog flipping.
Frog flippin' bonus is another timed round which gives you 30 seconds to shoot a series of randomly lit bullseye targets and collect the frog flippin' scores.
To make this not only a test of shooting but also a test of timing, the display shows a frog jumping across an array of numbers from one to five and back to one, and the score you get depends on the number the frog is sitting on (or just left) when you make the indicated shot.
If he's sitting on the number two, you get 2 x 100K as your score for making the lit bullseye shot.
Obviously you want to make the shot when he's sitting on the five, but that's not so easy as he moves around very quickly and a moment too early or too late costs you 100K. You also need to factor in where the switch registering the shot is located and allow the appropriate time.
There's some assistance to help you keep flippin' those frogs, because every bullseye shot you make adds six seconds to the clock up to a maximum of thirty seconds. That means frog flippin' can run for quite some time if you make an effort to keep playing it or start a multiball mode.
Speaking of which, during something like bird multiball, frog flippin's animations have a lower priority than the multiball's, so you don't get to see either the time remaining or the frog's position and hence your score for the shot.
Once again, getting the ram double scoring makes the bonus round all that more attractive.
The frog flippin' bonus round ends when the timer reaches zero.
Four down, two to go and that means it's time to pig out as the boars go wild.
This is one of the more simple bonus rounds, but to add some spice it is also a four ball multiball.
When the mode begins, three more balls are auto-launched and all five bullseye shots are lit.
Shooting any of them scores 200K and turns that shot off.
The next lit bullseye ups the ante to 225K and once again extinguishes the bullseye when collected.
That continues for the next three shots until all five have been collected.
Then they all relight and the process continues with the shot score maxing out at 500K.
Boars gone wild includes some nice animations and fills the score display with boars swarming in all directions across the screen.
Boars gone wild ends, like any multiball mode worth its salt, when you only have one ball left in play.
The final bonus round also brings back some old friends (or is that foes) from an earlier pinball machine as we find the gophers have left the golf course to head for the garden.
We've kept gopher garden to last as, like Pappy's moonshine bonus, it's one of the simplest of the six modes. If you can keep the ball in play, you may find it ends surprisingly quickly.
As with most of the other modes, shooting bullseyes is the order of the day and for gopher garden that means whacking gophers. Unlike the other modes though, gopher garden is neither timed nor a multiball. That means it runs until you complete the objectives or drain.
Gophers pop up in three of the five gopher holes in the garden. These holes equate to the five bullseye shots on the left orbit, moose ramp, ram, bird and right orbit.
Shooting one of the shots with a gopher will knock that gopher back into his hole and score 200K
Gophers being the resilient creatures they are, another will pop up in a different hole to take the place of its fallen comrade.
Shoot any of the three for your next gopher bonus which goes up 50K to 250K.
A fifth gopher pops up so you still have three to shoot. Get one of them for 300K.
There was a slight bug-ette with the version of software we were running where although the score showed 300K being added, the gopher hole didn't show the score. The next gopher hit then showed the 300K instead of the intended 350K.
Fortunately it was only a display issue and the correct scores were awarded, and the scores sorted themselves out and got back in sync for the final gopher when it was hit.
Having hit all five gophers, the mode simply ends.
Probably the most important role of the bonus rounds is to light that final insert on our progress grid. To do that, we have to start half of them, so when the third bonus round begins the bonus round insert in the grid lights.
We know some readers prefer not to know what happens in the wizard mode until they get a chance to play it for themselves, in which case click here to skip past the wizard mode section and continue with the extra ball details.
When all the inserts on the grid are lit, the outer six - buck, moose, elk, ram, bonus round and bird - all flash and the bullseye at the bird lane also flashes.
The bird lane is the only place on the playfield where the ball can be trapped without sending it back to the shooter lane, so it makes sense to hold the ball here while open season is explained.
Once we shoot the bird lane, open season begins.
Open season is a 90 second timed mode where all four balls are continuously auto-launched until the timer runs out.
During those 90 seconds, the aim is to shoot each of the animals a certain number of times to collect regular jackpots and build towards that creature's monster bonus. The animals are the elk, the buck, the ram, the birds and the boar. The boar doesn't have a dedicated place on the playfield, so it occupies the left orbit since that is where you start the boars gone wild bonus round.
Shooting the boar shot scores 500K and counts down to its monster bonus.
Meanwhile, all the other creatures have their own countdowns.
Keep shooting them to get closer to that monster bonus.
The boar needs 5 shots to light the monster bonus and each one scores 500K. The deer (buck) needs the same number of hits and scores the same points. The moose only scores 250K and needs 4 shots, meanwhile the elk and the bird both need 3 shots and score 500K.
With the monster bonus ready, shoot the animal again to collect it.
The monster bonus for each animal is different and we couldn't find any correlation between the points awarded and those achieved in the animal's respective modes or the number of times the animal had been shot, but there presumably is some measure which relates the monster bonus to some aspect of your performance.
Once a creature's monster bonus has been collected, all further shots to it score a flat 1M points.
Open season ends when the clock counts down to zero (plus a short grace period). The flippers die and all balls drain while the mode's total is shown on the display.
When all balls have been returned to the trough, the flippers come back to life, a ball is kicked into the shooter lane, the progress grid is unlit and you are effectively back at the start of the game.
We now return to the game's rules for those who skipped the wizard mode.
There are two ways to light the extra ball. The first we examined earlier and it comes from a mystery award at Pappy's Porch.
The second is awarded for starting the third bonus round in the same game. In both cases you get a bouncing ball with antlers and a tail on the display.
The extra ball is collected on the moose ramp and there is an insert under the ramp which lights up in the customary yellow when an extra ball is available.
Shoot the ramp to collect it and see two antlered balls bouncing across the screen in one of the few effects which use the whole display area.
The shoot again insert also lights just below the flippers.
Also under the moose ramp is an insert which shows when the ramp is lit to collect a special.
Specials are awarded from Pappy's Porch as a mystery award and collected by shooting the ramp.
The critters live in the two outlanes and can be lit to award points when a ball drains.
These are not lit at the start of the game but can be activated by shooting the spinner when the buck has moved out from behind the blind.
Each time the spinner lane is shot, a critter is lit and its value built, or if both are already lit, their values are increased with every spin. As the spinner spins, a suitable critter runs across the display.
When a ball rolls down a lit outlane, the critter value is awarded.
When the ball has drained it's time for your end-of-ball bonus.
The bonus count is comprised of five elements which are added together and multiplied by the bonus multiplier.
The first element is a fixed value of 125K times the ball number. So that's 125K for the first ball, 250K for the second, 275K for the third and so on. The ball number increases for extra balls as well.
Next we have the remaining four elements which depend on the number of hits to various animals. Each creature has its own worth with the elk only being worth 2.5K per hit compared to the ram's 10K. The calculations are:
number of deer hits X 2.5K
number of elk hits X 5K
number of ram hits X 10K
number of moose hits X 7.5K
These five parts are totaled and given the bonus multiplier treatment for the total bonus.
As seems to be the way with modern Stern games, the bonus isn't added and the total score shown until the start of the next ball or, if it's the last ball, after you've entered your initials.
Next, we start our summaries of various different elements of the game, and seeing how we've just shown you many of the game's display frames, let's start there.
Big Buck Hunter Pro continues the recent theme of using original animations in preference to digitised video. The theme certainly helps here, but even those elements which translate directly from the video game all appear to be bespoke and not simply re-sampled.
Many of the animations feature accurate movement which is always tricky to get right with animals, and include a high number of frames to help smooth the motion. Some of the effects, such as the gophers in the gopher garden bonus round and the boars in boars gone wild go beyond what might have previously been expected in terms of variety of animations and fluidity of movement.
But what’s most impressive is the way overlaid animations have been improved. Deer, critters, boars and moose all roam freely in the foreground, rendered smoothly in multiple shades, while the score sits in the mid-ground and the forest acts as a backdrop. Now and then, Big Buck Hunter Pro really shows how far it is possible to push a DMD’s performance.
It’s not all perfect though. There are a few disappointing display effects such as the monster buck countdown and the bird multiball countdown, while a few liberties have been taken with the split screen arrangement of the score on the left and the action on the right. Several modes allow animals to cross the boundary and obscure the score which might reflect the need for more screen real estate to increase the impact, but surely detracts from the point of keeping them separate.
The overall package, though, is attractive and effective in conveying the required information. We do miss seeing the girls though.
The game’s themes probably do most to place the game and convey an impression of the audience it is targeting (if you’ll excuse the pun). The southern-style soft rock of the main theme has a little of the Edgar Winter Group’s Frankenstein to it - which is never a bad thing - and it also avoids the temptation to go too folksy.
Other music tracks in the game support the themes of their related modes well, without becoming distracting or annoying – the worst crime any pinball music can commit. Take a listen to this multiball track as an example:
Get the Flash Player to hear this audio clip.
Sounds in a game based on shooting animals are more problematic, in that you don’t actually get to hear very much, and the sounds you do hear, you probably don’t want to put in the game.
So the commentator – Big Buck Hunter creator, George Petro - has a greater role to play in describing what’s happening and where you need to shoot. He’s very good at this for getting the player to start big buck multiball – alerting you to the buck’s presence, telling you when to shoot him, when he’s gone back into hiding and how many more shots you need.
After that, though, he’s a little more reticent in advising you what to go for and mainly just announces when you’ve started something or scored a jackpot.
The other voice you hear is that of Pappy, as performed by Scott Pikulski. He provides the light entertainment, making puns and mildly humorous comments as you collect mystery awards or boost the bonus multiplier. There are no ‘laugh out loud’ moments but a few of his comments might produce a smile or two and take your mind off the underlying theme of the game.
In-game sound effects are unexceptional but perfectly adequate. Obviously gunshot sounds are in abundance but there are no stand-out sounds which make you want to shoot something to hear them again. The clanging spinner is probably as close as we get but that’s hidden away most of the game. Animal sounds are kept to a minimum and placed in the background, just in case things get too real.
The playfield is an attempt to recreate a forest scene with the hunting lodge at the bottom, the foliage in the centre and the sky at the top. The mix of perspectives and the contrasting styles of art mean it doesn’t really work and ends up looking cluttered and confused.
The deer track effectively (and very nearly physically) cuts the playfield in two. All the important shots are beyond the track and here the cooler blues and purples provide a clearer background to overlay the shot markers.
South of the deer track is where there are just too many ideas being pushed into too small a space. The lodge introduces some depth but everything else is right there in the foreground. Some objects are photo-realistic, others are drawn, while others are cartoon-like.
That’s in sharp contrast to the exterior art, where everything is much more spaced out and given room to breathe. While the logo dominates, the scenes depicted behind create an appropriate setting.
It is perhaps telling that the backglass and cabinet art ideas come from the video game, whereas the playfield art is obviously unique for the pinball.
The darker hues used across the playfield make it harder to light consistently and brightly, but the key areas in the upper half have plenty of general illumination and even the fairly tight ram and bird lanes are bright and clear.
Big Buck Hunter Pro created an unusual lighting problem by having the buck – a dark coloured toy - move across the centre of the playfield - an area where the playfield is least well illuminated.
The two spot lamps mounted on the slingshots do a reasonable job of lighting him up, but he’s still quite dimly lit. We had to use additional lights to get our pictures of him. Some addition lamps like these would certainly be a useful aftermarket mod.
Another problem area is the moose trophy mounted over the ramp entrance. There is no lighting to help lift this plastic piece out of the background and the text on it is almost illegible as a result.
It’s actually quite a nicely crafted moose head, but it needs help to really shine, especially when the clear ramp behind is quite bright in comparison. Again, a couple of lamps or LEDs would make a world of difference, and while you’re at it, point one at the cow as well.
Lighting effects are generally well executed and draw your attention to the appropriate part of the playfield. The pulsing ram flasher does a good job of showing when double scoring is active and the UFO bumper caps are nice and bright as well.
It’s probably the inserts where more emphasis would help. Neither the bullseye targets nor the shotgun shells are particularly eye-catching and the elk jackpot insert we spoke about earlier is another example of under-whelming brightness. Get some ultra-bright LEDs under them and it would be a different story. These are important indicators and need more impact.
Now we reach that point in the review where we bring together all the points, plaudits, brickbats, ideas and suggestions we’ve talked about in the various sections and give you our overall summary of the game.
We hope you got here by reading the previous eight-and-a-half thousand words in this second part of the in-depth review (well, some of them anyway), so none of this comes as a surprise.
Big Buck Hunter Pro is a mixed bag of the impressive, the average and the slightly disappointing. But let’s start with the good stuff.
First of all, it's good to see a game where the software is pretty much complete when it is released and the updates which follow only add minor bug fixes or enhancements. Stern seems to have got on top of their unfinished code issues, which is good news.
Next onto the hardware.
The buck is undeniably a great toy. OK, it does take a lot of its cues from Batman’s crane but it’s a bold move to cut a notch across almost the entire width of the playfield and slide a target along its length. We have bad memories of the damage the Dracula track suffers in Williams’ Monster Bash and time will tell whether Big Buck Hunter Pro will suffer in the same way, but Stern do test their mechanisms quite extensively and the width of the track is narrower, so hopefully it won’t be such an issue. The hardware driving it and holding the whole device together also looks pretty impressive. You do get the nagging (if probably unjustified) feeling that if it does go wrong, it will go horribly wrong and wreck the playfield.
Tying the buck’s five stop positions to five playfield shots also works well, although some playfield artwork could draw attention to this as it’s not immediately obvious.
Hitting the buck is both rewarding and frustrating – rewarding when it registers, frustrating when it doesn’t or when you just can’t make the shot – and adds the randomness that Gary Stern so wants to re-introduce into pinball. It’s easy to dismiss this, but it’s actually an attempt to create a fundamental shift in how pinball plays.
Apart from the buck, the rest of the game’s hardware is pretty conventional and minimalist. There’s only one ramp, no other unique mechanical mechanisms, a smattering of standup targets and a kicker.
We were impressed with the quality of the display effects, and in particular the layering and animation of the animals in the foreground.
We also liked the music and the clean lines of the cabinet artwork.
But is the game any fun to play? Well, yes it is, to a degree.
The rules are front loaded, so most players will discover all the hardware features very quickly. The rules are broad rather than deep, meaning there is a wide range of things to shoot for – big buck multiball, elk multiball, moose on the loose, bird multiball – right from the very start. None of them require you to play something else first or make any kind of progression through the rules before they are available.
Each feature has its own set of rules of course, but none of those are especially deep either. Big buck multiball is about as complicated as it gets and that’s just; shoot the buck 5 times, shoot the 5 double jackpots, shoot the spinner, shoot the buck 20 times, repeat. Moose, elk, ram, bird and starting the bonus rounds are all effectively just one shot each, made multiple times.
Having broad but shallow rules isn’t a criticism. That’s exactly what they are intended to be so that they appeal to the casual player. There are some rules added to keep the more serious player interested, but they’re largely about playing the same feature several times or hitting the buck over and over.
No, this game is aimed at the casual player; someone who wants to have some fun playing a game or two in a bar or in an arcade. In that regard it does a good job and the short ball times should mean it earns well.
For the more serious pinball fan, it’s harder to overlook the more obvious cutbacks on mechanical features. We said this at the end of the NBA review but it still holds true. Smaller side rails, plastic aprons, a single ramp, a slightly contrived diverter so it uses a regular mechanism, they all have an impact on the perception of the game. Each individual cost saving is small, but taken together over several models, they do take their toll. Expecting these buyers to pay the same – or more – for a downgraded product is asking for a lot of goodwill, and if the fans aren’t talking up your product, who will?
As usual, we end this review by giving our ratings to various aspects which come together to form a game such as Big Buck Hunter Pro.
These ratings look at BBH and compare it to the best examples of that element we have seen. If a game ever gets a 10 then it, in our opinion, has beaten every other game ever and set the new standard for that feature. Consequently, getting a 10 is pretty unusual.
Don't worry if these numbers don't match your own personal opinions. They're only that - personal opinions - and we're bound to give different weightings to the various features. Feel free to disagree with them.
If you did jump straight here, please go back and read the full review to see whether you agree with them and if you put the same significance on certain features we did.
Finally, a big thank you to the good folks at Electrocoin for their assistance and hospitality in the making of this review.
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