KISS: IN-DEPTH REVIEW
Date: 11th August, 2015
Hello and welcome to the first part of our In-Depth Review of Stern's Kiss.
In this review we'll be examining the Pro version of the game which was the first to be produced and the most common variant found on location. The LE and Premium models add a few bells and whistles to the mix, but it's fundamentally the same game.
It's no secret that Kiss was brought to production in a relatively short time - some have suggested it took just four months from John Borg's first playfield design to production starting, which would be an impressive team effort if it proved to be accurate. Kiss certainly doesn't look or feel like it was rushed, except maybe for the software which was at a relatively early stage when the game was first released.
As is customary in these reviews, we'll begin our look at the game with the exterior artwork and hardware, before heading under the glass to examine the playfield features.
As far as the cabinet and backbox are concerned, this is a standard Stern game with a
The cabinet artwork - like the rest of the art package - is by Kevin O'Connor, who also did the artwork for the first Kiss game, and there are a number of similarities with the 1976 Bally version.
The cabinet sides, for example, feature the same four Kiss band members' faces in full make-up against a background of flames. With modern decal printing there is no longer the three colour (black, white & red) limitation, so Stern's Kiss features smooth graduations in the flames, various facial tones, and realistic highlights in the hair.
Interestingly, the Limited Edition and Premium models all feature the same cabinet art design but use different colour palettes. While the Pro is predominantly pink and blue, the LE is red and orange, and the Premium is red and grey.
This is also true for the cabinet front and backbox side art.
The backglass (or translite on the Pro and Premium) design is also the same on all three models with colour difference around the KISS logo and in the border.
Ignoring the wildly flattering muscle tone of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, the design is every bit as flamboyant and overblown as the band's live stage performances. It is highly reminiscent of the Bally design, but isn't restricted by the score and credit display windows, allowing the band to spread out across the stage more.
One feature lacking from the Bally version is the individual lighting of the K-I-S-S letters in the backglass/translite. Nor is this advertised as a feature in the LE or Premium models, so that's one opportunity for a third-party add-on.
While the single design across all three models might be an indication of a restricted timescale, it's hard to imagine a second or third design could be as impressive as this one.
It's an oft-repeated story how the original Bally Kiss game has a problem with the band's logo when the game was sold in Germany - one of the largest pinball markets - since the shape of the 'SS' was too similar to the Schutzstaffel (SS) lightning bolt logo.
This, of course, wasn't just a problem for the Kiss pinball. All Kiss logo artwork on records, CDs, posters and even in their live stage performances needed to be changed for the German market.
You might think in these more enlightened times that such sensitivities no longer apply, but there is indeed a different version of the Stern Kiss game with rounded 'S' letters.
This change applies to the backglass/translite, the cabinet front, the backbox sides, the apron decals and the playfield artwork. In the version of software we examined, the KISS logo on the dot matrix display was rendered in the original 'lightning bolt' style. We didn't spot an adjustment in the software to change that, but it was an early, pre-release version of the code.
Stern now has a seventh piece of artwork in its standard set. Alongside the backglass, two cabinet sides, two backbox sides and the cabinet front decals, there is also a speaker panel decal to consider.
Early efforts (Star Trek, Mustang) had been fairly bland, but things improved markedly with The Walking Dead, and that improvement continues with Kiss.
Third parties have been producing speaker panel artwork add-ons for many titles to make them look more attractive, but Stern beat them to the punch on this game.
So the exterior art package is attractive and inviting. Let's move on to the playfield.
There is a good degree of continuity between the exterior art and that on the playfield and the apron. The fire motif continues, as do the stars and band member illustrations.
Time now to drop down onto the playing surface, and we start our tour at the flippers and work clockwise around the playfield, exploring each feature and shot as we come to them.
Kiss is a two-flippered game. Yellow flipper bats are provided by default, and black rubber is used here and throughout the game.
Between the flippers are three inserts which indicate the current bonus multiplier level and the Colossal Bonus, which is a feature carried over from the Bally Kiss game.
Below the flippers is the Rock Again insert which lights when you have an extra ball and flashes while the ball saver is active at the start of the ball or when multiball begins.
The left slingshot is a pretty basic affair. Just one level of plastic cover and a red flasher dome sit above the kicker mechanism. Two white LEDs sit behind the two leaf switches, and that's about it.
There are two inlanes and one outlane on the left side of the playfield, much like Metallica and Avatar.
The outlane can have the Front Row insert lit by completing the K-I-S-S targets, in which case the ball is saved as though there was a virtual kickback. As usual, the dividers between the two inlanes and the outlane appear to be made of spring steel and will happily help bounce an errant ball from the top of the slingshot across to the outlane as you watch incredulously and helplessly.
If the ball falls into the leftmost inlane or drops into it from the left ramp exit, it lights the shot into the pop bumpers to light one of the bumpers. Meanwhile, the rightmost inlane lights the A-R-M-Y targets on the bottom right for a combo shot.
The posts above both outlanes can be adjusted, with a choice of two positions on the left and three on the right.
Above the inlanes/outlane is a small extrusion which allows you to bounce a ball coming down the playfield away from the outlane and back to the flippers. But the flip-side is that the bottom edge can guide a ball bouncing off the top of the slingshot straight down the outlane.
OK, moving up the playfield slightly we come to our first bank of targets and our first serious shot.
The four K-I-S-S targets have corresponding LEDs behind the KISS insert, lighting up the letters as the targets are hit.
Just above the K-I-S-S targets and slightly infield is the game's only scoop.
As you can see, the scoop can be lit to award many things. The main one is probably Backstage Pass which is a random award lit by completing the K-I-S-S and A-R-M-Y target banks.
Kiss Army and Rock City are the mini-wizard and wizard modes, while the extra ball can be lit by completing song modes, collecting instruments or from a Backstage Pass award. New Track lights when you have completed all the required shots for the current song.
To the left of the scoop is the entrance to the pop bumper area and the left orbit entrance.
The bumper cap design comes straight from the Bally game, and gives a suitably retro feel to this area of the game. On the Pro, as well as the LE and Premium, they have RGB LEDS inside.
Each band member, together with their associated instrument and nickname, is colour-coded, with the colour appearing around inserts and instrument artwork on the playfield.
In the cases of Tommy and Eric, the character and face paint was originally associated with other band members (Ace Frehley and Peter Criss respectively), but the characters have survived the numerous line-up changes.
The pop bumpers represent the drums in the band and so make appropriate drum sounds as they are hit, with their instrument insert and picture surrounded in green.
Of course having four custom pop bumper caps means you are somewhat more restricted when it comes to getting replacements.
Passing between the flippers is the left entrance to the orbit lane, one of the song mode shots featuring a triangular insert which advances through the song mode when it is lit.
The orbit lane is pretty unexciting. There are no one-way gates or up-posts to control the ball as it travels around the back of the playfield. In fact, the only point of note is that the switch to register a successful shot is not especially far up the lane, meaning an unsuccessful shot - or even an over-zealous kick by a pop bumper - can trigger the switch and award you the shot. Which is nice.
Just a little to the right of the Backstage Scoop is an enclosed area of the playfield, which is a bit like a mini-playfield but without being higher or lower than the main playfield. It's similar to the Cairo Swordsman from Stern's Indiana Jones, but without the captive ball mechanism at the entrance. This area is rather awkwardly called the Starchild Mini-Play Area.
The area consists of four S-T-A-R standup targets and a kickout saucer along the back ball, while the left and right walls of the area are actually slingshots to provide some action and give you a better chance at completing all four targets and getting the ball in the saucer.
Completing all four targets enough times and getting in in the saucer starts Love Gun Multiball. It can also be started, once qualified, on the right ramp.
Overseeing the Starchild Area is the Starchild himself.
On the LE and Premium models his figure is animated, although from reports it seems that equates to a slight rocking not unlike the Green Goblin in Spider-Man. The top two versions also feature a controllable drop target at the entrance to the area and a toy amplifier, although it's not clear if it goes up to 11 or not.
On the right of the Starchild area is the first of the game's two ramps.
This begins as a plastic ramp which disappears behind the back board, emerging in the back left corner where it turns into a wireform as it continues its twisty path down the left side of the playfield to the outermost left inlane.
Unlike the left orbit lane, there is no chance of a partially-successful shot to the left ramp registering, since the ramp-made switch is just after the ramp returns from behind the back panel.
Both the left ramp and the adjacent Starchild area feature character and instrument inserts along with a song mode triangular insert. Starchild is the rhythm guitar of Paul Stanley and so is coloured purple. The left ramp is Tommy Thayer's shot as The Spaceman, and so features his lead guitar denoted in blue.
That leaves only one member of the band unaccounted for, but last certainly doesn't mean least, as the huge moulded head of Gene Simmons as The Demon attests.
The Demon mechanism is made up from five parts. First we have the two upright standup targets flanking the entrance lane like the lock targets in Whitewater.
Shooting either one lights its corresponding insert , while hitting them both lights the big green LOCK insert.
If you try to shoot the lane before lock is lit you will come up against the third part of the Demon mech - the spinning disc.
This sits directly under The Demon's head and is therefore hidden from the player, who only gets to see the effect it produces. This varies from machine to machine and from ball to ball, but at its worse can fling the ball back at you with some severe spin, causing it to swerve as it moves down the playfield.
Once lock is lit the spinning disc is disabled and a shot to the lane passes over it into the upkicker mechanism at the end of the lane. This makes a virtual lock, and as soon as the display animation is over (or you hit both flipper buttons) the ball is ejected onto a metal ball guide which leads out of The Demon's mouth.
Lock three balls in this manner and, as the ball is ejected, two more are autolaunched and Demon Multiball starts.
The eject from the mouth can be problematic and send the ball straight down the middle between the flippers. Some games and set-ups are more susceptible to this than others, so it's pot luck whether the game you are playing will do this or not.
The Demon mechanism really is huge, not only due to the size of the head model, but also because the rest of the enclosure stretches back so far.
Naturally, being The Demon shot means it features the appropriate face paint decal and Gene's bass guitar picked out in brownish-red.
Shooting the Demon lane when it is not lit for locks adds a letter to D-E-M-O-N which, after it is completed awards the character. There is also a song mode triangular insert to show when shooting The Demon advances through the current song mode.
On the right of The Demon is the second ramp in the game.
Like the left ramp, the right ramp starts with a plastic rising section before it curves to the left around the back of the Demon mechanism and turns into a wireform.
On the LE and Premium models the top of the right ramp includes a diverter which, when activated, allows the ball to enter a staging area on the back panel. From here an electromagnet on a motorised shaft (think Mist Multiball on Dracula) drags it across the back panel and drops it on another staging area on the left side to start Love Gun Multiball.
Accompanied by a nice light show and sound effects, it's the LE's and Premium's party piece, and is quite fun to watch the first couple of times you see it.
As with the left ramp, this one has the ramp-made switch just after the curve, and the wireform directs the ball down the side of the playfield and into the inlane.
The right ramp isn't associated with any of the characters but is one of the song mode shots, enables the instruments and starts Love Gun Multiball.
Next we come to the right orbit entrance.
At the start of the right orbit lane is the game's only spinner.
The right entrance is relatively tight, but the long lead-in from the ball guide on the right makes it somewhat easier.
The orbit lane is The Catman shot and the right entrance sends the ball into pop bumpers so there's a Catman insert, but in addition there are inserts for all four characters in the band. When one of these is lit, a shot to the orbit lights the corresponding pop bumper for big points.
At the top of the column of inserts is the final triangular one to advance through the song modes.
And so we come to our final major shot in the game, the A-R-M-Y target bank.
Shooting the four A-R-M-Y targets lights the A-R-M-Y inserts on the progress grid and, together with the K-I-S-S targets, lights Backstage Pass at the scoop.
Below the A-R-M-Y target bank is another slight protrusion made up from three posts, but unlike the one on the left this one is very slight and hardly makes an impact on the ball's movement.
So we shall move on to the right slingshot.
This has another single-layer cover with a red flasher dome, but it has the addition of a grey post just above the flasher dome. That's because the right ramp attaches to the top slingshot post and that produces a potential ball trap between the flasher and the wireform.
The right ramp is attached to the slingshot because there is only the one inlane on the right hand side of the playfield.
This qualified the K-I-S-S target bank for a combo shot, while its neighbour can award a special when lit.
At the top of the outlane is an adjustable post which has three possible positions.
We mentioned the progress grid before and on Kiss it lives in the usual place just above the flippers.
The K-I-S-S and A-R-M-Y inserts are lit by their respective target banks on the left and right sides of the playfield. The bumper cap inserts light as you light the bumpers, while the four band characters' inserts come from completing their respective shots or areas.
Each inserts adds to the bonus just as the equivalent did in the Bally version, and at the end of each ball the bonus count build-up is shown both here and on the dot matrix display.
Now it's time to lift the playfield and see what the folks at Stern have put on the underside. But first, we don't want to damage anything, so...
The progress grid has its own controller/lamp board with surface-mount LEDs, greatly reducing the amount of cabling needed. It is driven by one of Stern's hub boards which is mounted right next to it.
The rest of the hardware is all pretty much standard Stern equipment.
And that brings us to the end of this look at Stern's Kiss Pro game.
We always say at this point that we'll be back with part two very soon - and we really do mean it at the time. But with Stern releasing games with far-from-complete software, rules, lighting, sound and display effects, by the time the game can be considered 'finished' and worthy of a full review we usually no longer have access to the game.
So that's where you can help. If you own the game or have regular access to one, let us know and we'll see about collaborating on part two when the time comes.
In the meantime, why not tell us what you think about Kiss? Send us your comments below and we'll share them with the world.
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