It's here. Stern Pinball Inc's latest game has arrived at the Casino in London and true to form we have the very first review here at Pinball News.

First, an important point to note. This game is not finished. It's about 99% there, and what's missing doesn't affect game play. In other words, this is to all intents an purposes a production game.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of it being unfinished is in the picture above: There is a tension strap around the plain white backbox. The backbox shows none of the expected artwork on the sides as found on the main body of the game. The other unfinished element is also shown in the picture, but we'll return to that later.

(Editor's update: The final production games also have plain white backbox sides.)

So what do we get for our 50p coin? Actually we get a rather fun game.

Sharkey's Shootout (SS from now on) comes to us as a remodeled version of Sega's Golden Cue - itself a remodeled version of Bally's Eight Ball Deluxe. Golden Cue never made it into production after being shown at ATEI in 1999 alongside South Park. Golden Cue was based around the pool player Kelly Packard.

Well, she's gone and the new favourite is Jeanette Lee (AKA the Black Widow). A quick search of the web (geddit?) reveals that she's apparently quite well known in the US pool circuit, but to us Brits she's a meaningless (if seemingly rather attractive) figure.

So much for the licensing, what's on the playfield?

In classic EBD styling, there are the 7 drop targets on the right hand side and the middle left flipper to shoot them with. There's a left loop lane above that flipper which has a post at the end of the lane that can be retracted to allow the ball to feed to the 3 rollover lanes at the top. These feed to 3 pop bumpers.

Scoring the 3 rollovers at the top increases multipliers or starts Bumper Pool, a kind of Super Jets.

Next to the left lane is a ramp which feeds a mystery ball at the top right. When lit this steps through 3 random awards before awarding you the 3rd of these. The awards are shows at the base of the ball.

Sadly, as you can see, from a regular playing angle there is a lovely reflection of the backglass right over the point where the awards are shown.

It took a game or two before realising that the ball wasn't stuck and that something was really happening.

That apart, the feature works well and gives out some valuable awards such as Multiball and Extra Ball Lit.

The object of the game is to knock down all the drop targets, then shoot the right lane just above them for the 8-ball, and sometimes the left lane for the 9-ball. In this way you defeat your opponent of which there are 6. Each of the opponents has a feature to them which can be activated such as combo shots. You start playing against Sharkey, then work through 4 others until you face Ms Lee herself. Beat her and you start "The Web", a frenzy-type mode with jackpot shots.

The right lane is split in two with the left half scoring the 8-ball and the right half being a loop back to the rollover lanes. This half also scores jackpots and super-jackpots.

Here in the UK, we've become accustomed to the "All-Skill" variant of Sega games. In these, there are 2 posts above each outlane and a centre post between the flippers. Pressing either of 2 extra flipper buttons activates the appropriate outlane post, while pressing them both activates the centre post. The idea was to work around the UK's daft gambling laws which decreed that pinball was a game of chance and hence subject to the same laws as gambling. By adding player-operated posts on all drain points, it was now possible to save the ball from any situation and hence pinball becomes a game of skill and less closely regulated.

Now this idea has moved on a step.

SS features "Post Save" which works just like the All-Skill variant except it is now incorporated into the gameplay. You only get 1 post save for each side, but can earn others by lighting the targets behind the drop targets.

It works well in play though how the gaming regulators will see it is rather more questionable.

The sharp-eyed amongst you might have noticed something else about the picture above. Got it yet? No, well the trick of placing washers under the slingshot plastics to prevent chipping has been implemented on this game. It may be that the Casino staff have done this, but here's hoping that it's a Stern policy.

I said at the start of this review that there was another element of the game as yet unfinished. If you achieve a high score or grand champion score then the usual "Enter Initials" display comes up but instead of you the getting to select the letters, you get a repeated "Game Over" animation. The game is taking your letters, you just can't see it. Unfortunately, the usual Sega/Stern letter entry is not very reliable in moving between letters so you can't rely on getting the correct letter for the appropriate number of button presses. I ended up with "WJLCXZZZZZ" or something similar. Still, it's probably some Polish player's real name.

That unreliability in changing letters has been with Stern/Sega for ages and is really in need of a revamp folks. Similarly, in this game the flipper control of the lit rollover lanes was also unreliable especially when the game was busy doing some other effect.

In conclusion then, SS is a good updating of the Eight Ball Deluxe theme. The game is bright and friendly with good marking of the required shots. The 8 and 9 ball shots could do with clarifying though. John Youssi's artwork brings a breath of fresh air to the familiar Sega look.

It's not a deep game and defeating Jeanette Lee isn't all that difficult (it was done by the 4th game) but despite that there's plenty to keep the experienced players happy. The game positively encourages nudging with plenty of rubber around the lower half of the playfield and some strange outlanes that provide the possibility of recovering balls that look destined to drain through a little judicious shaking of the game (where permitted).

Certainly a marked improvement over SX which wasn't bad in itself. Keep up the good work folks.


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