You will have seen our earlier reports on The Simpsons Pinball Party but now we have had the chance to play the game quite a lot, and at last, with a good idea of the rules, the good points and the bad points, we can make our pronouncement on the game.

But you'll have to wait a bit for the final verdict. Let's break the game down and examine each part.

With a theme as bright and cheery as this one it would be hard not to make a lively and brash looking game and thankfully there's no disappointment here. It looks exciting and inviting.

Don't get too close to the cabinet artwork, though. The dubious printing from previous games has taken a turn for the worse here.

For a theme built on flat colour artwork, the cabinet adds a rather unpleasant texture to the characters. But, if that means more money was available to spend on the playfield then I'm not complaining too much.

With the first ball sitting in the shooter lane, what do we do?

There is a manual plunger and a medium strength launch sends the ball to the Comic Book Guy target for a skill shot award.

It's not too hard to make but tricky to get consistently. A weaker shot will either drop through the gate below the target into the jet bumpers or roll lower down the playfield.

But there is another skill shot award given if you plunge the ball with full force. Then, the ball loops through the Kwik-E-Mart and you are given a skill shot award of either points or bonus multipliers.

We're off and running, so the next decision is what to shoot for.

There are seven modes plus a wizard mode and they are started on the upper playfield.

You have two ways to get to the living room on the upper playfield:

Either shoot the left side ramp (shown left) with the top right flipper - which is mostly hidden by the Comic Book Guy -

or shoot the garage door (shown right) twice - once to open it and then again to pass under it.

You need a solid shot here, otherwise the ball will roll back down into the jet bumpers and you'll be awarded a Cletus kid instead.

Just below the garage is the Kwik-E-Mart loop which exits to hit the bully targets opposite.

If you successfully make either shot to get to the living room, the ball is kicked up onto the upper playfield where you shoot the ball into the loop under the TV to a temporary ball lock.

There is a solenoid behind the TV to the right, which stops the ball on the switch and just above the flipper. A mode start animation is played out on the main display, the TV warns you that the ball is about to be released and then the ball is freed. Flipping the ball up the metal ramp to the left sends it to the couch and locks it if lock is lit.

Interestingly, if this is the first time that the ball has been here during the game the flipper will self-flip a few times before the ball is released to indicate to new players what to do. The top right flipper does this too when the ball is first ejected from the Otto saucer. This behaviour can be turned off for home use.

The TV is worthy of a mention here as it improves on previous mini-displays by having tricolour LEDs so each LED can be red, green or yellow (red&green). This colour capability is used well throughout the game and is the best use yet of a mini-display. It would look even better with a sticker of some TV controls on the right side.

The display board to the right of the TV shows the modes available, those completed and the currently selected one. You can change the selected mode with the jet bumpers. All of them are of the style where certain shots are lit and you have to shoot them in order to complete the mode. Some (such as Duffman) only have the right ramp to shoot.

Each mode is timed and the remaining time is shown on the TV. As the time ticks away the display changes from green to red as the end approaches.

You can add more time by hitting the More Time target buried in the jet bumpers. This target can be hit either through a gate from the top right flipper or indirectly from a bounce in the jets.

Notice anything yet? Both the upper playfield and the More Time target have two ways to achieve them. That gives you more options and choices, and in turn that makes for a more entertaining game.

If you complete all seven modes you start Alien Invasion. I'd like to be able to tell you how this is supposed to finish but it exposed a failing on the game I was playing.

I think you are supposed to lock a ball in each of the game's three ball lock locations - The Couch, Otto's and Itchy & Scratchy's. I shot I&S first and then Otto. The display showed "2 out of 3 balls locked". Then I shot Otto again.

But, this game had a faulty second ball sensor so it just sat there, did a few ball searches and then kicked out all the balls, ending the mode.

"Something of a disappointment" doesn't fully explain the feelings at that time - denied my big shot at the wizard mode to see what happens.

The same thing could also occur without any hardware failure if two balls end up in the I&S hole which doesn't have a second ball sensor as far as I can tell, so the software needs to be able to handle this in a more elegant way and not just throw you out of the mode.

If we take a look at the Multiball mode, it is a pleasure to find a game where locking balls is a challenge. There are many games where multiball is easy to achieve, especially Sega games, but getting the ball up to the mini-playfield and then into the couch isn't easy, making multiball a deserved reward.

Once you've locked three balls in the couch, an animation follows and then all three are kicked out onto a wireform down to the left inlane and all the major shots are lit for jackpot. I'm not entirely sure how the scoring works, but you can get double, triple, quadruple and super jackpots. Super jackpot is achieved by shooting a ball back into the couch, double jackpot by shooting the mode start loop.

Elsewhere on the playfield, the Bart captive ball works very nicely. Hit it and Bart slides backwards on his skateboard.

You also start one of the Bart daredevil modes.

These are like the Ultra modes in World Cup Soccer, in that there are Daredevil Loops, Ramps, Bumpers and Targets.

Shooting each of these when the appropriate Daredevil mode is running scores extra points which are added as part of the bonus.

Behind Bart is Homer.

To me at least, he looks all out of proportion - too tall for the Homer we know and love.

He doesn't play a part in the game rules, he just looks around and lights up when a Homer quote is said. It would be a good modification for a home game if he was replaced with a different model with a working jaw which spoke when he lit up.

The other main character on the playfield is the Comic Book Guy (or Comic Store Guy) who stands above the jet bumpers

He is in charge of the hurry-ups and makes a few barbed comments if you fail to collect them. Most of the major shots have a hurry-up associated with them and the target below the CBG starts one of them at a time.

These hurry-up lights are quite small and easily missed. If you collect them all you can shoot them again for the CBG's secret stash award which is worth many more points.

Over on the other side of the playfield stand Itchy & Scratchy. They don't move (another home game mod?) but they mark out a saucer which is quite difficult to hit directly.

The saucer is guarded by three drop targets. You knock these down and shoot the saucer to light I&S multiball at the saucer, so shoot it again to start one of four I&S multiballs.

Most shots are lit for jackpots and the I&S saucer scores a double jackpot. For each multiball, different shots increase the jackpot score.

It is possible to get an I&S multiball running together with a regular multiball for extra points.

By now you should be getting the idea that there is a lot to do in this game. There are some features I've not included here because this review would be twice as long as it already is. Also there is the Springfield Mystery Spot which should be discovered by the player and not spoiled by revealing it here.

After looking at the major characters and shots we come to the conclusions about the game.

First - it's a lot of fun to play. The theme sees to some of that but the game is very well laid out and the shots fit nicely together.

Second - there are lots of shots to make and there a fair amount of flow to the game as only a few of shots lead to dead ends. When multiball starts and you see all the arrows lit for jackpots you appreciate how many shots there are.

Third - There are lots of nice touches all around the game which demonstrate a lot of thought has gone into designing the rules.

From all that it sounds great and by and large I'd say it is, but there are some issues which detract from the pleasure. The left outlane is vicious and gives little opportunity to argue. There is also a worry about build quality of the vertical up-kicker (VUK) which feeds the upper playfield. Quite often it needs several attempts to get the ball to the top. The Casino arcade in London has a Simpsons game on site and I got all four balls into the VUK and that was essentially the end of the game and the session as it couldn't cope with three or four balls. The only solution would be to kick the ball out as soon as possible to try and avoid this situation happening.

If those relatively minor issues can be addressed then The Simpson Pinball Party should be a great success for Stern.

The game is now in production and should be widely available soon.


Editor's Footnote:

I think by now you know we like this game. We like it a lot. How much? Enough to buy one, that's how much. Yes a brand new Simpons Pinball Party is winging its way to the Pinball News offices. We've been waiting (and reviewing) every new game Stern have made and finally here is one worthy of our money.

I don't think we need to say anymore.


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