Pinball Machines: The Stern Top 10

Posted by Scott 29 JUNE 2015

The moment of truth has finally arrived. We’ve been slowly coming upon this moment for a few months now. If you have been following our blog recently, then you know it was just a matter of time before we threw down the gauntlet and boldly proclaimed the best Stern Pinball machines of all time.

As far as we can tell, Home Leisure Direct is the first website to officially do this list. Go ahead, Google it for yourself. We’ll wait…


Before we get to it, please allow us to briefly explain our process of decision. Four of our staff members volunteered to participate in the polling process:
1. Josh, sales manager (See Josh's huge write-up on his recent visits to Chicago's top pinbars here. Yes, he's very proud of this, give it some love)
2. Abi, website manager
3. Andy, managing director 
4. Scott, digital marketing manager (that’s me!)

The polling process used methods far too complicated to explain in detail here, but trust us when we say the tallying of points was both rigorous and meticulous. We’ve been working on it for months!

None of that is true, actually, but what is true is how serious we take the following list. So without further introduction, we present to you Home Leisure Direct’s Top 10 Stern Pinball Machines, the first official countdown of its kind on the internet!

10. Family Guy (2006)

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Based on the hit animated show of the same name, this table wonderfully captures the humour of Family Guy. It features all the main characters, and the audio and video clips are outstanding in their presentation. Besides having an overall fun playfield designed by Pat Lawlor (the man behind some of the greatest pins of the 90s, including The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone), its main feature is Stewie Pinball, a pinball table within a pinball table! Highly addicting. Fun fact: the same playfield design was used for Stern’s Shrek table two years later.

9. The Simpsons Pinball Party (2003)

the simpsons pinball machine.jpg

Oo…controversy. Family Guy or The Simpsons—which is better? Like the shows themselves, we had to give the upper hand to this table. Being based on the longest running American sitcom and American animated show of all time, there is a lot of content to draw inspiration from. What is a designer to do? Keith P. Johnson and Joe Balcer (who both worked on the incredible Wizard of Oz pin) decided to go all out with this one. This table has one of the most complex rulesheets of any pin game. Tons of different modes, including several multiballs, are programmed into this game, and the crazy part is that they can be stacked! You can end up with a five-ball multiball while desperately trying to reset the 30-second clock by activating new modes sprinkled throughout the playfield. Absolute chaos!

8. Spider-Man (2007)

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This table draws its inspiration from all three Spider-Man movies in the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire trilogy. The gameplay is an epic battle between you and the four villains from those films—Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman, and Venom—who are featured as 3D models on the playfield. You must engage in unique combat with each one before taking them all on again in a Battle Royale mode. The rulesheet is both simple and fun, and that makes for great pinball. The table’s design comes from pinball mastermind Steve Ritchie, whom we have mentioned on more than one occasion on our blog. 

7. AC/DC (2012)

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This is one of those Stern tables that went crazy with the number of editions released. For this countdown, we’re picking any one of the Premium or LE versions as the playfield layout of choice, since it is an obvious improvement over the Pro version, particularly concerning the new bell toy that actually rocks and the lower playfield that is in place of Angus Young’s ugly mug. Based on the long legacy of the Australian hard rock group, this table features twelve of the band’s best songs in an ultimate playlist, but even if you don’t appreciate AC/DC’s music, the table is still filled to the brim with nice toys and 3D models, flashy lights, and frenetic gameplay. Another fantastic table by Steve Ritchie that pays homage to the source material in a loud way. 

6. The Lord of the Rings (2003)

the lord of the rings pinball machine.jpg

Designer George Gomez outdid himself on this one. The Lord of the Rings is based on the epic trilogy of films directed by Peter Jackson. The table elegantly brings all three stories into one cohesive pinball experience, fusing together great audio cues, 3D models, and an ingenious playfield that doesn’t waste any space. The three multiball modes, named after the three storylines in the fantasy saga, are infamously difficult to activate and complete. This table is especially satisfying to play when you fling the ball through The One Ring toy and knock down the Barad-Dur Tower in order to face the Eye of Sauron. Epic, indeed!

5. Disney TRON: Legacy (2011)

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This table is visually stunning and very aesthetically pleasing, just like the movie that inspired it. Fun fact: This is one of several pinball tables featuring the voice talent of Jeff Bridges. Stern’s main man John Borg designed this table, and it shows. Lots of ramps, smooth ball flow, and a fun toy smack dab in the middle of the playfield: the Recognizer. We recommend the LE version of this game if for no other reason than that this toy is motorized instead of being a static model like in the Pro version. What a cool idea—the Recognizer’s area is an enclosed space with targets and a spinning disc! It’s really fun sending the ball straight in there and watching the chaos unfold.

4. Iron Man (2010)

Iron Man Vault Edition Pinball

This game is brutally difficult. The fast-paced flow combined with the challenging game modes and unpredictable ball behavior caused by magnets make for short, quarter-guzzling rounds. But players love it for that very reason. This table is based on the first two Iron Man movies. Thus, it features both Whiplash and Iron Monger. The latter is the highlight of the table; when he rises out of the playfield, blocking your ball’s path and threatening to drop the ball straight down the middle, he leaves a lasting (and intimidating) impression. Another solid pin by John Borg. We recommend the Vault Edition of this table due to the technological and material upgrades it received from Stern.

3. Metallica (2013)

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John Borg on this list four times in a row! What a designer! For this game, he managed to transfer the aggressive and dark tone of Metallica’s music over to the playfield. Seriously, this table doesn’t have much in the way of gimmicks or aesthetic distractions—just old fashioned, fast and rough pinball at its finest. This could easily be mistaken for a classic pin from the 90s. It has that “feel” to it. Even if you aren’t a fan of Metallica, you’ll love this game. In the words of our very own sales manager (Josh), “Shit band, great pinball!” Do you kiss your mom with that mouth, Josh? But he’s right—regardless of your feelings for the band, this table is ace. Of particular note, this pin features a playlist of twelve hits from Metallica, and the 3D model of Sparky casually sitting in an electric chair at the top of the playfield is both charming and memorable, though we’re not really sure why.

2. The Walking Dead (2014)

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We’ve reached the top three tables! Surprise, surprise—this is another pin game designed by John Borg. It is based on the hit TV show, The Walking Dead, and does it great justice. The hordes of bash toys on the playfield make for great target practice; violently slamming into them with the ball will leave you feeling triumphant in your fight against the undead. The version to get is the LE one because it adds a motorized crossbow into the mix that shoots the ball anywhere on the playfield. It also has more bash toys and magnets than the Pro version. Basically, once you’re “bit” by this game, there is no curing the infection. You will want to keep coming back for more and more.

And the top Stern table of all time is…

Star Trek (2013)

star trek pinball machine.jpg

John Borg has greatly impressed us with his recent track record, but it is pinball legend Steve Ritchie who goes home with the prize. Star Trek is inspired by the first two films in the J.J. Abrams series reboot. It contains a whopping 18 missions in 6 modes of gameplay! And this is not an exaggeration—every single one of them is good; every shot is satisfying. At first glance, this table doesn’t look like the programmers could pack in so much content, but they sure did. The centerpiece, a 3D model of the USS Vengeance, is especially used in surprisingly innovative ways. The audio clips are excellent, the visual style and lighting effects are great, and the flow of the game is oh-so-smooth. We can even recommend the Pro version this time around, since Stern included LED lights for the first time in their “cheap version” of this pin. Overall, a fantastic pin in every aspect. It definitely deserves the #1 spot in this countdown.

So, pinball fans, what do you think of our choices? Do you agree or disagree? What is your favourite Stern table? We want to hear from you in the comments section. We also hope to see similar lists of Stern tables pop up around the internet in the near future. In the meantime, though, we hope you enjoyed this top 10 list. We certainly enjoyed putting it together, and we are very pleased with the results. Long live pinball!

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