Led Zeppelin is known for being one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. They are also known for being tight with their intellectual property. When the top dogs at Stern Pinball announced a new game featuring the music and artwork of these icons of rock, we knew we had to see it.
ere at Copper Rhino, we’re all about the classics. Led Zeppelin needs no introduction. For those unfamiliar with Stern Pinball, they are an undeniable industry leader. That status goes back to the 1930’s. Their legacy includes accolades such as entries into the Pinball Machine Hall of Fame and numerous industry awards. Stern might even be the Led Zeppelin of pinball companies. These are two legends of their respective arenas.
First off, fear not, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin were intimately involved in every detail of this experience (unfortunately, they have refused to do any media interviews for this launch). The playlist was curated by the men themselves and pared down to 10 rock mega hits: Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown, Whole Lotta Love, Ramble On, Immigrant Song, Black Dog, Rock and Roll, The Song Remains The Same, Trampled Under Foot and Kashmir. No ‘Stairway,’ denied. They were thoughtful and realized they had better options for a pinball experience. Not only are these songs in the game, but you get to pick which track plays at the start of each ball. The band was also critical in implementing details like concert footage, photography and artwork into the game.
The master touches from Stern come in the theme integration. They made it more than just another pinball game with great music. Once they know what they can use, they need to figure out how best to use it. To build on the playlist, not only does each song have different shots that score points, but each section of the song (verse, chorus, solo, etc.) has different rules for shots that are needed to “finish” the song. After finishing one song, the next will automatically start. If you’re good enough with the flippers, you can finish each song up to a Platinum level. With extra difficulty comes extra points.
Another great theme in the machine is the tour mode. The game features four of Led Zeppelin’s tours. Similar to the song objectives, each has different shots required to complete it. These shots accrue miles to the next city on the tour and each city has a new set of goals (not to mention video and other artwork displays). Finally, each tour has its own tour multiball.
As you can see, the possibilities in this game are endless, but what if you’re the type of person that just likes to lean in and bash the flippers? This game also delivers on that front. Again, note the jammin’ soundtrack. All three machines are different, but they all share a couple of custom Led Zeppelin touches that add up to a feast for the senses: a 13-inch custom molded Hindenburg Zeppelin figure and a custom sculpted Swan Song Records Icarus leaper that jumps when its target is tapped. Along with an extra wireform ramp, the Premium and Limited Edition tables also include an Electric Magic mech that rises from the center of the playfield to activate more special features (Multiball, Frenzy and Rock Out) on those machines. A final touch on the Premium and LE machines is the Expression Lighting System: banks of RGB LEDs on each side of the table (96 LEDs total) that are sensitive to in-game actions and, again, customized to each song (the Pro model has its own, optional LED system).
I got my hands on the Pro model (sans extra LEDs) at Next Level Pinball Shop in Hillsboro, Oregon. Immigrant Song was my pick as the silver ball sprang to life. To tell the truth, I had no idea whether I was completing tours or songs or what was going on thematically. The leaper was leaping, the lights were flashing, the bumpers were bumping, the sound was also bumping and the flippers were flipping flippantly. It’s no wonder these things are money makers in arcades. It’s easy to get lost in the glitter. How about another song? What happens when I make that shot or unlock that bonus?
Thankfully for me Ken Martin, one of Oregon’s top pinballers and Next Level Head Technician, was on hand to show me the ropes. Let me tell you this, like with everything in life a pinball machine looks different when you see someone play it at an elite level. The sharp edge of chaos is dulled. The ball becomes perceptibly more predictable. The fine nudges coax the ball to life from an almost-certain demise. He rocks, the ball rolls. To paraphrase Martin, if it’s not tilting, you’re not trying. He’s the type of player who can hold an articulate conversation through the maelstrom of multiball. If my score was in the millions, his was in the billions. If I was jamming with a cover band, he was Jimmy Page.
This game is available as we speak. Like I said there are three versions. The Pro goes for $6200 and features the Led Zeppelin III artwork on the cabinet. Premium runs $7800 and hits you with the iconic Hindenburg from the bands debut album. Finally, the Limited Edition comes in around $9200 if you can find one of the 500 games made and pops with the Swan Song Records Icarus art and cyan accents.