There's no shortage of video games based on super heroes; this summer alone, we've seen a plethora of them, between Thor, Green Lantern and Captain America games for consoles and the recently released X-Men: The Arcade Game for iOS and Android devices. But one medium you might not have expected to see superheroes in is pinball – and believe it or not, there are a ton of licensed tables, based both on the comic books and blockbuster films.
So for this special, we've decided to take you on a little visual tour of superhero pinball machines over the years, starting with some old-school favorites from the late '70s and early 80s and leading into some of the newer machines designed by the team at Stern Pinball. These may just have you tilt with glee. (OK, enough of the pinball puns. Sorry.)
Thanks to Stern Pinball for the assists! It's a great site to visit, especially if you've got money to burn on a pinball machine!
The Amazing Spider-Man (1980, Gottlieb)
Yes, before Tobey Maguire was even old enough to eat with a spoon, Spider-Man was swinging his way into arcades with a dedicated pinball machine, based on Marvel's "Amazing Spider-Man" comic book. As part of Gottlieb's "Star Series 80" line-up, the table had plenty of "new-fangled" features for an '80s pinball game, including an expanded playfield, "game with a brain" memory for scorekeeping and high-powered individually controlled pop bumpers. The design was impeccable, effectively capturing the look and feel of the classic Lee/Romita era. Just take a gander at the playfield and you'll see what we mean.
The Incredible Hulk (1980, Gottlieb)
Though it may not feature the visage of of Bill Bixby or Lou Ferrigno, "The Incredible Hulk" is still a powerhouse pinball game that any fan of the comic or television series can enjoy. Sporting a "spotting" feature that allows players to multiply their scores and plenty of targets to hit for that extra ball, this table's definitely got some challenge to it. Plus, the side art is pretty awesome, featuring an angry Hulk in a variety of dramatic poses. Take a look for yourself!
Flash Gordon (1981, Bally/Midway)
Not everyone was crazy about the Flash Gordon film adaptation (maybe it was the casting of Sam Jones that bugged us, we dunno), but we can all agree that the pinball machine was a thing of beauty. This was one of the first pinball machines to use "Squawk and Talk" technology, so it seemed like it was actually yelling at you while you played. It also features a well-designed playfield, with lots of targets to shoot at. Plus, Max Von Sydow gives you dirty looks. Nothing wrong with that.
Superman (1979, Atari)
Yes, at one point, Atari tried its hand at pinball design, and it didn't do half bad with "Superman." Despite the fact that the playfield was larger than most pinball games, fans still enjoyed the game overall, and it was one of the first to feature LED score displays, something that became common in pinball games through most of the '80s and into the '90s.
Batman (1991, Data East)
Though it came out two years after the Tim Burton film, "Batman" still managed to find great success on the pinball market, thanks to its authentic design and automated sound clips, taken straight from the film. The highlight of the table definitely has to be the Batmobile sitting right in the middle of everything, setting up a high scoring shot when you're battling with the Joker. "This town needs an enema!"
Spider-Man (2008, Stern Pinball)
Though the pinball market has died down quite a bit over the years, sadly forcing Data East, Gottlieb and other manufacturers out of business, one company continues to make strong, playable machines. In 2010, Stern shipped the new Spider-Man pinball machine, combining elements from all three major films onto one playfield. The game turned out to be a big hit, and to celebrate, Stern also produced a limited run of Black-costumed Spider-Man tables, though the game's design generally remains the same.
Batman (2009, Stern Pinball)
While Data East did a great job with its Batman machine, Stern Pinball managed to top its efforts with its own Batman table, based on the two Christopher Nolan films, including the blockbuster hit The Dark Knight. On a table designed by Pinball Hall of Fame artists Kevin O'Connor and Margaret Hudson, you shoot at targets while battling with The Joker, Scarecrow and other Gotham City menaces. Many of the film's sequences are recreated, and you can even use the Batmobile to get over a bridge during one round. If you're a Batman fan, this is a must -- even if Christian Bale does sound a little cornball. "Swear to me!"
Iron Man (2010, Stern Pinball)
Finally, we have Stern Pinball's latest superhero endeavor, based on the popular Robert Downey Jr./Jon Favreau Iron Man flicks. Released shortly after "Iron Man 2" hit theaters, this dedicated table features a number of targets, including the appearance of the Iron Monger and the mighty Whiplash. War Machine also shows up to aid Iron Man in his battles, firing the pinball back to the flippers. It's good fun for fans of the movies.
Bonus round: Marvel Pinball (2010, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)
Even though it doesn't have the kind of physical presence as the other tables do, we wouldn't dare leave out "Marvel Pinball." Zen Studios has done an outstanding job personifying the four tables included with this collection, dedicated to Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine and the vampire-hunting Blade. Each one has authentic design and sound effects, along with full leaderboard support so you can play with others. And more tables are on the way, including the recently added Fantastic Four!