When I was a little kid my family would go out to eat almost every Sunday after church. At least twice a month we’d go to my favorite restaurant: Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs. I loved it so much not because of the food, which was actually pretty good, but because of the arcade.
In my hometown of Yonkers, NY, there was no other arcade like it. Sure, the movie theater had a game or two and some of the grocery stores and pizza shops would have a few cabinet games, but this was entirely different. This was an arcade like you’d see in a movie from the 80’s. You could only enter the arcade through to the far end of the restaurant. There you’d find tinted double glass doors with a sign that read, “No food or drinks,” leading into a dark, windowless room. As you entered you were inundated with flashing lights, music, sound effects, and indistinguishable voices shouting over all the chaos.
Nothing was more enticing than that room. Every one of the dozens of machines had two to three children huddled around it. Memorably, there was Street Fighter II, X-Men, the Simpsons, Time Traveler, arcade basketball, Cruis’n USA, and, of course, a photo booth. Every month a few games would change and every visit to the arcade promised new experiences.
My attention, however, was often pulled to a different kind of amusement. I’d enter the game room and immediately pick up one of the milk crates, which were stacked beside the entrance, and make my way to the back of the room. There I’d find the pinball machines. Beautiful. Mesmerizing. I wanted them all but I’d only have enough money for one or two games. Standing on the milk crate, I’d slip my quarter into the coin slot. The machine would come to life and fun would begin.
Over twenty years later, I am still effected by my affection for pinball. Arcades are mostly gone, replaced by highly sophisticated home consoles. And sadly, some of the best game manufactures are now defunct: Bally, Midway, and Data East, to name a few.
The fact of the matter is, pinball machines are very complicated. They involve computer programing, engineering, electronics, and have numerous moving parts. Developing and manufacturing a pinball machine is an expensive and cost prohibitive process, which is only made possible by high public demand. Unfortunately, demand is consistently low and pinball may very well be in its twilight hour.
But pinball fans play-on, always on the lookout for machines, which are often found in the most unexpected of places. Shreveport can boast that it has quite a few fun and diverse games spread around town. I highly recommend devoting a full day to a citywide pinball tour.
Start by waking up good and early and get breakfast at either George’s Grill or Strawn’s Eat Shop on Kings Highway. After breakfast visit 24-7 Laundry at 163 E Kings Highway, located across from Centenary Campus and next door to George’s Grill. Currently they have Lethal Weapon 3, released in 1992 by Data East as a tie-in to the movie by the same name. The game features music from C & C Music Factory and Z Z Top. In this game you launch the ball using the gun handle, a nice touch if you’re familiar with the “Lethal Weapon” film franchise. The back glass art features the cast from the film and looks more like a movie poster then art specifically designed for the game. The playfield is busy, with bullets, explosions, and rollercoaster-like ramps. I’m personally not too concerned about my score, as this game takes some skill. What I find most entertaining about this machine is the music and sound effects.
A short ways away is Highland Super Center Laundromat, located at 3001 Highland Avenue. Here you will find Bally’s 1978 release, Mata Hari. The back glass on this machine featured a well-dressed man standing over a scantily clad woman lying upon a tiger skin rug. The playfield features a large dagger and woman backdropped by a field of reds and purples. This game has a truly classic feel to it with a very traditional bumper and flipper setup. You can earn extra games by scoring over 200,000 points or when knocking down all the targets when lit for special. Mata Hari is very straightforward and fairly simple. Essentially, earn points by hitting the bumpers and knocking down the targets. If you like pinball games with very clear rules and goals, this is the game for you.
Also located at Highland Super Center Laundromat is Silver Sluggler, released in 1990 by Gottlieb. This game, at first glance, is not very exciting. The playfield consists of a baseball diamond fielded by androids. There are no ramps and very few bumpers. The back glass is not terribly exciting either, featuring another baseball diamond. This machine looks more like one you’d find from the 70’s and not the 90’s. That being said, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it more than Mata Hari. You can complete “Single,” “Double,” “Triple,” and “Homerun” to earn an extra ball. I liked the feel of this game very much, maybe I just had some luck, but I was able to develop a rhythm with this machine and play a lot longer than I did with Mata Hari.
Pinball machines are works of art. They’re a bridge between electronic and tabletop gaming.
In Southern Hills visit Speed Brite Supercenter, at 9095 Mansfield Road. There you’ll find Riverboat Gambler, released by Williams Electronic Games in 1990 and features some surprisingly fun mini-games. The back glass features a western scene with a saloon girl and a gambler wearing a cowboy hat and bolo tie. Some of the games you’ll play on this machine include roulette and blackjack, as well as slot machines. A nice extra is the two large buttons, one red and one black, at the front of the field. Periodically you must remove a hand away from the flipper button to select a color while playing the mini-games. Anyone with experience playing pinball will find this both terrifying and exciting as, you would never remove your hands from the flipper buttons during normal game play. This game is unique for this reason and is definitely worth some attention.
Sitting beside Riverboat Gambler you’ll find, TriZone, released by Williams Electronic Games in 1979. The back glass looks like something inspired by the original Battlestar Galactica series. It features a futuristic group of people wearing jumpsuits surrounded by electronics. The gameplay itself is pretty basic. It’s very straightforward, no ramps, just bumpers and targets. However, the sound effects are pretty fun. I’m not terribly impressed with the game play. Riverboat Gambler is definitely the preferred game at this location.
By this point you have been playing for hours. All this pinball must be making you hungry. Luckily Rotolo’s Pizzeria, located at 1409 East 70th Street, has pizza, beer, and pinball. That alone makes it, currently, my favorite place in town to game. The Flintstones, released by Williams Electronic Games, was a tie-in to the live action film released in 1994. This machine is a lot of fun. The playfield features miniature Bedrock houses, a bowling alley, a dinosaur, two ramps, and three flippers. This game has a lot going on. Be sure to complete the 1-2-3 combo to start “Dino Frenzy” multiball when lit. I’m particularly a fan of the sound effects and the “Yabba Dabba Doos.” I cannot stress enough how much fun this game is.
After pizza and so much pinball you may need a little break. Head over to Tinseltown at 8400 Millicent Way and catch a movie. After the film gets out, stop in the game room. There you will come across The Rolling Stones released by Stern in 2011. The backglass features Mick and the gang Rockin’ Out. A unique feature in this game is the Mick Jagger figure, which moves from side-to-side across the middle of the playfield. He acts like a little goalie, pushing and blocking the ball. The game also features a mash-up of Rolling Stones hits. Also noteworthy are the ramps and the tongue and lips ramp entrance. If you’re not a fan of this band you might find the music distracting. For those of us who like the Stones, this game can be fun. I’m not a big fan of the little goalie. He was constantly blocking my moves.
If you’re still not tired and in the mood for a Potter’s Round, go downtown to Noble Savage, located at 417 Texas Street. There you’ll find Mustang Pro, released by Stern in 2014. This is the newest machine that I’ve come across in town. Stern is one of only a handful of manufacturers still developing new pinball machines. The playfield features a model Ford Mustang, twin stacked ramps, and fun engine sound effects. It is fairly easy to earn multiball and extra ball in this game. I’m a big fan of multiball so I find this game particularly exciting to play. This machine is beautiful and fun.
By this point the sun has set and you may likely be ready to call it a day.
I really enjoy ending this pinball tour with Mustang Pro. It is currently my favorite game. As I said, it’s a generous game, which makes it the most fun for me. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s at one of the best places to have a drink in town.
Don’t worry, there are more games to be discovered around town. No Good Golfers (1997) and Jurassic Park (1993) can both be found at the Elks Lodge in Shreve Island, however Elks is a private club. So if you are not a member you will not be able to enjoy these two machines.
These machines, listed above, are certainly not all the pinballs to be found in Shreveport. I haven’t yet exhausted all the likely and unlikely places they may be hiding. But finding them is part of the fun. To me, pinball is irreplaceable. You can feel it move and respond to you. It pulls you in and makes you part of its story. A story told with a 1 1/16” mirror finished steel ball.
Pinball machines are works of art. They’re a bridge between electronic and tabletop gaming. I hope you enjoyed this tour and found a game or two you really enjoyed. And the next time you randomly come across a pinball machine, stop, put in some quarters, rest your palms on the cabinet, and be the pinball wizard you never knew you always wanted to be.