“Heavy” and “metal.” In a physical sense, those words apply quite literally to pinball machines and video games, but there’s also no denying the spiritual, maybe even cosmic connection between headbanging music, quarter-pumping classic arcade fun, and crashing on the couch in front of the latest home-gaming system with hard rock blasting and maybe some certain other kind of substance blazing.
On occasion, amusement manufacturers have combined hard rock aesthetics with coin-op hardware and/or at-home video games—sometimes to kickass effect, and other times to such goofy results that even those kick ass in terms of supplying metalheads with a good time.
Power up now for some continuous play with the Top 15 hard rock and heavy metal pinball machines and video games.
The same year that Kiss inundated fans with four simultaneously released solo albums along with bubblegum cards, dolls, and do-it-yourself makeup kits, the band also released a signature pinball machine.
While the other ephemera may have faded through the years (except for Ace Frehley’s solo LP; that will always rule), Kiss pinball remains one of the all-time arcade greats. For four decades now, the machine has also served as a crucial “tell” when it comes rock-and-roll bars and clubs: when you see Kiss pinball in the corner, you can rest assured you’re in a cool place.
In fact, Kiss pinball is so perfect that, despite mind-blowing forward-leaps in coin-up technology and Gene and Paul’s famous passion for cash-ins, the group has never updated the original machine, except as a PlayStation video game in 2001. That, for sure, was not quite the same.
Heavy Metal Meltdown (1987)
Promising “hot licks,” “gonzo guitar,” “awesome stacks,” and overall “metal mayhem,” Heavy Metal Meltdown perfectly captures and conveys headbanger overkill circa ’87.
The back-glass depicts three wailing axe-masters—fake Jimmy Page on the left, fake Ted Nugent on the right, and fake Eddie Van Halen looming largest and loudest in the middle—while miniature fake Marshall amps piled on top blare out riffs, licks, solos, and general bombast. Ace ball manipulation lights up the letters H-E-A-V-Y and M-E-T-A-L in glorious Flying-V formation.
Heavy Metal Meltdown is the one pinball machine above all others that should be played by flipping the bumpers while keeping one’s fingers in perpetual devil-horn salute.
The Who’s Tommy: Pinball Wizard (1976)
No force in rock-and-roll has done more for pinball than the Who, specifically by way of their landmark rock opera Tommy and its enduring anthem “Pinball Wizard”—the famous chronicle of how a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!”
The 1975 movie version of Tommy inspired an unofficial machine called Wizard, the ads for which featured the movie’s female lead, Ann-Margret. More directly, Tommy spawned the 1976 Captain Fantastic pinball game, which showcased Elton John dressed in costume as the Pinball Wizard character he plays in the film.
Leaping ahead a couple of decades, the Who mounted a huge, lavish Broadway production of Tommy in 1993. A dynamic stage hit worldwide, the show also launched The Who’s Tommy: Pinball Wizard machine.
Like the theatrical production, Pinball Wizard dazzles and rocks with lights, sounds, graphics, and explosive tabletop action that’s so intense it may well leave you deaf, dumb, and blind for a spell after playing.
Brutal Legend (2009)
Brutal Legend is a perfect storm of 21st century metalhead and gamer cultures, bringing down-and-dirty, high-tech hard rock savagery to PlayStation and Xbox.
Winner of the 2015 Best Heavy Metal Performance Grammy Jack Black portrays Eddie Riggs, a roadie who gets beamed into a fantasy realm of typical metal album covers come to life.
Armed with a hot rod car, a battle-axe, and a magical Flying V guitar, Eddie battles underworld monstrosities and hooks up with actual hard rock icons on the order of Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Rob Halford, and Lita Ford.
In addition, Brutal Legend’s soundtrack consists of 107 metal songs, including contributions from Black Sabbath, Kiss, Mötley Crüe, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, King Diamond, Anvil, Mastodon, Testament, and Skid Row.
AC/DC looks, plays, feels, and absolutely sounds likes the music of the band itself: it’s overwhelming, electrifying, positively pummeling, and, above all, it rocks.
The AC/DC machines itself employs multimedia dazzlers that range from stadium-quality light displays to speakers blasting out the hits to a swinging bell (like the ones from hell) to a miniature cannon that fires extra balls (when it comes time to salute you).
Revolution X: Aerosmith (1994)
Aerosmith gets abducted by a totalitarian government called the New World Order, and now it’s up to you to machine-gun the band to freedom. That’s the premise of the stand-up first-person shooter game Revolution X: Aerosmith, a fondly remembered (if seldom still played) offshoot of the group’s mid-’90s hot streak.
In a true sign of the times, Revolution X’s guns fire compact discs rather than bullets. It’s also, intriguingly, a direct sequel to the video game version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which places Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and the rest of Boston’s baddest boys squarely into Terminator mythology. Here’s hoping they turn up in this summer’s Terminator: Genisys.
Guns N’ Roses (1994)
Guns N’ Roses may have essentially flamed out after the 1993 cover collection The Spaghetti Incident?, but Axl, Slash, Duff, and company rocked together most magnificently one last the following year by way of the GNR pinball machine.
Rather than pull a plunger, players shot the balls into play by squeezing a trigger on a pistol, prompting Guns N’ Roses songs to play, images of Axl’s tattoos to light up, and, if you fall into Slash’s snake pit, an onslaught of multi-ball action.
Guns N’ Roses are regarded by many to be one of the last true classic rock bands. Guns N’ Roses pinball is an absolute rock-and-roll arcade classic.
Journey: The Video Game (1983)
At the peak of their popularity, Journey was arguably the most-played band in video game arcades. Whether on the radio, or by way of the arcade manager’s cassette deck, or, in certain high-class pachinko parlors, on mounted video monitors showing MTV, the music of Journey figured profoundly into the video game experience circa 1983.
With perfect synergy, then, the Bay Area’s supreme power-balladeers issued their own namesake video game right on time for it to be perceived as cool merely for existing, and just goofy enough to land on the side of “fun” rather than “lame.”
Journey: The Video Game utilizes the visual language established by the group’s recent multimillion-selling albums. During gameplay, the members of Journey—represented by photographs of each guy’s actual heads atop a cartoon body—operate in and around Escape’s Egyptian space scarab and the electric-blue lightbulb-head alien guy from Frontiers.
The game’s premise had Journey getting separated from their instruments, and the player’s goal was to bring them all together. Upon reuniting the band, the photo-cartoon hybrid Journey performed a concert.
Beyond being just an instant curiosity, Journey: The Video Game proved popular enough in arcades to generate not only an Atari 2600 cartridge, but also an awesomely campy TV commercial.
Crüe Ball (1992)
Electronic Arts’ Crüe Ball was a video pinball game initially developed under a general heavy metal theme. The plan was to partner with MTV and release the fame as “Headbanger’s Ball.” After the cable network passed, however glam metal marauders Mötley Crüe stepped in, happy to cash a no-effort licensing check, and—voilà!— Crüe Ball bounced rockingly to life.
In the wake of their 2009 video game success with Guitar Hero: Metallica, the biggest and best-selling extreme rock act of all time knew they’d have to truly up their ante to make a Metallica-sized impact on the world of pinball.
As a result, in 2013, the thrash masters released not one, but four licensed pinball games, each employing cutting-edge technology and thunderously intense gameplay.
A couple of varyingly designed but straightforward games just called Metallica highlight different aspects of the group while delivering great tabletop action.
Metallica: Monsters showcases the current line-up in cartoon form and features totems from their long history such as a Ride the Lightning electric chair and a snake from the cover of “The Black Album.”
The limited edition Metallica: Master of Puppets utilizes the same playfield props and electronics, but sports a glowing caricature of the group amid cemetery crosses its back-glass. Here’s hoping Cliff Burton has been able to play it in Heaven.
Technically just called Nugent, the Ted Nugent pinball machine features the double-barreled guitar blast image from the cover of Nuge’s Weekend Warriors album and a play-table dominated by an image of a custom Les Paul guitar.
Nugent pinball was cool then, and it’s super-cool now—whether you play it at a rock show, an NRA meeting, or while working the flippers with one hand and simultaneously taking down a great white buffalo with the other.
Gorgar billed itself as “the first talking pinball machine.” It’s also the first pinball machine to not refer directly to heavy metal music that perfectly embodies and explodes metal’s gloriously unholy spirit.
Gorgar himself is a huge, fang-faced, pointy-horned red devil. On the machine’s Frank Frazetta-inspired back-glass, he lords over a barbarian warrior and a shapely vixen in a cave of giant snakes. Also, Gorgar actually does talk.
Upon dropping a quarter into the machine, a monster voice deeply intones, “Me Gorgar!” During various points of play, Gorgar announces his name again and, when a player does well, he moans, “Me hurt!” and “You hurt Gorgar!” After the final ball sinks, the loquacious Lucifer figure declares either, “Gorgar beat you!” or “You beat Gorgar!”
German power metal stars Helloween paid fitting tribute to pinball’s heaviest machine by way of their 1985 song, “Gorgar.” The lyrics perfectly nail the Gorgar experience of many a headbanging pinballer: “You’re lookin’ for something new to play/to win and have fun is your aim/a pinball speaks to you/His metal voice is knockin’ in your head/You can’t resist, you’ll have to play!”
Kiss: Psycho Circus—The Nightmare Child (2000)
1998’s Psycho Circus was the first album in twenty-one years to reunite the original four members of Kiss in full makeup. It launched a massively successful world tour plus a tidal wave of tie-in merchandise, including the video game, Kiss: Psycho Circus—The Nightmare Child.
Spun off from the Kiss: Psycho Circus comic book by Todd McFarlane (Spawn), The Nightmare Child is a first-person shooter in which players battle against “demonic critters” and acquire the powers of The Elder, who is split into four alter egos, each based on a member of Kiss: the Demon (Gene Simmons), the Starbearer (Paul Stanley), the Celestial (Ace Frehley), and the Beast King (Peter Criss).
The Nightmare Child is largely forgotten now, except as an occasional reminder that Peter Criss should have busted out that “Beast King” nickname back in the ’70s.
Iron Maiden (1981)
While it’s not officially affiliated with the band, the Iron Maiden pinball machine is thoroughly metal nonetheless by way of A) its chrome-and-leather, bio-mech, sci-fi S&M artwork; B) the fact that it’s a knockoff of the movie Heavy Metal as well as the adult fantasy magazine on which the film based; and C) that its makers ripped off the game’s name from, you know, Iron Maiden!
In keeping with its blunt moniker, Rock is a charmingly generic game that incorporates heavy metal, punk, new wave, and hard rock imagery on its back-glass and tabletop. During gameplay, the machine blurts out some affably anonymous music that your grandmother would likely frown at as “rock-and-roll.”
Rock hit hard enough to be repackaged in some Spanish-speaking territories as Punky Willy, and it also generate da 1986 follow-up machine, Rock Encore. The latter supplies more of the same, and, as in many an actual rock encore, that’s just giving the people what they want.
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points).
[Photo: Getty Images]