REACTION: The Little Engine That Could? Spooky Pinball’s Looney Tunes Gameplay Reveal

By Todd Russell Jan13,2024

Spooky Pinball (https://www.spookypinball.com/) refers to themselves tongue and cheek as (all caps, but won’t yell at you here) “the best pinball company in Benton, Wisconsin”).

Surely, fellow pinball player readers, you’ve heard something about this little pinball company, the only pinball company in Wisconsin, much less tiny town of Benton?

If you haven’t, today you’re in the right place to learn more.

(Totally unimportant sidenote; tiny towns are awesome, my wife and I happen to live in one, a suburb near the majestic Mount Rainier)

Am sure at least some (many?) of you reading have played a Spooky Pinball machine or three, and maybe some don’t even know they have.

In this article, we’re going to do our first PGM deeper dive into the company, their pinball machine history, and look at one of their newest pins. Unfortunately not able to yet from direct play, but through the company’s gameplay video reveal (which I’ll be the first to admit is a weak and undeserving way to evaluate a pinball machine).

Golden pinball rule #1: In order to truly evaluate if you like a pinball machine, you must ALWAYS play it.

Again, I have not played Looney Tunes, which we’re looking at here. All, I can comment on is what I’m seeing from somebody else playing and my history of playing other machines by the company.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to play all of Spooky Pinball’s pins except for their newest two: Looney Tunes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so that gives me at least some credibility in this article.

Spooky Pinball are getting up there with a variety of machines, usually pushed out in smaller production run numbers, but around here in the Seattle/Tacoma Washington state area, anyway, a few Spooky Pinball are available to play on location. We travel regularly to Next Level Pinball in Hillsboro and they have several — perhaps at any given time all — Spooky pins to play until your heart’s content — or the place closes, whichever comes first.

Before we get too far into Spooky Pinball, let’s look at gameplay from them directly in a video revealing Looney Tunes, and I strongly urge you to stop and watch through at least some of this, because the gameplay shows a number of promising moments. (Yes, even if you have been underwhelmed by some of their other pins!)

“Bug” from Spooky Pinball shows gameplay for Looney Tunes by Spooky Pinball

It’s so hard to evaluate a pinball machine, whether or not you’ll enjoy it, by watching somebody else play it. Especially, gameplay from good players and/or designers that know everything that you’re supposed to do. Corwin Emery, “Bug” as he’s known, with an odd nickname certainly, but seems like a really nice guy. I graduated from Wisconsin and besides copious amounts of booze, cheese and a lot of really extreme weather and season changes (and super flat topography), there are some super friendly folks there. Put Wisconsin on your place to visit, if you haven’t ever been there and don’t forget, Dungeon & Dragons came out of Wisconsin!

Bug knows more about Spooky’s Looney Tunes pin than anybody else on earth right now outside of other Spooky employees. His rapid-fire delivery of “shoot this, got that, got that” is both as dazzling as exasperating. I do like his enthusiasm in the video. His energy in the video makes me want to play this a whole bunch more than I had on name and static pictures alone.

A couple days ago on a Discord here’s what I wrote about Looney Tunes with one major mea culpa, which I’ll get to after the bump:

The problem with my hot take above is:

1. I have never played Looney Tunes yet (who has, outside of Spooky Pinball?) -VIOLATION of Golden Pinball #1 rule.
2. I didn’t even watch the video embedded above from Spooky Pinball. (this should be some kind of pinball violation!)

Am sure I’ll get a chance to play Looney Tunes soon either on location or at this year’s NW Pinball & Arcade Show in June, so that one takes care of itself. Just for the record, I will play any and all pinball machines, regardless if pictures, video, commentary, reviews or otherwise turn me off to the theme. But shame on me for #2, especially . I should have at least watched the darn video first, because after watching that, I do have more interest in Looney Tunes. I’ll share the gameplay at the end of this article and what specifically is encouraging. For readers with no interest in Spooky Pinball history, skip away to the bottom.

First, let’s get back to Spooky Pinball’s history for a moment to understand I’m not bashing Spooly’s pins without any history playing their machines. I want to like Spooky Pinball and their newest offerings, but they don’t seem to me quite as professional as the two big pinball companies: Stern (#1) and Jersey Jack Pinball (#2). This doesn’t mean they aren’t getting better, btw. Everybody has to start somewhere in business.

After those two pinball companies, there are a bunch of others that range from up and comers to also rans. Will not name them all here, but check out the screenshot from Nitro Pinball’s website (https://nitropinball.com/) to see how many you recognize, know and have played their pins.

Am glad we have these other companies, because they will continue to force Stern and JJP to innovate and not get too complacent, or worse, lazy, which when you’re at the top, you aren’t as motivated if you don’t have competition pushing you. Fact.

(Before anybody takes me on in the comments below, saying I am some kind of Stern apologist or blind superfan, rest assured I’m not. Will hold their feet to the fire as well, check out this recent article, if you haven’t read: Worthwhile? Upgrading to Stern Insider Connected All Access ($39.99 USD/year) + Special Access to Buying JAWS Limited Edition — save your $40 already, read this)

Anyway, bless Spooky Pinball in Wisconsin for being AAA, about to join the major leagues. Maybe with these two newest pins, they will be an expansion team in the MLB, figuratively.

Bug’s father, Charlie Emery has made some moves in the industry. While researching this article, learned that Charlie Emery has been behind the design of many of Spooky Pinball’s pins to date. Let’s look at the list from Charlie Emery’s Wikpedia page:

Of the list above, how many of these Spooky Pinball pins have you played?

I’ve played all and several are instantly forgettable like Domino’s and Jetson’s.

Total Nuclear Annihilation (TNA as it’s known) from newer designer Scott Danesi is borderline stress inducing, but I really enjoy the challenge and frenzied flow. It’s like you’re constantly at odds draining the ball in that lower section. There is also a really good Virtual Pinball TNA version from VpinWorkshop that received assets and thumbs up from Spooky, which is super cool. I mean, you got to love a company that doesn’t fear their sales being cannabalized by virtual pinball recreations.

Then there’s Ultraman, a weak, barely inspired answer to Godzilla. Halloween is atmospheric but souless (it plays like looking into Michael Myers mask). I kind of enjoyed Rob Zombie’s Spookshow, but the machine I played had maintenance issues so didn’t get a full experience (need to return and play that again and more). I only played a small amount of America’s Most Haunted, as well, but wasn’t that excited by it. Rick and Morty is also merely OK, kind of boring.

Scooby Doo looks amazing, inarguably their best looking pin to date and I was most excited to play that over any other Spooky Pinball, but play is on the dull side, too low scoring and the modes just seemed repetitive. Also, couldn’t really see much difference in the characters chosen. Maybe, I need to dig deeper into this one to see more differences? The top section with the 90 degree big flipper is kind of fun at first but feels very gimmicky upon multiple repeated plays. The sounds were great for this one and enjoyed the call outs.

My personal favorite at Spooky Pinball to flip: Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle. This one I’ve returned to playing the most, because it is the most fun to flip — when it works. The machine I played on at Next Level seemed to be semi-stable mechanically. The music is good, there are some good shots and decent flow. Probably the second best shooter from Spooky, in my opinion, next to TNA. I mean, TNA is Spooky’s gold star. Wish there were more TNA’s out there. Maybe Spooky comes back and runs more someday(?) Don’t know the sales numbers, but I’m sure they would at least consider it, if the money is there.

So, this pinball machine history is what’s driving my opinion on Spooky Pinball as a company and their two newest pins: Looney Tunes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe my Discord comments won’t seem as flippant when viewed through this lense.

Reaction to Looney Tunes Gameplay Video

Lastly, let’s look at that video of Looney Tunes again and be much more objective about what good can be seen in there, that hasn’t been in most of their prior pins:

  • Flipper strength – so important for feel and flow. It looks like the flippers have more juice to them and they aren’t so feeble like Jersey Jack Pinball flippers tend to be. There appears in the video, like Bug is able to make the shots with more oompf rather than to fail at following through because of a lack of flipper strength.

    Can’t overstat how imporatnt for a pinball machine and it’s the one thing that pretty much everybody except Stern has figured out. We play with flippers, guys, we need strength. Crank up the strength and let us hammer that ball.

    Can we tell anything about flipper feel from the video directly without playing? Not really. We can see Bug making several shots, which is at least encouraging. I’m encouraged that this might be improved over previous Spooky pins.
  • Higher Scoring for Modern Pins – this might seem pedantic, but enough already of modern tables where one million is a good score. I don’t want to play hours on a single modern pinball to score hundreds of millions.

    Here, Spooky seems to have made changes so that an average game is in the tens of millions and higher instead of like Scooby Doo where a good game is in the single digit millions. This is 2024, we want higher scoring. Billlions.

    Bug’s score is 600+ million. That’s encouraging. By comparison, on Jaws, Elwin scores over a billion in his first ball. This is the scoring potential and reality that modern pinball machines should have. Listen up here, Jersey Jack Pinball, because most of your machines suck on this low scoring metric (Elton John has higher scoring, btw).
  • Tons of modes – maybe this is a blessing and a curse, but Bug is activating a bunch of different play modes. He stops to explain one, hits and activates another. The DMD video is good and the sounds are among the best I’ve heard on any Spooky table to date — at least in a video. I would love to have seen Alice Cooper have cool DMD video cuts because Cooper is all about the show in concert. That’s the one part missing from that pin that would have put the cherry on top.

    Modern pins need those sweet DMD vids. I know, I know, we can’t see them when we’re playing usually, but hey, those spectating at least want to see it.

After watching Bug’s play, I definitely want to play more of Looney Tunes. I don’t care for the IP as a theme. Who didn’t love Looney Tunes as a kid? That’s me, but I don’t watch that stuff any more. My grandchildren don’t even watch it, but I don’t hold an IP or theme against the fun of playing a pin. The Shadow is one of the dumbest looking pinball machines from a distance, but it’s really fun to flip.

Pinball machines are about more than the theme to me, it’s how they play, how they score, the shots and flow. Will admit that my first reaction to a new pinball machine is the theme, however. I mean, Jaws is a great IP and sounds like it would make for an amazing pinball machine, so excited to see and play that without really knowing anything else. Looney Tunes just doesn’t move the theme needle for me, but Bug’s gameplay video tells a different story.

The other theme, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is much more appealing to me, personally. I don’t know anything about the gameplay on this one, yet, but if it has similar modes, sounds and the flow is good, I’m there.

In closing, all that matters in a pinball gameplay reveal is inspiring people to play the game. I’m going to do that without the video, but still, this does get me more excited. Looking much more optimistically forward to playing Spooky’s Looney Tunes and (still, more, Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Perhaps as my title suggests: Looney Tunes for Spooky just might be the little engine that could.

How about you? What do you think of Spooky Pinball’s machines to date? What’s your most and least favorite to play? Are you interested in Looney Tunes and/or Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Agree with my assessment or disagree? Your comments are welcome and encouraged below. If you’ve never played a Spooky Pinball are you interested in doing so? So much to chew on here. Have at it.

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