Jersey Jack Guarnieri is responsible for manufacturing the most innovative pinball machines the world has ever seen. Not to take anything away from Stern – it’s very commendable that Stern reliably cranks out three to four new pinball machines a year, and in huge quantities as well. But when you’re blessing the pinball world with such bountiful gifts, innovation is bound to take a hit. Aerosmith plays like Stern’s Greatest Hits, Batman ’66 is The Dark Knight remixed, The Pabst Can Crusher is Whoa Nellie! with the emphasis on underage drinking rather than tits.
Jersey Jack Pinball has only released three games since being founded in 2011 (by comparison, Stern has released a whopping EIGHTEEN games). But those three games are unarguable* classics. The Wizard of Oz, released in 2013, was unlike any pinball machine before it. Color changing LED inserts throughout the entire game, not one but TWO upper playfields, an OLED crystal ball, and a 26” LCD monitor in the backbox, finally bringing the pinball world out of the Dot Matrix Display ghetto. Three years later, JJP released The Hobbit. My favorite description of The Hobbit is “Lord of the Rings on steroids”! Keith Johnson (the gentleman that has designed the software for such beloved titles as The Simpsons Pinball Party, Revenge from Mars, Lord of the Rings, High Roller Casino, and the woefully underappreciated Wheel of Fortune) went wild on this machine. It’s like someone dared him to put as many modes as he possibly could in one game and he just laughed and said, “MODES? I’ll give you MODES!”. We’re talking OVER FOURTY UNIQUE MODES! Couple those modes with an incredibly immersive playing experience – there is no way your hairs don’t stand up on the back of your neck when you hear the swords cling-clanging in the mini-Wizard modes like “Into the Fire” – and once again, JJP released a game unlike anything else.
One year later (tightening up that release schedule, nice work!), Jersey Jack Pinball is leading the new school pinball revolution with the incredible DIALED IN. It’s innovative for pinball as a whole, but it’s innovative for JJP as well. First of all, DI is the first narrowbody, regulation sized pin from this company (Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit were both widebodies). Secondly, and this is so huge and important for the longevity of pinball: it’s the first game from ANY major pinball manufacturer since 2001 to not have a licensed theme. The reason this is such a big gamble is that many operators refuse to put games out on route that aren’t an established, well-known property that will attract people regardless of whether they’re a pinball fan or not. That, coupled with the fact that many operators are also very reluctant to buy anything but tried-and-true Stern titles means this is an all caps BIG DEAL.
Another BIG DEAL about Dialed In is that it is Pat Lawlor’s first pinball machine since 2008’s CSI. Mr. Lawlor is the genius behind such classic pinball games The Addams Family and Twilight Zone. I feel that during Pat’s hiatus, the pinball world was sorely lacking in the alchemy that Pat has such a knack for. And now he’s back!
The story of the game is such: You’re a resident of Quantum City – think of it as pinballs version of SimCity. You’ve just received the latest, bleeding edge cellphone from Dialed In Electronics (the acronym is quite telling). Once you get your phone charged up, you can’t help but notice all these disasters start occurring in your fair city… oh and DIE really wants their phone back. They’ll stop at nothing to retrieve it! Yes, this is the third in Pat’s disaster-themed trilogy after 1989’s “Earthshaker” and 1990’s “Whirlwind”. Why limit your pinball machine to just one (un)natural disaster when you can throw at least ELEVEN of them in there? Tornados, earthquakes, sinkholes, and even The Singularity for good measure are just some of the things you have to deal with!
The game plays beautifully. The top half of the playfield from left to right has the following shots:
- The left orbit, which I call “The Bob Shot”. Feeds the ball around around the back of the playfield around to the upper right flipper. If the Bob insert is lit, you’ll start one of the various Bob modes. The ones I’ve seen are the selfie mode, where the game takes Polaroid-esque snapshots of you as you hit switches. I’ve seen good players just overwhelm the screen with fifty, sixty selfies at a time! There’s also a mode where you wave your hand in front of the camera to scratch off a lottery ticket containing a mystery value (admittedly a bit cheesy and it caused me to drain on more than one occasion), and also one that will probably end up being the most controversial of them all: an emoji overload mode where, you guessed it, emojis choke up the screen to annoy you with their pop-pop-pop-pop-POP-POP-POPping sounds and whimsical aggressiveness. Mr. Lawlor seemed to have known this was going to be very off-putting for the majority of cell-phone hating, leave-phones-out-of-my-pinball-while-getting-off-my-lawn militants out there, as there is an immediate call out of “ugh, I hate emojis” when the mode starts. And the voice saying it is none other than the woman who voiced the C.A.N.D.Y. 2000 from “Safecracker”! (I really would love to give this woman the credit she deserves for voicing some of my favorite games, but I scoured the internet and can’t find a thing. If you know her name, please let me know!)
- The “Spider” target and the left ramp. If the spider target is lit, hitting it will display a hologram of an icky spider dangling from a web in the “Quantum Reality Theater”, which I’ll get to in a bit. The number of spiders hit gets tallied up at your end-of-ball bonus, and there are ways to increase the value of each spider collected as well. The left ramp has sign above it that says “Shoot Ramps to Ride Train”, and that’s what you do! Usually the left ramp feeds the ball into a habitrail that crosses over the machine back to the left inlane, but there are times when ol’ girl with the overalls in the very back of the playfield lowers her hand to divert the ball onto a clear plexiglass upper playfield (one that I didn’t even realize existed until seeing the game in action) that drops the ball into the jet bumpers.
- The “Big Bang!” target. Located directly beneath the right ramp exit (which is… on the left half of the machine). Very important shot! When it’s lit, you get a substantial mystery award. But using it during a mode will result in its immediate completion – which is much more valuable than just a score award alone (and I’ve even seen the game give a player the score AND mode complete)!
- The “Quantum Reality Theater” lane and two “TIC / KET” targets on either side. I’m not entirely sure what the two targets – one “TIC”, the other “KET” are for, but I can assure that lots and LOTS of things happen through the QRT. A hearty shot through the Theater sends the ball around the right orbit to the upper right flipper, the same way The Bob Shot does. A weaker shot might leave the ball bouncing around in the jets. Some shots though the QRT are stopped in their tracks by a playfield magnet in the theater, gently dropping the ball back down to the flippers. I’ve heard reports that some games send the damn ball straight down the middle, but that only happened once or twice during my play testing. Most of the time the ball would dribble down to where the right flipper could just barely make contact, and although it was a bit nerve-wracking, it always seemed fair (except, of course, for the one or two times when it didn’t. The nature of pinball!). Supposedly there was some animosity between Stern and JJP for releasing two games so close to each other that feature holograms (Stern’s “Ghostbusters” has one as well). Two things about that; one, to horribly paraphrase Flavor Flav, “yawl can’t copyright no holograms!”, and two, the hologram on Dialed In puts the one on Ghostbusters to shame. The Dialed In hologram is quite crisp, and it displays a wealth of information such as a hurry up timer or a picture of the disaster you’re dealing with, plus a whole mess of other things. It even serves as a virtual spinner at times! The theater and the phone are basically the two main focal points of this lovely machine.
- The Jet Bumpers, a Wrench target, and LAZERS! I find this to be a bit of a strange, unwieldy shot to be honest. Although I’m not really sure what the wrench target does – maybe that’s what causes the young lady to drop the diverter from the left ramp? The shot itself just comes crashing off the target with a thud. More often than not it ends up bouncing around in the jets, but there are times when the ball just kind of drops back down with an awful tendency to go STDM. The real bad stuff back here though is the lazers, for sure. As if there isn’t enough to deal with in this game, sometimes Dialed In Electronics decides to shoot frickin’ LAZERS at the player, and if you don’t disarm them in time, they make either the left or the right (maybe even both?!) flippers go hella wonky. Similar to a “no hold” flipper mode, but not only can’t you hold the flipper, they also vibrate as well! Lots of painful memories of the ball helplessly bouncing off the disabled flipper, down the drain. But man, stopping the attack right before impact? That feels so good!
- The Phone scoop. Here it is, your evil phone! What is its’ deal, anyways?! Destroying the populace is no way to increase the install base! When the game first starts, the phone is displaying the universal “dead battery” image. Hitting the roving Bob target in the middle of the playfield a couple of times is what causes your phone to charge up. Once the phone is charged, hitting the ball into the scoop allows you to call a friend – all with really, really corny names like “Anita Mann” and whatnot (what else would you expect from the guy behind Roadshow and Funhouse?). There’s a short cut scene of an animated (or strangely, sometimes static) image telling you about the latest disaster you have to deal with, followed by what looks like text messages with the objective of the mode and other information such as shots remaining or time left. It really serves the game well to be able to quickly and easily look up to see what you need to be doing, not to mention thematically on point! The phone also starts some of the multiball modes, which begin with getting a call from an Unknown Caller – which during my time with the machine, always ends up being a filthy no good representative from DIE inquiring about their phone. During some multiball modes, hitting the scoop three more times will add a ball to the mix. The phone clearly displays the needed “ADD” “A” “BALL” hits needed to activate it.
- The right ramp. A very misleading but ultimately intriguing and incredibly fulfilling shot! The entrance says “Station 2 Ahead”, but it looks like an orbit shot. Where is the ramp?! It’s actually wrapped around the back of the playfield, goes up a very slight metal incline onto a downhill habittrail that crosses over to the playfield to the right inlane. It almost seems like there has to be some kind of roller mechanism to send the ball up the ramp, but no, it’s just that ol’ Lawlor magic!
That’s just the top half of the playfield! The middle portion of the playfield has the following shots from left to right:
- Three “B O B” targets. The default result of hitting these targets results in lighting the kickback, but they also serve other purposes throughout the game as well. I know they’re part of one of the disaster missions, and they probably are what you need to hit to light The Bob Orbit as well, but I’m going to need more time with the game before I know for sure. Above the BOB targets is another Pat trademark, the lit billboard sign informing the player of awards they could get. In this case, the awards are “Crazy Mode” (Bob says “crazy” a LOT in this game), “Extra Ball” and “Quick Multiball”. Get ‘em!
- The Q.E.D. Moving Sign roving target. I actually thought this lil’ fella was Bob, and I would have been really embarrassed had I published this review without checking for sure. No, this is the “electric company moving sign” like it says on the instructions card, or just the “moving sign” as the letters along the track of the target says. The first time I played Dialed In, I purposefully avoided this jerk ‘cause I thought he was just an annoyance that would send my ball ess tee dee emm. Turns out he is that, but he is also an important, integral part of the game: hitting him charges up your phone! There are times that a ball might get hung up behind him, but once the game does a ball search, he moves over to the left ramp and the ball dislodges as it runs up against the post next to the ramps entrance. He can be helpful sometimes too, like when the magnet drops the ball out of the theater in a particularly dodgy manner, sometimes he’ll nudge it out of the path it was destined to go down, i.e. down the middle. But mostly he’s just a big ol’ meanpants. Wield his power with caution!
- The upper right flipper. Very useful flippy doo that can sometimes deliver the ball right into the warm embrace of the phone scoop or even into the theater if you’re lucky. But mostly, it’s designed to send the ball across the playfield to a few blind – or at the very least, extremely well hidden – shots underneath the left ramp. Those shots are, from top to bottom:
o The side ramp. Very reminiscent of the shot that leads to the Living Room upper playfield of The Simpsons Pinball Party. It’s not an easy shot to make, and the ramp is pretty darn steep as well. If you pull it off though, it’s quite rewarding! It lights the Big Bang! target, it locks balls for multiball, and it is the objective in some modes. If the ball lock insert is not lit, the ball will come flying out of the habitrail onto the playfield so you gotta be alert!
o The SIM Card scoop. I hit the ball in here quite a bit when I really wanted to make the side ramp, and I’m sure you’ll do it too! If it the SIM Card insert is lit, you will get a SIM Card upgrade for your phone. Not only does that unlock additional disasters for you to deal with, but it seems to give you a multiplier as well!
o Two yellow energy targets. Another thing to mistakenly hit on your way to the side ramp! Situated in the same sort of manner as the Cousin It target is in The Addams Family, these targets do… something! I really wasn’t sure what they did while I played. I know that they’re one of the targets you have to hit on the mode with the roving lights, but other than that… going to have to wait for the PAPA walkthrough.
- The Drones, The Drone target & the Drone magnet. When I first heard that this game was going to have drones, I dreamily imagined drones flying OVER the playfield, wreaking havoc in their path. I guess that’s a little too much to ask for. The drones in Dialed In are stationary, mounted along the sides of the right ramps habittrail. Their propellers spin. That’s… I guess it’s cool, right? I dunno. I was so hyped by my impossible dream that the reality is a little underwhelming. The point of this area is to hit the target under the drones when all seven of the inserts that circle beneath the targets are lit. It seems fairly easy to get the lights lit – probably with every switch hit? The easiest way is via the innermost left inlane when the “lite drone” insert is lit, though. Activating that switch lights all the inserts and allows for a sweet shot off the left flipper, nailing the drone target and having the magnet give your ball a wicked throw up the playfield. I’ve even seen the magnet successfully shoot the ball up the side ramp! After successfully hitting the drone target, hitting the ball into the theater gives you a “crate reward”, usually a meager mystery value. The number of crates you hit per turn is also tallied at the end of the ball!
The bottom portion of the table you’ll find the usual suspects on all “Italian Bottomed”** games: two outlanes on either side, the left side with a kickback. Two inlines on the left side, one on the right. The outermost left inlane starts a “hurry up” mode when lit, which is scored by hitting the theater. You have to be REAL quick with the shot too, you don’t get more than one, maybe two attempts before it times out. The innermost left inlane completes all the drone target inserts when lit. The right inlane momentarily lights the left ramp for a 10k shot when lit. It is even less forgiving than the theater hurry up! Finally, both outlines have the ol’ Special when lit inserts. Try for a free game!!
Last two things to mention are the skill shot and the screen in the backbox. The skill shot is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings or The Dark Knight: the shooter lane has different inserts that cycle, and completing the skill shot awards whatever was lit. In Dialed In, there are two different skill shots. The first half is completed by plunging the ball into the gobble hole directly above the jet bumpers. It’s a pretty easy shot to hit; even if you over shoot, if the ball doesn’t completely go through to the right ramp, it has a tendency to fall back into the gobble hole. If you make that shot, you collect whatever insert was lit in the shooter lane. The gobble hole when then kick the ball out around towards the upper right flipper. If you hit the side ramp at that time, you’ll get an additional bonus! The bonuses available are: “Big Points”, “Hold Drones”, “Hold Bumpers”, “Hold Transit”, “Hold Bonus”, and “Hold Spider”. Only in pinball will you ever catch me holding a damn spider!
The screen in the backbox is, in this writers humble opinion, these least essential screen in any of the JJP releases so far. That may sound like a criticism, but it’s really not! Both The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit conveyed a lot of information to the player via the screen. Sometimes that was really cool; other times, it got a bit overwhelming! The Hobbit offloaded some of that info to the second “book” screen on the playfield, which was very helpful in my experience. I feel that the job of the phone in DI is like the book in The Hobbit, but utilized even better! Since the player gets a lot of what they need to know via the phone screen, that frees up the screen in the backbox to show very entertaining but ultimately inessential information. You don’t have to be watching the screen to see the disasters striking Quantum City; that’s much more for the onlookers entertainment. Same with the selfies. And there’s even a ticker tape scroll along the bottom with all sorts of goofy tidbits and in-jokes. But the only thing that really matters to the player is the score and whatever Bob mode is starting. As someone who would get stressed out from time to time with all the things going on with the other JJP games, the DI screen is remarkably stress free.
And that is important, because there is a LOT going on with this game! Lots of time-based modes – not only with the disasters, but also with the various hurry ups and the threat of getting jostled by a lazer beam strike. Then you’ve got the various things to collect, like the spiders and the crates. Trains, too, somehow!? And now Bob has something CRAZY that needs to be dealt with!!?! I know I mentioned it before, but it needs to be mentioned repeatedly: you’re gonna hear Bob say something is crazy, and you’re going to hear it a lot. The voices in the game are remarkably subdued, given the subject matter. More of the dulcet tones of Ripley’s Believe it or Not than the bellowing SUPER MEGA TRIPLE JACKPOT Eddie Hudson does on Ghostbusters. Sometimes I felt like the voices could have used a little more of Mr. Hudson’s theatrics. But in the end, the call outs are clear, they tell you what you need to do at all times, and best of all, it’s the return of C.A.N.D.Y. 2000! That bears repeating. Her voice is so awesome!
The sounds and music are Lawlor-esque. Totally. In these days of rock band themed games, it’s nice and refreshing to hear a jaunty tune that you would have heard in a Williams game. And I promise you, dear reader, nothing the phone on Dialed In does is as annoying as the Bat Phone ring on Batman ’66.
I loved every second I spent playing Dialed In. It never seemed unfair and it never felt tedious. Watching the game is nearly as fun as playing it! One of the things I observed while watching was that you could change the different “apps” on the phone – the disasters – by pressing the flipper buttons. Something I wouldn’t have noticed while trying to concentrate on playing the game!
They – and by “they” I mean Pat Lawlor, Ted Estes, Joe Katz, JT Harkey, Keefer, John Youssi, Jack Guarnieri, and all the Jersey Jack employees who have poured their blood, sweat and tears into this game – have a winner with Dialed In! My only fear for this game is that it has an uphill battle with operators for floor space, due to its lack of recognizable theme and price tag. I’ve talked to quite a few people that have said it’s just too risky a proposition for them. But, that was before the game started showing up in arcades and in peoples’ homes. I’m hoping that impressive word-of-mouth will be the key to this games success, because I think you’d have to be pretty damn jaded to not really like this game and want to pour many a quarter into it.
I’d like to thank Mr. Shahin Nazari, owner of AYCE Gogi in Van Nuys, CA and truly a modern day pinball wizard, for being the first person in Southern California to put Dialed In on route and opening up his establishment for us pinheads to play it. I’d also like to thank Karl DeAngelo for showing Shanin and I how to REALLY play the darn thing and for being an all around great guy. Finally, thank you to Adam Davis for running the ON TILT league at AYCE Gogi – he makes it a great night out playing pinball!
*of course everyone will argue about everything like the troglodytes with keyboards that we all are
**The “Italian Bottom” isn’t as dirty as it sounds. It’s describing the layout of just about every modern pinball game since 1978, which is two flippers on the bottom of the play field as well as in and out lanes on either side. Supposedly the Italian market didn’t want pinball games where you couldn’t cradle the ball on the flipper, demanding that Bally make the Italian market a version of “Paragon” that had a flipper on either side of the drain, rather than the standard, tricky, double lower right flipper set up. One notable example of a recent game that did not have the standard Italian bottom is “Wheel of Fortune”.