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Best of John Grochowski
New Slots16 December 2003
Walking down the corridor at the Las Vegas Convention Center toward the display floor at the recent Global Gaming Expo, I passed a couple of Jedi knights, lightsabers at their sides. And as I strolled past the Bally Gaming booth, a Blues Brother handed me a pair of shades. From time to time, I could see faces familiar to anyone of legal gambling edge who ever spent hours glued to the tube - or at least I could see the crowds surrounding those faces. There were Dan Aykroyd, Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, Gary Berghoff, enough castaways to fill "Gilligan's Island" and many more.
Why? To promote slot machines, of course. "Star Wars," "Saturday Night Live: The Blues Brothers," "Laverne and Shirley," "MASH" and "Gilligan's Island" are all on their way to casinos as manufacturers continue to recycle Baby Boomer pop-culture icons as slot machines.
G2E, as the expo is called, is the major fall trade show where casino suppliers showcase their wares to potential buyers. Those suppliers include slot manufacturers eager to hype the latest and greatest and earn them space on casino floors.
Of course, not all new games have pop-culture tie-ins. Here's a sneak a peek at some of the games that caught my eye that players will be seeing in the coming year.
STAR WARS (IGT): With animation, film clips, sound effects and a round video screen circling the top of a whole bank of machines, Star Wars was easily the biggest spectacle at the show. In my trial run, I had a blast. There is a bonus globe in the top box of the machine, as there is on several IGT games. On Star Wars, that globe is shaped like the Death Star. The base game is a multiline video slot, with several bonus rounds. One has you choose who will win a lightsaber duel, Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Vader. They then slash away at each other onscreen - a good bit of entertainment. If you've chosen the winner, you get the larger bonus. Another bonus round involves piloting a ship in an attack on the Death Star. The player is asked to target a ship, or target a warrior, and fire away. If all goes well, the battles continues for more ships and more targets. In my test, the round went on for several minutes - good video-game fun, whether in an arcade or on a slot machine.
REEL TOUCH (IGT): With five spinning reels in the base and a representation of those reels on a video screen in the top box, Reel Touch is something of a hybrid system, used on several games. If you hit the right combination on the reels, you advance to a bonus round that uses touch-screen technology up top. In the Bucks Ahoy game, for instance, you go to Treasure Beach, where "X" marks the spot for bonus treasure. Keep touching X's and accumulating bonuses until you find a lobster that ends the round. Or in Uncle Sam, go to a state-lottery bonus, picking three scratch cards to win your bonus.
SPIN AND HOLD (IGT): This fun concept grows out of IGT's relationship with Action Gaming, the developer of multihand video poker games such as Triple Play, Five Play, Ten Play, Fifty Play and, yes, Hundred Play Poker. This time around, Action has adapted IGT reel slot games to the multihand format. The player first sees one set of spinning reels on a three-reel video format. When the initial spin is complete, you can choose symbols to hold, then re-spin the other reels. Spin and Hold is available in Triple Play and Five Play formats - if you're playing Five Play and hold two bars on the initial spin, the remaining reel is re-spun five times, giving you five chances to make a winning combination. At the expo, Wild Cherry, Double Diamond, Little Green Men, and Cats and Dogs all were shown on the Spin and Hold format.
MYSTERY MASK (Atronic): A video slot on the new Hi(!)bility game platform, with crystal-clear graphics. The dominant symbol on the machine glass is a haunting Phantom of the Opera-style mask resting upon a piano keyboard. There's a two-level bonus round in which the player first chooses among candles on a screen to reveal bonus amounts. Sometimes a candle will hide a mystery symbol that unlocks catacombs in which the player tries to find the Disguised Man or Disguised Lady for a bigger bonus.
MEN IN BLACK (WMS): There's no mistaking Men In Black from any other game on the floor. The slot cabinet is black. The top box has an oval screen with stars on the black backdrop of space. And the globe revolving above a bank of machines is - what else? - black, with electric-blue lettering that says "Men In Black" in one hemisphere and "MIB in the other.
A multiline, multicoin video slot, it includes a "Find the Alien" bonus, launched by landing three secret alien files on the video reels. A second screen then lets the player choose among 20 Top Secret file folders. Each contains either a bonus amount or a picture of an alien. Bonuses accumulate until the player finds an alien picture. That launches yet another screen with animation of people in a park. The player must decide which person is really the alien matching the picture. When the choice is made, the screen "X-rays" the chosen one's head. If it's really an alien in disguise, the player gets the largest bonus.
CAN'T LOSE (WMS): Can't Lose is a feature added onto reel-spinning games, including Xtra Hot Peppers, Diamond in the Rough, Forever 7s and American Spirit. When the Can't Lose symbol lands on the payline, the player gets a free spin that is guaranteed to be a winner. The spin doesn't have to be used immediately and is started by pushing a separate Can't Lose button. When I tested Xtra Hot Peppers, I accumulated five Can't Lose spins, then used them all at once. There's something satisfying about five spins in a row that are guaranteed to win.
MONOPOLY ONCE AROUND DELUXE (WMS): There are several new games in WMS' Monopoly franchise, including Monopoly Money, available with two reel-spinning games as the company's first entry into the wide-area progressive market, and Grand Hotel, in which the player tries to collect guests for hotels on Monopoly properties for added bonuses. I liked Once Around Deluxe, which re-introduces the trip around the Monopoly board in the top box that was so popular on the initial Monopoly releases.
BIG MOUTH BILLY BASS (Sigma): Perhaps the silliest pop-culture tie-in at the expo was this one, featuring the wise-cracking fish on a plaque you may have seen on TV and in department stores. Billy's at his best in the go fishing bonus, when the player must decide whether to release, stuff or eat the day's catch. Sigma also has a tie-in with the Professional Bull Riders in the rodeo-themed PBR.
POPCORN (A.C. Coin): The popular Slotto concept is reworked in this reel-spinning game designed to look like an old-time popcorn wagon. Land the popcorn symbol on the reels, popping noises start and Slotto balls pop out of a metal tray in the glassed-in top box to reveal your bonus.
GARFIELD: IT'S ALL ABOUT ME (Mikohn): A video slot features the cartoon cat and multiple bonus rounds. In one, called Target Practice, the player chooses a victim while Garfield holds a pie. The player is then asked a trivia question - with a wrong answer, the player collects a bonus; a right answer brings the bonus and a chance to spin a bonus wheel. That's typical of Mikohn, where skill or knowledge count on many of its games.
CHICAGO (Shufflemaster): Let's wrap up this tour of G2E's new slot displays with a slice of home - if home is the Chicago of Prohibition days. The Making News bonus has the player pick from among four negatives to reveal screaming "Chicago Gazette" tabloid front pages with headlines that scream "Murder!" "Extortion!" or "Attempted Kidnapping!" while they reveal your bonus. Or you might go to Jailhouse Confessions, where just about everyone has an alibi. "Dynamite - is that dangerous?" Keep collecting until someone admits he's guilty. "All right, I did it. He had it coming." And then there's the Tap Dancing bonus. Pick the only juror to vote not guilty and the defendant tap dances out of court.
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Best of John Grochowski