The handful of arcade video game manufacturers out there today, are producing games that bear little resemblance to those around during the Golden Age. Gone are the days of single coin plays for high scores. Video games today tend to be more about time limited or redemption based gameplay. Which is a shame of course. And don’t even get me started on the appearance of mobile phone games redesigned as full-scale “video arcade machines”.
Pinball on the other hand is a different matter altogether.
There are two serious manufacturers of pinball machines around right now – Stern Pinball and Jersey Jack Pinball – and the product they produce today is largely identical to the machines I remember in the arcades back in the 80s: A Steel ball, plunger, two flippers, get the high score, unlock and complete the features. Even the fundamental design of the cabinets themselves has barely changed.
And what that tells us of course, is that Pinball is still very much a thing. Servicing two markets – operators and private collectors, pinball has continued on as a phenomenon. The demand is very much there. But for most individuals, owning a pinball machine remains something of a pipe dream. The cost of entry is pretty large, and unless you were buying pins in the late 90s or early 2000s for peanuts, getting into the hobby today requires deep pockets and a willingness to learn how to maintain and repair.
And so for someone like me, who doesn’t want to lay out thousands for a decent selection of tables, there aren’t many options around to get your pinball fix. The digital games are pretty good (Pinball Arcade gets a lot of playtime on my PlayStation 4), but the itch is still there to interact with a physical machine – there’s nothing quite like it. Thankfully market forces have realised this, and you’ll find – especially in the USA – plenty of arcade spaces with a good selection of both old and new machines available to play.
During my recent trip to the US, I was fortunate enough to be invited on a personal tour of a new Pinball Museum in Miami, FL.
Miami Pinball is the brainchild of Michael Dezer, a successful businessman based in the city. He’s also the owner of the Miami Automobile Museum (well worth a visit in its own right). Located just off of Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami, The Miami Auto Museum consists of eight amazing event spaces equipped to host any size event, but now including pinball. Miami Pinball is located right within this complex, and gives visitors the opportunity to interact with well over 160 titles, both old and new, for a single fixed fee at the door.
After making arrangements to meet, I was greeted at the door by the Operations Manager, and led inside.
The first thing that strikes you when you walk in, is the sheer breadth of pinball on display. Everything is here that you would want to get your hands on from 50s/60s electromechanical, through to the solid state era of the 70s and 80s and of course present day titles.
What you should get a sense of when you walk around is that machines are typically lined up by age. If you want to plan your time there, it is great to be able to easily travel through time by playing the early 60s stuff, then move onto the various rows from that time through the 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond.
As well as discovering new titles that will have similar “feel” to other machines you might already be familiar with, you are able to get a fantastically curated tour of how pinball has evolved and improved over the years – and I’m sure this set up is quite deliberate. Miami Pinball clearly wants to take you on a journey through pinball’s history, but at the same time, leave you free to discover and play for yourself.
For me, Miami Pinball gave me a rare chance to play new machines that I’d never heard of let alone seen, alongside my usual go-to titles like Whitewater, Road Trip, Theatre of Magic and Funhouse. This isn’t an arcade with the obvious machines, you’re actually playing someone’s collection – so what you have is a real deep-dive into the world of Pinball History, including many obscure tables.
Another great idea that I thought was executed really well, is the grouping together of certain titles:
Take a short walk through the automobile museum next door, and you’ll find a 50s diner adorned with more pinballs:
Perhaps the highlight of the whole visit was the chance to play this absolutely stunning Cirqus Voltaire. It looked like it had just come straight out of the box from manufacturer Bally:
And the ‘VIP Room’ is a space lit only with blue neon strip lights and the glow of the machines themselves. This is for the hardcore pinball enthusiast.
Another great pin I discovered for the first time was Stern’s Batman 66. A recent release, I’ve not had an opportunity to check this title out before. I thought it played great:
Also just arrived was the new Star Wars pinball from Stern (in fact, not one but two!) – Can’t say I was a fan, I thought it was pretty basic? But cool to see there anyway. I’ve since learned that Miami Pinball’s first Jersey Jack pinball has been installed – none other than the excellent Dialed In.
Another thing worth mentioning is the condition of everything on display. Nothing was down as you can see from the pictures, and every single game I played had zero issues. Keeping over 160 machines in working condition is certainly a challenge, and as Lead Technician, Neil must have his work cut out. But it is clear that Miami Pinball has customer experience right at the heart of its business model (unlike some other places I’ve visited recently) and that can surely only be good news, leading to repeat visits and word-of-mouth recommendations.
So, can I recommend Miami Pinball? Absolutely 100%! It’s really clear that the team there have thought long and hard not only about the pinballs they should have out on display, but also where they should be placed in relation to one another. Without holding your hand, the set up here allows visitors to curate their own visit and play pinballs in a deliberate and methodical way, rather than jumping on random tables without any sense of how or why that pinball came to be.
The whole place is done just right. Do check it out, and while you’re there, you must check out the Automobile Museum right next door – being the largest display of eclectic transportation vehicles in the world, the breadth of cars on display is truly incredible.
A new location is opening up in Ft Lauderdale just up the coast too – I’m already planning my visit next year!
I’ll leave you with a brief video I took during my visit, which gives you a run through of what you can expect.
So there you have it – Miami Pinball. A fabulous journey of discovery for the casual visitor and enthusiast, right through the heritage of pinball both old and new. Go check it out if you’re in Miami.
Many thanks to the Miami Pinball Museum team for inviting us in and showing us around. I’ll definitely be back very soon!
Thanks for reading this week.