Looking Back At The 1990s: The Golden Age Of Pinball Machines

Ever since the very first commercial release of pinball, the game has always gone through its ups and downs. Some of these obstacles have been more tangible than others – in its early years for example, it was even briefly outlawed as a form of gambling! As a result, the definition of its Golden Age is still hotly disputed. Broadly, enthusiasts appear to agree that it’s a tie between the 1970s or the 1990s. Personally, at the Games Room Company we can see a pretty good case to be made for the 1990s – and here are a few reasons why!

The 1990s Were A Fantastic Time For Innovation

Though the 1990s were technically a resurgence for pinball, we think their comeback was made all the more impressive by the hot competition from the exploding video games market. Plus, newer manufacturers were emerging (like Capcom Pinball and Data East Pinball), and the savviest of these manufacturers mastered the art of capitalising on the video game trend to pioneer technological advances for their own pinballs. Not only did this re-energise the adult market, but it piqued the interests of youngsters, too.

The dot-matrix was amongst the foremost of these innovations. Before that, most pinballs used spinning reels and simple digital displays to keep players informed of their scores. But the dot matrix opened up countless new realms of possibilities for art, excitement, and humour. (The Revenge from Mars Pinball notably employs its dot matrix to great effect when illustrating some of its sillier game modes.) The Addams Family was another pinball table to pioneer this technology.

Pinball designers at Data East were the ones to invent this dot matrix, as well as solid state (electronic) flippers. Meanwhile, electronic plungers became more and more common too, partially in response to strict laws governing gambling – here in the UK, at least. Individual games were making their own mark, too. The Twilight Zone introduced a non-magnetic, ceramic pinball called the Powerball while the first ever player-controlled mini-field made its debut in Indiana Jones.

It Saw The Release Of Some Truly Iconic Pinballs

Most collectors can’t think of the 1990s without also thinking of the Addams Family pinball, a classic in every sense. Even today, it retains its reputation as one of the most successful pinball tables of all time, and it takes its place alongside some brilliant 1990s collectors items. Timeless franchises like Terminator Judgement Day, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Jurassic Park all saw their heyday in the 1990s.

The Twilight Zone pinball also deserves a special mention. Variously described as messy, complex and hopelessly addictive, the Twilight Zone had as many toys and gadgets and gizmos as could be conceivably crammed onto it. We touched upon the ceramic Powerball, and another point of interest was its working gumball machine, sitting prominently on the playfield. In the years since, the Twilight Zone has developed a fond reputation amongst collectors as one of the most frequently modified machines – not a status many pinballs from the 1970s can claim to possess!

If you’re a pinball aficionado yourself, you may well have your own ideas on the definition of pinball’s Golden Age. Well don’t worry – whatever your tastes, you can be sure we’ve got the pinball to cater to them here at the Games Room Company. You can get cracking right away on browsing our pinballs for sale. It’s just our opinion, of course, but a good place to start might be our classic 90s and noughties pinballs!

Don’t forget, you can always pop into our Weybridge showroom to see these beauties in action for yourself, and maybe even have a quick game or two!


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