Pinball Spotlight Series:
Stern’s latest game (as of this writing) is Black Knight: Sword of Rage released April 2019 (this is the first time I’ve ever done a spotlight on a contemporary pinball machine still coming out of the factory). But, this game rips pretty f@*king hard, and it has a pretty cool lineage in pinball history, so I figured it would be a perfect chance to shine some light on the pedigree of the Black Knight family in pinball.
This is the third installment of a legendary trilogy of games designed by the King, Steve Ritchie. The original Black Knight game was released by Williams in 1980, the same year of Ritchie’s other breakthrough smash hit Firepower (see the Pinball Spotlight for more info on that excellent game). The first Black Knight game featured many new innovations to the game of pinball including jeweled plastic insert lights, “Magna Save” player activated magnets over each outlane to save a draining ball, and a “Bonus Ball” feature that allowed the player with the highest score an extra timed ball to garner more points and functions much like a victory lap at the end of their game. It also, probably most notably, was the first game with a split level playfield design. There are three ramps leading from the lower standard playfield to the upper playfield complete with two more flippers and two drop target banks.
Earlier in the year with Firepower, Steve had pioneered button lane switching and multiball, each or which also made their way into Black Knight. It’s basically impossible to OVERSTATE how much a bar raiser this game was upon its release. The 1-2 Ritchie combo in 1980 left all of the other companies in the dust and the next few years saw all of them desperately ripping off Steve’s innovations to try and recapture the market share that he and Williams had gained. Black Knight 2000 was released in 1989 and was one of the earliest pinball sequels (after Eight Ball and Eight Ball Deluxe). Magna save and the upper playfield make their return, as well as Steve reprising his role as the voice of the Black Knight taunting the player. This game is probably most remembered for its inner-brain searing signature theme music.
Which brings us to SWORD OF RAGE. The BEST installment of the franchise. Read that line over and over until you understand it. Good? Moving on. BK:SOR is the first original IP or non-licensed game that Stern has produced since 2001’s High Roller Casino. Gary Stern, founder of the company has even repeatedly said that this day would never happen and that they would never make another non-licensed game ever again. Well, hell hath frozen over, and the world finally has this newest Ritchie masterpiece to enjoy. It has the best interactive toy in a pinball machine since Bally/Williams closed their doors at the turn of the century in the towering Black Knight, who is equipped with a spinning flail and operating shield. Steve’s callouts and taunts as the Knight are ruthless and hilarious, and the choreography of light and sound in this game is a mic drop on other manufacturer’s biggest shortcomings in this CRUCIAL yet often overlooked department.
Freshman Tim Sexton brings the heat in his first lead programmer role and delivers a fast ‘n furious and straightforward game experience. He is clearly a student of the craft, incorporating some of the best music themes and lightning wheels from the predecessors and mixing it with a kickass new music package courtesy Scott Ian of Anthrax and Brendan Small of Metalocalypse. BK:SOR is a return to form for the King, and a power flex from Stern pinball in theme integration. Quoth the Knight: GET BACK INTO THE FIGHT COWARD!