Thursday December 22, 2016·
Ever since reading the incredible zine Slam Tilt a few years back, I've been forced to accept that my life in Australia is basically just an elaborate treasure hunt for public pinball machines, with some societal obligations peppered around it. True, finding the machines isn't that difficult – for an era that romanticises analogue technology and can't get enough of pop culture nostalgia, pinball is the perfect hobby – but still, stumbling across a fully functioning one is a treat. Why use a fistful of gold coins to sit glumly at the pokies when you could be, for instance, whacking Gene Simmons in the throat with a chrome ball?
Melbourne has, in recent years, provided this innocent thrill gladly, with Tiger even sticking Simpsons pinball machines in its domestic departure lounge in case you want a last-minute opportunity. But we've had to wait until this week for a dedicated pinball bar to open up in town, namely Pinball Paradise on Franklin Street, situated a floor above totally tropical bar Island Somewhere.
Pinball is technically not the only vice that Pinball Paradise caters for, as they also specialise in aged Japanese and Scotch whiskies, but frankly I'm not here for the brown stuff. I want that sweet flip! The fact that you have to enter via a false bookcase door (just like an especially twee Scooby Doo villain might) is a nice touch, but once inside the visual stimulation from a dozen machines – matched with the almighty clatter of ricocheting metal spheres – makes it tough to think of anything else.
I had to be told that this collection is a mixture of electro-mechanical, dot-matrix display and LCD machines, but all you really need to know is that some are newer and fancier than others. This, quite nicely, gives visitors a potted history of pinball. Unfortunately it also means charming elderly machines such as Eight Ball and Big Deal are overshadowed by the flashier recent titles. I'm automatically drawn to the 75th anniversary Wizard of Oz game, which rather aptly is like sticking your head in a tornado, with clips from the movie appearing on a screen above me whenever I show a hint of flipper prowess. Going from that technicolour explosion to a relatively tame older game like Supersonic makes me feel like I could build a 1970s-era machine myself after a trip to Mitre 10 for MDF and fairy lights.
It's while trying my hardest to rack up the points on Dirty Harry that I realise there's a camera dangling above me, live-broadcasting my game on a big screen nearby. This is presumably so a crowd of spectators doesn't form over my shoulder, understandably drawn to the dexterity on display, their gasps and cheers putting me off my stride. I'm sure many a pinhead will be grateful for this. By the way, if you're a fan of movies chock full of guns, there are also machines based on the 1994 Western Maverick (where it's hard to not be distracted by the grinning Mel Gibson painting watching your every move) and Terminator 2. “Take your best shot,” demands Arnie's voice from the corner of the venue as I leave. “Payback time!”
Stumbling disorientated back onto the street – guts full of Nikka whisky, pocket empty of shrapnel, mind full of Judgement Day quotes – I bounce off a lamp-post and mentally award myself 200,000 points.