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Balboa Fun Zone report


PN co-founder
New VP member Friebus posted this at VPF, and I liked it so much I asked his permission to repost it here, and to add it to our reviews section. Not only do I like the story, I like his enthusiam. He has written about 40 reviews of VPM tables, which you can find in the Reviews section at VPF. tiltjlp

Dateline: Balboa Fun Zone, Balboa Beach California, Jan. 2005

So fifteen years ago a buddy and I used to frequent this tiny dive of a fun zone at the beach. Back then arcades were abundant and well maintained, but not the ones there! It was loud, smelly, and a little sticky to the touch. The thing they had going for them though were entire walls devoted to pin.

Fastforward to the present. Frustrated with no arcades in the viscinity, let alone any with pins, I drove down to the beach (not a long journey as I live in the O.C. anyway) with fingers crossed that the wall of pin would still exist, maybe with a few classic 90's pins to boot.

See, a month ago I visited pinball nirvana, a little place known as OC Games. Look 'em up on the web and you'll see that they are a pin restoration and sales company. They also have a showroom. I nearly cried when I saw all the goodness they had displayed, but that's just the problem. You don't get to play unless you're planning on buying. Sitting there were 20+ tables all in pristine condition, and I couldn't touch 'em. Actually I did touch a few, since there was no sales presence at the time to stop me, but then I was caught and the guy started turning everything off as a not so subtle gesture. Anyway, that got the blood boiling for the yesteryears, so down to Balboa I went.

The fun zone itself was pretty much as I remembered. The smells, the kids, the crappy pizza joint that somehow smells like the best thing in the world as you walk by it. However, while I thought there were two arcades, there now seemed to only be one. As I peaked inside my heart sank as all I saw were DDR machines, skeeball, and some cabinet games simply labeled "Old Games". Must have been a Neo Geo machine or something. And then came some good news. There were pins on the sight.

Unfortunately they were STERN tables. Not what I was hoping for. Monopoly, Simpson's Pin Party, and Ripley's. Having never played Ripley's before, I hit that first. First impressions? Most annoying sounding table ever. Stupid dancing idol would not shut the hell up! My other impression is that while I couldn't make heads or tales of my targets or the rules, the game was easy enough for me to get replay after replay. Must have played 5 games on one credit. I'm no pin wizard folks, I didn't even get my name up on the board, so I found all the replays rewardingly odd. Bitch of a skill shot too. As far as I could tell the machine was in fine working condition. Be interesting to see if the game improves for me when it lands in VPM. Somebody just make an option to shut the idol the hell up though!

Next I played the Simpsons, something I've only played once before. By that I mean, one game. I found it to be a huge improvement over the old Data East game (man do I hate Data East!) but I ran into the same situation as I did on Ripley's. Everything seemed to score well, so I had no interest other than keeping the ball alive, which was fun enough. The Itchy & Scratchy drop targets were permanantly down, that was the one broken thing on the table, but that wasn't really affecting the score to the point that again I got replay after replay. I look forward to this one coming to VPM just for the fact that I couldn't hear a lot of the sound, and that might draw me into the game a little more.

Then there was Monopoly. I gotta say this is one ugly table. All the exposed wire, the exposed circuit boards, yuch. The door to the bank is just cheese-tastic. I tried playing this once before at a different arcade, but there were flipper issues. Since then I've played the one that's available for download, so I was playing to clear up some gameplay issues I was having with the recreation. For starters, I was surprised at the ease with which I could launch a ball to the ABC (can't STERN come up with something other that just ABC and 123? Such a minute complaint, but still) since in the VPM version I always seem to shoot right past it. I found the Railroad ramp to be a little more forgiving on its exit with the ball, but that's where the table stopped being so nice. This thing is hard! I never did successfully shoot into the roll the dice drop, up the Electric company ramp, or into Waterworks. I hit those with ease in VPM. The Community Chest cellar didn't seem to register shots, so that was the one glitch with the table. All in all, I think I like the VPM version better cause it's easier and prettier! Can't wait for PacDude's version.

How many of you have stopped reading yet?

As I started to leave for home, I checked out one other arcade in the fun zone that I didn't remember being there. At first glance I didn't see any signs that a pin would be on the premisis. But tucked away in the corner I saw me some Arnold. Twice no less. This place had T2, T3, High Roller Casino, and a down World Cup '94.

I dove right into T2 as I love me some Williams pin. Weird how stretched out it seems when compared to PD's recreation. So beautiful to look at compared to those STERN tables I had just finished with. Of note, I found the cannon shots to be so much easier to do than in VPM, but I think that has to do with truly being able to judge where the cannon is aiming. I also found the flippers to be extremely bouncy. I'd shoot the loop and try and catch the ball, only to have it bounce halfway up the playfield. In what seemed to be a shock to the system, I didn't win a replay. Oh, and something else that did not happen here but has on every other STERN table I played was the ball did not get stuck somewhere on the table. Yep, Williams is the king.

Next I played High Roller Casino. Now I know the VPM version needs a lot of work, but this thing is ugly and kinda boring in real life too. It's so calm and sedate, and it suffers a case of the uglies like Monopoly does. Like the Ripley's and Simpsons tables, the rules aren't readily apparant. I haven't played the VPM version in a while so I forgot how to start up a casino game. I never did figure it out. Oh, and the extra ball target seemed utterly impossible to hit!

My last table of the night was T3. Gotta say, I liked it. The layout was very similar to T2, just with a little more ramp action. The rules were similar to T2 also, so I was able to get into it fairly easily. The RPG was the one thing I truly disliked about the table, as it was impossible to aim (having to not only account for the angle it's firing at, but compensating for the arc of the plastic ball fired). For once a STERN table without those lame LED lights that don't tell you anything the DMD doesn't, and a nice finished look. It was right there next to T2, and it truly looked like it belonged.

So that was my adventure down to the fun zone at Balboa. Most of the tables were slightly unbalanced, so that kinda sucked. Terminator was the highlight, as I really only wanted to play older games. Anyone know of arcades in the Orange County area that carry the gems of the late 80's and early 90's?

For those still reading (can't believe there are, but you never know) and just plain curious, here's a sample of what I remember seeing lined up at OC Games...

Indiana Jones, Rocky and Bullwinkle, T2, STTNG, Whirlwind, Harley Davidson, Elvis, Evil Knievil, LOTR, AFM, Comet, Dirty Harry, Jackbot, Party Zone, Pinbot, and a bunch of table from what I have to believe were the fifties. And like I said, all in pristine condition. If you live in the area, make the trip. You'll have a hard time picking your jaw up off the floor.

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