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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Halifax’s pinball wizards

Looking to be hypnotized by a solid game of pinball? Here’s a tour of the city’s vintage machines.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge Flash Gordon is gonna getcha at Oddfellows
  • Flash Gordon is gonna getcha at Oddfellows

"It all started with a wrestling belt,” says Danny Baldwin, owner of Halifax Vintage Arcade in his corner store, Daily Sweets (2860 Oxford Street). Two years ago, he traded his WWF belt on Kijiji for a videogame, which turned into a pinball machine, which turned into a small business. Now he's one of a few entrepreneurs who collect, rent and service pinball machines across HRM.

Pinball machines are intersections of electrical innovation and artistic design. In the 1970s, companies like Bally and Stern refined the style and technology from primitive circuits that existed until then. “The appeal was the unique game themes and artwork, like Gorgar or Centaur,” says Dylan Harris-MacDonald of Maritime Mobile Arcade. In the ’80s, pinball was “prized for representations of pop culture with movies and bands themes,” says Harris-MacDonald. But videogames impacted demand; by 1999, only one pinball manufacturer remained in America.

Pinball is a hypnotic, strategic, geometric and unique gaming experience with alluring sights and sounds that also tell complex stories—and it’s made a comeback. At Baldwin's arcade, players range from kids to nostalgic baby boomers. What’s the secret to a high-score? “Keep the ball out of the centre lane," says Baldwin. Machines from the last 40 years wait for you in the illuminated corners of Halifax:

1. Serviced by Halifax Vintage, the basement arcade at Stillwell (1670 Barrington Street) has been a huge success, with event nights, tournaments and a regular rotation of badass machines: Black Knight 2000 (1980) just replaced Sega’s Lethal Weapon 3 (1991).

2. Pinball flipping takes both hands, so set beer aside to play *Junkyard* (1996) at Charlie’s Club (5580 Cunard), with a rabid barking bulldog and intricate playfield. Since a classic sports bar deserves a classic sports table, Quarterback at Bubba Ray’s Too (7071 Bayers Road) is a 1976 pinball touchdown. 

3. A former staple of malls and movie theatres, cinema-themed pinball machines are some of the highest-selling models featuring voices, music and graphics from original films. Play Batman (1991) at Cineplex Park Lane, or South Park (1999) and Hook (1992) at Cineplex Lower Sackville.

4. Halifax Vintage Arcade at Daily Sweets has some of the coolest pinballs in town: from Bally’s sci-fi Xenon (1980), the first ever soundboard to use a woman’s voice, to myth-inspired Magic (1979) and Lost World (1977), the ever-changing collection offers surprises. A brand new 2015 model for the arcade will be announced soon.

5. Killing time at the Stanfield International Airport? Bring quarters for *The Addams Family* (1992), the best-selling pinball machine of all time with one of the most creative narratives, including racking up millions while you “Hit Cousin Itt” or conduct a “séance.”

6. At Oddfellows Barbershop in the back room of Pro Skateboards & Snowboards (6451 Quinpool Road), comic and film superhero Flash Gordon (1980) glares and flexes from the back-glass. And he wants you to lose.

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