Slot makers build a lot of fun into their games for 2015
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
Without doubt, bonus events are kings of the slot world. About a third of your overall return comes on the bonuses—more on some games, less than others, but a hefty chunk on all bonusing games. More time spent in bonuses means fewer paid spins per hour, making bonus time a big bankroll stretcher.
And most important, the bonuses are fun to play. Whether we’re talking free spins, pick-a-prize or something completely different, the sights, sounds and interactivity keep us coming back.
Each fall in Las Vegas, the annual Global Gaming Expo brings the opportunity to try out some of the bonus events. Here are a few eye-catchers you’ll be seeing in the coming year:
Mad Men, WMS Gaming
Based on the hit AMC series, Mad Men has a curved top box screen and high-definition,1080 pixel graphics. Bonus events can launch in a couple of different ways. Either scattered bonus symbols or any win of at least five times your bet will do the trick. Either way, a spin of a bonus wheel in the top box—with an on-edge view that gives it the look of a slot reel spinning toward your—can bring bonus credits or land on a character symbol to bring a themed bonus events based on show characters, with plenty of video.
During the Roger Sterling bonus, you’re invited to have a drink—touch a glass of some nice brown liquid on the screen and perhaps add wild symbols to the reader. Using video from the show, you’ll then get a line from Sterling to go with the bonus. Touching one glass not only padded the credit meter, it brought Sterling to say, “When God closes a door, he opens a dress.
The Flintstones, WMS Gaming
The modern Stone Age family from the town of Bedrock comes to WMS’ Gamefield XD cabinet, with two 32-inch high resolution games. The playing field is five video reels that are each four symbols deep. The game is packed with bonus features that launch when two four-space-deep Flint-stones characters line up. On the Bam Bam bonus, Betty and Barney’s tyke takes his club to the top of the reels, and as he shouts “Bam! Bam! Bam!” reel symbols turn wild for extra winning combinations.
Fans of the TV show will remember Fred and Barney on the bowling lanes—Fred had a unique delivery on tip-toes as he approaches the line, then a powerful finish. You’ll get your chance to roll in the Bedrock Bowling bonus. You choose a bowler, and can touch the ball to change it from the usual less-than-smooth stone look of the TV series to a soccer ball, ball of cash or other options. A trial with a cash ball rolling down the lane brought two strikes in three frames, collecting nice bonuses on each strike. Yabba Dabba Do!
Race Ace, International Game Technology
I’m a little older than the target demographic for skill-based games, but this one brought back some happy memories. Race Ace has a Mario Karts feel. You pick a car and character, then press a button on the console to accelerate, and use a joystick to steer your car around the track. Along the way, you can collect speed boosts, weapons to derail opposing drivers and shields to protect you from malevolent foes.
That was as close to up my alley as a skill-based video game can be. I played many a game of Mario Karts when my now 23-year-old son was a tyke. So I was eager to give this a go. You pick a driver, pick a car and it’s off to the races for two laps. My skills are rusty, and it showed at the start. I was right on the joystick, but gave the field a head start when I was a split second slow hitting the accelerator. And once I got going, I spent a lot of time scraping walls and sending sparks flying. But I got straightened out, ran through several blue areas to get speed boosts, picked up a couple of shields, and started passing the competition.
I never did get to #1, but I was better than middle of the pack, picked up good-sized bonus, and had a lot of fun.
Those who don’t trust their skills can choose a free-spin bonus instead. IGT is aware that the skill bonus will appeal mainly to younger players who grew up on video games. That’s a small piece of the market right now, but it’s a potential growth segment.
Sons of Anarchy, Aristocrat Technologies
Aristocrat long has been in the fore of developing free-spin bonuses, and Sons of Anarchy has several all trying to capture the feel and the character profiles in the FX television hit drama about an outlaw motorcycle club, their lives and challenges.
There’s the Men of Mayhem Wild Bonus—choppers roar across the screen, scattering stacked wild symbols as reels expand from six that are five symbols deep to eight reels that are each 10 symbols deep. It’s engaging graphically, and it creates extra possible winning combinations.
Aristocrat loves to play with creating extra symbols and ways to win—you may have played its first video Superman slot where Clark Kent would transform into Superman and fly up, up and away, expanding reels upward with extra symbols as they followed his flight. Sons of Anarchy uses the expanded playing field not only in the Men of Mayhem, but also in its No Limits Reel Growth Bonus. With the No Limits feature, mega-symbols of the show’s five lead characters take up multiple spaces, leaving for the potential for the symbol to land partially in the playing field, and partially out of view. When that happens, the field can grow both vertically and horizontally to accommodate the symbol.
For example, if a Jax Teller symbol is three symbols wide and three symbols deep, but lands so that it shows only one symbol on the last space to the right on the bottom row, then the reels can expand two more spaces to the right and two more deep to accommodate the entire mega-symbol and potentially create extra winning combinations.
It’s a game rich with features, including a unique Cluster Power format both in regular play and in the bonus events. Any three or more adjacent symbols can form a paying combination. Matching symbols can be touching vertically, horizontally, in a line, on the first three reels, in a stack on the last reel alone—as long as you have three or more adjacent, that’s a winner.
The Blob, Bally Technologies
Bally has bigger names and bigger games for the coming year. Much focus has been on Wonder Woman—and rightfully so. It’s mix of animation, video from the TV show, theme music along with free-spin bonuses that add wild symbols are sure to make it a player favorite.
Duck Dynasty is another big title that’s sure to draw you in. I’ve never watched the A&E reality TV series, but in testing the game, I had a great time firing arrows onscreen for Willie’s Archery Bonus and casting with the guys in the Gone Fishin’ Bonus.
But The Blob made me laugh. It’s based on the 1958 horror movie that starred a young Steve McQueen—then billed as Steven McQueen—in his first leading role. The Blob brings thrills, chills and potential big wins to your screen. It’s another wide-area progressive game, this time on the Bally ALPHA Pro V 22/22 Hammerhead cabinet, with a 22-inch vertical screen for main game play, and a 22-inch horizontal screen on top to give it that hammerhead look.
When the free-spin bonus launched, I figured film sights and sounds in the background would keep things entertaining. And then the Blob enveloped the screen, covering all the reels. In the movie, being surrounded by Blob is a very bad thing indeed. But here, the creature is no destroyer of bankrolls. It leaves behind wild symbols and bonus credits.
You’re going to be rooting for a Blob attack.
Neo Contra, Konami Gaming
Video gamers will love this one, based on Contra, Konami Digital Entertainment’s game of missiles, machine guns, helicopters and action that was introduced as an arcade game in 1987. It found big popularity through the 1990s and into the 2000s through home game systems, including the PS2.
Neo Contra is a full-sensory experience, with 3-D sound that will have you looking for the helicopter overhead. And in the pick’em-style bonus event, Konami has built in something special for fans of the video game: the famous Konami Code.
In the old video game, programmers put in a key code to help QA testers make it all the way through the game. The code made its way into the release to players, who found that if you entered up, up, down, down, left, right, BA, start, you’d get 30 additional lives.
In the slot version, when you’re running out of picks in the pick’em bonus, you’ll sometimes see, an old-style video controller comes on the screen. It’ll enter in the Contra code and you’ll get more picks.
Not only that. The original videogame has a lock-on feature for missiles. The video slot has a lock-on during free spins. It’ll lock on the letter symbols—A,K, Q, J—and blast them off the screen, leaving only the higher-paying picture symbols. It’s a clever riff on the original, while adapting the game to a non-skill, gambling environment.