Thanks to WMS Gaming’s “Ruby Slippers,” we’re off to see the Wizard—again
by Frank Legato
“Back in 1939, one of the reasons the original film resonated with movie-goers was the fantasy escape it offered to a public weary of the Great Depression, the misery of which would hang in the air for two more years. In 2008, slot players again escaped hard economic times by disappearing into Oz—this time, in the form of a very affordable penny slot machine that transported them to another place.”
In the old days, all slot machines were pretty much the same. Then around 15 years ago, themed slots began to appear that ultimately made the experience more interesting and entertaining. Still, even many of the most entertaining slots became routine before too long.
Every now and then, though, a slot game comes along that captures our imagination and keeps us going back. The game becomes a brand in itself—a brand to which we remain loyal. If ever a game fit that category, it was “The Wizard of Oz” from WMS Gaming.
Unveiled in November 2007 and hitting casinos in early 2008, the video slot based on the classic MGM film of the same name was a game-changer for the entire slot business. Drawing on the characters, the rich visuals and memorable scenes of one of the most beloved films of all time, the Wizard game had a remarkable effect on players—it even created new players, as people who had never spun a reel were drawn to images of a movie so many people knew almost by heart.
The “Sensory Immersion” format certainly helped. Used to some success previously with the game “Top Gun,” the format seemed to be created for this game. The player sits in a vibrating chair with embedded BOSE surround-sound speakers, in front of high-definition video and powerful computer graphics that virtually place the player inside the game. Or in this case, inside the movie.
It was a perfect storm of entertainment, at the perfect time. Back in 1939, one of the reasons the original film resonated with movie-goers was the fantasy escape it offered to a public weary of the Great Depression, the misery of which would hang in the air for two more years. In 2008, slot players again escaped hard economic times by disappearing into Oz—this time, in the form of a very affordable penny slot machine that transported them to another place.
More than two years after its introduction, players still find it hard to get a seat at a Wizard of Oz game, particularly in a crowded casino. It is quite simply the hottest game WMS ever produced. “This game has certainly found a home in the hearts of the players,” comments Larry Pacey, WMS executive vice president of global products and chief innovation officer. “The theme and the brand, combined with the times today, really have resonated with the public.”
There was a second version of the Wizard of Oz that used a “Transmissive Reels” reel-spinning format, with bonus features similar to the original. However, everyone knew that the variety of characters, scenes, situations, music and visual effects of The Wizard of Oz, the movie, would eventually lead to a bona fide sequel, with fresh bonuses and a multitude of new experiences.
This year, that particular premonition comes true, as slot players are invited to slip on the “Ruby Slippers.”
Back To Oz
It won’t be hard to spot this version of the Wizard from across the floor. The most prominent feature is the circular top box, which mirrors the shape of the crystal ball from the film—it’s a play on the Wicked Witch’s crystal, in which she first sees that the famed ruby slippers are on Dorothy’s feet.
It’s also the shape of the bubble which brings Glenda the Good Witch into Oz, and of the halo that surrounds Dorothy as she chants “there’s no place like home” in the film’s climactic scene.
Those facts were not lost on the designers of Ruby Slippers, who used the circular shape to frame the image of the ruby slippers in the game’s most frequent bonus event, and as the home of Glenda, who makes a return appearance in another bonus.
In fact, just like the original, this game is packed with bonuses, all using the same animation and sound package that still has players lining up for the first version of the game. If that version’s occupied when you visit, not to worry—the new version will not disappoint.
The bonuses happen both in second-screen events and throughout the primary game, which is a five-reel video slot in 25-line or 40-line configuration. The game is available in a wide-area progressive version with a top jackpot resetting at $500,000, or in a stand-alone version with a top jackpot of $12,000.
During the primary game, at random points after a spin, a crystal ball appears on the main video screen and there are Dorothy’s ruby slippers, clicking together to transform from one to all five reels into wild reels, sometimes with a multiplier of up to 10X added.
This feature is to Ruby Slippers what Glenda was to the original game. According to Allon Engleman, vice president of game design and strategy for WMS, his team’s goal with the new version of Oz was “not to revolutionize,” but to build on the elements of the first game that players love. Glenda was one of those.
The other thing players love—and WMS studied this very closely, asking players, watching them play, and doing focus croups—is watching their favorite characters from the film. “The characters make the bonus events better,” he says. “The characters add to the experience; it’s a fundamental reason the brand is successful.”
With this in mind, WMS tied the film’s characters to the bonus events. Each reel has different bonus symbols identified as a character from the film—Dorothy on the first reel; Scarecrow on the second; Tin Man on the third; Cowardly Lion on the fourth; and one of three symbols on the fifth—Wicked Witch, the Wizard, or the Crystal Ball. Combinations of these symbols trigger any of five bonus events. When that happens, the character grows to fill the entire reel as the bonus begins.
There are 45 different ways to trigger a bonus, and the bonus events themselves give a fresh feel to this version of the Wizard. “With 45 different combinations of characters triggering all the different bonuses, you never really go into a bonus twice the same way,” says Engleman. “It gives a lot of variety to the play experience.”
A bonus character on one of the first four reels with a bonus symbol on the fifth reel triggers “Bonus Respins.” The reels re-spin to collect more characters and trigger one of three bonus events.
Those three events also can be triggered directly from the primary game. Any two bonus characters on the first four reels with the Wicked Witch on the fifth reel triggers “Find the Broom.” The screen displays 25 bonus broom symbols, and you pick to try to find the “Wicked Witch’s Treasure.” One cool aspect: If you reveal one of the characters that triggered the bonus, it “powers up” the bonus with a multiplier.
Characters on two reels with the Wizard on the fifth gets you into the “Emerald City Free Spin Bonus.” A free-spin round begins, with the triggering characters enabling different features such as wild symbols, wild reels, multipliers or extra spins along the way.
Two characters with the crystal ball on the fifth reel triggers the “Crystal Ball Bonus.” The crystal ball floats onto the screen, and each character fills the crystal with a credit award.
Here’s a special bit of info from us to you: There is an unadvertised, secret bonus as well. A “bonus bonus,” if you will. During random Crystal Ball features, our friend Glenda appears in the crystal and gives the player a fat bonus prize—a bonus that can rise into the hundreds of dollars.
It’s one of many surprises you’ll find that keep this version of the Wizard fresh.
“We were apprehensive about doing a sequel to what is still such a phenomenally successful title, but I definitely think we got it right,” says Pacey. “The fact is that the original is still performing at record numbers. This game is definitely a new chapter in the story. The two games were designed to coexist. When you find a product that really resonates with you, you build an attachment to it, a history with it. Players are still going to look for the original, but at the same time, they’re looking to find more to the story. That’s where this game comes in.”
The story’s not done. According to Engleman, WMS is putting the finishing touches to yet another trip to Oz, this one in the form of a three-reel community-play version in the “Big Event” series, to be called “The Great and Powerful Oz.” This version will feature a community free-spin bonus in which each player on a bank will be assigned a character, and when that character appears in the overhead free-spin round, the player gets multipliers and other special features.
Watch for that game in the future, but in the meantime, there is now a brand-new version of the Wizard that we can all get to know.
This trip to Oz stands to be as much fun as the first one. •