VARIATIONS ON A THEME
Which slots do the best job of making the theme a part of the game?
By John Grochowski
Conversation overheard between two slot players, a man and a woman, at a casino coffee shop:
HER: “I’ll bet you’re going back to Caddyshack after lunch.”
HIM: “That was a lot of fun.”
HER: “You had that big bonus on the free spins. That always makes if fun.”
HIM: “Sure, but it’s more than that. You get the different spin bonuses pretty often, and they bring in all kinds of fun stuff from the movie. There are all these slots based on movies, TV and things now, but this might be the one that uses the movie best.”
HER: “You loving that movie is probably part of it. It’s like me and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I loved the movie, and I love the slot, right down to petting that cat.”
With that, their food arrived and the difficult NOT to hear volume of their conversation was toned down. But it led to a natural question: In this age of slot machines based on movies, TV shows, board games and other bits of our pop culture, which do the best job of incorporating their themes? What slots are really good at giving us a great wagering game while also evoking the atmosphere and fun that made us love the source material?
The question was put to an email list of slot players who haven’t been shy about giving their opinions. Here are some games they see as the best at using their themes:
They just get better and better, I think. I’ve really loved that whole Wizard of Oz series, starting from the very first one. The bonuses make you feel like you’re part of the show, following the yellow brick road. But the one that really got me was the one where the twister blows in and the reels move side to side (“Wizard of Oz: Not in Kansas Anymore”). That was really cool, everything swirling around so you did almost feel like you were in the tornado that started it all.
I’ve always liked Wheel of Fortune, and I still play the three-reel progressives. With the click sounds on the wheel, the “doot-DOOT” sounds while you wait for the wheel to spin, the audience chanting “WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE!” — it all just feels right.
But if you’re asking me which ones do the best job of making the theme part of the game, it’s not the original. It’s the ones where there’s a wordsolving puzzle. I remember a video one real early. I don’t remember it all that well, but it seems to me like you got letters during the spins to fill out a puzzle. That was a little extra special something.
Then a few years ago we had the community game (“Wheel of Fortune Experience”) where three people would go to a word-solving bonus together and got to pick letters. Now THAT felt like the show. You didn’t see it around for very long, but when it was there, that probably did the best job of using a theme I’ve ever seen.
It has to be the skill games, doesn’t it? Going back to Pong and Breakout and moving on up to Centipede, when you play those bonuses you’re playing the same game you used to play in the arcades or bars or wherever.
The first time I played the Pong slot, it took me right back. I was just out of college and had my first real job, and went out for a beer with the guys after work. I’d played a little pinball in college, but had never played a video game before. There was Pong, and it was addictive. I don’t know home much Pong I played. Then a little while later there was Breakout, and Space Invaders, and Pac- Man. I loved it.
I loved the Pong slot too, and I love Centipede now.
You know what uses the theme really well? Ellen. Those bonuses are right out of the TV show. You get to spin that Wheel of Riches yourself, and that’s right out of the show. The little pranks on some of the contestants, it has to make you laugh of you’re a fan of the TV show, and I am.
This is going back. I don’t remember if there were video slots then, or if maybe it was just at the beginning, but this was a three-reel game. Lucy and the Chocolate Factory. It’s the only game I remember that used smells, and sometimes it smelled luck chocolate and sometimes it didn’t, but it was fun when was working right. Lucy still makes me laugh, even in reruns after all these years, and the chocolate factory episode is one of the best ones. Putting chocolate smells in the game I thought was really, really funny.
The Walking Dead has to be right up there. Holy cow, that could get as bloody as the TV show. The thing is, you WANTED it to get bloody. The zombie horde would start stalking across the screen, and you wanted them to leave wild symbols behind. Sometimes there’d be a gunshot and blood would splatter from a zombie, and the blood would become wild symbols. I’m a pretty laid-back guy, not bloodthirsty at all, but when I played Walking Dead, I wanted those splatters all over the place.
Elvis, Elvis, Elvis! I can listen to “Hound Dog” all night. “Don’t Be Cruel,” give me more Elvis! The original Elvis slot on reels was great, but the later video ones with all the music in the bonuses were even better. The more music the better. I can’t help falling in love with Elvis!
It’s Batman for me, and by Batman, I mean the Adam West Batman from the Sixties. That one really got me hooked. I mean, the Dark Knight version of Batman is fine, and I can see why people like the drama and the tension. But Sixties Batman was fun! Cesar Romero’s Joker laugh, Frank Gorshin’s “Riddle me this,” Robin’s dumb “Holy” puns. Slot games should be fun, just like Sixties Batman, and this one captured it. It’s a great theme, used really well.
Can I give you one that’s not a TV show or a movie? I really liked Fortune Cookie. I just saw one at a casino last year, and I had to play it for old times’ sake. Games now have more bonuses and more things to hold your interest, but Fortune Cookie holds up pretty well. You know the main bonus—you pick dishes from a Chinese menu for bonuses. Pick an appetizer, pick a seafood dish and so on.
It’s kind of a caricature of course, but it reminded me so much of picking a family style meal at a restaurant. Pick one dish from group A, one dish from group B and so on, until you’ve picked your meal. It created its own theme, but it used to so well, I had to bring it up.
See if you remember this one: Saturday Night Live, and especially the Coneheads. It used the original Not Ready for Prime Time Player from the 1970s. One bonus was the Senso-Ring Toss, that you’d touch the screen to have one Conehead toss the ring over the cone of the other Conehead. That was their way of intimacy on the show, remember? It was worth a few snickers, and fit right in with the theme.
I’m friends with Heather, and she’s right. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not Wheel of Fortune.