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Last week TWIP had the opportunity to visit Chicago and play the Houdini test game located at Level 257. It is the first game released from American Pinball, and should be shipping very soon. Shall we do a deep dive?? OK, let’s do it!
Below is an in-depth Overview of the machine, and Five Likes and Five Dislikes on American Pinball’s Houdini after putting a few hours of play on the game.
Note: there were a few minor issues on the test game – the catapult shot missed short the first two times and then made it each time afterwards (except one), and a few other things that are not unexpected in the test game (that is why it is a test game after all).
Overview Of American Pinball's Houdini
Price and Timeline
Houdini is a standard body machine and has one model/edition. The price is $6,995. For a list of distributors, click here.
- Playfield Design, Mechanics: Joe Balcer
- Engineering: Jim Thornton
- Rules, Programming, Animation: Josh Kugler
- Artwork, Animations: Jeff Busch
- Music, Sound: Matt Kern
- Sculptures: Matt Riesterer (Back Alley)
- Animation: Ish Raneses
Houdini Pinball By The Numbers
- 2 Flippers
- 1 Ramp
- 6 Stereo Speakers
- 15.6″ Full Color LCD
- 3 Magnets to Control Houdini’s Magic
- 20″+ Launch into Houdini’s Steamer Trunk
- 1 Real Wood Laser Engraved Planchette
- 2 Theatre Spotlights
- 3 Custom Padlock & Gear Bumper Tops w/ Chains
- 6 Balls
- 5 Multiballs
- 10 Stage Modes incl. Straight Jacket Multiball
- 5 Secret Mission Combo Modes
- 5 Houdini Silent Movie Modes
- 5 Jail Escape Hurry Ups
- 1 Video Mode
- 3 Mini-Magician (Wizard) Modes
- 1 Master Magician (Wizard) Mode
20″+ Launch into Houdini’s Steamer Trunk
- The lock shot catapult! Overhead here, closeup here, closer-up here – check it out, it catapults the ball into the trunk for Trunk multiball
Animated/Interactive Theater Marquee and Stage
- Once you open the stage, shoot the ball in to start a Stage Mode
- There are three magnets under the playfield that cause magical chaos – one near each hand and one near Houdini’s mouth. Check out an example during this Seance multi-ball.
Straight Jacket Multiball
- A first in pinball – this mode not only reverses the flippers, but inverts them as well!
Rules and Code
Huge thanks to Josh Kugler for help with this section!
- The rules are over 90% complete
- Skill shot – shoot moving red target for skill shot, shoot moving green target for super skill shot
- The mini-magician (wizard) modes should be added sometime in January, and the master magician (wizard) mode after that
- There are two outlane drain modes to try to save your ball: Return from Beyond and Escape Death
- There are five movie modes – start all five to reach a mini-magician (wizard) mode
- There are five secret missions – complete all five to reach a mini-magician (wizard) mode
- There are five jail escape hurry-ups – complete all five for mini-magician (wizard) mode
- There are 10 modes at the stage
- For the Master Magician (Wizard) Mode, you must collect all the HOUDINI letters by:
- complete all 10 Stage modes
- complete all five Movie modes
- collect eight items from the Magic Shop
- complete all five Jail Escape Hurry-ups
- complete all five Secret Missions
- earn a super jackpot during Trunk Multiball
- earn a certain number of jackpots during Seance Multiball
Note: Settings can be changed to make the HOUDINI letters easier.
Stage is opened either by bashing it X times, shooting it through Stage Alley, hitting the Red Standup directly via a shot straight up Key Lane, or hitting the red standup X times off the pops. Starting any stage mode, by shooting the stage through Stage Alley, will double the value of the mode.
There are 10 modes at the stage, seven are “basic modes”, meaning a series of shots to complete. Typically making the required shot will advance you through the illusion/escape as played out on the display. Three are “special modes”. Complete all 10 modes for a HOUDINI letter.
Basic Stage Modes (some shot info may not be 100% correct):
- Vanishing Elephant — Three ramp shots move elephant into the crate, then stage to show crate empty.
- Chinese Water Torture — KeyLane to lower into tank, either orbit to close curtain, stage to open curtain and set Houdini free.
- Indian Needle Trick — All switches score X, magic and red standup targets increase value. Houdini pulls needles out of his mouth as shots are made.
- Walk through Walls — To move Houdini through the wall, shoot one of the left shots, then one of center shots, then right shots.
- Handcuff King — Shoot the pops, every X hits results in a handcuff or chain being thrown out, hit it enough time to totally free Houdini.
- Milkcan Escape — Three shots through the lower left loop will lower him into milkman, rollout the screen and then show him free. This can be the most lucrative of the stage modes.
- Metamorphosis — Shoot trunk to lower Houdini into the trunk, then orbit to close curtain, then stage or trunk to open curtain to set Houdini free, and Bess then in the trunk.
Special Stage Modes:
- Card King — A video mode where you are throwing cards (known as scaling) through moving hoops. The longer you hold the flipper in before throwing, the higher it will go, so you need to time it both for when you start and release your press. As you make shots, the hoops move faster, making three of the smaller hoop, will then light the smaller hoop for extra ball. It is possible to make both hoops with a single throw, which will double their value.
- Straight Jacket Multiball — You have the option of ‘reversed flippers’ (left flipper button controls right flipper, right controls left) or ‘reversed and inverted flippers’, where flippers are reversed as described, but they are inverted, which means they are the up position and then drop when flipper button is pressed, so they become ‘release to flip’. Jackpots are doubled when inverted. A feature will soon be added that if you are ‘chimping’ the flippers (e.g. just hitting both at the same time) during this mode will result in a reprimand and the jackpot value will be reduced.
- Bullet Catch — Shoot trunk to lock a ball in upper catapult, then shoot moving target to lock in the site (and jackpot value which is decreasing while you try to hit the moving shot). Locking the site fires the gun, to get into a two ball MB. Then continue to hit the trunk shot (right inner loop) to lock and fire the gun again to score jackpots.
There are five modes based on Houdini’s movies. These modes are presented in black and white with an old film look and have a piano accompaniment. Failing to complete results in the film ‘burning’. One is a type of add-a-ball Multiball. Complete all five for Houdini letter. They are:
- Terror Island (Scoop, ramp, scoop, ramp) — Free the woman from the safe that was thrown in the ocean, then go back for the treasure.
- Haldane of Secret Service (all about the spinner) — Escape the waterwheel. Each shot makes it spin faster until it breaks free
- Master Mystery — Features Q The Automaton, the first ever movie robot, stop him from getting the woman or getting to the weapon — left orbit, right orbit, left orbit, right orbit. You only have X seconds to complete the next shot in the sequence, making it resets the clock (but less time that previous shot).
- Grim Game — Move Houdini from plane to plane to rescue the woman (orbit, ramp, orbit)
- Man From Beyond — This is a add-a-ball kind of mode. First bash the stage to free Houdini from the Ice (where he was frozen for 100 years), this will then put a second ball in play. Then shoot orbits X times to free him from his restraints in the insane asylum, another ball is put into play, then all the GI and Inserts turn off, except for three shots (and a moving ‘spotlight’ running through inserts). Only one of the three lit shots will pay off, you can figure out which by sneaking a peek at the display and spotting Houdini when the spotlight is on him. Shooting the correct shot scores a jackpot, and then Houdini will randomly move between the three shots.
NOTE: For most of the stage and movie modes, you can also hit one of the two ‘magic stand-ups’ targets, which are located on either side of the lower playfield to advance a step through the mode. When not in a mode, these targets will assist you in other ways, based on current state, typically adding ESCAPE, SEANCE or FILM letters. They will also trigger the magnets under the hands which will then twirl and throw the ball. There is an optional ball saver (controlled via settings), when the magnets are triggered via the targets (and when not in seance mulitball). Also, for most stage and movie modes, once the timer gets to 10 seconds or less, you can shoot the spinner to add time to the timer. You can up to 10 seconds to the timer.
Open via spinner, earn a ‘mystery’ award — collect eight items to earn Houdini Letter. Can earn an extra ball if enabled via settings. Easter eggs at magic shop.
Jail Escape Hurry-ups
Spell escape via stand-up targets to light, complete all five to earn Houdini letter, complete X to earn Return From Beyond, also possible to earn Extra Ball if enabled in settings. Can be random or easy to hard based on settings. Complete all five for mini-magician mode.
Five different combos. Only one is active at a time, complete it and you can then start the next. Complete all five for a mini-magician mode and a Houdini letter. The next shot in the sequence will be identified with a flashing purple arrow. If the sequence is broken, it will go back to the first shot of the sequence. They get harder as you go.
Lock three balls in the trunk to start, three shots are lit for jackpots, complete those then shoot trunk (via inner loop) to score super jackpot and re-light jackpots. Super Jackpot will earn Houdini letter.
Spell seance to light at the scoop. Spell seance to score jackpots, spell in order for super jackpot (very hard). Gets harder to light each time. X jackpots will earn a Houdini letter.
Outlane Drain Modes
Complete the task, continue your ball, fail and ball ends. The modes are:
Return From Beyond
- You get 30 flips to spell seance (via mini stand-up targets). Earned by scoring X jackpots during seance multiball.
- You get 30 seconds to spell ESCAPE (via stand-up targets). Escape Death is the harder of the two to complete. Earned by completing X jail escape hurry-ups.
You can also earn/light the outlane drain modes at Magic Shop. If earned there it will bounce from side to side with flippers. If earned via Seance or Escapes, it will not move. If you have earned one plus magic shop version, then both outlines are lit. You can only earn each once per game.
Shooting the milkman loop (lower left loop) immediately followed by the ramp will increase the playfield multiplier (2x,3x,4x) for X seconds.
You can stack multiballs on both stage and movie modes as well as other multiballs. Stage modes and movie modes can not be stacked with each other. Once a multiball is running, you can not start a movie or stage mode. Jail Escapes, starting of Secret Missions and Magic shop visits can occur if a mode is running, but not if multiball is running.
Five Likes About Houdini Pinball
1. The Magic
Playing Houdini is straight up fun and the game “feels” magical. The magnets are integrated in a way that will entertain hardcore hobbyists as well as casual players. The trunk shot catapult is the same way. The way the machine is designed, after shooting a ball into the theater and other areas, the ball feels like it can reappear from anywhere to be put back into play. And with the stage/theater, the display, the audience (who is not afraid to boo if you lose a ball!) – the whole experience makes you feel like you’re part of a magic show.
2. The Display
The display on Houdini is slightly higher than you’re probably used to, but that is to accommodate for the audience that is viewing the display, which acts as a stage. And it is very well-integrated into the theme. You start, the curtains open. You drain and they close. Start a stage mode and an animation appears on the screen. All modes give significant instruction on the display. It is just well done. There has been some concern that there aren’t enough animations included, but how many do you need?
3. Theme Integration
The creators of this machine did extensive research on Houdini, and not just his career as a magician/illusionist. Just a few examples of Houdini’s life and what is included in the game:
- As Houdini traveled to different cities to perform, he would have local police restrain him and throw him in jail, just so he could escape.
- Houdini Pinball – Jail Escape Hurry-ups
- Houdini starred in several silent movies
- Houdini Pinball – Movie Modes
- Houdini had an interest in the afterlife and communication with spirits
- Houdini Pinball – Seance Multiball and Planchette (used in seances and on Ouija boards)
- Houdini was rumored to be a spy
- Houdini Pinball – Secret Missions
The music and sound really helps set the mood (love the sounds the pop bumpers make). The rules, playfield features, lightshow, display, and sculptures in the game really help draw the player into Houdini’s life.
4. The Rules
We’ve covered the rules quite a bit already, but they give good depth and breadth to the game without being overly complex.
5. The Layout and Shots
The layout feels unique but not foreign. As others have mentioned, some of the shots are tight, but typically misses still hit a stand-up target to help you advance. Also, some of the tight shots aren’t as tough as they first appear – for example, the shot for the right inner loop (to the catapult) is a difficult shot from the left flipper, but if you back hand it from the right flipper it isn’t difficult. The shots through the pops can difficult (as all shots through the pops seem to be!), but they are fun as well as there is a unique shot through the pops that steers the ball up to the theater, so you can hit the theater by shooting directly at it or through the pops.
Five Dislikes About Houdini Pinball
1. Instructions in Callouts are Occasionally Too Long
While the thoroughness of the mode instructions are welcome, at times for modes that take several shots to complete, the instructions in the callouts seem overly long-winded (example).
2. Awkward Feed from Scoop
This can likely be adjusted with coil settings or other tweaks, but in the test game the feed out of the scoop on the right was inconsistent and many times would bounce off the top of the right sling.
3. Only One Ramp
Of course this is subjective, but for those that love ramp shots there is only one true ramp shot in the game. (It IS a super smooth shot though!)
4. Houdini’s Face
There is a ton of detail in the art throughout the entire playfield, the cabinet, and the translite. You can tell it took a ton of time and it does looks good. But not a fan of the face in the middle of the playfield. Maybe it could’ve been more “cartoony”?
5. Laughing girl
Some of the background music features a laughing/giggling girl who could eventually get annoying in a home environment where she is easily heard (example).
Disclaimer: All opinions are subject to change because I’m fickle with pinball machines the more I play them 🙂