Tempting Targets: Unraveling the Secrets of Bally's Mata Hari Pinball
When you’re one of the best-selling pinball machines of all time, it’s pretty tough to avoid being used in competitions frequently. Many clubs that I’ve been to happen upon one or two Mata Hari pinball machines just in passing - it’s a quick-playing game, a classic Solid State, and a very simple game that relies heavily on masterful flipper control.
Plus, it also has the benefit of being one of the earliest Bally solid-state games - so early, it still uses EM chimes, giving it a truly iconic sound package. If you haven’t played Mata Hari in a tournament yet, this guide should come in handy when - not if - you end up doing so.
Who Was Mata Hari?
Mata Hari, born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle on August 7, 1876, in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, was a Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and alleged spy during World War I. She became famous in Europe in the early 20th century for her sensuous and provocative performances as an exotic dancer.
Mata Hari started her career as a dancer in Paris in 1905 after separating from her Dutch colonial army officer husband. She adopted the stage name Mata Hari, which means "eye of the day" in Malay, and claimed to be a Javanese princess. Her exotic performances and elaborate costumes garnered her considerable attention and fame.
During World War I, Mata Hari became involved in espionage, although the details of her activities remain unclear. She was accused of spying for Germany, and in February 1917, she was arrested by French authorities. She was subsequently tried and found guilty of espionage, with the court alleging that her actions had led to the deaths of at least 50,000 French soldiers. On October 15, 1917, Mata Hari was executed by firing squad at the age of 41.
Mata Hari Pinball Production Details
Mata Hari is a pinball game manufactured by Bally Manufacturing Co. in 1977. Design by Jim Patla. Art by Dave Christensen.
Mata Hari Playfield Overview
Mata Hari has a symmetric playfield. That means that if you can get comfortable making a shot from one side, odds are pretty likely you’ll be able to figure it out from the other. Each side has a top lane, a side lane, two pop bumpers, four drop targets, one flipper, and half of a saucer.
The most important shot to get comfortable with is the saucer up top. It’s very strange in that it has a bit of a divot surrounding it, clearly designed to make it easier to hit the hole from both down below and up top. Unfortunately, it has a bit of a negative effect - direct shots into the saucer tend to lip out and go right past it. You kind of have to lob the ball up into it for it to stick. Figure that out early - if you’re capable of shooting the saucer on command, things will go very well for you.
The other thing I’d keep in mind are the A/B lanes that run on either side of the table. Balls that roll down these lanes will hit these rubber posts near the bottom of the lanes, which usually will bump the ball outwards a teeny bit. Get comfortable with how the balls come down these lanes, since if they hit the rubber too hard, they’ll end up in the drain. Too soft, they’ll end up over the outlane. A teeny bit of nudging can go a long way on these posts!
I’d argue putting up 150,000 or higher is solid, just bear in mind that there are many shots worth 50,000 and the max bonus is worth 145,000 points. So don’t get too comfy in competition!
Quick Mata Hari Pinball Tutorial
- This is a Bonus Game: the goal is to advance your bonus as much as possible, collecting it when the ball ends.
- Shoot the upper saucer until your bonus is maxed out. You need to lob into the saucer - the divot around it makes direct shots often lip out. Also, try to nudge the ball back into the saucer when it’s up top, and try to land it in there on the plunge.
- Saucer advances bonus multipliers up to 5X, and lights outlanes for 50k a piece. Lit outlanes are very valuable - don’t tilt to try and save a lit outlane drain.
- If the saucer is killing you instantly, shake the machine a bit to keep the ball wiggling while it’s in the saucer. It’s less likely to fire straight down the middle.
- A/B lanes aren’t worth a ton but getting A/B when Special is lit awards 50,000 points plus a special.
- Drop targets also advance bonus but are dangerous. Getting all eight down awards 50,000 points, getting them all down twice is 50,000 plus a special.
- In competition mode, specials are worth 50,000 points. Those 50,000 + specials are actually worth 100,000 points total.
Advancing Your Bonus
Mata Hari is a Bonus Game, meaning that the only thing that really matters for good scoring is to build up your bonus value and score it over and over again. Mata Hari, unlike many of its contemporaries, features no super bonus or bonus collect. You build up your bonus and collect it when the ball ends.
Like many bonus games, nearly everything advances your bonus. The eight drop targets, the A/B lanes up top/on the sides (they are treated identically), and the inlanes (but not the outlanes) each advance your bonus by 1,000 points. The bonus caps at 29,000 points, which is nice, but should be multiplied. That’s where the saucer comes in: Each shot to the saucer is worth 3,000 points, 3 bonus advances (3,000 more points), and eventually serves as the bonus multiplier.
The first time you hit the saucer is just worth the points and advances. The second shot to the saucer will light 2X bonus. The third lights 3X bonus, and the fourth lights 5X bonus, increasing the maximum possible bonus to 145,000 points, which is a ton! Your goal needs to be to go after the saucer as much as possible, provided it’s safe to do so. You can land in the saucer on the plunge (which you should try for). You can also do some nudging up top to try and push it off of the bumpers back into the saucer, or wiggle it into the saucer if it’s rolling around the divot. In any case, try to put it in the saucer as much as you can - it’ll pay off!
The catch with the saucer is that it can be extremely dangerous - sometimes, the kickout can fire the ball straight down the middle. If the kickout is instant death, don’t give up on it! The switch is pretty sensitive - if the ball is in the saucer, give the machine a bunch of teeny-tiny little wiggles to keep the ball trembling while it’s in the hole. If the ball is wiggling when it kicks out, it usually becomes far less lethal.
Obviously, don’t do this if the feed is consistent to the flippers already because tilting is something you absolutely want to avoid. Big bonuses are where good scores come from, so do not tilt!
In any case, figure out where the saucer is and shoot it all day, or at least until your bonus is maxed out. Repeated 3k shots aren’t exactly worthless, and if you have it down to a science, don’t ignore it - but other scoring opportunities exist.
The other interesting thing to note is that the second and third time you put the ball into the saucer, you’ll light the left and right outlanes (respectively) for 50,000 points each. When these are lit, you almost want the ball to go into the outlane - 50,000 is no small payday! As counterintuitive as it may sound, it’s often not worth trying to save an outlane drain on a lit outlane. Aside from chancing a tilt, you’re also risking a center drain which isn’t worth 50k.
But, that’s up to you. Obviously, if it’s the last ball, and you need more than 50k + your bonus, it’s worth trying to nudge out. Otherwise, don’t ignore those outlanes when they’re lit. It might be a drain, but come on - 50k is a lot.
If you’ve maxed out your bonus, shooting the saucer is still valuable. Alternatively, you can shoot the A/B lanes over and over again. The best way to do this is to shoot from the bottom up either side - if done right, the lane will feed the other lane and return to the flipper, giving you both A/B lanes.
Getting both A and B will score a value indicated by a series of inserts on the center of the table. The value is pretty small - increasing from 1k to 5k with each completion - but if you collect it for a special, you get a bonus 50,000 points. Not bad!
Moreover, if the game is set up for competitions, specials are worth 50,000 points themselves. So, completing A/B seven times is worth 100,000 points. Certainly good value there, but it might be tough to get comfy there.
The drops also give you bonus advances, but tend to put the ball out of control, so it’s a bit riskier to shoot for them. However, knocking down all eight targets will award a sweet 50,000 points. A second time awards 50,000 and a special. As mentioned above, specials are worth 50,000 in competition, for 100,000 points total.
My thinking is to ignore the drops unless you have six or seven down already. Like the outlanes, don’t ignore 50,000 points when it’s just sitting there. You can also shoot for the drops when you have max bonus, as horizontal motion means the outlanes are more likely than center drains. In any case, they’re riskier and not as valuable as the upper saucer, unless you can clear them all.
For those who prefer a video tutorial format, be sure to check out this recent release from Bowen Kerins and PAPA