When this game hit the scene back in 2003, it was perhaps most notable for being the first machine to have a tri-color LED display on the playfield. Makes Star Wars and Wizard of Oz look like chumps, doesn’t it? In truth, what made this game notable was its absurdly complex ruleset, setting the bar for game complexity at launch, and frankly, is still one of the most complex rulesets ever made. In the twenty years since this game first hit the scene, its appeal hasn’t really waned. The Simpsons Pinball Party is the king of “stacking games,” where features can be combined with one another to score tons of points.
It should definitely be noted that this table is not to be confused with Data East’s The Simpsons, which was released in the early 90s. This is Stern’s take on the classic series and is widely considered one of their finest releases. I’ve had one at my house since we got it new in box in 2004 - and in that time, I’ve figured my way around it. Mostly.
The Simpsons Pinball Party (TSPP) Production Details
Design by Keith P. Johnson, and Joe Balcer. Mechanics by Wesley Chang, and Ray Tanzer. Art by Kevin O'Connor and Margaret Hudson. Code by Keith P. Johnson, and Dwight Sullivan. Sound by Dan Forden, and Chris Granner. Music by Dan Forden, and Chris Granner. Animation by Mark Galvez.
Simpsons Pinball Party Playfield Overview
The layout of this game is a bit of a stop-and-go affair. If you’re used to fast flow or combo shots, this is certainly a deviation. Most shots either stop the ball for a bit or slow it way down, but combos are not that valuable anyway, so take your time with your shots.
TSPP has a whopping five flippers: two in the normal spot, one in the middle-right side of the machine, and two little baby flippers on a mini-playfield in the top right corner. On the lower playfield, the most important shots are the right orbit (through the spinner - on the far right), the right loop (up the middle, labeled “Otto’s Bus Tours”), and the garage (looks like a garage). Especially the Garage, though - hitting it when it’s closed will open it, and shots into the garage will usually feed the mini-playfield. It’s a bit weird, though - the garage has a “jump” in it, and failing to clear that will drop the ball into the bumpers and will not count as a shot to the garage.
From the middle right flipper, there are a few things you can shoot for. First off, the Kwik-E-Mart, a miniature loop, which advances bonus multipliers. There’s also a side ramp (the left ramp) which is mostly obscured by the mini-playfield. The left ramp also feeds the mini-playfield, but it’s the most difficult shot on the table.
The mini-playfield is incredibly important to scoring. The ball will appear above the left flipper when coming up top. From there, you can shoot the TV which starts modes. The TV feeds the upper flipper, which accesses the Couch, the game’s main ball lock. Being able to shoot the Couch will pay off big time. Familiarize yourself with this three-way combo (see image above); that’ll put you in great shape.
Scoring in TSPP is entirely dependent on how hard the game is set. Competition scores tend to be around 8,000,000 on the lower end and around 50,000,000 on the higher end. Late-game modes tend to all happen around the same time, so you should expect to see scores shoot up once you get far enough in the game.
NOTE: This guide is a “beginner’s” guide, and will only cover primary objectives that you should be focusing on to get a solid score without getting too far into the game. As mentioned above, TSPP is extremely complex, packed to the brim with tons of modes, multiballs, secret bonuses, easter eggs, and unmarked objectives which would take an absurd amount of time to cover comprehensively. If you’re interested in some deeper strategy, and some advice on stacking the late-game features, check out the advanced guide here.
Abridged Simpsons Pinball Party Tutorial
- The Simpsons Pinball Party is all about stacking. No one feature is worth very much on its own; the goal is to get as much going at once as possible. Starting something new is almost guaranteed to be more valuable than finishing something already running.
- You can progress to or start any mode, multiball, or feature at any time, regardless of what else you have running. No need to line up your stacks, just start stacking!
- Shoot the Garage or Left Ramp to get up to the mini-playfield. Shooting into the TV when lit will start TV modes, which are re-lit on the right orbit. Again, modes aren’t really worth very much, but having several going at once will add up quickly.
- If the game is set to Competition Mode, Mystery Awards (at the Garage) are not random and will typically light very valuable features. Do not ignore these if you can help it.
- All modes and features use the same timer. Starting anything that uses the timer will reset the timer for everything.
- Shooting the right loop when lit starts double scoring on one shot for 30 seconds. This uses the same timer, so use the right loop to keep your modes going.
- Couch Multiball is accessed by three shots to the Couch on the mini-playfield. Itchy & Scratchy multiballs are easier to reach (shoot the saucer on the right side of the machine, behind the drops), but not as valuable.
- Don’t worry about what you’re stacking. There’s only one “bad” stack in the game, and it’s a very late-game stack which is tough to do anyway. Just keep starting stuff!
From the get-go, it’s a good idea to get some modes going. Get up to the mini-playfield (via the Garage, most likely), and shoot under the TV to start a TV mode. If the game is set hard, you might need to light a TV mode first - this is done by shooting the right orbit (the spinner) first. You’ll know a mode is lit if the arrow pointing to the TV is solidly lit. There are seven modes available, all listed on the little signboard next to the TV. The right flipper changes the mode (the flashing mode is the one you’ll start next), though knowing how each mode plays out isn’t super important. What’s more important is starting them.
Each mode runs for 30 “seconds” (they’re a bit longer than seconds, and the timer stops often). The timer is displayed on the TV. All the modes have some way to complete them, are just sequences of required shots (so no multiballs or anything like that), and end when completed, the timer expires, or the ball ends. You’ll have to re-light a mode after starting one, so make sure you hit that right orbit as soon as possible. The modes aren’t particularly valuable: on a good day, they can be worth 4-5 million, which is nice, but it’s not worth focusing on scoring modes.
So, what should you do instead? Well, let’s start stacking! TSPP is the king of stacking games. Any feature can be started at any time. TV modes can be started during other TV modes, multiballs, anything.
This means that it’s theoretically possible to play all seven modes at the same time, which can be immensely valuable.
“But James,” you say. “How do I know how long I have left for each mode?” Well, as I mentioned, the modes are all on 30-second timers. If you’re running multiple modes, the timer applies to all of them. This game only uses one timer at any given time, and resetting the timer for one mode (such as by starting a mode) will reset the timer for ALL modes. This is probably the most important rule to understand. Keep modes running by starting more modes.
Focusing on actually completing modes isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but starting a second mode is far more important than beating the first. You’ll get a higher score focusing on just starting more modes than you will if you focus on completing the only mode you have running. Plus, it’ll keep the timer going.
There is also a “more time” target in the bumper area which adds 2 seconds each time you hit the target, which is likely to give you lots of time should you put a ball in the bumpers since it’ll bounce off of the target a whole bunch. That said, you should not rely on the target for time increases, you want to get more modes going.
To reiterate: High scoring on The Simpsons Pinball Party isn’t about doing one thing well, it’s about doing many things at the same time. Keep that in mind.
Cleaning the Garage
Shooting the ball into the Garage when “Clean The Garage” is lit will give a mystery award. This is lit at the start of each ball and can be re-lit by hitting the target at the top of the mini-playfield. You can’t collect mystery awards during multiballs, so don’t count on them for add-a-balls as you would on basically any pinball machine released since.
If your machine is set to Competition Mode, this mystery award is not random. It is incredibly significant to high-scoring games since the mystery award gives you stuff you’d probably be asking for. Most notably, if you don’t have a TV mode lit, Mystery will light one. However, it will never give you the same award twice in a row, and occasionally prioritizes weird things like giving you “Light Daredevil” when you’ve finished all of the Daredevil modes (which we’ll cover later). In any case, it’s invaluable in Competition mode, and should not be ignored.
If the game is set to competition mode, you absolutely need to relight Mystery on every trip to the mini-playfield. (You can sometimes graze the Light Mystery target on the way into the TV or up the Couch ramp, which makes it easier to play up top.) If you have a mystery lit, and the last mystery wasn’t Light TV Mode, do not go after the right orbit to relight your TV mode. Rely on your mystery award for free relights as much as you can. Outside of competition, mystery awards are just okay. They can still be nice, but you cannot rely on them the same way.
Another aspect of the Garage is that shots to it add letters to S-I-M-P-S-O-N-S, the completion of which begins a mode called D’oh Frenzy, during which every switch hit awards 10,000 points and makes Homer shout out his classic catchphrase. This can be valuable if run alongside a multiball, but isn’t something that I try for intentionally. It runs for 30 seconds, and uses the same timer that TV modes do. So, starting a TV mode will extend D’oh Frenzy and vice-versa.
These are TSPP’s version of Shot Multipliers. They are awarded on the right loop when the “Otto’s Bus Tours” insert is lit, which is relit either by hitting the “Light Otto” target in front of the bumpers, or from a mystery award (prioritized just below TV modes in competition mode). Hitting the right loop will start a shot multiplier on the playfield for 30 seconds. While active, all scoring to that shot will be doubled, indicated by a flashing “2X scoring” insert in front of it. When the timer runs out (or the ball ends), the 2X scoring insert will turn solid, and double scoring ends.
These shot multipliers are tracked on the same timer as everything else. So, collecting an Otto will extend the timer for all other shot multipliers, as well as any other modes you have running. It’s easier to start an Otto than it is to start a mode, so the right loop is a great way to extend your timer provided you have an Otto lit. Honestly, the actual multiplier isn’t as important as the timer reset.
When a shot multiplier is complete, it can’t be collected again until you collect all ten. Note one doubler is the pop bumpers which doesn’t have an explicit red “2X” insert, it just lights up an otherwise nondescript insert in the middle of the bumpers.
Itchy & Scratchy Multiball
These are pretty simple two-ball multiballs that are lit by making two shots to the saucer on the right side of the playfield. This is hindered by a three-bank of drop targets in front of it. The target bank becomes harder to clear for each multiball. Initially, clearing the bank is unnecessary, but with each multiball, it becomes necessary - hitting the saucer without clearing the bank will reset the drops. Eventually, the game starts resetting them after a few seconds of sitting uncleared. The easy way to tell is if the arrow pointing into the saucer is lit, the shot will count. You need to make two shots to the saucer for multiball: one to light it, and one to start it. The drops will reset after every shot to the saucer.
During any Itchy & Scratchy multiball, all shots - save for the last shot you hit - are 100k jackpots, with the saucer being a super worth 500K + the sum of all jackpots scored since the last super. Lighting the super follows the same rules as starting the multiball - clearing the bank may be required, depending on how many supers you’ve collected. Again, the arrow tells you if the super is lit.
There are four unique multiballs, the difference between each is what increases the jackpot value, but they’re all pretty comparable in value. That said, Itchy & Scratchy is pretty worthless. On a good day, running one with nothing else will be worth a million if you’re lucky. It’s much better to use these in conjunction with other modes or multiballs. To reiterate, you can light and/or start an Itchy & Scratchy at any time, regardless of what else is going on (although you can’t stack two I&S multiballs on top of each other).
The main multiball of the game, Couch Multiball is started by locking three balls on the couch, accessible by the tiny ramp in the top-left corner. You may need to light locks by hitting the “Light Lock” targets in front of the couch first, but once you’ve locked three balls, multiball begins. Couch Multiball is pretty simple: all major shots are worth jackpots. The Couch is a super jackpot, which also relights all regular jackpots. Subsequent Supers need to be relit by collecting regular jackpots first. Unlike Itchy & Scratchy, jackpots do not relight until a super is scored, meaning scoring supers is incredibly important.
A common misconception is that Couch is worth an absurd number of points on its own. It is very much not. Assuming you don’t score any supers (which, quite frankly, is likely), Couch will be worth a couple million, which isn’t bad, but it’s not exactly great. It’s better to focus on starting more TV modes or Itchy & Scratchy instead. If you’re comfortable going after supers, then things will be better for you, but super jackpots are not easy to collect. After all, getting a ball up to the upper right flipper while managing lower playfield action is difficult, let alone actually making the shot.
I think that supers are worth decent value and shouldn’t be ignored, but they shouldn’t be your primary focus. Again, try and get more stuff going instead. Also, each super collected lights up one member of the Simpson family. A flashing member indicates a super is lit, which I find easier to notice than looking way up at the upper left corner.
Shooting Comic Book Guy will start a hurry-up at one of six playfield shots. A score on-screen will display and start counting down. The faster you collect it, the more it’ll be worth, and the “Hurry Up!” insert will turn solid. As a skill shot, you can shoot Comic Book Guy to start two hurry-ups instead of the usual one. (This is the best skill shot, by the way.) If you stack hurry-ups, the hurry-up value will increase by collecting another hurry-up (or by starting one). This can be very lucrative if you have four or five running at once, which often makes them worth at least a million.
Usually, Hurry-ups are not particularly valuable. I usually ignore them unless they’re worth 700k or more, which only really happens by lighting a whole bunch in rapid succession. They also don’t use the normal timer, and as with everything else, can be started at all times. Failing to collect a hurry-up means you’ll have to try again. If set to competition mode, hurry-ups will be lit from left to right the first time you collect them, each time after that, they’ll be lit in the order you last completed them.
Completing the Bully 3-bank will light a Daredevil mode at the captive ball. Hitting the captive ball will spot targets on the 3-bank, start lit Daredevil modes, and/or increase the value of currently running Daredevil modes. Flashing Daredevil modes are lit, pulsing modes are active, and solid ones are complete.
For those familiar with World Cup Soccer, Daredevil Modes are like Ultras. When a Daredevil mode is running, all hits to the associated feature (such as all ramps during Daredevil Ramps) will award Daredevil points that are scored in bonus. Unlike Ultras, however, Daredevil modes are not that valuable. They finish when you score 750,000 points (which adds a 250,000 point completion bonus), all of which are awarded in bonus post-multiplier. That means finishing all four in one ball is worth 4,000,000 points, which is nice, but it’s a bit more work than it’s worth. I don’t really try to start them, but you end up just completing them as you play. There’s no real strategy to them.
Overall Simpsons Pinball Party Strategy
I find the question I ask myself more than anything else when playing is “What do I do now?” This is especially the case if my Couch or giant mode stack wraps up - there are so many options, and sometimes it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do next! If you’re ever unsure, you really can’t go wrong with heading up for the TV. Getting some modes going is never really the wrong play, regardless of what else you really have going for.
Use Ottos to keep the modes running, and try to lock balls in the Couch when you can help it to get to your couch multiball. Getting dialed in on the couch is pretty crucial since the only other multiball that’s readily accessible is Itchy & Scratchy, which, again, isn’t worth very much. Really, just getting comfortable with the play up on the mini playfield is gonna pay off big time since there’s a lot of important stuff up there, especially those mystery relights. I really can’t stress this enough - if you’re playing on competition mode, those mystery awards are extremely important. Don’t forget about them.
The only other thing which I guess we can touch upon here is that completing all of something will typically light a major mode which is going to be worth a ton of points. Again, you don’t really need to know how they work unless you’re able to get there with some consistency. But if you have five or six TV modes complete, for instance, try getting the rest of them done since there’s a payoff at the end of that road.
This should cover the basics of TSPP. Hopefully, you feel the game’s a bit less daunting. But if you want to get more into the nitty-gritty, diving deep into the late-game stuff, setting up complex stacks, and taking your knowledge to the next level, check out the advanced guide next.