PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating
RELEASE DATE: 1983
Even before the release of Sega Flipper in 1983, Sega was no stranger to pinball. Sega of Japan manufactured over twenty pinball machines between 1972 and 1978, with deliciously surreal themes like Cha-Cha-Cha and Woman-Lib. Sega ceased production on “da pinball game” for sixteen years (not counting Segasa, Sega’s Spanish division, which continued to make machines until 1986) until the company bought Data East’s pinball division in 1994. Sega then produced franchise-driven tables like Baywatch, Twister, and several other dated relics that are probably still functioning in your local bowling alley. As the pinball comeback drew to a close in the late ’90s, Sega pulled the plug on their pinball productions once and for all in 1999.
In between Sega’s flights of pinball wizardry came Sega Flipper, Sega’s first video pinball title, and according to Sega Retro, one of the first video pinball titles ever released after Atari’s Video Pinball console and 2600 game. I’d like to say that Sega Flipper turned video pinball into a formidable genre, but the game performs as you’d expect from such an early title: one-screen, no scoring objectives, playable, and ultimately, perfunctory.
Did you somehow miss the screenshot above? Look again, and behold! Sega Flipper in its entirety! There are four bumpers, three rollover targets, a handful of side targets that give you some stray bonus points, two mini-flippers in the left-hand corner, and the occasional blinking target that appears in sporadic places. As I started my first game, the ball bounced quickly and effortlessly between bumpers and targets in rapid succession. I racked up streams of points, and my waning self-esteem was given a much-needed boost. The excellent science-fiction sound effects brought me further into the game’s neon clutches. Then just as quickly, just as effortlessly, the ball dropped down into the darkness below the flippers, despite my best efforts to elevate it back to glory. Three balls later, the game was over, and the spell was broken.
See, the high speed at which Sega Flipper moves forces you to pay more attention to the ball, distracting you from the otherwise spare table. This was likely Sega’s intention and the game initially sucked me in. After a couple more rounds, however, I grew weary of the table and its lack of features. The table feels hastily pieced together, as if Sega rushed Sega Flipper out the door as quickly as it could. Given the poor quality of other SG-1000 titles, it wouldn’t surprise me if this were the case.
Sega Flipper may have been one of the first video pinball games, but consider that Nintendo’s Pinball was released the following year for the Famicom. With the latter game’s two wholly unique and separate screens (three, if you count the bonus stage), Pinball was more akin to playing on a actual pinball table than Sega Flipper. Besides having multiple targets spread out across the two screens, Pinball also had numerous scoring objectives, a feature that makes the game playable to this day (those dancing seals and penguins don’t hurt either). Incidentally, Sega Flipper lacks scoring objectives, and I can’t help but feel that the game would hold up better if it had them.
There are few video pinball aficionados left in the gaming scene today, and fewer still that remember Sega Flipper. Sure, the game was an SG-1000 exclusive, which severely limited whatever impact it could have had, but it also lacks the freaky 70s creativity – heck, any creativity – that Sega invested in its actual pinball machines. Early example of the genre or not, Sega Flipper remains one of many unfortunate testaments to how poorly Sega treated its first home console.
Special thanks to the Internet Pinball Database.