The Phantom of the Opera Pinball
from FarSight Studios
This game is singular among Phantom games: it's a faithful computer version of the actual physical The Phantom of the Opera pinball machine that was made by Data East in 1990. Once upon a time, you could play an actual pinball machine with this exact artwork and these exact sounds, music files, and point values... or at least, you could dream about it. Only 2,750 Phantom tables were ever made, and estimates now suggest that there are maybe 15 of them in the possession of private collectors and about that many still lurking in ancient arcades and restaurants around the country. The rest of them probably went the way of all the other old pinball tables: they broke over time, were decorated over for new properties, or were junked and are slowly rusting away in a landfill somewhere.
Here's the original table, straight out of the early 1990s:
As classic as they get.
So for most of us who don't have a zillion dollars and the inside hookup to the underground pinball table collectors' community, this game is the only way we're likely to get the chance to ever play this game. And rejoice if you're one of those people, because it's pretty great!
The game is actually one of many that you can purchase through the overall game The Pinball Arcade, which is dedicated to making accurate computerized replicas of old pinball games for computer players. This particular one came with a few others that I haven't tried yet, but if you want to play multiple literature-based pinball replicas, it came with the one based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, y'all.
When you open the main game, it plays about thirty seconds of Elton John's "Pinball Wizard" on a loop, and it is the actual song, not a cover. I feel like the legality is dubious (unless of course it was licensed!), but worth it because I laughed so much.
Clicking on the Phantom table gets you some ghoulish laughter from the Phantom (hi, buddy!) and then this nice informational splash screen for those who don't know the table's background:
Christine's surname is hilariously spelled "Dae" (influenced by her last name of "Day" in the 1989 Little/Englund film, maybe?), but it's great to have the information about the designers and artists who worked on the original game, who otherwise would probably have gone unsung now that pinball has fallen out of favor as a national pastime. The artist for most of the game art, Paul Faris, illustrated a number of pinball tables during their heyday, and according to hearsay, he painted Christine here using his daughter as a model.
Once you've started the game, if you sit idle for more than a few seconds, the camera pans around so that you can see the table in close-up detail from cabinet to board, which is super neat (if slightly annoying because you can't stop it or slow it down, so if you miss something, you'll have to wait for it to come back to that area). It's totally worth it, because it's a gorgeous table and the art is rendered exceptionally well; the only complaint you could possibly have is that some of the 3D modeling on the wires and bumpers looks a little dated, but it does its job just fine and isn't really what we came for anyway. The table itself is stunning.
You really need that camera-panning idle time, too, because there is SO MUCH going on in the artwork here. Obviously, we've got some serious influence from the Lloyd Webber musical; the Phantom's wearing the coat and hat most famous as part of that show's costume, not to mention his mask being white and Christine being in her underwear/jammies here, and the back-glass has a portrait of him that looks an awful lot like one of Michael Crawford's publicity photos.
But there's a note to the left on the table claiming that it's based on Leroux's novel, and it's not lying. The novel is everywhere in the artwork; the most obvious front-and-center touches are Erik's full-faced mask, Christine's blonde hair, and the Phantom's terrifyingly skeletal hands, but there's a ton more. We've got a confused yet determined-looking gentleman in the corner wearing an astrakhan hat labeled "The Persian"; we've got creepy red notes being written by skeletal white hands; we've got a brass grasshopper and scorpion. Possibly the most amazing is a deeply disturbing fat baby Phantom wearing the same mask as his adult counterpart, which is probably going to haunt my dreams. Other touches, less obviously tied to a particular version, include a chandelier that rises and falls, Raoul in his little top hat, a singing Carlotta, a lasso lurking ominously to the side, the score for Don Juan Triumphant, and a trap door that you can lose balls into.
Play is super simple and as close to a classic pinball table as you can get in a PC experience: the space bar shoots the ball, the mouse buttons act as the flippers, and of course all of these can be remapped to different keys if the player wants something different. Your goals include trying to shoot the ball up into the catwalk, which makes the curtain go up; trying to shoot the ball into the organ (to play it!), which causes the chandelier to fall on and eat it; hitting the dressing room mirror to reveal the Phantom lurking (when you do, the ball disappears and reappears out of the trapdoor instead, which is a neat story connection!); nailing the managers in the face (sorry, bros) in order to get into Box 5 (for a bonus, Madame Giry is standing approximately in front of Box 5 in the table art, and the other side of the spinning board from the managers is the Phantom himself inside the Box); and trying to successfully do all the things in the right order to get the 1 million franc payout from the managers for terrorizing everyone.
(So technically I guess you play as the Phantom, in an abstract sort of a way, with your main goal being getting your blackmail money. Although you get the message SING AGAIN when you get an extra ball, which implies you're playing Christine in the Phantom's thrall. I don't think reading heavily into any of this is going to get us anywhere.)
The music is sort of a general pinball musical scheme, but it uses a lot of MIDI electric organ to tie into the Phantom story, which is a lot of fun. When the organ is revealed, the game plays a little snippet of the famous creepy organ music piece used for everything, Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor", which has appeared in a lot of other Phantom adaptations since it's in both the public domain and spookytown.
I really wish I knew who the voice actor was for this, because his impassioned declarations of "I... am the Phantom of the Opera!" and "SHOOT... the catwalk!" are delightful.
As should surprise no one, I was not successful in getting the million francs, which is especially sad when you know that when you do, the lights change on the back of the board to reveal the Phantom's face without his mask! But the internet is there for us with this photograph of the original painting, so you can see him in all his unmasked glory:
That's is a Leroux-inspired face if any adaptation has ever had one. I'm also kind of in love with the greying hair, showing that the artist noticed that the Phantom was supposed to be significantly older than many modern adaptations tend to want to show him.
Overall, it's a great example of a faithfully preserved game moving from one medium to the other, and if you like pinball, there's nothing to complain about. The art is beautiful, the gameplay is pinball-esque, and the table's little touches are cute and kitschy just the way an old-fashioned pinball game should be.