How to Get Better at Pinball

Ah yes, classic pinball. As one of the most popular games of our generation, pinball might be an ever present aspect of some of your fondest memories. So it really wasn’t a debate when you found out you could buy your own pinball machine for your man cave. But once you ripped that bad boy open and found it a place in your space, you might have discovered that you actually suck.

Yeah, those childhood memories can really play a trick on you. So now you’ve come to learn that you weren’t actually as good as you remembered. But since you already told the guys that you were hosting a mean challenge-the-winner style pinball battle at your place, you have no choice but to learn.

I learnt most of my pinball skills through years of practice. Working in an arcade definitely helped me keep the costs down and allowed me to play many different machines. I may not have even won a Pinburgh tournament but I’ve sure got plenty of experience to share.

Now the question is, how can you actually get better at pinball? Here are some tips.

It’s All in the Timing

We’ve all been there – watching a little metal ball zipping and zooming, going every which way as it racks up those points. Our gut response would be to go crazy with the flippers in eager anticipation of a ball that might suddenly shoot its way back down. But what you need to realize is that
pinball isn’t a game of chance. It isn’t a matter of getting lucky by going ballistic with the flippers, but a process that you can actually anticipate thus control.

Timing your strike can help you make the most of each contact that you make with that small ball. In fact, there are a number of tricks that involve timing that can help you become the pinball pro you’ve always wanted to be.

Try This:

  • Start off a typical pinball game. Your objective isn’t to win, but to learn the physics of the ball in play.
  • Learn how different flipper positions can impact the ball. For instance, flicking a flipper just as the ball makes contact can result to an explosive ricochet. But having the flippers bent slightly in anticipation of a high-speed ball can result to a loss of momentum, which isn’t always a bad thing.
  • If your ball isn’t going fast enough to rake up points, try to time your flipper flick just as the ball free-falls back down. Strike the ball as it makes contact with your flipper to increase its speed.
  • If your ball is going too fast for you to be able to anticipate how to control it, consider catching it with a dead flipper. Flick the flipper after the ball makes contact to significantly reduce its momentum.

Don’t Freak Out

After a few minutes just watching that small metal ball go absolutely crazy inside the machine, you watch on as it start to shoot straight down the center. Your boys start screaming bloody murder in the background as everyone panics at the sight of certain death. You go crazy with the flippers, hoping to get a random strike. But the ball just keeps travelling straight down, and it shoots straight past your flippers. Dang it. You were so close to breaking your record.

We’ve all been there and most of us even think that these dire moments can’t be fixed or saved. But there is a way. According to expert Bowen Kerins – competitive pinball player and champion – the trick is to not engage both flippers.

Once you see the ball shooting straight down, engage one flipper and keep one tilted slightly upwards to tighten the space between them and lessen the chances of the ball sweeping clean through. Plus, you might also want to give the slap save a try.

The move entails hitting the flipper button so hard that you end up nudging the entire game just enough to move the trajectory of the ball. Doing this can push the ball slightly towards the flipper, which gives you a greater chance to save the ball from shooting through.

Know Your Machine

Every pinball machine is different, because the unique little aspects all have different sizes and weights. In effect, the entire physics of a machine can be different from every other one that you play – even if they come from the same manufacturer. One thing that is similar though is that those flashing lights
usually mean something.

Your machine is trying to tell you something by showing you all of those flashing lights and frantic sounds. So it’s really up to you to decode what it’s trying to say. Follow the flashing lights and try to strike the bumpers that are working to get your attention. Sometimes, those risky shots will help you make the most points in the shortest period of time.

You can get tips for specific machines at Pin Tips. The list is quite extensive so you are bound to find something for your pinball.

Learn the Basics

Bounce pass, cradle, post pass, nudging are some of the basics that you need to learn and practice. Rather than going over all of the basic skills of playing pinball, there are 2 excellent resources.

The guys at Dead Flip have created animations of all of the basic pinball flipper skills. While the Professional & Amateur Pinball Association have beginner, intermediate and advanced tutorials.

Practice Makes Perfect

As with any other game, there really is no better way to improve at pinball than with practice. Taking a few minutes out every day to learn how to improve your playing style should pay back ten fold when the boys come over for a few rounds. But even if they beat out your score, don’t sweat it. Learning from your opponents is part of the process.

Lots of the pros swear by discovering new techniques from their opponents, and claim that they wouldn’t have learned certain trick shots and strategies if they hadn’t watched their friends do it in the first place. So don’t be afraid to strike out if you invite the guys over for a few games – it’s probably the best way to learn a new trick or two.

5 Quick Tips

1. Think More Than One Move Ahead

No it’s not a chess game but even playing pinball, you should try to think at least 2 moves ahead. Not just deciding what you want to shoot at next but where the ball is heading.

2. Set Goals

They can be as small as going “Alright, I’m going to start multiball.” It can be easy to get into a “Just keep the ball in play” routine but you always need to keep the bigger picture in mind. Every game will have progression so it’s important to progressing to obtain more points.

3. Master the plunger

Just about every pinball will have some sort of skillshot to start. Getting the skillshot is often very technical and precise meaning that once you can master the plunger, you should be able to get the skillshot just about every time, and of course skillshots means more points!

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice the same, preferably hard shot, repeatedly. It may seem boring and tedious but if you want to increase your chances of making a certain shot then practicing it over and over again will only help.

5. Every Pinball Machine is Different

Get to know angle and power of the flippers. Just because you’re skilled in playing one machine means that you’ll automatically master every machine. Your game will always depend on how well you can control those bad boys, so play loads of different machines and get a feel of how they can differ.

Final Thoughts

You might think that you’ll end up embarrassing yourself if you invite the boys over to play on your new pinball machine, but they’re
probably just as good as you are. After all, it takes real practice and insight to become a pinball pro. So if you want to impress your guests on your machine or simply earn the satisfaction of being good at the game, keep these tips in mind the next time you blast that ball off to start a new game. Not everyone wants to be good enough to win a competition but most of us want to be good enough to get the most enjoyment that pinballs can bring. Read about my personal favorite pinball.