It can be difficult to know quickly if a pinball is enjoyable or not. Some tables take a while to reveal themselves while others are instantly entertaining but end up being little more than a pretty light show. There’s a balance to accessibility and depth that can be hard to create and more often than not it takes several games (usually at a dollar apiece) before a good table shows what it can do. It’s a bit early to tell how the new Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast pinball will hold up over the coming months, but I’ve gotten to play it every week for the past three weeks (shoutout to my local pinball place, Coast City Comics) and found a table that starts off instantly entertaining and is packed with features, modes and tricky shots that promise to make long-term play every bit as fun as the earliest games.
Iron Maiden is an instantly appealing table with bright art covering an accessible layout, with multiple ramps and lanes plus four flippers to send the ball wherever you’d want it to go. Iron Maiden’s iconic mascot Eddie is everywhere on the board, as a massive pharaoh on the back art to cyborg Eddie, straightjacket Eddie, soldier Eddie, etc. The whole machine looks fantastic but it’s not until plugging a handful of quarters in that the audio fires up as just as vital a component. At ball’s start you can choose from a dozen Iron Maiden songs as your soundtrack, all official versions playing in full. Aces High, Number of the Beast, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Powerslave (which will never not make me think of the Saturn), and more are all available. In addition to providing the soundtrack most of the songs also have game modes associated with them, so a good ball’s worth of play can switch out multiple tracks along the way.
Once you’ve chosen a song it’s time to send the ball flying, and the standard skill shot is relatively easy to hit once you’ve got the feel for it. There’s enough going on in the playfield that even batting the ball around is generally enough to get something happening, but a little focus lights up the board pretty quickly. The white-light lanes light up E-D-D-I-E, which raises the center ramp for a shot to the underworld and starts a new mode plus with new song, and getting through lights up the mode’s spot on the tracker right above the flippers. Getting all six modes earns one of the four Eddie cards lit up a little above the center of the board, while the other three cards are activated by their associated multiball modes. There’s a lot to shoot for and you’re bound to get at least a couple of multiballs on a semi-decent game.
What makes Iron Maiden work so well, though, is how deceptively simple the overall layout is. If you were to cut the playfield in two the lower half has almost nothing on it, while the top is crammed with lanes, ramps, targets, bumpers, captive ball shots, a small flipper feeding two side-lanes on the right and a bigger flipper aiming at another lane on the left, and a jump to a target embedded in the back wall of the playfield. On the one hand this means you can usually hit something by sending the ball up the field, but advancing the modes in any deliberate way requires proper skill. The actual feel of the table, despite its heavy metal roots, is one of relative kindness, and it wants you to have a good time playing even if you’re not some deadeye pinball cyborg. The flippers are close enough together that it’s possible to rescue a ball rolling down anything but the pure center of the table, and the verbal instructions couple with the flashing shots to make it very clear what you need to aim for. The balance between straightforward targets like the big center ramp and the underworld shot beneath it, and trickier ones like the bumper-guarded left ramp or the lanes off the little flipper is very well done, and the harder shots can generally be hit a time or two just due to the sheer number of attempts a good ball’s play will give out. There are even a few fun surprises like a hidden door off the left ramp that takes the ball behind the back wall of the playfield.
It can take a bit for a good pinball to sink in. Iron Man felt overly harsh until one day it clicked, at which point it became one of my go-to machines, while others like Batman 66 seemed excellent at first until I realized I hadn’t played in weeks. Every once in a while, though, a machine shows up and lands hard, being a great time at the start while the chance to be even better dangles tantalizingly ahead, if only I can master a few shots and keep the ball in play. Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast combines art, music, layout and accessibility into a single fantastic pinball experience, and at this rate it’s shaping up to be a table to play for the long haul. Besides, you can choose the wonderfully ridiculous Flight of Icarus as the background music and it’s almost impossible to go wrong with heavy metal cheese of that caliber.