- An upcoming Stranger Things pinball game has the first video screen to appear on a mainstream table.
- Pinball machines combine emerging tech with old-school mechanics like electromagnetics to create new magic.
- Stern leaned into Stranger Things‘s ’80s aesthetic to tap into nostalgia for the golden age of pinball.
Gizmodo reports that Stern Pinball is upping its game with next year’s selection of Stranger Things tables. Stern is the last major pinball company in the world, and it’s used Stranger Things’s telekinetic main character, Eleven, to bring in new technology inspired by the ‘80s setting of the show and illusory stage magic.
Stern is a relatively young company; it started eight years after the Who’s pinball ur-text Tommy and two years after the movie adaptation. (Tommy itself finally became a pinball machine in 1994.) All of Stern’s machines are assembled by hand at its Chicagoland factory, and licensed machines like Stranger Things have helped the company stay relevant. Stern’s recent aspiring rival, Jersey Jack Pinball, has embraced the same model, both by tapping pop culture properties and by introducing technology like bluetooth into its table designs.
The Stranger Things table comes in three trim levels that cost between $6,000 and $9,000. All have the same hand-drawn art inspired by the Netflix show, and players cruise around the usual ramps and flippers to avoid triggering a switch to the Upside Down. Stern says a built-in projector and screen, for the second- and third-tier models, are the first of their kind in the pinball industry. The entry-level table has a retro-looking storefront design on this space.
One famous exception is an industry-changing ‘90s machine based on the Twilight Zone remake that was popular in the late ‘80s. This machine had one white ceramic ball that was exempt from the magnetic fields that influenced the rest of the steel balls.
Stern told Polygon that it welcomed others into the industry because that would mean there was an industry—no longer just “the last pinball factory in the world,” but multiple companies working to build interest in pinball with all of their products. Pinball video games have remained a steady, popular subgenre for decades, but nothing beats the hands-on experience and mechanical wonder of a pinball machine.