Electronic Arts and the Sega Genesis were a match made in heaven. The number of games with EA branding that you’ll see garnering mentions in discussions of underrated Genesis gems, never mind the diversity of said games, makes for as good an introduction to the 16-bit era of console games as any. From my own experience, titles like TechnoClash, Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World, Syndicate, the Road Rash franchise, and James Pond: Underwater Agent continue to make for some fun rainy day activity decades after the system’s heyday. And then you’ve got to love the Madden and NHL series of games on the Genesis, or even their monster equivalents in Mutant League Football and Mutant League Hockey. As a guy who has sworn off buying video games at numerous points in recent years, I caved and spent a small fortune on a copy of the latter, but it’s all worth it knowing I can wind down an evening playing a warped match of hockey as the Detroit Dead Things whenever I want.
Would you believe that Electronic Arts even released a Motley Crüe themed game?
To me, that beast on the cover looks like a cross between Motley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx and one of the Monstars from Space Jam. His name is actually Allister Fiend, who is an occasionally-used band mascot. I forget that they even had a mascot half the time. He’s not so bad, and the screaming reflection seen in the eyepiece on his forehead is a nice touch. Every band seemed to want to create a mascot to compete with Iron Maiden’s Eddie, but he’s yet to be topped, and I doubt that he ever will.
Crüe Ball was a game I had never seen at flea markets or game stores, so I took the plunge when I encountered it a few years ago on eBay and ordered one complete in the box, which I prefer to do because I’ve always liked having (at the very least) the hard-shell case. Along with the manual, the case also contained a poster promoting other games from the developer in addition to their Get A Clue hints hot-line, a mail-in contest card to win the entire Genesis Electronic Arts library, and perhaps most noteworthy, a sticker featuring Allister himself. When it was listed as complete in the advertisement, they truly meant complete.
I’ve heard that there are better pinball games on the Sega Genesis (Devil Crash looks really cool), but I couldn’t resist the allure of the band tie-in. The weird thing is I’m not even that big on Motley Crüe. Sure, I have Shout At The Devil, but when it comes to 80’s hair metal or hard rock, I’m more of a Skid Row and Gun N Roses guy. And if I’m ranking bands with umlauts in their names, they at least go beneath Hüsker Dü and Motörhead. One of my first thoughts about this game was that the more natural fit for a band affiliation would have been to use The Who. Pete Townshend penned the undisputed most-popular song about pinball for their rock opera Tommy. You could apply it so each level is based off themes in the major tracks of the album. This game would kill to have so grand a concept to frame it. Or, if you are going for a band that represents the future of music, they could have went with Pearl Jam. Get this: the pinball can be the pearl!!!
Focusing back towards the game itself, it was released in 1992, the very year that Vince Neil left Motley Crüe. Could this game have had something to do with it the split? It’s possible that the band showed Vince the door when they heard rumours of a solo development deal for the Neo Geo, but I can’t confirm this. It goes to show you how volatile the music industry can be with how quickly a band’s star can fade. Their John Corabi-fronted self-titled album, which sounds as solid as much of their 80’s material to my ears, was Gold-certified. Those would be amazing sales for 2020, but in 1994 that was considered disappointing and a sign that their relevance was fading. You would not have thought they’d been video game-worthy a couple of years prior.
Still, I believe that despite the fact the band branding may have been late into the development and that it didn’t seem like a great choice in hindsight, the heavy metal theme still works. Besides, most up-tempo music blasting through the Genesis sound chip tends to come across as metallic half the time. It’s hard to identify sound-alike riffs from other sources, so I give props to Brian L. Schmidt for coming in with an original score. As I like to use this blog to keep people’s ears tuned into new things, I’ll direct you to the music he created for pinball arcade machines such as Checkpoint and Banzai Run and for other video/arcade games including MechWarrior 3050, Jungle Strike, and the anti-drug beat-em-up NARC. Aside from the trio of Crüe tunes that were also featured (“Live Wire”, “Dr. Feelgood”, and “Home Sweet Home”), you get Schmidt originals such as “Rather Be Happy”, “Twisted Flipper”, and “Feeding Frenzy”. You can select any track to listen to by choosing the Music Demo option from the game’s main menu.
It is a rare occasion that I get to play actual pinball in a bar or arcade, but whenever I do, I realize that a video game simulation can’t compare. The console equivalent doesn’t quite get the heart racing the same, the controls are completely different, and the senses aren’t nearly as overwhelmed (albeit in a delightful way) like the real thing. I played a Metallica pinball game at the Monarch Tavern prior to seeing Ryley Walker perform there last year, and there were so many bells and whistles that it’s hard to keep more than a simple conversation going while playing. Going to Tilt Arcade Bar humbled me even further. The ball seems to travel with a far greater velocity in the real-world, and the loudness and cramped atmosphere caused by other bar patrons can serve as potential distractions.
All told, this is still a fun game because like Sonic Spinball (to use a slightly more extreme example), there are elements that take it beyond the typical pinball machine in spite of some occasionally questionable physics. For instance, you could not replicate the spinning pattern of the Beethoven heads encountered in the second level or the movements of other assorted creatures that cross the screens. Targets such as these are plentiful, and proceeding through the game demands you strike them hard and often. Get your hands on a manual because it is rather helpful to determine how to advance in the game. Since you can’t see the entire table at once (it is divided into three tiers), learning the finer details by visual inspection alone isn’t really an option.
I’ll confess that I used the pause button, one of the more notable things that separates this game from the real deal, to jot down a few notes on the game. I’m frankly not sure why they put this option in there because even the game manual calls you a wimp if you do so. Also, there were times where the ball would play off the tips of the flippers in a way that it would linger there for what felt like forever. Aside from the flipper controls, you can also ‘tilt’ the machine to give the ball a little more english. I hardly ever use that button, much like I wouldn’t at an actual pinball arcade. The puzzling thing is that this game has you suffer no consequences from over-utilizing the tilt option. I’ve played a few where you have a limit of tilts, and exceeding that limit locks your flipper controls. Here, you get none of that. Not even an irritated arcade manager demanding you go easy on the machine and insisting he’s not made of money.
There are a plethora of characters in the game, but one of the most intriguing to me is this floating head guy wearing shades (his name is Craig) that you battle in the upper tier of the table. He reminds me of a modern-day Sammy Hagar. Craig pretty much serves as the gatekeeper that stands between you and the next level. Sorry, scratch that, there are no levels in this game. Rather, they are called volumes. Once you proceed past Craig, you hear someone yelling “Crank It Up!!!!” as the layout of the machine changes. Disclaimer: The volume doesn’t actually get louder.
I’ve only ever played this game solo, but it does have a multiplayer option that supports as many as four gamers. Unlike the EA Sports games that came after this, the four-player adaptor is not compatible with Crüe Ball, and since the sensory overload would be absolutely insane going with a four-way splitscreen, the multiplayer modes are there to allow for alternating turns. Believe me when I tell you that there are enough distractions already with just the one table showing on the screen. Your eyes will always be moving to ensure you knock off prerequisites such as collecting letters to spell “Head-Banger” or cracking your way through walls and other perimeters.
On top of the level completion objectives, there are further achievements you can reach that allow you to catapult the ball right off the table and into a bonus screen. This portion of the game feels like a cross between pinball and Pong, but looks as if it’s set on a graffiti-tagged basketball court. You can really rack up the points in this stage, with each.. whatever they are (‘Bad Bones’ apparently) being worth 25,000 points.
Points are sweet and all, and it’s not terribly difficult to launch into the bonus screen, but game advancement became my priority after a few attempts. I really wanted to get past Level Volume 2, but it got to be an issue of stamina. After hitting my daily high score of 7,550,200 points, I felt like I got worse as I played longer. By the time I reached my tenth game, my eyes couldn’t have been more strained if somebody handed me an old issue of Playboy with a Bea Arthur centrefold. Nonetheless, the game has been addictive enough to make me want to take some more stabs at it in the coming weeks. Maybe I’ll have better luck if I play while standing up. Not that it served me well on the real machines or anything.
Pinball games aren’t for everybody, but I think that there is enough going on in this game that it warrants repeated plays. It seems to provide a good but not insurmountable challenge and is a style of game that is refreshing in that you don’t need to overthink what you are doing. If Crüe Ball tickles your interest, click here if you want to see some extended footage of the gameplay. I don’t think you would lose as much of the gaming experience on an emulator using a computer keyboard as you would with other console games, so that might be a good option for trying this game out.