A few days before the big reveal at G2E, I got an invite to swing by Bally Technologies' HQ across from the airport to get a sneak peek at what's going to be new for 2012. I jumped at the chance, and after the jump I'll share what I saw.
While I was cooling my heels in the reception area, I played Cash Wizard, a game that's been out for a few months. It's fast-paced, with a ton of bonus rounds--I played through at least $300 in credits during my time there and got to see several. My favorite played Pilot's "Magic" while the bonus reels were spinning. Good licensing there, since just about everyone knows that song. Well, everyone who's old enough to gamble. And, I as I learned on YouTube, a Selena Gomez cover has introduced the song to a whole new generation.
Back to the slots. I spent most of my time with four machines. The first was a new Betty Boop model, Fortune Teller, which had a bunch of fun bonuses, including Palm Reader, which lets the player put their hands on the iDeck interface before "reading their fortune." I can see this one being pretty popular.
If you haven't seen the iDeck, it basically replaces the button pad (the space where you hit the buttons that activate the reels) with a touchscreen that lets you do several things. In regular gameplay, you use it to select credits, etc, but in bonus rounds it becomes an extra screen, showing content and letting you interact with the bonus.
The next was Total Blast, one of the first games to use Bally's U-Shoot mechanics. Essentially, U-Shoot turns the iDeck into a controller for a video game within the bonus round. Tapping the iDeck sends up a "plasma cannon" (definitely not "photon torpedo") blast that shoots down the spaceships (with oversized guns that look suspiciously like warp nacelles to me)that are flying horizontally across the screen, Space Invaders style. I can definitely see this one appealing to people who came of age in the early 1980s.
Bally's has two big licensed properties coming out in 2012. The first is a slot machine based on Grease. When I toured the facility back in April, design team Alpha Team Four was still working on the game, so I got to see it as a work in progress, without much of the content added. I thought it was pretty neat then, and seeing what they've added, I'm even more impressed. The game is a lot deeper than many of the other licensed titles I've seen, with tons of clips from the movie. Here's an example of one of the bonus rounds:
Grease really isn't my thing, but I can see how it would strongly appeal to a certain demographic. I think this is going to be a successful title. It's the first game that John Travolta's given his permission to use his likeness, so hope still flickers that one day we'll see that Battlefield Earth slot machine. Grease is a wide-area progressive that should be showing up in lots of casinos next year.
The real star of the show, however, is going to be "Michael Jackson: King of Pop," another wide-area progressive (top jackpot starts at $750,000) that I think is poised to become the next "Wheel of Fortune." I don't say that lightly, but between the immersive gameplay and the cachet of Jackson himself, this is going to be a huge, huge title.
When I first heard "Michael Jackson slot machine" I wasn't that impressed. Like the Sinatra machine, it seemed like a way of putting a popular singer's name on a machine. Sinatra at least had some connection to gambling thanks to his long career playing in casino showrooms, but Michael Jackson? It just didn't seem like a fit.
I was wrong. I think this is the machine people will be talking about at G2E, and I think it's going to be an incredibly popular game.
First of all, the licensed content is incredible. They've got about five of Jackson's most popular songs in the game, including "Beat It," "Smooth Criminal," "Dirty Diana," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," and "Billie Jean." When you're sitting in the surround-sound chair, the music is absolutely enveloping.
Second is the way that the game integrates the music and video and Jackson into the gameplay itself. Here's the "Beat It" Bonus round:
Go ahead and play it. As you can see, MJ actually becomes part of the game, with video footage seamlessly integrated into the bonus round. He's an integral part of the game, too, since when you see him you know something good is about to happen.
Adding the surround-sound chair to the mix just makes it incredible. It probably helps that I had game producer Chris Guerrero demo the game for me, but I think the appeal of this one is going to be pretty obvious. It might become the "Wheel of Fortune" of the 2010s.
At the very least, I'm predicting this will be the big story coming out of G2E's expo floor. I hope I'm able to snag a seat at one of these during the show and try out some of the other features.
Going back to casino design, I think games like this, American Idol, Star Trek, and others are going to be taking up bigger and bigger pieces of the casino floor. As branding becomes more important and you have more casual visitors to casinos, it's easy to see that a game like this is going to have an appeal that, say, Double Diamonds doesn't.
I remember that a few years ago licensed properties were on the decline, but I think that they're back in a big way. I'm looking forward to seeing what other manufacturers roll out at G2E. I'm planning to do a quick "report card" that shows what I think of what each one has on display.
This year, like last, I expect traditional game cabinets to be only part of the story, with mobile and Internet gaming taking up progressively more space.