A subjective view of the best games launched by the slot companies at G2E.
Earlier this month, the gaming industry came together in-person at Global Gaming Expo for the first time in two years. That means it’s time to do my annual post-show evaluation of what I considered the best new slot games at the show.
This is the only article I write in the first person every year. Mind you, this by no means is to say certain games are better, will earn more, or will outscore other games in terms of win-per-unit or other measurements. These are simply opinions, based on 37 years of writing about slot machines, as to what I considered the standout offerings at G2E.
It’s always difficult to fit all 10 games into a single article within the space I’m allotted, so we’re going to spread this particular G2E Top 10 list over this and the next edition of Frank Floor Talk in November. Here are the first five games in my G2E 2021 Top 10.
The Wizard of Oz Over the Rainbow
This latest entry in Scientific Games’ franchise of titles based on 1939’s The Wizard of Oz just might be my favorite yet. It is beautifully done, from the outstanding graphics to the mind-boggling collection of features. From the attract-mode scene of the famous poppy field with Emerald City in the background, the artwork is simply gorgeous. There also is the omnipresent theme music in the background, which adds to the effect.
Floating overhead in the scene is the Wizard himself, in his State Fair balloon. Wild symbol increment a must-hit-by jackpot displayed on the balloon, which can hit at any time after crossing a threshold. There is the occasional random appearance of Glinda the Good Witch, who turns entire reels wild. There is the free-spin bonus that is different according to which of the seven main story characters triggered it. There is an expanding reels feature. But mostly, there is a masterful execution of a popular theme with both popular and new features. Well done. This one gets my “best of show.”
This game is notable as much for its hardware as the game itself. It is the inaugural game on IT’s Prism VXP cabinet—the letters stand for “vertical expansion.” The cabinet features a main 27-inch touchscreen monitor and an oversized touchscreen button deck in front of a 55-inch flat-screen monitor that uses a commercial-grade motor to physically rise over the main screen for bonus events.
There are four inaugural titles, but UpShot is a blast. IT’s a pinball-themed game. In the interactive UpShot Bonus, pinball springs appear on the 18.5-inch button deck and the player pushes them to launch virtual pinballs at the expanded monitor, which displays four levels of moving targets. It’s an extremely effective use of perceived skill which, for anyone who grew up playing pinball (like me), provides a great play experience.
Double Top Dollar
This, using the best modern technology, is a faithful re-creation of what was one of my and a lot of other players’ favorite game in the 1990s, Top Dollar. Originally released by the British company Barcrest before that company was acquired by IGT, Top Dollar was a traditional three-reel, single-line slot that was one of the early games with a secondary bonus. On the silkscreened-glass top box were six credit awards from 5 to 1,000, each back-lit with incandescent bulbs. When a symbol on the reels triggered the bonus, the back-lights would flash until landing on one bonus award.
The new version, Double Top Dollar, duplicates all this with stunning accuracy, to the point where IGT went back and resurrected all the original sound files. You hear the same game-show guy shouting, “Yo, you’re a winner!” as in the old days. They also use identical reel strips. The old silkscreening and back lights are replaced by video graphics, but the effect is the same. And for operators, there’s one more advantage: IT’s on the new Diamond RS stepper cabinet, which features IGT Diamond Glass, which places a transparent video overlay on top of the mechanical reels. This allows operators to offer the game in any of several payline configurations, with the overlay changing from the old single-line display to five-line and nine-line setups. A meticulous recreation, masterfully performed.
Thunder Cash Voodoo Magic
This game combines features from two popular Novomatic titles—the Thunder Cash linked progressive game and the spooky Voodoo Magic. the result is that both themes are enhanced with a variety of popular game mechanics, including cash-on-reels, a hold-and-re-spin bonus called “Lock & Win,” and a key symbol that opens up additional reel sets.
But the very best element of this game lies in something at which Novomatic has particularly excelled over the years—custom seating. In this case, it’s the “V.I.P. Mamba Chair,” produced for Novomatic by Patir Design. It is quite possibly the most comfortable slot-playing experience I’ve ever had. The chair is part of the Novostar V.I.P. 3.50 setup, which uses a 27-inch touchscreen LED in front of a huge 50-inch display. The movable chair is more easy chair than slot stool, including bash buttons strategically located at the player’s fingertips, allowing one to recline in a cushy chair and leisurely spin the reels. All that’s missing is a mini-fridge.
Game of Thrones: King’s Landing
While launched last summer, this was my favorite Aristocrat game on display at the show, because the development is so well-done. The game, based on the final season of the epic Game of Thrones fantasy TV series, makes full use of Aristocrat’s massive Neptune Double cabinet and its two stacked 49-inch monitors. All that real estate is used to recreate intricate details of the TV show’s story line, set in King’s Landing, the capital and largest city of the series’ “Seven Kingdoms.”
The graphics are stunning on this grand stage. One of the standout sequences is a mystery feature called Drogon High Fire Reels, in which the dragon-like Drogon creature appears to expand the reels from their four-by-five array to a height between seven and 14 rows. It’s a sequence that has been drawing crowds on the casino floor. Add to this Aristocrat’s signature “Hold & Spin” mechanic, cash-on-reels symbols and a random free-spin feature, and this game executes a beloved fantasy theme in a way few other slot manufacturers can manage.
In November’s installment of Frank Floor Talk, we’ll review top games from AGS, Gaming Arts, Everi, and more from SG and IGT.