Italy's Pinball Legacy Is Finally Playable on Steam

An intercontinental change-up to your pinball addiction.

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Jul 2 2016, 1:00pm

Ah yes, the NY loft with a water bottle, where I play all my pinballs. Image: Steam.

If you've played a pinball machine, you've likely played a Williams machine like Addams Family, Pin*Bot, or Funhouse. If it looks like a new machine, it was probably a Stern, which made, AC/DC, Iron Man, or Lord of the Rings pinball tables. Heck, you might've encountered something made by Bally, Sega, or Gottlieb in your time. If you live in North America, where most pinball machines have been manufactured and played, it's unlikely you've bumped into something from Zaccaria, despite the Italian company thriving for over a decade and creating nearly fifty tables. If you've desired a more intercontinental experience of a silver ball getting smacked into targets a hundred times a minute, a massive collection of digitally recreated games is now available through Steam.

At its peak, Zaccaria was the third-largest manufacturer of pinball machines in the world, pacing behind Bally and Williams, but has remained largely obscure. The company was founded in 1974 by Bolognese brothers Marino, Franco and Natale Zaccaria. Marino was a bar owner who found that his patrons couldn't get enough pinball action, eventually asking his brothers to drop out of school to help him with his businesses. A recession that plagued Italy in the late-'60s through the '70s made importing big honkin' American machines extremely costly. The brothers resorted to refurbishing their current machines with different art to pass them off as new, a suggestion made by psychedelic artist Lorenzo Rimondini, who would become one of the Zaccaria's closest collaborator.

They decided to start manufacturing their own machines, starting with a bowling-themed table called Strike in 1974. Their main logo, three large yellow Zs, have tinier letters inside for each brother's first initial, likely leaving many scratching their head to figure out what "MFN" was an acronym for. The company produced machines until 1988, when it went bankrupt.

Some "qualita" stuff, whatever that means. Credit: The Internet Pinball Machine Database.

On top of Rimondini's vivid art (pinball fans have a particular fondness for Farfalla), Zaccaria machines have a passion for creative mechanical doohickeys. 1986's Blackbelt has a neat rotunda of targets, panels which turn after every touch like the face of a combination lock. Time Machine, from 1983, has a stunning elevating platform, a frisbee of targets and bumpers that moves above and below the main table, changing it completely from second to second. The most famous feature of Zaccaria machines are the last ball. After your main balls have ended, you are given an extra, bonus ball, but this one is based on a time limit, the seconds earned during your main game. When the timer runs out, the flippers freeze up, giving every player a dramatic hail mary opportunity to quickly rack up some points.

Magic Pixel's digitization of the Zaccaria catalogue is pretty impressive, and each table can be bought individually or in big ol' bundles. The machine's art and lights look very nice (once you turn off the needless glass reflection), and the sounds of the vintage machines feels authentic. It's rough around the edges in certain ways. The user interface looks like a Flash game. The balls feels cardboard-light and can whip around the table like stray leftovers in tupperware. Tying many of the camera functions to a bundle upgrade feels… cruel. But Magic Pixel will let you float up and down these glorious machines free of charge charge, which FarSight's Pinball Arcade series bizarrely forces you to pay additional for.

But if you're an arcade nut with a history edge, then I'll let you get to it. Arrivederci wizards.