In 1992, Electronic Arts decided to make a pinball game for the Genesis about Motley Crue. You might want to stop for a minute and repeat that to yourself so you have a chance to fully let that sink in. Let me tell you something – people don’t come up with that idea on their own. A concept like that has to either be the result of a computer combining bad ideas at random, or else it’s the born out of some kind of unexpected accident, like those old Reese’s Cups commercials where the chocolate bar mistakenly ends up in the peanut butter. Except in this case, the peanut butter is horrible gameplay and the chocolate is Motley Crue. These days EA has a reputation for being a publisher focused almost exclusively on the mass-market, which only makes it all the more strange that they would intentionally try to create a game absolutely no one would ever want to buy. To fully understand this, we need to examine what the company used to be like in the Genesis’ heyday.
Believe it or not, Electronic Arts used to be one of the most innovative companies in the industry. They gave us gems like General Chaos, Mutant League Football, Road Rash, and Desert Strike. They also brought many hit PC games to consoles, such as Starflight, Might and Magic, and Populous. For the most part, this attitude in favor of creativity and risk-taking resulted in many good, original games.
Unfortunately, it also resulted in Crüe Ball.
It’s easy to see how a game like Crüe Ball could turn an innovative company like Electronic Arts into the risk-averse, uncreative corporate juggernaut that it is today. Something like that has got to leave scars. It’s like inventing the nuclear bomb or some kind of powerful new nerve gas. You don’t just unleash it upon the world and walk away unchanged. Once you see that taking chances can result in something like Crüe Ball, it’s easy to understand why EA would rather just play it safe and work on a slightly better version of NBA Live than risk making a mistake like that ever again.
Who would ever buy this game? It’s hard enough to find one person who likes console versions of pinball OR Motley Crüe, so imagine how unlikely it is that the same person would enjoy both. Especially when you considered that by the time the game came out, the band’s popularity was already long past its peak.
According to the box, a designer of real pinball tables was hired to help make the game. They must have meant that he helped them literally make the game, by working in at factory that manufactured the cartridges or something, because there is no way anyone who’s ever SEEN a pinball machine could have designed these levels. The tables are impossibly huge. Each Crüe Ball “machine” is so huge it requires 3 sets of flippers. A real-life machine based on a Crue-ball level would probably cost millions of dollars to manufacture. If you did absolutely nothing to stop your ball, and it didn’t hit anything, it would still take about a minute and a half just to fall from the top of the table to the bottom.
Of course, that could never happen, because the play area is crowded with a ton of stuff for the ball to bounce off of. Once you put the ball into play, it really becomes more of pinball-watching game than anything else. For a game that calls itself “Heavy Metal Pinball”, it’s actually pretty laid-back. You put the ball into play, and then sit back and watch it bounce off stuff for about 20 minutes or so. After a while, it will bounce near one of your flippers, where you can then put it back into play. Or, if you don’t want to spend the next decade playing Crüe Ball, you can let it fall off. Then you only have 2 left!
On the plus side, this non-emphasis on interaction means that people who have had multiple limbs amputated can still get a high score. So that’s good I guess. On the other hand, every time the ball crashes into something, it’s accompanied by a low-quality blast of an “electric guitar”. And since that happens constantly, the resulting maelstrom of noise sounds something like 25 cars crashing into each other while all at once blasting different heavy metal songs out of cheap radios.
It’s also quite obvious that the developers badly overestimated the musical capabilities of the Sega Genesis. Instead of anything remotely resembling the music of Motley Crue, each song in the game sounds like a jumbled mess of similar sounding “instruments” simultaneously playing different melodies all at the same volume. Try to imagine what Dr. FeelGood would sound like if it was only the lead guitar, bass and singer. Now imagine if they replaced the bass and singer with two more guitars. Now imagine that the guitars were replaced by a couple of guys making “guitar noises” with their mouths. Dunna-Dunna-Dunna-Dun-Dun! That’s every song in Crüe Ball. Believe me; you haven’t really heard “Home Sweet Home” until you’ve finally heard it being farted out of your Genesis.
To be fair, let’s the game does deserve acknowledgement for its impressive graphics. Crüe Ball is easily the best looking pinball game based on a washed up 80s metal band to ever be released on the Genesis.
Speaking of which, there’s actually very little of Motley Crüe in this game. You would think if EA was going to throw away any chance of selling this game by actually promoting the fact it was about them, there would at least be a lot of the Crüe. But there isn’t. There are 3 Motley Crüe songs in the entire game (the other 10 or so tracks were written by not-so-Motley EA programmers), and no band members are ever shown or mentioned, unless you count Alister Fiend, the cartoon maniac that appears on a handful of their album covers.
To me, this would be like making a game with one or two minor glitches in it, naming it Glitchball!, and putting a huge picture of an error message on the front of the box. The back of the box would proudly announce that the game “contains real glitches!” and was made by monkeys. It would have the same effect on potential sales, wouldn’t it?
If you have a Genesis, are a Motley Crüe fan, love pinball, and have no limbs, you might want to check this game out. The rest of us, however, are simply left wishing that EA had accidentally switched two letters, and created Cure Ball, a pinball game based on the music of The Cure. That would have been awesome.
So long, Crüe Ball.