Best of Show: My opinion of the very best slot offerings at the 2018 Global Gaming Expo Frank Legato, CDC Gaming Reports · November 5, 2018 at 1:56 pm My normal contributions to this publication are objective features, invariably involving slot machines, and always, as traditional news features require, in the third person. I write in the first person here because the following is completely subjective opinion. Having written about slot machines for 34 years — my first two articles for Public Gaming magazine in 1984 were features on Bally and Aristocrat — I’m often asked for my take on the best new slot games presented by major manufacturers at the annual Global Gaming Expo. That’s what I’ve done here. Here are my personal top slot games launched at the G2E show: Willie Nelson, Everi Holdings All things considered, this was my absolute favorite game presented at G2E, if nothing else, because of the originality that went into its development. Most slot games carrying entertainment themes are created by compiling video and audio clips of an entertainer’s most prominent hits, building bonus event around them, and then gaining the approval of the licensor and the star. In the case of the video version of Willie Nelson (the stepper version was introduced last year), the star himself was intimately involved with the development of the game. As it happens, Nelson lives around a half-hour from Everi’s Austin, Texas games headquarters. Video for many of the bonus sequences were filmed at Nelson’s Spicewood, Texas ranch, which, appropriately, is called “Luck Texas.” Nelson made sure his video slot tapped into an honest depiction of his unapologetic highwayman lifestyle, from drinking on the road — the top Willie Nelson jackpot symbol is supplemented by “Seein’ Double” versions, which count as two symbols in winning combinations — to his love of a certain recreational herb, depicted in marijuana-leaf wild symbols and the max bet of 420 credits. In the end, I like it because it makes you laugh. Everything is accomplished with Nelson’s trademark sense of humor, from the way the “Seein’ Double” symbols blur and wobble around, to the mystery bonus, “Willie’s IRS Beater,” just under the IRS reporting threshold at $1,199, in which Willie lampoons his own famous tax problems, which he settled in the 1990s. (When the bonus hits, Willie says, “It’s your money! Have some fun!”) Paradise Fishing: Hawaiian Fishing, Aruze Gaming America This is a reboot of the slot game that arguably put Aruze on the map in the U.S., and it features an improved version of what made the original so popular — a community-style fishing game played out on an underwater screen formed by a single image across adjacent monitors. Like the original, it features joysticks styled as fishing rods. The main feature of Paradise Fishing is the mystery bonus, in which all players on the bank go into a competitive bonus in which fish swim across the community screen and each player tries to nab fish to accumulate bonus awards. The improvements start with the new “Muso Limited” cabinet. Unlike the original, which had one large video monitor for every two games, each Muso Limited cabinet is topped by a 55-inch, high-definition flat-screen monitor, which, when placed side-to-side, provide a much more fluid image of the underwater sea scene. (For operators, the new cabinets mean the Paradise Fishing bank no longer must be on a wall, where the old monitors had to be mounted. This version can go anywhere on the floor.) The joystick also is improved. It employs what Aruze calls “Real Feel” technology, which means there is tension on the joystick “rod” when a fish on the big screen is caught on a player’s line. The bigger the fish, the bigger the bonus, and the more effort it takes to reel it in. The joystick now has a little reel on it — when a fish bites, you’re trying to reel it in, in an authentic reproduction of fishing. In all, it’s a modernized version of one of the most inventive and fun game features of the past decade. Ghostbusters 4D, IGT IGT’s “4D” series uses gesture control and midair haptic technology to let the player reach out and touch the game to collect various awards. It was used to great effect in last year’s Sphinx 4D game, but with the theme, sights and sounds of the original 1984 Ghostbusters film, the technology really comes into its own. I loved the “Ballroom Blaster Bonus,” in which you can relive the famous scene from the film in which the Ghostbusters catch their first ghosts, destroying a swanky hotel ballroom in the process. You actually feel a tingle if you touch the “proton stream” coming from the characters’ proton-pack weapons. You use your fingers as actual weapons to snag the ghosts. There are secret gestures that unlock additional game features, such as ghosts that appear when you outline a shape in the air. IGT’s CrystalCurve TRUE 4D cabinet is perfect for this game, and the 4D effect seems to be getting better as more games are designed around it. Wizard of Oz Munchkinland, Scientific Games After a few idle years in the history of this hit franchise, Scientific Games has come back with a real winner. It is the first game to be themed specifically on the Munchkin characters from The Wizard of Oz, and it shines partly because of a new, larger version of one of its most compelling cabinets, the Gamefield 2.0. The Gamefield cabinet features a semi-horizontal front screen leading up to an oversized portrait monitor — thus forming a continuous “game field.” The Gamefield 2.0 setup is so big it features a two-seat bench, with spin buttons on each side. The Munchkins and the Yellow Brick Road are dominant in the bonus games, as is a first — a never-before-seen image of the Wicked Witch of the East, which only appeared in the film as legs and feet protruding from under the Dorothy’s house, which, of course, fell on the witch when the house traveled to Munchkinland from Kansas. Scientific Games’ vision of the East witch is diabolically clever, and the large format lets a pair of players become immersed in what is a totally fun slot experience. Motown, Aristocrat Technologies This game is on Aristocrat’s RELM XL cabinet, an oversized version of its main stepper cabinet that is equipped with a 43-inch curved portrait monitor over the reels, topped by a bonus wheel. Aristocrat has used this new setup to create what is one of the most enjoyable reel-spinning experiences ever. You’ll particularly like it if, like me, you grew up listening to the radio in the 1960s. The game includes a jukebox of sorts, on which you can choose a song to serve as background to what otherwise could have been mundane reel-spinning for some. A video appears on the top screen of the artist performing the song as you spin the reels. The videos portray most of the legendary Motown artists — the Temptations, the Jackson Five, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles… you name it. The main bonus also uses the videos as the basis. There is a lot of variety in this game in the video selection, which means I can sit at this game all night spinning reels and enjoying an experience that is quite uncommon for what is otherwise a classic stepper game. CRUSH, Everi Holdings This is one of two games displayed by Everi — which, incidentally, hit it out of the park with its display this year — that uses a main screen displaying no reels. In this case, the screen displays the head of an Aztec-style statue suspended in air, the “Stone Crusher.” At the bottom of the screen, chutes on either side distribute stones for the Stone Crusher to crush, as well as coconuts and gold bars. The idea is to crush the object under the statue head. Each time the spin button is pushed, the statue head drops down to try to crush it. Sometimes, it works on the first try, and credits are added to the meter. Other times — particularly on higher-paying objects like the gold ball — it can take several tries. A losing spin is when you can’t crush the object, but it can become a win as you keep trying. Watch the face on the stone statue. If crushing the object is particularly difficult, the face gets an angry, stressed-out look through repeated unsuccessful tries. Die Another Day, Scientific Games This game wowed due mainly to its unique and unprecedented use of a technology that has been around for more than 150 years — the Pepper’s ghost illusion technique of creating a three-dimensional image, popularized by English scientist John Henry Pepper in the 1860s. It was recently used to stage a concert by rapper Tupac Shakur after his 1996 death and for performances by the King of Pop in the Mandalay Bay show Michael Jackson One. Here, it is used for the latest in Scientific Games’ James Bond series, Die Another Day. When the bonus is triggered, the top screen on the TwinStar Wave XL cabinet rises to reveal a hidden chamber. The player gazes into the chamber to see a spaceship zapping a reel array on the back wall to create wild symbols and multipliers. I’m sure we can expect to see even more creative uses of this technique from the company in the future, but the technology itself is what put it on this list. Galaga, Ainsworth Game Technology Many slots employ a simulated skill game to reproduce something from the world of video games, but few do it better than this game. The bonus faithfully reproduces the act of shooting at alien spaceships on the top screen of Ainsworth’s A640 cabinet in a way that makes the player feel like he or she is really affecting the outcome. It’s great fun, and the fact that it so resembles the old arcade game makes sense — it was designed by Galaga owner and Ainsworth partner Bandai Namco, which worked with the slot-maker last year to create its first Pac-Man game. Colossal Diamonds, Golden Knights Version, AGS AGS kept this one under wraps until G2E, probably to gain the maximum effect from showing it to Las Vegas-based slot directors at the start of the second season of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. The team that is still the talk of the league for reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in its inaugural season. AGS took its Colossal Diamonds game in the large-format Big Red cabinet and transformed it into a Golden Knights-themed, giant three-reel stepper. It can probably be called the Big Gold and Black cabinet for this one. The game play uses the same math as the original Colossal Diamonds, which makes it just as enjoyable to play as the original — the math was what made players flock to and linger at Big Red in the first place. But to that math is added wild symbols and other bonus triggers that use the Golden Knights’ logo images. Fans of Big Red will like this one. Fans of Big Red who are also VGK fans will love it.