Best of Show Frank Legato, CDC Gaming Reports · November 1, 2019 at 10:00 am Here’s a subjective view of the best games that were on offer last month at the Global Gaming Expo. For most of the year, this space consists of articles written in standard, objective news style. However, in the wake of the annual Global Gaming Expo, I like to use one column to offer my purely subjective, first-person take on what I considered to be the best slot games launched at G2E. Mind you, this is by no means 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 35 years of writing about slot machines, on what I considered the standout offerings at G2E. From my perspective, Scientific Games knocked it out of the park this year. For Best of Show, I’m going with their Gold Fish Frenzy, a pachinko-style game with an element of skill. There are no reels on this game, just a giant portrait screen displaying a pachinko pegboard surrounding rows of goldfish bowls, each bowl representing a progressively higher award. The player launches a ball from the top of the screen, and the skill involves the timing of the launch – physics are actually involved in where the ball ends up falling and whether or not it lands in one of the award bowls. It’s great fun, and once you get the hang of when to launch, this one definitely promotes extended time-on-device. Scientific Games was also one of the manufacturers that revealed radical new game presentations at G2E. In this case, it was the Horizon cabinet, an attention-grabbing format featuring a 49-inch curved main monitor topped by a 69-inch top display which is curved to appear almost cylindrical. SG used it to showcase Die Another Day, a great new entry to the James Bond series; and Monopoly Money Grab, which applies the tried-and-true Monopoly theme to the new form factor. What is great about both of these presentations is the interaction between the two video displays—from wild reels to wheel spins, activity goes from the top of the giant display to the bottom. (The “Gadget Bonus” in Die Another Day should be a fan favorite.) Scientific Games also gets a mention for Cash Spin, a reprisal of the classic video slot that introduced the “U-Spin” bonus feature, the first such feature to allow the player to physically swipe an interactive pad or screen to affect the spin of a bonus wheel. The U-Spin feature originally used the interactive iPad device for spinning the wheel; the new version has a physical bonus wheel that you actually reach up and spin with your hand. Speaking of great new hardware, Aristocrat gets a nod for the stunning video arch that served as an entryway to its G2E booth. At each end of the arch, a game was displayed on the giant, curved Arc Double cabinet—Jin Ju Tree, in this case—with an interactive video display overhead connecting the two cabinets. Game elements travel to the overhead display and caused feature like apples falling from the trees and landing on the reels as wild symbols or multipliers. Other great hardware from Aristocrat included the Edge X cabinet, which hosted Star Trek: The Next Generation. Lots of great nods to the 1990s sci-fi series in this one. Trekkies will love things like Captain Picard adding a third symbol to the screen, after a spin to trigger the bonus, with his trademark line, “Make it so.” Hardware, in fact, was a main attraction for many of the manufacturers this year. For IGT, new games in established game groups were designed to use the best features of hardware like the Peak 49 Slant cabinet, which offers a giant, 49-inch monitor in a standard footprint. IGT used it to launch the newest games in the venerable Wheel of Fortune series, Wheel of Fortune Mystery Link and Wheel of Fortune Scarab Link. Both progressive links feature the latest craze in the slot sector, the so-called “hold-and-spin” feature. In both games, the feature is compelling. The Mystery Link features a digital wheel in a mystery bonus that can result in multiple progressive jackpots. Pointer symbols on the reels correspond with one of the slices on the wheel, which causes the wheel to spin with the higher value. This continues until no pointers land for three spins, or until the entire screen is filled with pointers, resulting in the top jackpot. In the Scarab link, when a Scarab symbol lands anywhere on the reels, it turns that reel symbol gold. As players continue to wager and spin, they’ll collect additional Scarab and gold symbols. After the 10th spin, all gold symbols are transformed into wild symbols for what’s usually a big win. No mention of IGT, of course, is complete without mentioning video poker. The supplier launched several new video poker games employing bonus features that are funded by some extra per-hand ante wager. My favorite was Super Times Pay Wheel Poker, which features bonus spins on a wheel that includes $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 and $4,000 slices. That’s some big money for a wheel spin, never mind a video poker game. For Konami Gaming, the big reveal at the show was the Concerto 49J cabinet, with a 49-inch curved monitor shaped, fittingly, like a “J.” My standout choice on this cabinet is Silent Hill Escape, which recreates the classic Konami video game, and the movie based on that game, about an abandoned town infested by creepy subterranean supernatural creatures. The ultra-high-def graphics on this game are stunning. You can’t take your eyes off the images, and on a slot machine, that’s good news for the operator. More hardware standouts: Novomatic Americas rolled out a beautiful game called Samurai Beauty that is backed by a giant video wall formed by 24 linked 55-inch high-definition video monitors. The effect is striking, and the display itself is scalable to smaller venues, since it is formed by linked monitors. The video wall is interactive and linked to events of the game itself. AGS got in on the hardware bonanza as well, with its new Starwall cabinet, which features its own backing LED video wall displaying beautiful HD graphics related to the inaugural games Golden Wins Deluxe and Jade Wins Deluxe. AGS also launched its new 49C cabinet, which uses a 49-inch curved cabinet to display intricate 3D-rendered graphics in the game Majestic Riches. New formats such as these were dominant at G2E. Aruze got in the pachinko mode with Pachincoin, a carnival-style presentation of a screen that looks more like a pinball machine than a slot machine. With no spinning reels, the screen displays numerous credit awards that are returned when a spot is touched by a pachinko ball. The best part of this game is that you can launch several pachinko balls at once and watch as awards are triggered left and right. This one ranks right up there among the trade show’s best offerings. My personal favorites tend to be games like these, which offer something different than both reel-spinning and the now-standard hold-and-spin feature, which was ubiquitous at G2E this year. Along with the pachinko-style offerings from Scientific Games and Aruze, this category has to include some of the games from the suppliers specializing in skill-influenced features. My favorite among these was Pac-Man Cash Chase from Gamblit, if only because I can be entertained for days by an authentic Pac-Man game, and that’s what this is: Pac-Man with cash prizes. Honorable mention in this category goes to two games from Synergy Blue, the shooting game Lucked & Loaded and the Angry Birds-style Zombie Heat, with its side view of a castle under siege by zombies. Every shot at a target, or cannon blast toward a zombie, counts as a wager on these games, but that’s all seamless. These games are fun. In another G2E highlight, Gaming Arts, the successful bingo supplier that recently ventured into the slot arena, showed off games that were anything but those of a startup. That’s because Gaming Arts built an all-star cast of veteran game designers over the past two years. The skills of designers like Jean Venneman and Keith Kruczynski are in abundant evidence in inaugural games like Hamster Libre. Hamster Libre is one of a new series of wheel games Gaming Arts launched at G2E. But the fun part is way the developers used the central characters in the video slot, which are – yes, you guessed it – hamsters. When the player gets to the wheel bonus, a hamster climbs up on the treadmill and spins the wheel. The bonus involves male and female hamster wrestlers. Great stuff. Everi displayed its usual great variety of games, including a new in-revenue game for the TournEvent tournament system called Super Jackpot Deluxe. However, the standout for Everi, from my perspective, was a new version of a simple reel-spinner launched last year. Cash Machine Jackpots adds a progressive jackpot and a wheel bonus to the wonderfully simple game introduced last year. As with the original, each of the symbols in a simple three-reel game is a number, some of them double numbers. What you see is what you get—just read the numbers for the win, with the top combination, 10-5-00, returning $10,500. Other standouts for Everi included the Wicked Wheel series, which feature a bonus wheel on which credit amounts, multipliers and jackpots change as game characters land on the reels and which offer fun background music – specifically, the 1978 disco hit “Le Freak (Freak Out)” by Chic – for frequent wheel spins. Another highlight was The Vault, with a great high-definition video display depicting piles of cash that ultimately travel from the top screen to the main game screen There were many more games from various manufacturers that stood out at G2E, but these were my personal favorites – or, at least, the ones I could mention in the comparatively limited space of this article. Had I included everything I liked this year, the article would have turned into a book.