15 pinball machines in Santa Rosa to check out

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Alex Fuller

Shady Oak Barrel House has nine pinball machines and an assortment of other arcade cabinets tucked in the back of the tasting room.

James Domizio, Magazine Editor

When was the last time you played pinball?

Santa Rosa has over a dozen pinball machines across several local hangouts, so I ventured around town to rate them. Here’s my ranking of the 15 currently operating pinball machines in town.

#15: “Red & Ted’s Road Show” (1994)
Wash Plus Laundromat, 3401 Cleveland Ave. | 75¢ for three balls

“Red & Ted’s Road Show” suffers from three main problems: it’s ugly, it’s not very fun and it’s in a laundromat. The obnoxious aesthetics and clumsy controls combine with an underwhelming playfield to make this road show a no-no. I’d advise bringing headphones or earplugs so you can’t hear the thrashing of laundry and the ugly sounds of the machine.

Whose idea was it to put a construction-themed pinball machine in a laundromat? (James Domizio)

#14: “Game of Thrones” (2015)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | $1 for three balls

Full disclosure: I’ve seen one episode of “Game of Thrones,” and I didn’t like it. But that’s not why this machine is my least favorite in the nine-game Shady Oak Barrel House arcade. On top of uninteresting mechanics and art, it costs a whole dollar to play. Brace yourself … for an underwhelming experience. I had more fun ordering from the taco truck in Shady Oak’s food court.

#13: “Doctor Who” (1992)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | 75¢ for three balls

A “Doctor Who” game from 13 years before the 2005 reboot? Well, there’s worse ways to play pinball. If you’re a superfan of pre-Christopher Eccleston “Doctor Who,” you’ll enjoy this colorful, decently fun cabinet; if you’re not a retro Whovian, don’t bother. This machine is the closest to the bar with only one other pinball machine flanking it.

#12: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | 50¢ for three balls

Not bad! One of the earliest pinball games to feature a pixelated dot matrix display, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was also the first to utilize that display for a mini-game. Instead of a standard pull-out plunger, players pull the trigger of a metal gun handle. Shady Oak’s open arcade space has better and worse pinball to offer.

One of the strangest machines around, this 2006 cabinet was modified some time after 2017 to play Kendrick Lamar songs. (James Domizio)

#11: “Jurassic Park” (1993)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | 50¢ for three balls

If you were a dinosaur kid in the early 1990s, then I don’t have to explain the appeal of this machine. It’s cheap, fun and dinosaur-themed — what’s not to love? The computerized “Jurassic Park” theme song is powerfully nostalgic.

#10: “World Poker Tour” (2006)
Wagon Wheel Saloon, 3320 Mendocino Ave. | 50¢ for three balls

This is one of the more mystifying machines on this list. While playing this card-game-themed cabinet, you’ll hear short, repetitive snippets of songs from Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 album “DAMN.” and the machine’s tech at a loud volume. However, the gameplay is good enough you probably won’t mind sticking out like a sore thumb in the corner of this dark saloon.

Playing “Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast” at The Dirty, a rockin’ Santa Rosa bar. (Alex Fuller)

#9: “Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast” (2018)
The Dirty, 616 Mendocino Ave. | $1 for three balls

Another expensive play, this game still gets high marks due to its strong aesthetic and branding consistent with Iron Maiden’s. Die-hard and casual metalheads alike will find good value in this machine while listening to their choice of several classic Iron Maiden jams. Plus, The Dirty is an awesome place to grab a drink and shoot some ball. Its two machines are tucked in a corner, so you likely won’t be bothering anyone with the machine’s sound effects or music.

#8: “WWF Royal Rumble” (1994)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | 75¢ for three balls

Wrestling fan or not, “WWF Royal Rumble” is a treat. “WWF” is by far the rowdiest machine on this list, with a vibration feature that shakes the entire cabinet at important moments. It also has some of the most fun gameplay on this list. You’ll be unable to resist suplexing quarters into the machine.

#7: “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2017)
The Dirty, 616 Mendocino Ave. | 75¢ for three balls

Another machine that has something to offer for both fans and the uninterested. Excellent aesthetics, entertaining mechanics and a great location make up for a slightly hard-to-pull plunger. The sounds aren’t as loud as “Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast,” but the art style is compelling enough to make up for it.

#6: “Deadpool” (2018)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | 75¢ for three balls

If I could only take one pinball machine to a desert island, I’d probably take “Deadpool.” The machine is the newest on the list and it shows — with the exception of show-stopping sound, it’s got everything: cartoonish aesthetics, advanced mechanics, a big LED screen and a gameplay loop that keeps you wanting more.

#5: “Aerosmith” (2017)
440 Club, 434 College Ave. | 50¢ for three balls

I’m not a huge fan of Aerosmith, but their brand of catchy, hook-based rock is a perfect match for the high-strung yet laid-back nature of pinball playing, and the machine is surprisingly fun. For two quarters, you get incredibly smooth gameplay and your choice of nine Aerosmith tunes to listen to while you play. Bonus points: the machine is stationed right between the bar and the bathroom.

#4: “Ghostbusters” (2016)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | 75¢ for three balls

Who you gonna ball? “Ghostbusters” has an absolutely gorgeous playfield, voice lines by Ernie Hudson and the best high-speed pinball gameplay in town. This is the best modern machine I’ve played in town, so if you’re uninterested in pinball games more than 30 years old, this is the one I’d recommend. If you’re a fan of the classics, however, there’s a couple more I’d like to suggest.

#3: “Star Trek” (1978)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | 50¢ for three balls

Featuring a lower angle than most boards, and beeps and boops in lieu of a fleshed out soundtrack, the slowest and oldest pinball experience in Santa Rosa is a must-play machine for historians of the game. I’d also wholeheartedly recommend it to Trekkies, retro-futurists, classic console gamers and returning or beginner pinballers. Honestly, if you enjoy pinball at all and have some patience, I implore you to seek it out.

#2: “Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man” (1982)
Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 1st St. | 50¢ for five balls

Another slower machine, “Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man” perfectly bridges the gap between high- and low-speed pinball. The paddles are chunky, but the gameplay is pure magic, and the video mode mini-game version of “Pac-Man” is beyond charming. The cherry on top is its ridiculously low cost, the best price on this list.

#1: “Star Wars” (1992)
Juice Shack, 1810 Mendocino Ave. | 50¢ for three balls

I have a good feeling about this. I’m a huge “Star Wars” fan, so I’m pretty biased, but this is a nearly perfect pinball experience. Just a stone’s throw from Santa Rosa Junior College, this loud and vibrant machine has wonderful art, classic dot matrix visuals, a thrilling playfield and a delightful cabinet. If you’re looking for a great after-school activity, bring some quarters, grab a smoothie and park yourself in front of the best pinball machine in Santa Rosa.