If there’s one rule that 90’s movie-themed pinball machines follow, it’s that the best games are themed after the absolute worst movies. Johnny Mnemonic? Demolition Man? Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Horrible movies, but great games! It obviously follows that Congo, a 1995 movie with an abysmal Metacritic score of *22*, would become the best pinball machine ever to roll out of the Williams factory doors. Designed by John Trudeau, the Congo pinball machine has many unique features combined with a smooth and satisfying layout, hilarious callouts, supreme dot-matrix artwork and a bangin’ soundtrack composed by Vince Pontarelli. Its uniqueness starts when you plunge your first ball. There are two skill shots in Congo; the first is a traditional “hit the flashing target”-style skill shot. The second, however, requires you to plunge the ball softly across the playfield and landing it in the left outlane, where the ball is then kicked back into play and a super skill shot is awarded. The game takes advantage of this feature in a fun mode started at the MAP award saucer called Skill Fire. In Skill Fire, the flippers are killed and the player is given 20 seconds of unlimited ball save to plunge as many skill and super skill shots as possible. The regular skill shot in this mode starts at 10 million points, and the super skill shot starts at 20 million points. However, both shots’ values increase by 10 or 20 million when you score a skill shot or super skill shot respectively, up to a maximum of 50 million per regular skill shot and 100 million (!!) per super skill shot. A perfect run of this mode can score over a billion points in only 20 seconds! Another cool feature is the backwards-sloping lower playfield, where you use the gorilla to flip a ball down into the C-O-N-G-O targets in the Gray Attack mode. This playfield also gets some use during the “Super Multiball” wizard mode, where you can score jackpots on both playfields at the same time! Such a feature wasn’t seen on a game again until The Simpsons Pinball Party, which was released ten years later!
The beauty of Congo lies in its numerous ways to score points. There’s no point in Congo at which absolutely nothing is ready to go for some big scoring action. Even when no locks are lit and the Mystery and Map saucers are unlit, the player is only 3 left orbits away from the AMY mode, in which the ball is fed to the upper flipper for three shots at the AMY rollover target area, worth up to either 25 million or 50 million each, depending on whether or not the Mine Shaft orbit is used to make the shots. Completing this mode rewards the player with 15 diamonds.
If you’re going for a big score on Congo, there are a few things you should know. First, determine whether or not the game is in tournament mode. If you don’t already know if it is, you can force the game into Tournament Mode by holding down both flippers after inserting your coins and waiting until the display says “TOURNAMENT MODE ENABLED”. Tournament mode sets the Mystery awards in a fixed order. This is advantageous because it allows you to start the game by lighting Mystery (by spelling Z-I-N-J) and shooting it to start Diamond Hunt Multiball, a two-ball multiball in which every shot is worth two diamonds. Diamonds serve two purposes; firstly, they light your locks at increasingly large intervals throughout the game. Secondly, they increase your regular multiball jackpot value. Since you only need a small amount of diamonds to light the locks for your first multiball, you can maximize the amount you have coming into your first multiball by taking advantage of Diamond Hunt Multiball to score more than enough diamonds to light your first lock, and then use the first G-R-A-Y award (20 Diamonds) to light your second lock. With a good run in Diamond Hunt, this strategy could be the difference between multiball with 30+ million point jackpots and multiball with 16.5 million point jackpots. If you use this strategy, the second G-R-A-Y award, instant multiball, will be ready for you after the first multiball, meaning that you get to play a second multiball for free! Additionally, this strategy puts you quite a bit closer to Super Multiball (which you reach by collecting 100 diamonds) than you would be by lighting the locks normally. Cruising through the MAP awards should also be a priority since reaching Skill Fire can be good for up to a billion points, as I mentioned earlier. Spelling MAP with three consecutive shots to the left ramp awards you an extra 20 million for the “MAP Combo”.
One final cool trick in Congo involves the “Mine Shaft” video mode where you attempt to navigate left and right through a mine shaft in search of diamonds, points, and not getting mauled by wild creatures. There is one path through the mode at any given time in gameplay that will give you the point awards and progress you towards completing the mode. This path is random, but it will remain the same in a multiplayer game until the mode is completed by collecting the 50 million award and 15 diamonds at the end of the shaft. If you are playing with someone who starts this mode but doesn’t complete it, you can take advantage of that situation by learning from their successes and mistakes. You can use the path they used to score at least the same points they did! Additionally, if you finish the mode, you handicap the other players since the path will change before they play the mode again.
Congo rocks, seriously. I am currently using the “multiball is lit” song as my ringtone. If you haven’t played Congo, you really owe it to yourself to give it a shot. From tournament nerds (like me) to casual players, everyone can find something to enjoy in Congo. Even if it’s just laughing at the dude with the awesome sunglasses on the translite.