Is also a truly astonishing pinball game built by Bally in 1981.
The first thing you notice about Centaur is the backglass art. If your life is incomplete without a large, lit-up black and white painting of a dominatrix in corset and thigh-high boots riding a creature that appears to be half-orc, half-motorbike, then this is the pinball for you. The playfield art continues the fetish theme with studded leather, whips, riding crops, and similar on every surface. All in black and white. The only colour is the blood-red playfield lamps, the scarlet pop bumpers, and one of the target lamps, which is golden. Even the extra ball light, in a break with tradition, is blue, as opposed to its usual red. It was also the first Bally machine to have rotating lanes when the flippers are pressed, both at the top (to increase the bonus multiplier) and on the inlanes and outlanes.
In terms of gameplay, it looks, playfield-wise, fairly simple. There's a series of lanes at the top, followed by a pair of pop bumpers. There's some target banks below that, one in the centre marked "ORBS" and one on the right marked "1234." There's a loop with some rollover switches in it on the left, and a captive ball above that. There's also a lane marked "Release" leading up the top right of the playfield to a single red target which crosses over the plunger lane. Looks like a standard early solid state affair, doesn't it? Simple, smashmouth gameplay where you can just twat the ball any old how. And it is. If you fancy just thrashing the ball then you can. However there's all manner of wrinkles and similar which reward the experienced player and precise shooting.
For a start, if you drop all the "ORBS" targets then you light one of the Power Orbs at the bottom of the playfield. You can light up to four of these. Then you can drop the (rather awkward) 1-4 targets on the right-hand side to light the release lane. Then, hitting the release lane fires a number of additional balls into play according to how many Power Orbs are lit. However, if you hit the "ORBS" targets in order, then you get an additional ball put into play immediately as well as lighting a Power Orb. Also, if you hit the 1-4 targets in order (harder than it looks because the kickers just love to send the ball careering into them when you least want it) then you can light extra balls or even specials at times. Theoretically, this means you can have an n-ball multiball only limited by the number of balls held within the machine. Similarly, the captive ball lane contains a number of drop targets and switches all back to back, so you have to hit it increasingly hard each time. It's also compounded by the fact that all lanes, switches, and targets reset themselves (other than the number of Power Orbs that are lit) whenever you drop the ball.
It's also got a feature that I don't think I've seen on any other pinball in relation to its outlanes. There's one-way gates between the outlanes and inlanes, and bouncy posts placed in the outlanes at the bottom. The idea is to give the player a chance to retrieve the ball with a good bump at the right time. However an ill-timed bump will probably tilt the machine, depriving the player of their bonus as the game gently mocks, "Low class human."
Speaking of mockery, the voiceover. Pinballs from this era with voiceovers tended to be a bit, well, robotic. "THE. BLACK. KNIGHT. WILL. SLAY. YOU." "GORGAR... SPEAKS!" And so forth. This... doesn't. This has actual sampled voice clips, which would have cost a fortune in 1981. And the voiceovers are surprisingly mellifluous as well. Failing to rotate the lanes fast enough for the ball to go through an unlit one results in the machine gently sneering, "Slow, aren't you?" Then there's the announcement of the general game states. "Release target activated." "Energise power orb." And, of course, "Begin orbian attack!" when you get to the multiball. And rather than background music, it has a low, electronic hum which starts off fairly quiet and builds up the more you light things and hit things until it's audibly throbbing with power.
It's quite rare to find one of these "in the flesh" nowadays given that it is over 30 years old. I have only ever played it in the flesh once. I suspect that its aesthetic somewhat put people off as on the internets there's quite a few folks who deride it as "ugly." Then again, if I owned a goth or heavy metal pub or club I'd see if I could get one of these and bung it in the corner somewhere. When I did get the opportunity to play it in the flesh, at an expo recently, it stopped the traffic (but then so did the Baywatch pinball with its ripped-straight-from-the-uncanny-valley rendition of David Hasselhoff on the backglass.) However, a digital recreation of it is available in Season 2 of The Pinball Arcade for PC, where it is described as "challenging."
I do think, though, that if you do get the opportunity to play one of these in the flesh, you should. I mean... ORCS AND DOMINATRICES. If you pass it up, in the game's words, "Bad move, human."