Is a mildly alarming pinball machine devised and built by Williams Electronics in or around 1987.

I first encountered this at the South Coast Slam in Worthing (a foul place, is Worthing, full of old people, gull shit, past seaside glories, chippies, and UKIP voters; don't go there) where I actually heard it before I saw it. I was happily flipping away at a Cirqus Voltaire (itself a rather alarming game but for totally different reasons) and while I was doing this, I heard this slightly crackly voiceover shouting, "LIONMAN! LIONMAN!" every verse end. Once I'd finished my attempts at joining the cirqus (which failed, although I did exceed the replay value) I turned around and saw this particular game. I then hovered behind the man who was causing this consternation and once he drained his last ball I hopped in there.

The backglass art is a bit meh to be honest. It features an AFGNCAAP in a full face helmet inside a flamey cavern filled with orcs and other monsters. The cabinet side art is lovely and runic and very eye-catching, and so is the playfield art, which has a sort of Heavy Metal (the comic, not the music) vibe to it (albeit without everything resembling a penis or a pair of tits.) The player, I assume, takes the role of this nameless, faceless warrior, and presses the start button. An extremely loud voiceover then yells at them, "CHALLENGE ME!" and the game is on.

Playfield wise, well, it's unusual in that it's one of only two pins I've seen that have no bumpers (No Fear being the other one). There's four flippers. Two at the bottom, naturally, with a fairly big gap between them and a small pin that prevents too many straight down the middle affairs (allegedly). A third one in the middle of the playfield near the top, activated with the left button (because it emerges from a left-facing wall), and a fourth one on an elevated mini playfield in the top left of the cabinet (from a right facing wall, and thus worked with the right button). There's just one single solitary ramp right in the top centre which curls into the top right corner, and then has two diverters to two rails heading across to different areas as well as just ditching the ball mid-playfield should neither diverter go off (similar to the system in F-14 Tomcat.) There's a set of 7 targets throughout marked "avenger" which are to be hit to light same. There's a loop each side of the ramp which is marked "Ogre's Alley," and then there's another very tight loop with spinners at each entrance below the upper left flipper. (Are you following all this at the back?) Then there's a lane which goes under the mini-playfield which acts as the ball lock. And finally, on the far right of the playfield, there's The Magic Tunnel (fnar.) This leads all the way round the back, goes up a short ramp, and deposits the ball on the mini playfield. This edifice contains 5 drop targets for your small, stumpy fourth flipper to try to hit.

Anyhow. So. You launch the ball and it finds itself most likely on the mini playfield in the top left. Using the short flipper, you attempt to hit it into the five targets. You notice that every time you flip, the game makes a noise like a sword being swung. Swoosh. Swoosh. If you hit all five targets (each of which make the noise of a creature of some sort being wounded) you get a sting of pipe organ music and a wodge of points. However the more you do this, the longer each target stays down after being hit and if you miss and send the ball into the gap, it falls back down to the main field. So, you hit the ball around some more, noticing the glorious clamour of steel on steel as it hits the slingshots, the rather excessively loud hissing as it flails through spinners, and an urgent female voiceover directing you to "go for the tunnel!" while a clicking noise counts down your time to so do. Which you do, and a scream of agony greets you as you are informed on the display that you've obtained something called an "Avenger Bonus."

Speaking of which, you then hit all the targets to spell "avenger" and you're greeted by that voiceover I mentioned earlier. "LIONMAN! LIONMAN!" You now have limited time to hit the centre ramp and slay the Lionman, Lionman and snag his bonus, bonus. (I think it's the way it's said that makes it intrinsically amusing but at the same time, if I were suddenly confronted by an eight-foot-tall half man, half lion with a big axe I'd probably say something like, "LIONMAN! LIONMAN!" in sheer surprise. I suspect also a bit of poo might come out but that's a different story.

There is, of course, a multiball. This is obtained by blasting into the far left lane and locking all three balls. Once you do this you get "Found power (number of ball locked)" informed to you by the female voiceover, and on the third one, the shouty man comes back and exhorts you to "DEFEAT THE BALROG!" On the display, you are informed that "our blades are thirsty" and then "here cum da guards" (sic). You then have to deal with all three balls flying around. To get the jackpot (a progressive one carried over between games) you have to get a ball onto the mini playfield and then hit it into the lit target up there. Which is constantly moving. It is surprisingly difficult to get the jackpot, mainly because it is only active while there is more than one ball in play. And the fact that the shot to the Magic Tunnel to get onto the mini playfield is left-handed while the shot to the target on the mini playfield is right-handed means you can't hold one ball in an upturned flipper while you try to single-handedly get it up there.


Thing is, Swords of Fury didn't do awfully well when it first came out. Even when in development it was kinda seen as a "making up the numbers" title and even derided internally as "Dick Swords" (which would go some way to explaining the deliberate misspelling of "here cum da guards".) Then there's the fact it is a loud game. The music, which is pretty cool "creeping round a dungeon" fantasy fare only getting more upbeat during multiball, is rather tasty, being composed as it was by Brian Schmidt who did the music to Black Knight 2000 (and it seems to have been ripped off by the 1999 PC game Unreal in part for one of its tracks), but the SLASH! SLASH! that goes off whenever you flip, the crashes, the screams of the wounded, the rather regular shouts of "LIONMAN! LIONMAN!", the overly loud pipe organ stings whenever you drop a series of targets or gain an extra ball, and so forth, would be a little incongruous for many locations. Imagine running a pub with one of these in. The punters would get somewhat annoyed by what sounded like what Manowar would sound like if they made a film playing in the background. The iffy backglass art doesn't help either; I can't help but think that if they'd kept the "dark fantasy comic book" art style from the playfield on the backglass it would have looked far better.

However, it plays very well (though the mini-playfield flipper is prone to conking out, I'm told), and while it isn't fast flowing or stuffed with modes, it does have a very nice rhythm to it, sort of the rhythm of desperate swordplay against unpleasantly scented monsters. And recently it seems to have been somewhat vindicated by history as a game that collectors might want to give some room to.

I also suspect that the nameless, faceless protagonist was initially intended to be a woman. Firstly, the voiceovers not challenging or intended to alarm the player are all female. Secondly, on the mini playfield the art is a clear top down image of a she-warrior wielding a sword against multiple foes represented on the drop targets up there. Thirdly, on the slingshots, the left one has an image of the Lionman, sorry, "LIONMAN! LIONMAN!" while the right one has a clearly female fighter. I suspect there was some interference at some point during artwork finalisation and the original backglass art probably contained a Chainmail Bikini or two, which the powers that be at Williams put the kibosh on after it was delivered, hence the rather mediocre AFGNCAAP replacement art (though it should be mentioned that voluptuous ladies in states of undress isn't uncommon on Williams pinballs' backglass art).

And that's about it really. A fairly underrated and rather fun pinball. Also, "LIONMAN! LIONMAN!"

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