Challenge Accepted: Moving and Grooving to Williams' Banzai Run

Challenge Accepted: Moving and Grooving to Williams' Banzai Run
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Challenge Accepted: Moving and Grooving to Williams' Banzai Run
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Challenge Accepted: Moving and Grooving to Williams' Banzai Run
Published on
June 22, 2023
Updated on
June 22, 2023
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Advertisements for Williams' 1988 classic Banzai Run accentuated the “one continuous playfield....two different planes!” aspect of the game, which is certainly this game’s most distinguishing feature. It’s impossible to miss - rather than a conventional backbox, there’s just another playfield up there. More importantly than being the first game to have a vertical playfield, it’s also the first pinball machine designed by legend Pat Lawlor.

For the unaware, Lawlor's designs defined the '90s, with a remarkable catalog including Twilight Zone, Addams Family, Funhouse, and Whirlwind. Banzai Run doesn’t really feel like a rookie’s design, though - the layout is great, the upper playfield is utilized brilliantly, and all of it is played to what’s arguably the greatest soundtrack in pinball history. It’s much more than the sum of its parts.

banzai run pinball tutorial james says

Banzai Run Production Details

Banzai Run is a pinball game manufactured by Williams Electronic Games Inc. in 1988. Design by Larry DeMar, and Pat Lawlor. Mechanics by John Krutsch. Art by Mark Sprenger. Code by Ed Boon, and Larry DeMar. Sound and Music by Brian Schmidt.

Banzai Run Playfield Overview

williams banzai run playfield overview

Let’s start with the lower playfield. There really isn’t too much to write home about here - most notably, there are two spinners which each feed their own shots. The left spinner, in particular, is really important since it accesses the upper playfield when it's lit. On the right side, you have a ramp that just drops onto the playfield and doesn’t necessarily have a clean feed. Get comfortable with how that ball returns; it can make trips to the upper playfield much easier. Plus, this is where upper playfield balls will return to.

I feel that the most important shot on the lower playfield is the saucer in the middle of the bumpers. This does many different things - it’s a required shot during multiball, it relights the kickback on the left outlane, and it’ll spot opponents, which you need for huge points. It’s most easily accessed from the left flipper - figure it out quickly since it’s very crucial. Beware, though - I’ve played on some Banzai Runs where the saucer kicks it right down the middle.

The other two oddities to point out are the weird upper right flipper that’s next to the ramp. I’d say you can ignore this flipper, although it’s surprisingly possible to shoot the left spinner with this flipper. Finally, there’s the eject scoop that’s on top of the right slingshot. Usually, this kicks the ball straight into the captive ball above it, though I’ve played on some machines where you can slap the machine as the ball kicks out to get it to go into the left spinner. Of course, it might just be doing that anyway.

banzai run upper playfield overview

Okay, now let’s look at the upper playfield, or as the game calls it, “Banzai Hill.” First things first, it’s very, very fast because it’s completely vertical. You’ll see for yourself - but every shot will return instantly, so be ready for that to happen. The hill looks incredibly overwhelming, but it’s split into three areas which individually aren’t that complex.

First off, there’s the “Freestyle Course” which takes up about a quarter of the backbox. This area is completely separate from the other two, and has its own captive ball. It’s not really part of the hill, in my opinion.

There are two other areas. One is at the bottom, where there are two full-sized flippers, a few targets, some loops, etc. There’s also a “Lock” arrow pointing up to another eject. Shooting the ball up here will kick it to the upper flipper, which is really small. From here, there’s a highly lucrative “cliff jump” that’s straight up. To the right of the cliff jump is a captive ball which serves as the jackpot during multiball. Off of the tip of this flipper is another drain which will return the ball to the main table.

Getting comfy with the play up top is really important in Banzai Run. Basically, every major scoring opportunity is up there in some way or another. The key to getting comfy with the play up top is to make your shots as quickly as possible - tap the flipper to put the ball where it needs to be, then get control immediately. The lower area of the upper playfield has a center post that will pop out for a few seconds on each trip, so capitalize on that when you’re up there.

I’d say that a score of 2,500,000 is pretty solid.

Banzai Run Abridged Tutorial

keys to playing banzai run pinball rules
  • Don’t forget to appreciate the soundtrack.
  • The hill is opened by challenging riders. You can challenge a rider by clearing their bank of targets/set of lanes, and you can also spot lanes/targets by either shooting the center Spot saucer or by shooting the right ramp (before the first multiball).
  • Familiarize yourself with the hill and its weird physics. Navigating it well is crucial for any high-scoring strategy you may be interested in.
  • The big points up top are awarded in the form of Cliff Jumps. Completing A-B-C or hitting the Captive Ball up top will double the value of the cliff jump, which increases each time you score it.
  • The hill closes if you beat all of the riders you’ve challenged. Since you want to keep scoring Cliff Jumps, keep the hill open by deliberately not beating riders.
  • Exception: if you can beat all remaining riders, go for it. Beating all four riders lights multiball, which has a simple sequence:
  • Start multiball by locking a ball on the hill
  • During multiball, lock one ball in the Spot saucer
  • Collect the jackpot at the hill’s captive ball
  • Shoot the ramp repeatedly for Victory Laps

Go for the Hill!

First things first: gain control of the ball when you can, trap up for, like, two minutes, and jam out to the music. Nobody will judge you for dancing along.

Okay, now that we’re grooving, the main goal of the game is to win the eponymous race. You do this by challenging - and beating - four other riders. These riders each correspond to a set of three color-coded targets - Red Hot, Blue Beard, Yellow Belly, and Green Machine. Completing a set of targets (or top lanes, for Green Machine) challenges that rider. When a rider has been challenged, you get access to the hill.

The hill is accessed through the left spinner. A magnet will come down, grab the ball, and drop it to the lower area of the hill. Your main objective on the hill is to shoot at any and all riders you’ve challenged. Yellow Belly and Blue Beard are both accessible in this lower area by loop shots. Green Machine can be defeated here at the target right up the middle. Remember - use that post to your advantage, and keep your shots quick!

upper playfield overview banzai run pinball machine

Red Hot is the last of the four riders, and she’s not on the lower area. To get to her, you have to shoot the ball around that little mini-loop that feeds the upper kicker. That kicker puts the ball to the tiny upper flipper which can access the cliff jump shot which is where you can defeat Red Hot. The best way to manage this upper area is to hold up the little flipper as the ball comes around, which means that the ball will come to a trap as soon as it pops up top. You can do this to time your shot - the cliff shot is incredibly important, so get dialed in on this as soon as you can.

Leaving the hill isn’t the end of the world. The hill is always open as long as you have a rider challenged. So, if you drain from the hill without beating everyone you could, you’ll still be able to head back up. If you beat everyone you challenged, then the hill will be closed until you challenge someone else.

Shooting at those targets is pretty dangerous since it can put the ball towards the right outlane. Green Machine tends to be the easiest to access since either spinner feeds those lanes, but there are other ways you can spot targets. The right ramp will spot one target towards whatever challenge is most completed, as will the saucer straight up the middle. The saucer, in particular, is good to get comfortable with, since it also relights the kickback and lights a jackpot during multiball. You can also get the skill shot, which spots a rider entirely and sends you up to the hill immediately. Of course, the skill shot is (usually) unbelievably hard, despite how easy it may look.

Beating all four riders lets you challenge the King, which is the game’s main multiball. But, there’s another scoring opportunity that we should cover first.

Cliff Jumps

Red Hot’s shot, aside from being the only “good” exit from the hill, is also the Cliff Jump. Your first Cliff Jump is worth 50,000 points, which might not sound like much, but each Cliff Jump is worth 25,000 points more than the last. If that’s not enough, you can double the value of the Cliff Jump, either by completing A-B-C on the lower hill, or by hitting the captive ball on the upper hill. This doubler only affects the cliff jump you collect on this visit to the hill - so if you drop off the hill, the 2X Cliff Jump goes away.

cliff jumps explained in banzai run pinball

Cliff Jumps are pretty much the most lucrative opportunities in the game, mainly because it’s very easy to get into a rhythm of going up, clearing A-B-C with the center post, and making the Jump. (Oh yeah - double the Cliff Jump with A-B-C, not with the captive ball. It’s much easier.) One thing to be aware of is that the display will show the value without being doubled. When the game says “Cliff Jump 2X - 100,000,” you just scored 200,000 points.

Given that you only have access to the hill when there’s someone you’ve challenged but haven’t beaten, scoring cliff jumps requires you to not beat riders when you’re up top. After all, if you beat all of the riders up top, the hill will close. So, if you wanna keep jumping - as you should - don’t beat riders. Light one and start jumping. Keep in mind that Red Hot's shot is the same as the cliff jump, meaning you can't make a cliff jump without beating her. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jump with Red Hot only, but try to light someone else, too.


multiball rules banzai run

Now, while beating riders locks you out of the hill, it’s also the way you get to your multiball. We’ll talk about balancing the two in a minute, but for now, don't think about cliff jumps. You might’ve noticed that each time you beat a rider, you’ll move up one position in the race, indicated by the numeric inserts heading up to the hill. You might’ve also noticed that you start the race in sixth place, meaning that you have to beat five riders, not four. The fifth rider - the King - isn’t really printed anywhere on the playfield, but is challenged by beating all four of the other riders.

After beating the last rider, the hill will open and light a lock in the eject shot leading up to the upper hill. If the last rider you beat is someone other than Red Hot, this means the lock will be ready immediately; otherwise, you’ll have to go back up to the hill. In any case, the hill will be accessible when the lock is lit. Hit the lock shot, and you’ll plunge another ball into play - the locked ball will eject, and a two-ball multiball will begin.

During multiball, you have to make two shots. First, you need to lock one ball at the saucer in the middle of the bumpers. This is a timed lock - it’ll kick out after a few seconds. While a ball is locked there, the hill will open up for you to get up to the jackpot. The jackpot shot is the captive ball - hitting it makes you King of the Hill and awards 1,000,000 points, an incredible light show, and a possible trip to the otolaryngologist.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. The saucer shot is tricky enough to make, let alone getting up to the upper hill and nailing the captive ball. Fortunately, the game tries to make it a bit easier on you by giving you some lifelines. First off, you get two trips to the hill per saucer lock, so if you fail to hit the captive ball, you can try it again. Second, there’s an Instant Rematch available - the first of its kind - where if you fail to score the jackpot, you can restart the multiball by hitting the saucer. The trick to getting this jackpot is to play slowly. Ideally, you can trap up with one ball on each flipper, plug the saucer with the left flipper, then go up to the hill with the right. From there, it’s all about hitting that captive ball, but there’s no real science to it.

more multiball rules banzai run

After scoring the jackpot, every shot to the ramp is worth a victory lap and a whopping 250,000 points, so don’t sleep on that! You can only score one jackpot per multiball, so once you’ve collected it, start looping that ramp. Not much else you can do, anyway! Note that once you’ve played a multiball, the ramp will no longer spot targets. So, you’ll have to either hit them directly or use the saucer.

Multiballs vs. Cliff Jumps

So, what should you be shooting for? Personally, I think cliff jumps take precedence. Don’t get me wrong, multiball is worth a lot of points - especially for those victory laps - but scoring the jackpot is incredibly difficult since there’s no ball saver, and having to continually light riders on the main playfield can be really dangerous. Cliff Jumps, on the other hand, only need you to light one non-Red Hot rider to start scoring those huge points. That spares you a lot of work on the main playfield for a strategy that’s still crazy valuable.

My usual strategy is to light one rider - usually Green Machine since he’s the safest - and pick off as many jumps as possible. I’ll light another rider if I accidentally beat that one, and I won’t consider going for multiball unless I either have inadvertently beaten three riders and have nothing else I can do, or if I’ve accidentally challenged all of the riders and won't close the hill by beating any of them.

When I do have multiball going, obviously, the strategy is to go for the jackpot, then loop victory laps as much as possible. There’s not really anything else to focus on there. When multiball ends, lighting Green Machine isn’t any harder than it was before, so I’ll do that and be on my way with cliff jumps again.

Other Things

That’s pretty much the major stuff, but there are a few other things to keep in mind. First off, the kickback on the left outlane is relit at the saucer. Make sure you have it lit as much as possible - a lot of balls end up over there, either from ramp feeds into the right slingshot or from bounces off of the upper right flipper. Speaking of the upper right flipper, I really don’t think it’s that useful. Sure, it’s good at knocking down the targets on the left, but it’s best used to put the ball up to the hill if you can get comfortable making that shot.

The inlanes light the opposite spinner for 3,000/spin, which is pretty valuable, though there’s no easy way to feed those lanes. If you light one, consider ripping the spinner for some solid points.

One other thing you can go for are laps. Shooting the ramp, the hill’s captive ball, or hitting the “1 Lap” targets on either side of the playfield will award one lap each. The ramp will award two laps during multiball, or once after rolling through the left inlane. Laps are worth okay points in bonus, but collecting 25 laps awards a “Finish Line” jackpot worth 750,000 points which is pretty valuable. Personally, I ignore laps altogether outside of Victory Laps just because you need so many for them to be worth anything.

There’s another extra ball available during multiball, lit by completing A-B-C on your way up to scoring the jackpot during multiball, but ignore this if extra balls don’t matter.

Finally, there’s the Freestyle course. If you complete the targets for a rider who’s already lit, you’ll light the Freestyle course. There are two targets for each rider in this area, which is basically a plinko game. Shooting the hill when Freestyle is lit will kick another ball up into that area, it may or may not hit any targets you need, but if it hits a flashing target, it’ll also count as beating that rider. If you’re struggling to beat a rider, this is a way to make it easier on yourself, but to be honest, it’s much easier to just beat a rider the normal way than it is to light the freestyle course. Actually, it can be harmful, since it can beat the rider keeping the hill open for you - but it's pretty tough to light accidentally.

End of ball bonus is worth decent value, based on your laps as well as any riders you’ve beaten. In case you’re curious, the “Prior Race” inserts above the inserts for each rider are just for bonus purposes and don’t mean anything else. I used to think there was a wizard mode available for beating all the races twice. I’m probably alone in that boat, but I felt the inserts implied something more significant than they actually do.