Swish! Learn How to Play Bally’s 1990s Basketball Tribute, NBA Fastbreak

Swish! Learn How to Play Bally’s 1990s Basketball Tribute, NBA Fastbreak
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Swish! Learn How to Play Bally’s 1990s Basketball Tribute, NBA Fastbreak
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Published on
April 11, 2024
Updated on
April 11, 2024
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Basketball is second only to baseball in terms of “most frequently represented sport on a pinball machine.” So, when I say that NBA Fastbreak is the best basketball-themed pinball machine out there, know that it stands for something. This machine oozes 90's charm, complete with some great sound effects, callouts, and some incredibly unusual rules that'll have you questioning reality the first time you give this game a shot. It's pretty easy to pick up, though, so hopefully, you get the chance to play it at some point!

About NBA Fastbreak Pinball

NBA Fastbreak was released in 1997 by Bally Manufacturing Co. It features a unique scoring system that more closely resembles basketball scoring than pinball scoring, as well as a unique backbox gimmick. The game was designed by George Gomez and is also notable for its use of Tim Kitzrow's voice talents.

NBA Fastbreak Playfield Overview

When you reach for the plunger, you'll notice that there isn't one! There's nary a button, trigger, or anything of the sort in the usual place. Instead, you'll notice the bright orange "Shoot" button on the lockbar. This button is used for a couple of other scoring features, but mainly functions as Fastbreak's ball launch.  On the plunge, you'll get to pick an NBA team to represent, which is completely cosmetic and has no impact on gameplay. The launch will immediately put the ball into the pop bumpers, which has a consistent feed between the two "O" inserts. Get comfy with this feed ASAP, as many balls which land in the basket in the back will come out of this lane. More often than not, you can just live catch with the right flipper. (They can also occasionally come out from the right orbit, but that’s a rarity.)

Fastbreak has a bit of a fan layout, with six major shots you should be aiming for (the bumper exit isn't really a shot). The five shots which spell out SHOOT are all necessary for one of the game's major multiballs, and being able to make these shots as combos will help you make it to the surprisingly accessible wizard mode. Personally, I struggle most with the center ramp, as it’s at a very awkward angle for shots and will perfectly align the ball straight down the middle should you only make the shot halfway.

The saucer on the far left is pretty solid for some modes, and can help you establish a very high score early on. The only other shot to be really aware of are the two yellow targets on the right which light the "Inbound Pass" virtual kickback on the left outlane. Having this lit will save your ball should you drain it down there - so keep it lit if you can! The right outlane will be lit for a "Million Dollar Shot" on ball three, which is pretty much the same as the "Oxygen Destroyer" from Godzilla. It'll kick another ball into play and prompt you to make a shot. Make it, and you save your ball, but time out (or drain again), and you lose your ball for good.

In case you haven't noticed, there's also a flipper in the backbox, holding a plastic orange ball. From time to time, the game will prompt you to "Look up" at which point you can use this upper flipper (with the Shoot button) for some points. There’s also a mini-game at the top of the playfield, known as “In The Paint” which is required for reaching a multiball. Basically, you pass the ball between four saucers using the flipper buttons, and press the Shoot button to shoot into the basket, while avoiding a metal “blocker” that gets in the way. We’ll go into detail on that later.

The most unusual thing about Fastbreak is its scoring scheme. Unlike its contemporaries where you're scoring millions or billions of points, Fastbreak mimics typical basketball scoring. So, if you put up 100 points, that's pretty commendable. Unlike nearly every other pinball machine, this means that most of the features and switches go from being "worth basically nothing" to "literally worth zero," meaning you'll have to be making shots and playing modes in order to put up points.

Additionally contributing to the game's weird scoring is the complete absence of an end-of-ball bonus. So, tilt away, provided you’re not tilting over a lit outlane save.

Quick Overview of NBA Fastbreak

  • The six objectives listed in the center of the table are your priority. Completing all of them - which is very doable - begins the highly lucrative Trophy Multiball.
  • Stadium Goodies - on the left saucer - are worth a considerable number of points and should be picked up whenever lit. The first mode in particular - Pizza Power Shots - is likely to be worth nearly 20 points and doesn’t put the ball at risk whatsoever.
  • Power Hoops modes - started by bumper hits - are also valuable but not easy to start, given the unpredictability of the bumpers. Make sure to get some bumper action going, as these are usually the sole missing objective towards Trophy.
  • When “In The Paint,” pass the ball around between the saucers, and shoot the ball when unblocked to try and score from a saucer you haven’t already shot from. Shooting once from each saucer starts a multiball, called Around the World.
  • Spelling S-H-O-O-T starts another multiball, called Shoot Around.some text
    • All multiballs, and many modes, start immediately and without warning. Don’t be surprised if all of a sudden some big scoring feature just starts up.
  • Modes do not stack with one another, they simply pause while you play whatever new mode you just started.
  • Look at the playfield inserts if you’re missing combo shots - they indicate which combos you need for the required objective.some text
    • You should always be aiming after objectives which you haven’t yet completed, as opposed to replaying modes you’ve found success in.
    • Don’t worry about going after the Combo Shots or Field Goals unless they’re the only thing you need for Trophy - you’re likely to complete them just as you play out everything else.
  • If you manage to win Trophy Multiball, you’ll be awarded a Championship Ring which is worth 100 points per competition rules.

Getting Started

There are a lot of objectives to aim for, and given how busy the playfield art is, it might be a bit overwhelming to decide on what you should go for first. The good news is that there aren't really any "bad" modes to aim for, and that getting anything going will give you some points. So, the choice is up to you. As per usual, I'll cover everything in the order that I usually aim for things, but you should go after what you're most comfortable with.

Fastbreak also features extremely bizarre mode-stacking rules. While you can start modes at any time during single-ball play, if another mode is already running, that mode will just pause until the new mode ends, at which point the old mode will resume wherever you left off. So, starting a whole bunch of modes back to back can be good, but you’re not going to be playing them on top of one another. The display does do a great job of telling you what’s currently happening, and the callouts will let you know when a mode resumes - “And now, back to Hook Shot Hoops!” This rule also extends to multiballs - they don’t stack with modes or other multiballs, so when a multiball starts, all active modes will be paused, and you won’t be able to start another mode until the multiball ends.

So, with that in mind, the actual goal of the game is to complete the six objectives listed in the center of the table. Fastbreak’s wizard mode is surprisingly accessible - I’d say it’s comparable in difficulty to Scared Stiff’s Stiff-O-Meter mode - so your top priority should be to complete the requirements there. Fortunately, the game’s artwork does a pretty great job of telling you how to get which objective, so if you forget what you need to do for an objective you’re missing, just look around the table for a second, and you’re sure to find it. But to spare you that trouble, let’s go over everything this game has to offer!

Crazy Bob’s Stadium Goodies

Crazy Bob is a recurring character who gets referenced by a lot of different pinball machines. He’s a helper in Johnny Mnemonic and Dialed In!, and is the main antagonist of Junk Yard. Fortunately, in Fastbreak, he’s on our side as a vendor of various treats and awards - each of which is a mode - and can be collected any time you don’t already have a multiball or another Stadium Goodies mode running. These are all quite lucrative, and I like to pick them off as early as possible. The modes are as follows, and are always awarded in this order (i.e. from top to bottom):

  • Pizza Power Shots puts you up on the backglass. Press the Shoot button (or a flipper button) to flip the orange ball into the hoop on the left side of the machine. The value of the hoop rapidly cycles between 1, 2, and 3 points. This is all a matter of timing - while the timing on each machine varies, I usually flip as the display flips from 2 to 3 to get 3 points every time. But, it’s more about rhythm than anything else. This tends to be worth 15-18 points, which is a pretty sizable chunk of points, especially considering you don’t put the ball at risk playing it.
  • Hot Dog Mania makes every shot worth 3 points for a very brief time period. Making any shot, however, resets the timer, making this worth a ton of points if you can get dialed in on one shot or combo repeatedly.
  • NBA Trivia asks you a random trivia question about the NBA. Get a question right and you score 10 points, get it wrong and you score 1. If you’re an NBA buff, or if you're good at memorizing trivia, this is just free money. For what it’s worth, most of the trivia remains accurate despite being nearly 30 years old. The only exception (I think) is a question about the number of Celtics titles. (The correct answer is 16; they won their 17th title in 2008.)
  • Egyptian Soda is a ramp-shooting round, during which the left and right ramps are worth 3 points a piece. Like Hot Dog Mania, if you get into a groove, this can be worth solid value, but unlike Hot Dog Mania, the timer cannot be extended.

These modes are all worth good value and put points around the table on shots you’re likely going to be shooting anyway. I highly recommend picking these off when you can, especially if you start a game out with those Pizza Power Shots. It’s effectively a 15-point jackpot available at the start of the game. Granted, all of your opponents have the same opportunity, but it’s still something you should grab early on. Plus, playing all four Stadium Goodies is one of the major objectives required to reach Trophy Multiball, so you should be sure to grab it to advance.

Around the World Multiball

This is the first of two major multiballs, and is started by finishing In The Paint. I briefly mentioned it before, but the upper area is a mini-game consisting of four saucers. When you roll over an inlane, you can shoot the ball into the opposite orbit to start In The Paint. When up here, you can use the flipper buttons to pass the ball between the four saucers, and press the Shoot button to shoot the ball into the basket. There’s this metal blocker that gets in the way and can block your shot, which results in you failing the attempt and having to get back up top in order to try again. 

Each saucer has a light above it, which turns on after making a successful shot from that saucer. Lighting all four saucers starts the multiball, so the idea is to make sure you’re always shooting from unlit saucers. The blocker moves just a hair slower than the ball does, but you can buy yourself more time by moving the ball over a wider range of saucers. It’s kinda hard to explain in writing, but you pretty much just have to move the ball to one side to bring the blocker over there, then quickly move it back and shoot it as soon as possible. It’s not that hard to get the hang of once you do it a couple of times.

Also, if a ball just happens to end up in a saucer up top, it’ll shoot automatically and count as though you were In The Paint. This is pretty much impossible to do deliberately, but you can get extra credit when you don’t expect it. If it does happen, however, you’ll often be prompted to take a “Foul Shot” by pressing the shoot button which flips the ball in the backglass for a free point. Keep your eyes peeled for when that happens - points are points!

Anyway, Around the World starts the instant all four saucers are cleared, and is a three-ball multiball during which jackpots are lit from left to right and are worth 1 point per ball in play. It’s not incredibly lucrative, but you have more balls in play and can make more basket shots to non-jackpot shots for points, too.

Shoot Around Multiball

If I’m being honest, Shoot Around is usually the multiball that I see most players aim for first since it’s a bit easier to reach. But, you’ll usually find yourself playing In The Paint a couple of times before your first Shoot Around, and it’s really important to understand how that area works since it’s not super obvious.

Anyway, Shoot Around started by spelling S-H-O-O-T, i.e. shooting all five center shots during single-ball play. As with Around the World, Shoot Around starts instantly once SHOOT is complete. This is a very simple 2-ball multiball during which any flashing SHOOT letter is worth two points, and completing SHOOT relights all the letters and lights an Extra Ball. Like Around the World, it’s not absurdly valuable, and is better used to make other basket shots for more points. Don’t sleep on the SHOOT jackpots, though.

As a quick reminder, if you happen to have any modes running when a multiball begins, those modes will be paused until the multiball ends. Playing both Shoot Around and Around the World lights the “Multiballs Complete” insert required for Trophy Multiball.

Power Hoops

This is another series of modes which are started by hitting the bumpers enough times. Each of the modes are worth pretty solid value, and given that the ball is dropped into the bumpers after each basket, it doesn’t require you to aim for something you’re not already going after. Unfortunately, Fastbreak’s bumpers are arranged in a really awkward isosceles triangle. If the bumpers aren’t super strong, the leftmost bumper - which is the one that most balls will roll into out of the basket - may not be able to propel the ball into the rightmost bumper. So, you might be lucky to get five or six hits with each visit to the bumpers. 

While you get points every few hits regardless of what else is going on, you need to be in single-ball play without any other modes running to advance to the next Power Hoops round. The first three are all timed modes which tell you to repeatedly shoot one or two shots for 3 points a shot. Half Court Hoops is the center ramp, Hook Shot Hoops is the left ramp, and Run & Shoot Hoops alternates the two. The fourth mode, Multiball Hoops, is a two-ball multiball which has you alternate the left and right ramps. Multiball Hoops is particularly unusual in that it’s the only multiball which can be stacked with others. Neat!

Finishing all four Power Hoops is another requirement for Trophy Multiball, and is usually the most difficult to reach of the lot. If I’m only missing one objective, it’s almost always Power Hoops.

Combination Shots and Field Goals

This is less of a “mode” and more of a “weird side objective you need to complete in order to get to Trophy.” Simply put, these are specific combos and shots to the basket, respectively. These are very easy to complete and it’s quite possible that you’ll finish all of these inadvertently while you’re going after the other objectives. So, if you’re closing in on the harder objectives (especially the Stadium Goodies and Power Hoops), and you’re missing some of these, you should try to pick them off so you can get to Trophy.

Let’s start with the Field Goals. You need three: a 2-pointer, a 3-pointer, and a free throw. The first two literally just require shots worth those values. So, if you score a mode shot worth 3 points, you’ve scored a 3-pointer. The only one that’s not completely trivial is the free throw, which requires a shot to the center ramp when it’s not lit for anything else. There’s a flashing insert which tells you when it’s lit for a free throw.

The combination shots are a bit tricker to finish, but are still pretty easy. Each one requires you to make a two-shot combo to specific shots. The combos are as follows:

  • Tip-Off: Right loop -> center ramp. Also awarded if you shoot the center ramp at the start of a ball.
  • Slam Dunk: Right ramp -> left ramp.
  • Alley Oop: Left orbit -> center ramp.
  • Fast Break: Either left or right ramp -> center ramp.

These are all very clearly telegraphed by the playfield inserts. For instance, the right ramp says “Light Slam Dunk” and the left ramp says “Slam Dunk.” So, no need to memorize these, just keep in mind to pay attention to completing the combos over time. You’re likely to collect most of them just by playing out modes and multiballs anyway. In fact, I’d argue that you shouldn’t be going after any of these deliberately unless they’re the only thing you’re missing for Trophy. After all, they’re just worth standard baskets, and are better for putting the ball into the bumpers or spelling SHOOT than they are for scoring points, which isn’t saying much.

Trophy Multiball

To reiterate, you have to complete six objectives in order to reach Trophy Multiball:

  • Complete all Combination Shots
  • Complete all Power Hoops
  • Score 20 points
  • Complete all Field Goals
  • Complete both Multiballs
  • Complete all Stadium Goodies

“20 points complete” literally just means you have to score 20 points. I have absolutely no idea why this is a requirement; I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to do everything else with less than 40 points on the board, and that’s even if you deliberately drained out of every multiball and timed out every mode. I mean, you need 4 baskets - 8 points - just to start Around the World. How do you do everything else for less than 12?

I digress. Once everything is finished, Trophy Multiball will instantly begin. (If the last objective you needed was a multiball, it’ll start as soon as the multiball ends. If you double-drain to leave the last required multiball, Trophy will start with your next ball.)

Trophy Multiball lasts about 20 seconds, and gives you an unlimited ball save to outscore an opposing team. Their score will be shown on the right side of the display, and will gradually increase over the course of the multiball. All shots to the basket are worth points, so just fire away and try to build up your score. When the timer expires, all of the balls will drain. If you’re in the lead when the multiball ends, you become an NBA Champion!

Winning the championship earns you a Championship Ring, indicated by an insert on the right side of the playfield. Rings serve two purposes: First off, each team has their own high score. The highest score is prioritized by whoever has the most rings. So, a score of 400 points without any rings is considered lower than a score of 50 points with one ring.

More importantly, in competition, rings are treated as 100 additional points. So, if you have 150 points and a ring, as far as the tournament is concerned, you have 250 points. I said it was worth an absurd number of points, didn’t I? Winning a championship ring when nobody else is able to do the same is pretty much a guaranteed win. (In case it’s not clear, these 100 ring points are not indicated on the display. The game will say you have 150 points. Factor in rings when reporting scores!)

It’s worth mentioning that the 100-point ring rule isn’t exactly a universally-known one. While it’s an official rule in the IFPA rulebook, definitely clear it with a TD if you’re unsure. Even if the rule isn’t being followed, Trophy multiball is still worth an insane number of points and should still be your long-term goal.

It’s possible to loop back around and play Trophy multiple times, collecting more rings as you go. Granted, getting one ring isn’t exactly trivial, so good luck getting more than that!