A recurring theme in my e-mail box is, “Where have all the three-reel games gone?” Modern slot machine floors are dominated by video slots, with estimates of up to 85 percent of casino floors going to video.
Still, there is a corps of players who like the reel-steppers that stood virtually alone as slot options into mid-1990s and which still made up the majority of machines into the early 2000s. They play mainly games that have been around for a while. Double Diamond
and its variations, Wheel of Fortune and Blazing 7s were popular favorites 15 years ago, and they still command floor space today.
Reel-slot fans have noticed that new games tilt heavily to the video side. That’s largely because popularity peaks and wanes much faster on the video games, but when it comes to new games, reel players still ask, “Where’s mine?”
As the annual Global Gaming Expo approaches its Sept. 30-Oct. 2 dates in Las Vegas, slotmakers are saying they’ve heard the demand for new reel-spinning product. I’m looking forward to getting an up-close look at some of the new reel games manufacturers list among their coming attractions.
WMS Gaming has been busy preparing games for its new Blade Stepper cabinet, with extra processing power for fast reel spins, halo-effect lighting and top boxes with high-definition touch screens that layer video bonus events on to three-reel main game.
Games are designed with some extras. One is Aftershock, where every so often the reels shake and quake with a winning spin. That can take the game into repeat win territory, where the machine takes over and with no additional bet, the same winning combination shows up again, and perhaps again and again.
Another is 777 Wheel Hot, where wins on 7s combinations brings an extra prize – players get to spin a wheel for more credits. In its premium line, primarily for $1-and-up play. WMS is rolling out Monopoly Luxury Diamonds, its first three-reel mechanical slot with a mechanical wheel on top.
International Game Technology has long been the leader on three-reel games. Most of the mechanical-reel machines you play are IGT games, including Double Diamond and Wheel of Fortune.
To keep the product fresh, IGT is adding wrinkles, giving players extra entertainment while keeping the basic reel format intact. One new wrinkle you’ll see soon is Hot Roulette. It uses popular IGT spinning-reel games such as Triple Red Hot 7s and Pink Diamonds
as base games, then adds a touch screen in the top box for an interactive roulette bonus event.
GTECH has a couple of new mechanical reel games ready to display, with Queen of Egypt
and Return of the Sphinx 2. Sphinx has been a popular favorite in its various incarnations for more than a decade. Starting with the company that was known as Atronic before becoming part of Spielo International followed by a merger with GTECH, Sphinx has been rivaled only by Deal or No Deal
as the slotmaker’s most popular title.
In the high-denomination game Return of the Sphinx 2, there are new features, an updated look that gives players extra value with a journey up a pyramid. Queen of Egypt, meanwhile, is a low-denomination game with a sixth-reel bonus trigger and video screens for interactive bonus events.
Konami Gaming has both attracted players and made an impact on other gamemakers with its Advantage 5 reel slots. Advantage 5 games have over-sized symbols – you can’t miss ’em – and a head-turning array of lights, sounds, interaction and bonus events.
At the expo, Konami will be showing the next generation of the product, called the Advantage 5X. On display will be a number of games designed to take advantage of increased processing capacity with greater interaction between video screens above and below the mechanical reels. The video screens are synced through with brightly illuminated mechanical reels with rainbow-colored LEDs. Around the outer edge of the game cabinet is a chrome accent that turns into illuminated LEDs during various game events. Advantage 5X games are spinning-reel games, but they’re high-tech, too.
Bally Technologies was one of the first slot manufacturers, and has given us a number of innovations over the years including the Money Honey slot that introduced the coin hopper in the 1960s and the Blazing 7s progressives that debuted in the 1970s and still command a place in casinos today. This year, Bally is introducing Lightning Lines, which features independent random multipliers for each payline, and Lucky Arrow, with nudge symbols that can turn losses into wins.
And while some new products will feature mechanical reels, Bally also is looking to bring the reel-stepper experience to a video format. On its Bally Curve video platform, Bally uses high definition LCD formed into an arc with the exact radius of a classic stepper reel. The ideal is to give players the look, feel and play characteristics of the games they love without the moving parts, service issues and limitations that go with placing mechanical reels inside a cabinet.
It comes down to an increase in choices for players who love reel slots, and that’s something they’ve been waiting for.
Look for John Grochowski at www.casinoanswerman.com, on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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