Sometimes as a gamer, you just have to stick to your views, regardless of the prevailing opinion. There are games which the gaming press and fellow gamers rave about which I just can’t get on with; then there are other games which are generally panned but which you secretly like playing.
Few games sum this up better than Fruit Machine Simulator from Codemasters. Perhaps growing weary of the company’s tendency to stick the word “simulator” on every game they released, the title was almost universally panned across the major formats. Zzap!64 gave the C64 version 18%, Crash scored the Spectrum version 30% (although Sinclair User and Your Sinclair were a little kinder) whilst Amstrad Action notoriously gave that machine’s version a big fat 0.
Most of the criticisms of the game related to the fact that you couldn’t win any actual money which, they argued, rendered the game pointless. Whilst there’s an element of truth about this, I think the magazines were being slightly unkind. If you look at it in the light of cold hard logic, aren’t all games pointless? If you complete a Mario game, what do you actually “get”? You certainly don’t get to marry Peach in real life. If you blast your way to the end of R-Type, you haven’t really saved the universe, have you? So in that sense, Fruit Machine Simulator is neither more nor less pointless than any other game.
Secondly, for those of us who didn’t live near an arcade or who perhaps had little disposable income, Fruit Machine Simulator offered the chance to experience the fun of spinning the slots without the risk of losing all your money. Yes, you won nothing, but neither did you lose anything.
Judged on its own merits, Fruit Machine Simulator was a fun little title and, given its £1.99 price tag, represented good value for money. It featured all the usual things you would expect from a fruit machine: nudges, holds and mini-games of skill and chance. Supporting up to 4 players, it also meant that you could play with your mates and introduced a competitive element. To get over the fact that you couldn’t win real money, we used to make up our own challenges: the first to reach a pre-determined amount of cash; the person with the biggest amount after a fixed number of spins; a rule that you had to gamble on every game of skill and the winner was the one who successfully hit the jackpot first and so on. With a bit of imagination, Fruit Machine Simulator was every bit as fun as its real life counterparts.
The gameplay was well-balanced too. It was more generous with its win lines and payouts than real fruit machines and those small, regular wins kept you playing. At the same time, it wasn’t so easy that it became dull. It wasn’t a realistic “simulation” (which of Codemasters’ titles was?), but the win:lose ratio was enough to get you hooked. Just like a real fruit machine, every time the wheels spun in such a way that you ALMOST hit a big payout, you became convinced that you were just a couple of spins away from a huge score and that encouraged you to play on. Despite the lack of any tangible goals, I always found Fruit Machine Simulator to be an addictive little game and never really understood the criticisms of the gaming press.
The game still stands up well today. Because it was never dependent for its appeal on graphics or sound (which were pretty basic and so have stood the test of time better) and because the basic concept was so simple and timeless, the game hasn’t aged badly and I still find it as much fun to play now as I did back in 87.
I can do no better than to close with the words of Sinclair User (one of the few magazines to treat it kindly, with an 8/10 review): “It sounds daft, but this is easily the best fruit machine simulator ever and the whole thing is idiotically addictive”.