From Bob Matthews EM Encyclopedia 2018
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Many EM and SS games are bonus-heavy, i.e. a large portion of your score will come from bonuses, usually collected at the end of a ball, sometimes coming from a collect bonus shot during the play of the ball, and sometimes both. You need to know several things about each game’s bonus:

  1. What shots add bonus?
  2. What is the maximum [base] bonus?
  3. Is there more than one bonus?
  4. If there’s more than one bonus, can you make progress on all of them at once, or only one at a time?
  5. If only one at a time, what changes which bonus is active?
  6. Is bonus collected at the end of the ball?
  7. If collected at the end of the ball, are all bonuses collected or only the active bonus?
  8. Can you collect bonus before the end of the ball?
  9. What shots light collect bonus [if present]?
  10. What shots collect bonus?
  11. If you collect bonus before the end of the ball, does the bonus value reset to its starting amount or stay at the value collected?
  12. Can some or all of your bonus value be held to the next or to all future balls?
  13. What shots activate “hold bonus” [if present]?
  14. Are there one or more threshold bonus amounts which, if met, will hold a “super bonus” over to future balls?
  15. Is there a bonus multiplier?
  16. If there’s a multiplier, how many levels?
  17. What shots increase the bonus multiplier?
  18. Is the bonus multiplier held to future balls?
  19. Does the bonus multiplier reset to 1 or to some less-than-maximum value on the ball after you raise it to its maximum value?

Bonus values are usually shown on the playfield surface through lights corresponding to the value earned so far. In some cases, you’ll need to add the value of two or more lights to get the total bonus, e.g. a game may have a bonus that maxes out at 29,000 and have a 20,000 light and a 9,000 light lit to indicate it; a 15,000 max indicated by a 10,000 light and a 5,000 light is another common combination. If you’ve earned double [or triple, etc.] bonus, a separate light [usually colored] on the playfield will show that.

If you look at final game scores relative to the maximum bonus that can be earned, you can get a good idea of how important building bonus on that game. For instance, on a 5-ball game where your maximum bonus is 15,000 and there’s no multiplier, if the top scores are around 100K, bonus is probably the most important thing on that game.

If a game has a “collect bonus” shot, it’s usually worth trying to light it, if necessary, and shoot it once your bonus is near maximum value. On most machines, the bonus value will remain where it was after you make such a shot; on some games, the bonus value is reset to the minimum amount after you make the shot. I say “usually” above because the value reset situation creates a notable exception - - games where the bonus resets _and_ you have the ability to double or triple the end of ball bonus. These games include Cherry Bell, Mars Trek, Monaco and Super Straight [all Sonic/Segasa machines]; I’ll deal with this situation in the individual discussions for those games.

Some games have a “hold bonus” feature. Hold bonus means that whatever end of ball bonus you’ve earned is carried over to the next ball in play; otherwise, bonus resets to zero or a base amount like 1000 after each ball. If a shot to activate hold bonus is available, it’s usually good to take it as soon as you can.

Solid State games may also have a “super bonus” feature, where if one has achieved a high level of base bonus, a large part of that base will be preserved for the remainder of the game. It’s fairly common on Bally solid-state games in particular. It’s an important goal to achieve when present.

This page is one of many in the The Players Guide to Classic Pinball by written by Bob Matthews