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Pinball / Fathom

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"Under the Sea" takes a dark turn...

"Danger, sea nymphs await — Fathom!"

Fathom is a 1980 Physical Pinball Table from Bally, designed by Ward Pemberton and illustrated by Greg Freres.

Somewhere off the coast of Bermuda, three vacationers are enjoying a day scuba diving and exploring the undersea wonders of a tropical beach. After one of the divers stays submerged longer than expected, his friend goes underwater to check up on him — only to quickly fall into trouble from a school of deadly mermaids! While their female companion watches helplessly from above, the player must enter the murky depths and release the captive balls from the Cave Trap and the Lagoon. Spear the drop targets to advance the Blue and Green Bonuses, then keep your cool and knock down the 1-2-3 targets in order to collect the 5x Multiplier before your oxygen runs out...

Fathom is widely regarded as a classic from the early solid-state era and one of the best games from designer Ward Pemberton. The hauntingly ornate artwork is lauded as a sterling example of pinball art, while the original shot layout and challenging gameplay rewards those players skilled enough to master the table. If there is a weakness, it's that some of the sound effects aren't entirely fitting for the theme.

A digital version was once available for The Pinball Arcade until the license for all Williams and Bally tables expired on July 1, 2018.

This game demonstrates the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: The background story of the three scuba divers is presented in an advertising flyer from Bally.
  • Deadly Road Trip: A rare underwater variant.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: The mermaids are completely naked, per convention.
  • Godiva Hair: All of the sea nymphs have this.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: The main background sound effect is a low, rhythmic pulse that speeds up during the game.
  • Interface Screw: The outlanes are actually preferable to the inlanes for the ball to fall into. The outlanes curve inwards, feeding the ball through a one-way gate to the flippers (and award a decent number of points if lit, as well). The inlanes go straight down and only a very lucky nudge will get the ball through that one-way gate.
  • The Load: The divers' female companion can only sit in the boat and watch the waters uselessly while her friends are endangered.
  • One-Word Title
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: These have webbed fingers, serpentine tails, large dorsal fins, and drown anyone they can get their hands on.
  • Prehensile Tail: The mermaids' tails work like this, easily grabbing anchors and choking unwary swimmers.
  • Score Multiplier: Scoring is multiplied by the number of balls in play similar to Black Knight.
  • Sirens Are Mermaids: These mermaids don't do any singing, but they definitely take sadistic glee in leading the divers to their doom.
  • Snake People: This trope is invoked in the mermaids' appearance, whose lower halves are particularly long and serpentine.
  • Threatening Shark: A great white can be seen swimming near one of the nymphs.
  • Under the Sea

"Air supply gone!"