Slots are hot

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For many gamers, the slots are the place to be. Progressive games are a big hit among newcomers to the field, but don’t pass by the chance to join in community gaming. | FILE PHOTO

Slot design in the 21st Century has become a game of one-upsmanship, with each manufacturer trying to outdo the next in creative use of technological tools, and in trying to anticipate players’ changing tastes.

That’s only natural, with the expansion of slot games being the biggest overall trend in the casino industry. That big trend has sparked a number of trends itself.

Bonusing, progressive jackpots and community-style play are among the tools gamemakers use to keep the games fresh, enticing and exciting. Those tools are constantly evolving as technology allows gamemakers to follow their imaginations.

Here’s a look at where some of the latest trends are taking manufacturers in slot creativity.

Bonusing

Bonus events are expected game features nowadays, but we have to look back only to the mid-1990s to find a time they didn’t even exist. That changed with the advent of “Wheel of Gold” by Anchor Gaming, the first megahit bonus event that affixed a tower with a wheel atop Bally slant-top three-reel slot machines.

Around the same time, we started seeing the first video slot machines with bonus events. The fishing round on WMS Gaming’s “Reel ’Em In” made a major impact. Nowadays, the bonuses are getting ever more creative.

Bally Technologies fills the need for speed with its racing-themed NASCAR. The main is an interactive 3-D feature called U-Race, where the player gets to guide his driver down the track. Racing fans get tons of extras. When you sit down to play, you get to pick a driver. The screen displays a bio, and the driver talks to you, encouraging you for the big race.

WMS goes the Sensory Immersion route in bonusing on its “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” slot. A ride down the chocolate river is sometimes bumpy, sometimes smooth with special effects through the WMS’ motion chair with 3-D sound. It’s an adventure in storyland with Willie, the Oompa Loompas and the whole cast of characters.

Incredible Technologies, based in Vernon Hills, is going the licensed-theme route for the first time with its recently-released “Archie in Riverdale Riches.” It features long-popular comic book teen Archie Andrews with his Riverdale High School pals and gals.

There’s a “Jughead Free Spins” event, as well as a “Betty vs. Veronica” pick ’em game where the winner captures Archie’s heart. There are game-within-a-game bonus triggers, and a lot of variability within the bonuses themselves so that you’ll experience something new each time you play.

Progressive jackpots

Cash Express Gold Class is an update of the Aristocrat Technologies’ Cash Express system that remains popular after 11 years in American casinos. Gold Class uses popular base games including “More Hearts,” “More Chilli,” “Buffalo” and “Pompei,” with “50 Lions” and “Geisha” near regulatory approval. The four-tiered, quick hit Hyperlink jackpots remain from the original, along with the railroad theme of the bonus events, but Gold Class layers on a fifth progressive level, one that starts building from $9,500.

Gold Class means you’ve had a ticket upgrade for your rail journey through world-famous bullet trains. If you get three train symbols in line with each other, you progress through the sixth rail stages, with the sixth being the Gold Class.

IGT always has a wide array of progressives. Among the new crop is Wheel of Fortune Triple Wild Spins Duo Wheel. It’s a dollar denomination game with a $3 maximum bet. It features the ever-popular Wheel of Fortune brand, multiple progressive levels, the chance to spin up to three giant wheels in the bonus events and a lifestyle-changing jackpot on top.

Spielo International’s volcano-themed “Cash Eruption” give players a chance to multiply their winnings. It has three progressive levels that are guaranteed to hit by a certain amount and, after a progressive win, players have a chance to double, triple or even multiply the win by five.

Multipliers are in play in a different way in “In Plants vs. Zombies Gargantuar” and “Plants vs. Zombies Backyard Showdown.” On most progressive games, the progressive jackpots aren’t multiplied by the size of the bets. On the Zombies games, they are. You can choose the size of the jackpot you’re playing for.

Community-style gaming

“The Game of Life” from WMS Gaming is based on the classic board game. And WMS knows something about transferring board classics to the slots, having had a long run of success with Monopoly.

There are four community bonus features. One of them is “Speed Spins,” a quick-spin bonus where everyone moves together along the board, but there’s also an individual pursuit element. You pick your career. Do you want to be a doctor, an athlete, a lawyer? Then in the big event, if the lawyer gets called, the ones who picked the lawyer get an enhanced payoff.

“Hot Roll Community” is part of International Game Technology’s new Connected series. You touch dice on your screen, drag and let fly as they appear in the giant community display overhead. Three players go to the dice-rolling bonus together, and the bonus credits keep mounting until all three seven-out. For non-craps players, that means rolling a loser 7 to end play and pass the dice to the next player. In Hot Roll Community, each player is eliminated from the bonus rolls when he or she rolls a 7. But when two are eliminated, they still can keep rooting for the third to keep their bonuses growing.

With bonusing, progressives and community play, you could say slot variety is trending up.