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  • Writer's pictureJason

The Time We Almost Got Legend of Zelda and American Gladiators Pinball Machines

This weekend I was absolutely wiped out when I got home from an unexpected trip to the hospital with one of my sons well after Midnight. I was too amped up to go to bed, but too zonked to play video games on my Steam Deck like I often do when I'm relaxing on the couch. So I popped on Netflix to find something to veg out to. I landed on something that was fairly nostalgic for me personally, a new documentary about the early 1990s television show American Gladiators (trailer below). The show was loaded with late 80s / early 90s goodness. Anyone who lived through that era will probably love it.

So how does this relate to pinball you ask? Well, the 1993 Gottlieb solid state pinball machine Gladiators, designed by Jon Norris - just under 2,000 units sold, was originally supposed to be themed The Legend of Zelda. Yes I know that Zelda is not American Gladiators, so bear with me. Yes, it was originally supposed to be Zelda. People then, and even today, would have gone nuts for a game based on that classic Nintendo license. The Zelda release would have followed Gottlieb's successful 1992 Super Mario Bros. (4,200 units) and rarer mini Gottlieb Super Mario Bros. Mushroom World (519 units) pins.

In the middle of Zelda's development, the theme was switched to the popular television series at the time American Gladiators - with the stipulation that Gottlieb had to get the game out fast. Then out of nowhere, the licensing deal with American Gladiators fell apart and Gottlieb was stuck without a theme for the pinball machine. So, they just branded it as a generic futuristic Gladiators pin.

That's quite a bizarre history for a game you don't see very often these days. I think that a Legend of Zelda pinball machine would still sell like hotcakes today. The franchise is going as strong as ever with Nintendo's latest entries Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom. An American Gladiators pinball machine today, not so much. The documentary sure is good though. Would you be interested in a new pinball machine based on Zelda today?

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