Sinistar is a classic from Williams that I didn’t know existed until I started collecting arcade games. Even though I had never played it as a kid, it gave me that same nostalgic rush that I got from games like Berzerk back in the day. It’s a feeling of fear and anxiety toward what’s off-screen, lurking in the darkness. Even when things are seemingly going well, it has a way of reminding you that you could be dead at any moment, which makes it all the more rewarding when you defeat the title character.
In Sinistar, you are the pilot of a spaceship, mining for “sinisite” crystals from planetoids. You accumulate crystals by either shooting at the planetoids (don’t shoot them too much or they’ll blow up) or by repeatedly bumping into them. As you mine for crystals, there are enemy “worker” ships that will try to grab the extracted crystals first. If they get to them before you do, they will use them to construct a Sinistar, which is a demonic space monster that will chase after you and eat your ship.
Once fully-constructed, Sinistar will warn you by saying, “Beware, I live!” before attacking. As he chases after you, he roars and taunts you by saying things like, “Run, coward,” “I hunger,” “Run, run, run,” and “I am Sinistar!” In a dark room with your adrenaline pumping, it’s actually kind of scary. He’s much faster than you, so out-maneuvering him takes some finesse. Each sinisite crystal that you acquire becomes a “Sinibomb,” which is the only weapon that works on Sinistar. It takes 13 hits to destroy him, so acquire as many Sinibombs as you can before he attacks.
In addition to the worker ships, which can’t hurt you, there are “warrior” ships that can and will. They chase you around, shooting at you as you attempt to mine for Sinisite, and one shot is all it takes to kill you. The further you get in the game, the more warrior ships you encounter, the more accurate their shooting gets, and the more relentless they become. The difficulty increases very quickly in this game.
In February of 2011, while the buyer of my Exidy Crossbow machine and I were making chit-chat, he asked me about what games I was searching for, and I mentioned Gravitar, Punch-Out, and Sinistar. He told me that he knew a guy with a Sinistar cockpit, and as it turned out, that person was a mutual acquaintance. I reached out to him, and after a few days, the cockpit was sitting in my garage:
The cockpit version of Sinistar is a rare machine, but it just took up way too much space for it to be a permanent fixture in my game room. Even though I loved the game, I only had the cockpit for about ten months before selling it to a collector in New York.
In September of 2015, an ad popped up on the forums over at KLOV, for a standard upright Sinistar in Tempe, AZ. The cabinet was empty, with the exception of the AC wiring, speaker, light fixture, and control panel (minus the joystick), but the cabinet itself looked like it was in great shape. I already knew the seller (a fellow horror/sci-fi/schlock aficionado), and the price was excellent, so I jumped on the opportunity to get this game back in my collection.
I picked up a working 19″ monitor the very same day that I picked up the cabinet, and over the span of a few weeks, I located a marquee, a 49-way optical joystick, and a very nice bezel. After the initial flurry of locating components, however, the game sat pretty much untouched for well over a year as I shifted my focus back to pinball.
Fortunately, in February of 2017, things got going again. I grabbed a Jrok Multi-Williams board from the man himself at a local repair party, while a buddy of mine in TX built me a custom wiring harness. Within the span of a couple of weeks, this project went from the back burner to 100% complete.
Sinistar now sits in my Room 237 game room upstairs.
Beware, I live!