Willy Wonka and the Coin Pusher Madness

Posted by brilokuloj on May 13, 2024

A couple days ago, my wife became enraptured by the existence of “gamblecore”, an aesthetic (perhaps a joke one? I’m too old, I can’t tell anymore) that seems to be trying to recreate the feeling of modern digital gambling machines – the lights, the coins, the stupid jingles. It’s really, really funny. It did get us talking about gambling, though.

My opinion on gambling is that every time I go to the mall, the closest entrance to the stores I frequent goes through the arcade. Every time I want to go to the mall for an overpriced pretzel, or overpriced hand creams on slightly less overpriced sales, I have to walk past the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory machine. It is one of those fucking coin pusher games. It plays music from the movie, constantly. It is a nightmare beyond my wildest comprehensions.


Serving suggestion: Read this article with the audio from all its attached videos playing at once.

Children do not care for the original Willy Wonka movie. Children don’t care about Willy Wonka anymore at all, in fact. That’s a whole plot point in the musical adaptation. And yet here it is. Who is it for? Who is spending their money on this?

The coin pusher is a fascinating invention which I have grown to despise. I was blissfully unaware of it until the 2010s, when I witnessed its depiction in one of the greatest cartoons of the decade.

In Clarence, there is a tantalizing scene in which the titular Clarence deposits a single coin into a “Money Broom” machine, where the coin rolls down to the back and is pushed into a pile by an animatronic broom. His control-freak friend Jeff runs up to him, saying “You can’t just play Money Broom! You have to know how to beat the system!” I found this hilarious, because from its depiction this game did not seem to have any gameplay whatsoever. I had no idea what these children were talking about.

Later in my life, I was exposed once again to the coin pusher. Tower Unite is a PC social game made up of many, many minigames, and a lot of those games can be found in an arcade area. Most of these games are innocuous fun… but then in 2021, they released two coin pushers. One was Dragon’s Treasure, a complicated, coordination-based game. And the other was Coin River.

The motherfucking Coin River was an instantaneous catastrophe to the Tower Unite economy. The gameplay is simple: you drop a coin, and you try to light up the letters “R I V E R !” placed along the board. Flippers arbitrarily open and close, blocking your path. And since these flippers are random, there is no gameplay to speak of. You drop coins until all lights are lit, and then you get to shoot coins out of a gun to knock out any loose prizes, but this is negligible anyway if you play the game for long enough. This is a game designed to be played by pressing the space bar.

The worst part is that the payout of this stupid game is actually quite good. It only pays in tickets, the arcade-specific currency that only buys specific arcade-themed ingame furniture and toys, but those objects are quite coveted and time-consuming to acquire through other arcade games. This game really is the best way to rack up tickets as fast as possible, because you can just sit in front of it and mash the space bar. There is no lose condition. If you play for long enough, you will get tickets, and a lot of them.

On the release of this game, every single machine on every single server seemed to be occupied. The arcade was full to capacity. I just wanted to try the damn thing, and I couldn’t. So I played Dragon’s Treasure, which was actually fun, and consistently available. It wasn’t until I finally got a Coin River machine that I found myself thinking “wait, this is it?” – and then it paid out a horrifying, enticing 2,000 tickets, twice as many as the dragon in the same amount of time.

That’s one hell of a trade-off, isn’t it? So I came back to it, I listened to the annoying-ass looping music. The yippees, the flash of the lights. Over and over and over, just for tickets. I felt my soul, and my standards, all of them washed down the river.

Coin River madness spread throughout my immediate friend group in a matter of hours.

“Why does this game pay out so many tickets when it takes no effort?” I wondered to myself every single time I played it. “This is mindless. At least other games require you to time your shots.” I was so desperate to find other things to do in the arcade that I started filling out achievements. There’s one game, Newton’s Apples, which is a skill and timing-based Quik Drop clone where you have to drop apples into chutes. I got the maximum achievement for that game twice because the first time didn’t register on Steam. It still didn’t seem to pay out more than 300 tickets. I went back to Coin River.

In just a few days I knew that I would hate coin pushers for the rest of my life.

So whenever I pass by that Willy Wonka machine, I feel trepidation. I can sense a dark dread sneaking up behind me, a feverish chill grip my throat. If I’m so susceptible to dark patterns with fake money traded for imaginary toys, who’s to say I could be trusted with real money and genuine prizes?

Still, the more I look at it, the more I am compelled. To play the Willy Wonka coin pusher game. And get nothing.

Tagged: arcade coin pusher gambling games malls willy wonka


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