When Charles Fey built the first slot machine in the late 19th century, he imagined it with three spinning reels with symbols on them. For almost a century, the slots have remained pretty much unchanged. In the 1970s, the first video slot machine was born and opened up a whole new world of formats and visuals. But to become truly unconventional, the slots had to make the grand leap online. This happened in the mid-1990s – since then, we’ve seen a variety of slot machine formats emerge in pretty much every online casino. Some of the games you can try completely do away with traditional slot machine design, resulting in a few truly unconventional approaches.
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“Cluster” slot machine
Candy Crush is one of the most successful casual games ever created. And it has a feature where symbols that form combinations disappear from the screen, allowing others to fall into their place. This can trigger a cascade that, in the original game, can even win a level for you.
In slot machines, manually matching symbols is out of the question. But the symbols disappearing from the screen, allowing others to fall into their place, is a beloved feature, especially in “cluster” slot machines.
Cluster slot machines borrow this feature from popular social games, transposing it successfully into their own world of real-money gaming. The symbols are arranged in a grid of various sizes (7×7 or 8×8 usually). The symbols can be pretty much anything the developers decide. The tiles fall into their place from above, and those that touch horizontally or vertically form groups – clusters. In most cases, these clusters disappear from the screen after paying out the winnings, allowing other tiles to fall into their place. This can trigger an entire Candy Crush-style cascade of disappearing tiles and, considering that we’re talking about a slot machine, a series of wins.
As a general rule, these cascades also trigger various bonuses and “powerups” – these are then consumed automatically before the next round.
Cluster slots are pretty unconventional for a casino environment. They do have, in turn, the best of both worlds, so they are surprisingly fun to play.
“Megaways” is a slot machine format invented by Australian game developer Big Time Gaming a few years ago. This format does away with win lines but it also does away with the fixed number of symbols on a reel. Each reel of a Megaways slot machine can have two to six or seven symbols on it, growing or decreasing the number of possible winning combinations for every spin.
Slot machines have adhered to a pretty standard, tried-and-tested format for the better part of the last century. They had reels with a fixed number of symbols on them, and win lines to decide how much money their player won. Over the decades, the number of reels and win lines has grown. Today’s standard is five reels, three rows of symbols, and the number of win lines the developer decides to use.
Big Time Gaming’s “Megaways” format did away with this convention. Its reels contain a variable number of symbols that can form winning combinations. The win lines still exist in a way: winning combinations are counted from the left to right (sometimes, also from the right to left). But the symbols don’t have to be on an imaginary line to win – they only have to be on adjacent reels. For example, if reel 1 has one symbol, reel 2 has 1 symbol, and reel 3 has three symbols of the same type, this counts as three winning combinations on three lines. In the case of Megaways slot machines, the maximum number of symbols on a reel is 7 – this can add up to tens, maybe even hundreds of winning combinations for each spin. Not to mention the games that have an extra “reel” above the normal play area that can boost the number of winning combinations even more.
The Megaways format itself is enough to make a slot machine more entertaining – especially for those playing for real. But developers also tend to choose more attractive and exciting themes for these games, so they make a perfect choice when played for fun as well.
Completely unconventional slots
Most modern slot machines retain the format of the original: they have a rectangular play area with columns of symbols that “spin”. This is, in turn, little more than a convention. Online casinos are a platform where anything goes, as long as it’s fun and you can win money with it. This has given birth to some truly groundbreaking games.
Some of the simplest but still unconventional approaches to slot machines are those with a variable number of symbols per reel. There are games, for example, where the first few reels have only two or three symbols, while those further to the right have four or five. Unlike the above-mentioned Megaways, these don’t operate with variable symbol sizes, so the number of possible winning combinations is relatively low – but the games can be a lot of fun to play nonetheless.
And then, there are some games that completely do away with conventional slot machine design, throwing it out the window and bravely experimenting with something new. And sometimes, the results can be completely unique and innovative takes on a traditional game format.
Max Damage And The Alien Attack, for example, fuses the winning mechanics of slot machines with Space Invaders-type game where you have to shoot alien ships to win. NetEnt’s Finn and the Swirly Spin and its sequel, Finn’s Golden Tavern are games where the symbols pass in a spiral shape, and your goal is to get a key into a lock for a big bonus payout. And these are just a few examples of the unconventional slots you may stumble upon at an online casino.
Make no mistake: while they don’t look anything like “normal” slot machines, these games have the same pace, entertainment value, and most importantly, the same winning potential.