January 12, 2024 – CasinoBloke
Have you noticed that classic online slots with the usual reels and paylines are slowly falling out of fashion?
Don’t get us wrong – there will always be an audience for the good old fruit machine. However, here at CasinoBloke, we test hundreds of online slots every year. The current market trends are clear – many new releases are moving away from the traditional slot machine layout and into more innovative systems that used to be considered “niche”.
It’s not a big surprise – after all, there are already thousands and thousands of classic slots out there. When it comes to new releases, being able to stand out from the crowd is crucial. And Cluster Pays are one of the features that online slots use to stand out.
So what are Cluster Pays slots, and how do they work? The answer is right there in the name. Instead of paylines, players are hoping to hit clusters of matching symbols.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. In this article, we’ll discuss how Cluster Pays slots work and the pros and cons they offer over traditional paylines. We’ll also provide you with a list of some of the latest and greatest examples of top Cluster Pay slot games.
What Is a Cluster Pays Slot?
Cluster Pays slots are a unique type of slot game that eliminates traditional reels and paylines and instead calculates wins based on clusters of symbols. They’re typically found in online casinos, though physical cluster pay slot machines also exist.
To understand the crucial difference between Cluster Pays and regular reels, you have to first understand how slots work in the first place. In their most well-known form, slots win whenever multiple symbols of the same kind appear on several vertical reels. However, these symbols also have to be located along one of several possible horizontal paylines. In most cases, wins are calculated only for matching symbols on adjacent reels, starting from the first one on the left.
Cluster Pays slots do not have paylines. In fact, they don’t really have reels in the traditional sense. Although it may not seem like a big difference from the outside, Cluster Pays slots simply feature a grid on which symbols can appear.
To win Cluster Pay slots, players have to match symbols of the same kind into groups, or clusters. Symbols can be connected horizontally or vertically, which means two symbols can contribute towards the same cluster even if they’re one above the other. However, there is always a minimum of how many symbols you need in a single cluster to win. Typically, this is around 5 symbols, but that figure varies from game to game.
Also, closer pay slots have degrees of success, which means you win more for larger combinations. For instance, a cluster of 10 matching symbols will pay significantly more than a cluster of 5 symbols of the same kind.
In some ways, cluster pay slots draw inspiration from another form of digital entertainment – puzzle games. If you ever played something like Candy Crush or Bejeweled, you’ll know exactly what we mean. Those games are all about grouping symbols into clusters. You can think of Cluster Pays as a combination of slots and Candy Crush.
Cluster Pay Slot Features
In and of itself, the Cluster Pay system in slots used to be unique enough that it was enough to make a game stand out. However, that’s no longer the case. To be frank, casino games with models such as Cluster Pays have been popping up for years now. Most of them need additional features to spice things up and help them stand out from the crowd.
With that in mind, here are some additional features common to slots of this type.
Symbol Cascades – Cluster Pays and Tumble/Cascade features in slots go together like bread and butter. Symbol cascades essentially remove winning symbols from the game grid and replace them with new ones, which allows for additional winning combinations. Click here to find out more about slot cascades.
Wilds – Most modern online slots feature Wild symbols, and Cluster Pay casino games are no different. Wilds can substitute regular symbols, allowing you to more easily make winning combinations.
Scatters & Free Spins – The unique layout of cluster pays does not prevent it from having other popular features such as free spins.
Pros & Cons
One of the most common questions we get boils down to the following:
Are Cluster Pays slots good?
The short answer is yes, they are. More precisely, Cluster Pay slot games are no better or worse than their more-traditional counterparts. It all varies on a game-by-game basis and often comes down to personal preference.
Our point is that there is nothing inherently “good” or “bad” about these types of game features. They’re different, sure, but whether you’ll enjoy that or not depends on your personal tastes. In the long run, any betting game’s profitability comes down to its RTP. If the RTP is at least 95% (but ideally over 96%), it’s a good slot in terms of bang for your buck.
The more important question here is whether Cluster Pays slots are fun. And they can be very fun if done well. If not, however, they can feel a bit contrived and unnecessarily padded. We’ll go through a few pros and cons to illustrate.
Innovative – If nothing else, games with unorthodox models such as Cluster Pays can be a breath of fresh air.
No Paylines – It’s very easy to tell whether you’ve hit a winning combination or not. You don’t have to worry about every individual symbol’s position on their respective reels, because there are no reels.
High hit rate – Although this is not always true, most top Cluster Pays slots hit winning combinations very often. That’s because most use relatively large grids with many positions. Of course, this also means that most payouts are relatively small.
Huge potential combinations – Similarly, having 20 or even more positions on a grid means it’s possible to make potentially massive clusters. Filling out the whole board with matching symbols often results in huge prizes.
Versatile – As we pointed out earlier, the Cluster Pays feature is often merely a foundation for building complex and engaging slot games. Slots that fall into this category can be very different from one another and include even bigger and more impressive features.
Takes some getting used to – The fact that these games are different from the norm means they take some getting used to. We don’t necessarily recommend Cluster Pays if you’re not already familiar with traditional slot machines.
Volatile – Although this is not always necessarily true, Cluster Pays are often very volatile. This isn’t purely a negative, of course, but it’s something to consider.
Limited number of games – There aren’t all that many cluster slots out there yet. More are being released every month, but if you want to play one you won’t have nearly as many options as for the usual reels and payline models.
Limited features – Certain slot game features don’t mesh well with clusters. For example, we’ve never seen a progressive slot game with Cluster Pays (yet.)
Top Cluster Pays Slots to Play in 2024
Last but not least, here are some recommended games for with Cluster Pays.
Ractoonz – A massively popular NetEnt game that popularized Cluster Pays and spawned a beloved franchise. You should also check out its sequels such as Gigantoonz and Gargantoonz, both of which introduce further innovations. Click here to play Reactoonz now on Dunder Casino.
Star Clusters – An innovative attempt by Big Time Gaming to combine clusters and the world-famous Megaways. It’s a truly unique slot game with strong RTP and exciting gameplay features. Click here to play it on 888 Casino.
Oxygen – A modern, super-volatile cluster pays slots that stacks crazy features on top of each other. Created by ELK studios with creative ideas and a strong implementation, the game is only hampered by its lacklustre RTP. Click here to check it out on FuturePlay.
Gem Crush – NetEnt is often credited for being one of the driving forces behind Cluster Pay casino games, and Gem Crush is the culmination of decades of experience with such releases. It’s a deceptively simple yet impeccably made slot game with a lot to offer for new and experienced players alike. Check it out right now on CloudBet.
Viking Runecraft 100 – Play’n GO also makes quite a few Cluster slot games, and the Viking Runecraft series is probably their most prominent example. This specific game is the latest entry into the series, and you can find it on SlotsMillion.
The world of online slots is arguably the most creative and innovative part of the gambling industry. Cluster Pays slots are a perfect example of this capacity for growth. Although they offer a very different experience from usual slot gameplay, they’re still loyal to the core features that make slots so popular in the first place. Check out any of the games we recommended above. Who knows, they may help you gain an entirely new perspective on online slot machines.