Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Michigan Pinball Expo PT III - HALLOWEEN

It's that time of year again! It's October and the weather is getting a bit colder. It's also time for Halloween! Around the same time last year, I reviewed a pretty spooky table from the Ottawa Pinball Expo.
Elvira is quite a strange individual to base a pinball table off of but nothing is TOO strange in pinball. There are all sorts of weird tables with some odd themes throughout the years. Who would have thought that a golf-themed table would be good?
Things get even more weird with Elvira; there is not only one but TWO pinball machines based on the Mistress of The Dark. Elvira and The Party Monsters, released in October 1989, was the first table to bear Elvira's likeness. If you want a closer look at Elvira and The Party Monsters, check out my review from Ottawa Pinball Expo '13.
The successor to Party Monsters is Elvira's Scared Stiff, released in September 1996. Seeing as Party Monsters was at the Ottawa Pinball Expo, it's only fitting that I review Scared Stiff from Michigan Pinball Expo!
Party Monsters had wicked visual appeal but the gameplay left a bit to be desired. A couple of years later and a few advances in technology later, the Elvira license gets a much more fleshed-out table.

The team of designer Dennis Nordman and artist Greg Freres worked together on Party Monsters and were brought together again on the successor, creating one helluva table that does Elvira justice. Freres' art package on Scared Stiff is outstanding. The artwork is bright and bold, awash in warm colours and a bright red background contrasted by blue plastics on the sides of the playfield and within the middle playfield artwork which really makes everything pop. Freres did a great job in rendering Elvira's likeness which can be found on the playfield and the backglass. The depiction of Elvira is lifelike while still preserving the bright, cartoon-like appearance of the table.

The quality of Scared Stiff doesn't end with the art package; the playfield design and gameplay is top-notch. There is a neat aspect about the layout of Scared Stiff; as it is the "sequel" to Party Monsters, Nordman used a similar layout to PM for Scared Stiff, updating a few features and fine-tuning some of the shots. Most noticeable between Party Monsters and Scared Stiff is the dual ramps.
In addition to the ramps, the bumper clusters are located in the same section in the upper right side of the playfield and the lock shot is once again positioned at the left orbit.
One particular similarity I noticed between the two tables are the shots located up in the upper centre portion of the table. Party Monsters features a small Coffin Target Bank with the Extra Ball scoop flanking it on the right. Scared Stiff bears a similar feature with the Crate Shot.
The Extra Ball shot is even located to the right of the Crate, though instead of a scoop, the ball follows through to the roll-over lanes.
The gameplay of Scared Stiff is also a strong point. There is a definite improvement from Party Monsters in which you only really needed to get multiball to get a big score. Scared Stiff has a more well-defined ruleset; light the Six Tales of Terror to activate Scared Stiff! The tales are easy to light and are balanced between many of the different shots on the table so you don't spend all of your time making the same shot repeatedly. Each mode offers something different as well; Night of The Leapers activates a mode where you must hit the targets to squash the leapers and, if you crush five leapers,
Extra Ball is lit. Completing Eyes of The Bony Beast lights the left orbit ball lock. Terror From The Crate and The Stiff in The Coffin are the multiball modes, the first being 2-ball and the latter a 3-ball affair. Once all six Tales of Terror are completed, hit the crate to turn out the lights and get Scared Stiff! Climb through the levels of the Stiff-O-Meter by hitting the lit jackpots, which alternates between the ramps and the crate, within the alloted time. If you are able to complete the Stiff-O-Meter, you will be treated to one helluva spectacle. The table begins to "short-circuit" with the lights flickering, the dot-matrix display glitching out, and the sound effects spewing out all at the same time until the table overloads and shuts down... THEN MONSTER MULTIBALL BEGINS! This sequence is one of the coolest around; if you're lucky enough to see it, don't turn away from the machine because it's a blast to watch!

There's a little more to Scared Stiff's gameplay than meets the eye. If you take a look up at the backglass, you will see the Spider Roulette Wheel.
Hit the right ramp several times to light the Spider Wheel then hit the scoop next to the right ramp to take a spin on the Spider Wheel. There are a couple of unique modes such as Boogieman Boogie that you can activate, as well as an add-a-ball reward for the multiball modes. Apparently, if you are able to light each of the rewards in a single game, you can activate Spider Multiball.
Scared Stiff wouldn't be complete if it didn't have a bunch of innuendo and double entrendres from The Mistress of The Dark. The callouts from Elvira and her deadhead parter are replete with puns and jokes, many of them straddling the line of industry standards. Compared to Party Monsters' rudimentary sound system, Scared Stiff's callouts are clear and crisp, throwing out all sorts of comments for everything you do. Something I noticed with a lot of late 90's Bally/Williams tables is the use of two "cheerleaders"; tables like Theatre of Magic and No Fear feature two different individuals providing callouts. I find that this helps improves the quality of the sound design as it adds a bit more variety to the callouts and so you do not have to hear the same comments repeatedly. Elvira and the Stiff in The Coffin have a lot of chemistry and often bounce jokes off one another throughout the game.
The table at Michigan Pinball Expo was very well taken care of. The playfield was spotless and everything was working perfectly. There were a few neat mods added to the table as well, such as a Colour DMD...
These ColourDMDs have become quite popular amongst collectors; I saw quite a few tables outfitted with ColourDMDs, as well as a custom topper with Elvira laid out along the top of the backbox.
Elvira has quite a nice pair of tables in Party Monsters and Scared Stiff. PM laid the groundwork for a decent table; the artwork and playfield layout were outstanding but the gameplay came up a bit short. When the time came to produce another Elvira table, Dennis Nordman took inspiration from his previous release based on the Mistress of The Dark and implemented new technological advances as well as experience from prior releases to create a very solid entry in Scared Stiff. The playfield of Scared Stiff invokes memories of Party Monsters with the layout of the ramps and shots for the ball lock and extra ball but also throws in some new features such as the Spider Wheel to add depth to the game. Scared Stiff's gameplay is much improved from its predecessor, with plenty of shots and goals to make, as well as several different multiball modes to activate. A solid art package by Greg Freres and top-notch sound design with callouts by Elvira herself round out Scared Stiff into a really great table.

Normally when I write trip report reviews, I have about two or three machines to review but seeing as the review of Scared Stiff turned out to be a bit of lengthy one, I'm going to consider this Part 3.5 of my Michigan Pinball Expo Review Series! We'll keep up with the Halloween theme and also a little throwback to the Sci-Fi theme of Michigan Pinball Expo Part II with a review of Attack From Mars!

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