Scared Stiff (Bally, 1996)
Scared Stiff (1996) was a follow up to Bally’s Elvira and The Party Monsters (EATPM) from 1989. Whilst EAPTM was built on the System 11 architecture – Scared Stiff operates on the Williams WPC-95 system, utilising the Dot-Matrix-Display over the previous Alpha Numeric of it’s younger sibling. Once again, Dennis Nordman (Whitewater, Indianapolis 500) steps up to take the Elvira licence into the pinball universe. Scared Stiff’s code is handled by Mike Boon (Addams Family, Whitewater). Recently Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) spilled the beans and confirmed that a third Elvira game will be made by Stern, soon making this the middle child. So before the new kid on the block arrives, I take an in-depth look at Bally’s Scared Stiff.
Scared Stiff – Cabinet Artwork
The cabinet artwork turns the whole machine into a set of movie, one that every time you press the start button you are instantly transported to.
The theme of the cabinet is a crate which holds inside it all manners of evil (of which we will get to in the Audio section of the review). This artwork is clearly going with the feel that someone or something is transporting some strange creatures and I love that it feels like the game and all of its terrifying madness is what’s stored inside. The artwork on the cabinet does seem to get a little lost in what it is trying to be, not that it particularly matters. Working from the front, it is 100% about this crate and the creatures inside. The eyes remind me of the classic children’s T.V show Trap Door and I feel pretty confident that one or the other is the lead inspiration.
As you move round the cabinet to the side, the style seems to get a little confused as to whether this is a crate, or it is a coffin. Clearly taking inspiration from Dracula’s voyage aboard the Demeter, the crate turns into the home of the games Stiff in the Coffin. I am being hyper-critical here, because it still absolutely works and looks great.
Above the crate sits Elvira, your host for the game and in my opinion the artist here has created something incredible. The whole table is the crate and is bought into Elvira and sat in front of her. The black above the top of the crate is depicting that the crate is somewhere in Elvira’s possession, but she is sat overlooking it on the backglass. The Spider artwork on the side of the cabinet is the dark and dingy areas of her room and as you look straight up from the players perspective. There she is. Elvira in all her glory, ready to guide the player through the game.
The original artwork featured a logo stating that the game was Rated RRR – Real, Raunchy and Ribbed for your pleasure, however at the time of production, this was felt a little too risqué to go to production, so most games will have this struck through with an animal (or monster) claw making the writing barely legible.
What I love about the cabinet art package is that in itself is telling a story and setting the scene for the game. I have spoken about how important this is before and most games take this approach, but what Scared Stiff and the cabinet art does here, is not only tell a story, but does it in an innovative way. The cabinet artwork turns the whole machine into a set of movie, one that every time you press the start button you are instantly transported to.
Scared Stiff – Playfield Artwork
Once again the designers took an innovative look at how they could integrate theme into the playfield – the boney beast takes a simple ramp that players will have seen time and time again make it a showpiece for the design, we don’t often think of a ramp as a toy, but scared stiff makes it happen.
The playfield artwork has so much going on, and is executed so well, it is jam packed with little twists on the theme and put simply, I love it. Starting at the bottom the way the slime drips off of the inline guides which themselves are pieces of bone is sublime – with the boogey man slingshots getting the same treatment. This is all dripping down into the cauldron of slime where Elvira’s hand is changing the channel to each of the six tales of terror that the player must navigate through within the game.
The centre of the game has the Stiff-O-Meter in which individuals are slowly becoming more and more scared as they get closer and closer to the terrifying crate, which is a great little touch. The right hand bat-ramp feels a little lacking when you compare it to the boney beast ramp on the left, which is again very innovative with it’s overarching bones and skull which eyes represent how many locks the player has currently got towards the Stiff in the Coffin multiball. The designers took an innovative look at how they could integrate theme into the playfield – the boney beast takes a simple ramp that players will have seen time and time again and make it a showpiece for the design, we don’t often think of a ramp as a toy, but scared stiff makes it happen.
The top lanes are represented by the Dead Heads – which are a fun addition to the artwork, however in the game are let down by their coding; the pop bumpers artwork transitions from the overpowering red that covers the playfield into a castle scene of greys where the creature is lurking. This whole area works really well and the blue-capped moving pop bumpers that are clearly a tribute to the classic Frankenstein energy balls that use lightening to bring the creature back to life, it’s a nice touch.
This game features a tonne of in jokes and easter eggs, you can read through all of Scared Stiff’s hidden artwork – however my personal favourites are the Stiff in the Coffin top hat which is covering up just how Scared Stiff he really is as well as the T.V. remote being a SOSUMI – instead of Sony.
The sheer amount going on with this art package shouldn’t be overlooked, when you get under the skin of it and see what the artists were trying to deliver, and pushed through into great execution I would suggest. It really is an outstanding effort and I appreciate it as one of the best. 5 out of 5.
If Lyman is the King of Code – then Elvira is the Queen of the Callout and the callouts on this game are sublime. The general loop background music is honestly quite poor, and it can repetitive if you actually listen to it, but that will only really happen if you are cradling the ball up for a long period of time, because this game is callout central. I have also been reliably informed that the music actually changes throughout the game with each mode that is shot – with music representing the six tales of terror. I have to say, as someone who has owned this game, I was quite surprised by this – as it seems to have passed me by, however this for me reinforces the fact that comparative to the callouts, which I absolutely adore, the music simply passes the individual by.
The callouts are split over Elvira and also The Stiff in The Coffin. The two play off of each other really – such as with the start of The Stiff in the Coffin multiball.
Elvira: Hey, wake up! What, are you dead or something? Watch this, I´ll get him up!”
The Stiff: “The stiff in the coffin! Hey, that´s me!”
Of course, being the innuendo laden machine that is, owing to the theme, there are many a callout that makes me, and most players smile. If you make it to the Stiff-O-Meter mode, which isn’t too hard to do, you will be greeted with another amazing interaction between the two.
The Stiff: “Turn out the lights! It´s time to get scared stiff!”
Elvira: “Let’s see how scared stiff you can get!”
The Stiff: “Turn on the Stiff-O-Meter!”
Elvira: “This will scare the pants off you! I hope!”
There really are too many to mention in this game, because whether it’s the varying Deadhead callouts, certain mode callouts or general gameplay – the sounds really deliver. This is my personal top 3 callouts from Scared Stiff and where they occur in the game.
Number 3 – Adding a second player.
Elvira: “Twice the fun!”
Number 2 – After getting a Deadhead. Randomises Pumpkin Head.
The Stiff: “Pumpkin Head!”
Elvira: “Trick or Treat? Why not both?”
Number 1 – After hitting a few jackpots in multiball.
Elvira: “Ooh, I´m having multiple jackpots!”
On a special note, there is an incredible Boogieman mode which introduces disco music for the Boogiemen to dance to. To score points you hit any switch on the playfield, each one making them jump into a dance. Each sink hole within the game increases the switch value by a further 5k – the dots and the music are pure camp brilliance. What’s frustrating to the player is how much more accomplished and fun this mode makes the sounds than the general drone of the standard music, which makes for a much more forgettable backing track.
Whilst the music is poor, you just cannot beat these callouts on this game, I personally cannot think of any that are more.. er… hum… satisfying. One mark has to be taken for the poor looped music, but that’s all. 4 out of 5.
Shots and Flow
Whilst the game excels at visually enticing the player in, the real pinball happens on the table with the shots. The game has seven main shots; being from left to right The Spell, Left Orbit, Boney Beast, Skill Shot, Crate, Extra Ball, Bat Ramp and the Spider Hole. There is a Skill Shot available off of the only but forms a major part of the game as it acts as a VUK from certain shots also. Each of the shots on the game is highlighted on the picture below.
Starting at the very far left The Spell shot is one that mirrors the drop targets on The Walking Dead – instead of being drop targets these are a bank of stand up targets, so anything you hit here is coming back at you rather quickly. The only aim of these targets is to relight the kickback (not a physical kickback, but software driven) and the left outlane. I personally find this too much of a risk to be honest.
The left orbit is so important in this game, it can be used for one of three major features, there are inserts on the game which will notify the player of which route on the orbit which is currently “open” – they can be:
- Lock Shot – The Stiff in the Coffin – If the lock is lit on Stiff in the coffin – a diverter opens under the boney beast ramp to take the ball into a lock. The standard for the game is that the next ball will be shot from the shooter lane, however, if there is no ball left to serve from the trough (i.e multiplayer game and too many balls locked) – it will kick-out from the coffin just above the The Spell shot and feed to the left inlane.
- Dead Head Lanes – Above the crate there are three Dead Head lanes, another diverter is located to the right of the crate on the left orbits path, when closed, this will feed into the top lanes. After these top lanes completed, the ball will drop into the VUK used for the skill shot to the left of the crate. This VUK kicks back up to the main playfield, which can be a dangerous.
- The Monsters Lab – If the Dead Head diverter is open, the ball will divert round the entire left orbit and into pops – the ball can then sneak out of the pops via two routes, to the right of the crate down centrally and into the main playfield, or into the spider hole – which is a VUK that kicks up to the last of the boney beast ramp, feeding the right inlane and onto the right flipper.
The left orbit is made from the right flipper easily and it’s such a satisfying shot when you post pass from the left flipper.
The feel of the boney beast shot mixed with the sharpshooter-esque on the fly approach to the lock shot and the thud of the ball slamming into the lock – that’s liquid pinball.
The boney beast shot can be made just by both flippers, but is easiest as a forehand off of the right flipper. It loop over the top of the bat ramp and just feels absolutely perfect. Maybe I am a sucker for a ramp shot, but it is just gorgeous – especially with the callouts that can come if you start nailing it in a rhythm some of the callouts are so good too (Elvira: This things huge… Next Shot Elvira: And ribbed) – making you want to keep that flow and repeat continue.
The crate shot is required to start the crate multiball and is essentially a bash toy until open, when it becomes a sink hole which is returned by the VUK of the skill shot. It is a necessary shot for progression but can be a little dangerous, especially when the ball takes the left side of the playfield, there is an angle that will bank between the two flippers and it’s one of those you see coming, but need to be on it to save. Not that I mind at all, in fact, there should be at least one of these shots in every game in my book.
The extra ball shot feeds into the deadhead area and when lit awards the extra ball, if the left orbit is on a lock or going into the monsters lab and the player wants the Dead Head shots instead, this is the route to getting there. this then, as the Dead Heads feeds into the skill shot VUK – which again presents danger when coming out. I personally have only been able to make this from the left flipper. The bat ramp is the reverse of the boney beast – available from both flippers albeit preferred forehand this time from the left, returning to the left flipper, it doesn’t however, for some reason, feel as satisfying.
The spider hole shot can be backhanded and forehanded so is available from either flipper – it is a VUK which feeds the ball into the tail end of the boney beast ramp, so returns to the right inlane and then into the flipper. It’s not a greatly used shot throughout the game and isn’t too tricky to hit either.
The plunge on the game is interesting as it can make for some good decisions, you can choose to either full plunge directly into the crate – adding one shot to the crate and its multiball, hit the skill shot which is an incremental 250K per completion (so 750K if hit 3 times) or – into the spider hole, which if lit will award the spider award, depending on the situation, this plunge adds a good level of shot making, which I haven’t seen in many other games out there.
One combo that optimises pinball satisfaction is lighting the the lock on the boney beast, the ball feeding back to the right flipper and shooting the lock shot on the fly. The feel of the boney beast shot mixed with the sharpshooter-esque on the fly approach to the lock shot and the thud of the ball slamming into the lock – that’s liquid pinball. If (and it regularly is) that is to start multiball, it’s all the better for it.
There’s a great mixture of safe play to be had within Scared Stiff and some dangerous shots you simply cannot avoid, namely the crate shot and the return from the skill shot VUK – but to get to the higher scores these are shots you simply must take and that’s what makes the game challenging from a shots perspective. Overall it’s a really satisfying and engaging game that from a shots perspective “feels” really solid. This is a tough one, because the issue with the flow, has very little to do with the layout of the game, mainly the code around it – which I will come onto in the code element. It’s solid, but not a perfect layout – so with this it gets a 4 out of 5.
Whilst again this isn’t a complete in depth review of the code and how to score big, you can find that on the PAPA website – I will focus on looking over some of the areas of the code that are important for this review.
Another big issue for me is the stop-start-stop-start nature of the code, this wouldn’t be too bad for the spin spider, given how interactive it is, however the whole game stops after a Dead Head lane.
Modes, Multiballs, Getting Scared and Monsters
The game is split into six modes – two of which are multiballs, I have outlined the modes below:
- The Stiff in the Coffin (3 – Ball Multiball) – Shoot Boney Beast to light locks, lock shot to lock – repeat x 3
- Night of the Leapers – Hit each of the leapers (3 in total) once to complete mode
- Return of the Dead Heads – Complete one set of the three Dead Head lanes above the crate
- Terror From the Crate (2 – Ball Multiball) – Hit the crate until eyes light up completely and once more to start.
- The Monsters Lab – Hit pop bumpers x 20 to complete
- Eyes of the Boney Beast – Complete 3 x Boney Beast ramps
The multiballs on the game are fun and it is great that each one has it’s own distinct feel, each with differing ways to complete fun-to-shoot jackpots. Both of the multiball starts are really fun and have a good light show to boot. The issue with the game is that the modes really just pass the player by. If you own this game, really you are trying to get through to the multiballs as every other mode will happen through the course of the game. Once all the modes are lit – you can move onto the Stiff-O-Meter. If for some reason you haven’t completed a mode the game is hunting it down to get to the Stiff-O-Meter, whilst this is enjoyable, you can sometimes feel that everything is passing you by without much challenge.
It really makes you as a player feel that the true game begins and the real challenge is on the Stiff-O-Meter, which with the countdown timer of 30 seconds and it’s alternating shots between the crate and ramps to progress has some real tension. Hitting Monster Multiball is a lot of fun and presents a really achievable goal for each time you press the start button.
The Spin Spider
The spin spider is another interesting feature on the code of the game, as it makes for some interesting strategy, whether going to beat your own high score, or playing in a tournament, the three key features in my humble opinion to be aware of are:
- The Crate Multiball Extender – this will give you one shot towards your next Crate Multiball – it will also restart your whole multiball once you get down to one ball in play.
- The Coffin Multiball Extender – this will give you one shot towards your next Coffin Multiball, either completing a light lock, or giving a lock – it will also restart your whole multiball once you get down to one ball in play.
- Double Trouble – this will give you a 20 second 2X on all shots, this is the perfect item to bring into any multiball.
For tournament, you would be looking to collect a multiball extender, doesn’t matter which but I prefer the ease of the crate shot, so I would suggest crate, then relight the spider spinner via the bats ramp, then into the spider, double trouble and nail crate for 2X jackpots (500K per shot)… gorgeous.Luckily this adds an extra dimension when playing which softens the weak mode based play discussed earlier.
When I’m Ready
Another big issue for me is the stop-start-stop-start nature of the code, this wouldn’t be too bad for the spin spider, given how interactive it is, however the whole game stops after a Dead Head lane. That is every single time you hit a Dead Head lane (unless in the Stiff-O-Meter or any multiball) the whole game stops to go through which dead head it is, this can seriously affect flow and can affect concentration of the play too, honestly it’s just blinkin’ annoying – you can’t even hit your flippers like in World Poker Tour just to get through it, you have to watch the whole blinking thing… it’s annoying.
Unfortunately – there is just a couple of code problems with the game that make it lacking in this department, don’t get me wrong – it isn’t to say that it is poor, it isn’t… but there was potential within the game to have much stronger code on and that final bit of polish in a couple of areas could take this to the absolute top level. Given this miss, it’s a 3 out of 5.
I love this game, and Scared Stiff was my first major WPC shop out so it will always have a special place in my heart. The game is so solid in most features, but it does just lack that final bit of finesse and certain elements that would take it away from the B level tranche of WPC games and into the wider community psyche of being an A game – with the likes of Monster Bash, Medieval Madness and Addams Family etc. Whist I adore it, I am acutely aware of it’s issues – it’s short code span means that whilst it could certainly have a home in a collection of any size and still stay fun for long periods of time, it probably won’t be a game you can waste away a whole evening playing, although you will know when you do, you will have an absolute blast. With the upcoming release of Elvira 3 – will that affect the demand on this game? I think so. Over the past month I have had 3 individuals enquire about my game, even though it isn’t listed anywhere as for sale. Overall, a solid 4 out of 5 game.
Please let me know your thoughts, experiences or memories of Scared Stiff below. Did I hit the nail on the head, was I completely wide of the mark – the comments section below is open.
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