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Elvis retro Review and Tips

Written by emo, published November 4th, 2011. 3 comment(s).

ELVIS?? It’s not an obvious Steve Ritchie title but Stern Pinball must have calculated that an Elvis themed game would attract players. This quote suggests Steve had his reservations “Elvis was chosen for me, I wasn’t very happy with the choice in the beginning but got more into it as time went on”. Being pushed to think outside your comfort zone can throw up some interesting results so let’s find out what happens when the “King of Flow” meets the “King of Rock n’ roll”.

I had played an Elvis pin at a show back in 2005 and I enjoyed it very much. This experience was good enough to encourage me to buy one this year (2011). The main reason for my purchase was that I wanted something that would both look good and encourage others to play. I knew that if I put my CSI or Terminator 3 in our house, that the only person playing would be me. I’m pleased to report that although I haven’t Elvis long, it has had more play from friends and family than anything else I have had at home in recent years.

The music score features Elvis at his best and includes "See See Rider", "Blue Suede Shoes", All Shook Up", "Hound Dog", "Jailhouse Rock", "Heartbreak Hotel", and "Burning Love." The recordings are from the "68 Comeback" television special and "Aloha from Hawaii" television special.

General Appearance: Elvis is a good looking game. Jerry Vanderstelt, the incredible artist behind THE LORD OF THE RINGS®, hand painted the artwork for Elvis”. The back glass has Elvis center stage with his name up in lights in the background, while the playfield has numerous Elvis images around it”. The cabinet art is also of good quality and again features Elvis and a large acoustic guitar.

The retro theme is carried over from the art to the playfield design, as there are a number of features that aren’t seen very often on modern games. It has 5 drop targets, 2 saucers, a spinner, 4 flippers, 12 stand-ups targets (including hound dog), 3 bumpers 2 ramps and transparent upper playfield. Ramps are “all metal” and laser cut and both ramps and rails are gold in colour to go with the art.

Because of the lack of sound sample space, Elvis sings the first verse of each song, which is then fitted together seamlessly with an instrumental versions to keep you rock n’ rolling! Something that sounds engineer, Chris Granner describes as his “biggest challenge” of the game. The result was a great success and the chances are that most players will not notice this transition.

Game design elements that stand out are a transparent upper playfield, that invites shots to the model Graceland Mansion, the jumping Hound Dog target and a cool dancing Elvis model that comes to life at various times during the game. To quote Stern’s web site

ELVIS® sings and dances! A mechanical Elvis with shaking hips and gesturing hands moves forward and back in perfect sync with real Elvis tunes, bringing the microphone to The King Of Rock & Roll's® lips every time he sings a phrase!”

Playfield description:

The bottom of the playfield has the standard 2-flipper, 2 slingshots, 2 in-lanes, 2 out-lane layout. The left in-lane/right ramp combo awards 2 Screaming Fans (yes they do scream) and doubles the score. Each Screaming Fan gives a 500k end of ball bonus. The right in-lane lights the left loop ready for the Blue Suede Shoes mode and inner loop shots. The out-lanes award a 500K bonus when lit for “Elvis has left the building”. This seems to be a last ball/end of game award.

On the lower playfield above the flippers are a whole bunch of important light panels

The 5 modes or “Feature Hits” of the game are represented by the yellow Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Heart Break Hotel, Jailhouse Rock and All Shook Up light panels. These indicate when modes have been completed.

Above these are the 10 Blue Note/Top Ten Count Down lamps, that indicate how many of the 10 Blue Notes have been collected,

Above these there are 3 panels that indicate when the all Features and Top Ten Countdown are complete and all Gifts from Elvis are collected. When all three of these are lit, the Graceland wizard mode is available.

Moving around the remainder of the playfield from left to right.

Elvis Drop Targets: are on the left with. Light panels in front are used to indicate the moving skill shot. Downing all 5 targets score lights a Gift from Elvis. The 5 Gifts from Elvis indicator lights are on a banner on the left, above up above the targets. Scores begin at 20K per target and 375K for completing all 5. Both scores increase as the game progresses and the completion awards increase 125K each, time until it reaches 1m. Larger bonus scores are available when collecting certain Gifts more than once.

Left orbit: has a spinner at the entrance together with shot indicator panels. These are a white arrow jackpot/shot indicator, blue suede shoes, “All” for “all shook up” and a blue note/top ten count down panel. The orbit is open during certain modes of the game such as Blue Suede Shoes, when it feeds all the way around to the top right flipper, for a cross playfield shot. At other times it is blocked to divert the ball to the roll-overs and pop bumpers.

Left Ramp: This sweet shot takes the ball over the mini-playfield, past the upper right flipper for a potential Graceland shot and back down to the left in lane. It has shot indicator panels of a white arrow jackpot/shot indicator, “Shook” for “all shook up” and a blue note/top ten count down panel.

Hound Dog Target: A good hit on this target launches the Hound Hog up a pole. It has two yellow lights in front of it. Hit it enough times and you start the Hound Dog frenzy mode

Taking Care of Business (TCB) targets: These are 3 stand-ups in, near the top of the playfield that are angled right towards the rollovers. Hitting all three starts a 20 seconds of double scoring-very useful

KING targets: The 4 King stand-ups and angled left and just below TCB. They relight the Scarf target and therefore give semi-random awards. They are also feature during the King of Rock and Roll, Gift from Elvis mode.

Top Saucer: This is very important. It is accessed by a left orbit shot or a lucky bounce from the rollover lanes or pop bumpers. All Gifts from Elvis and EB’s are collected here. It is also the shot used to start the Graceland Wizard mode.

Pop Bumpers: Are below the rollovers and can be accessed either through the rollovers or from a deflection from the TCB targets. Balls can exit to the Jailhouse Saucer, down the right to the top right flipper or get bumped out of the top to the TCB targets, from which there is a danger of a drain SDTM. Sometimes balls can be bounced up for a lucky saucer shot.

Dancing Elvis toy: This doesn’t operate all the time but Elvis boogie’s and sings at the start of the game and when Elvis sings a the start of most modes. Great fun but doesn’t affect play.

Scarf Target: is between the King Targets and Jailhouse and awards lots of useful stiff e.g. adds a ball during multiball extends timers, progresses play towards features etc.

Jailhouse Saucer: Shots here register ball locks towards Jailhouse MB. It is a tight shot from either flipper and can also be accessed by balls draining from the bumpers

Right Ramp: another sweet ramp that takes the ball over the mini-playfield and back down to the right in lane. It has shot indicator panels of a white arrow jackpot/shot indicator, “Up” for “All Shook Up” and a blue note/top ten count down panel.

Right loop: This is actually a partial loop leading to the top saucer. A weak shot will go through the rollovers and into the bumpers. This is an important shot to get goodies from the saucer (see Top Saucer). It has shot indicator panels of a white arrow jackpot/shot indicator, Extra Ball and a Blue Note/Top Ten Countdown panel. This lane has an indicator gate that can register shots upon ball contact even if the ball fails to make it all the way around.

Top right Flipper & Magnet: are both at the entrance to the right loop shot. The magnet is used to hold shots around the inner or left loops and then releases to the top right flipper/inner loop shots. This is used often in the game and especially in “Blue Suede Shoes”.

Plunger lane: This has both an auto and manual plunge mechanism. The angled lane means that manual skill shots can be made at a moving light shot at the drop targets or at a partial inner loop shot at a lit rollover. I always go for the rollover as the drop target shot is both difficult and dangerous. The first successful shot scores 250K and this increases by +50K for each subsequent skill shot.

The upper playfield: A great design because it literally adds another dimension to the game without either obscuring the view to the playfield below or disrupting the flow of the ramps.

It consists of a transparent playfield across the top of the playfield. It has a flipper on the left and a model of the Graceland Mansion on the right. A left ramp shot takes the ball in front of the flipper for a Graceland shot. Graceland has two targets and a door facing the flipper. Hitting them will open the door for a tricky Heartbreak Hotel lock shot. A right ramp shot flows over the top playfield and back to the in lane.

Playing the Game (Rules): “The object of ELVIS® is to collect Elvis songs, win the Top-Ten Countdown, and collect points by spelling out the name E-L-V-I-S. The player can then compete for the highest reward...a trip to Graceland!”

Game Adjustments: It is worth mentioning that there are many ways to adjust the difficulty of this game. The out lanes posts have 4 possible positions. I have limited the extra ball awards and noticed a big improvement after I altered the “magnet use” adjustment to make the game flow better.

Tournament Play and variable awards: This are a number of random awards in the game e.g. the ENCORE mode, the number of locks needed to start multiball modes and the ease at which Hound Dog may be started. Some of this is connected to the Scarf Target so is not as random as it appears. I suspect this is a deliberate effort to engage novice players and allow them to access some of the more interesting aspects of the game. A good move I think but if the game is being played competitively then it should be adjusted to one of the tournament play modes.

Feature Hits (Modes).

Hound Dog, A frenzy with switches scoring 50,000 but increasing by 500 with each score.

Blue Suede Shoes: Loop or shots around the left orbit score 500K, which increased by 500 for each shot made, until it maxes at 1m.

Heart Break Hotel is a multiball mode. Big points are earned through hitting Graceland for Jackpot. The problem with this is that it is hard to do. 1 hit awards 1.1m + 100K per hit, 2 hits + 500K+1.8m, 3 hits +500K + 2.7m, 5 hits 3.8m and then back to the start.

Jailhouse Rock: A 2 ball MB, although more can and usually will be added. Hitting the Jailhouse saucer awards jackpots increasing at 1000 each time starting at 7000. By the time you spell Jailbreak it is worth 354K

All Shook Up: is a Frenzy mode, where jackpots give worthwhile but random awards in balance with the rest of the game.

Top Ten Count Down: You need to collect ten blue notes as indicated by the Blue Note light panels. There is normally one or two lit during the game but you can also add them by hitting the “Spots Note” target just above the right out lane.

Gifts from Elvis (5 in all):

1. Flip Flip Dance Dance (Video Mode): There are three difficulty to pick from with the flipper buttons at the start of the mode. Awards are typically 2m+, increasing to around a possible 5-10m on the more difficult runs.

2. King of Rock and roll: This is a cool Frenzy mode with good music during which you have to hit 5 of the KING targets as a score counts down. The maximum possible score is 5m.

3. Gold Records: Not sure how this is calculated but awards are 1.1m+? X the number of records collected, typically X3 or X4.

4. Light Extra Ball: This and all other EB’s are collected from the top saucer

5. Collect an ENCORE letter.

ENCORE: is a 4 ball play mode at the end of the game like TZ’s lost in the zone. It lasts for 35 seconds after which the flippers die and the balls drain. It is awarded during a game when all of the ENCORE letters have been lit on the back panel.

Graceland: OK let’s have a bit of laid back plinky plonk piano music in the background while we “tour the mansion”. The wizard mode is explained in the dot matrix before 4 balls are launched into play. Collecting 5 jackpots before the timer runs out will move you to the next room and there is a ball saver during which balls are auto plunged at the start of each room. There are 5 rooms in all with their own individual signature tunes as follows:

Music Room: Collect the “musical notes” for Jackpots starting from 2.2m and maxing to 4.4m

TV room: Collect the lit jackpots (white arrows) for 4.5-5m

Billiard room: Collect jackpots for 5m+

Jungle room: Jackpots now start at 8.6m

Trophy Room: Random Jackpots of between 5-10m.

If you complete all the rooms you go back to the Music Room and begin again.

Game Tips: Elvis is an intuitive game but I can share a few tips to help get high scores and to Graceland.

Throughout the game the displays show a lot of information on your progress towards features such as multiballs etc. but you should also listen to the shout outs from the Elvis impersonator. He gives occasional useful instructions such as “shoot the dog” or “go to the Hotel”.

The ramps and inner loop are the safest shots in the game. The more dangerous shots are the drop targets, the Spot Note target and the Jailhouse Saucer shot. The Hound Dog target is also tricky and can send the ball SDTM so you may want to leave this mode until you have a spare ball or two.

Shooting the ELVIS drop targets can result in drains as the ball is wild. I find it useful to knock a few down when the ball saver is on, either at the start of a ball or the start of or during MB’s. Lighting Gifts for Elvis and collecting stuff from the top saucer is both important and worthwhile so you can’t ignore it for long.

In MB or frenzy modes where all switches count big, shooting the spinner/bumper combination is the best way to big points.

During MB don’t forget to send a few shots up the centre of the table to start 2x scoring and also light, and then hit the scarf target to add-a-ball.

The Scarf Target is always worth a shot because it can help progress towards game modes, such as Hound Dog or the multiballs or it can sometimes light a Gift from Elvis.

I tend to ignore the Blue Notes (Top Ten Countdown), until Gifts and Features are complete, as by then I have typically earned around 5-7 Notes. I then concentrate on the remainder in order to get to Graceland. The “Spots Note” stand-up is a dangerous shot so you may prefer to ignore it or wait for a ball saver or MB before shooting it.

Don’t ignore your Screaming Fans (left in-lane right ramp combo) as it is relatively safe and can give a decent bonus in a long game.


“Steve Ritchie says, "ELVIS® is a nice blend of rules and action for the average player, with some forgiveness for the novice, as well as depth of rules that good players and collectors want for sustained play interest.” If that was the aim then mission accomplished Steve, because Elvis is a great pin with something for everyone. It isn’t obvious at first that this is a Steve Ritchie game. It certainly has his attention to detail and his signature flow and speed but with less aggression than his previous titles.

Novices will get satisfaction from completion of features such the drop targets or Blue Suede Shoes loops and get a chance of a random” ENCORE” multiball. More experienced players will try to complete the Features, the Top Ten Countdown and collect Elvis Gifts to reach Graceland. Play can be tactical and refreshingly multiballs aren’t overused, which makes Heart Break Hotel and Jailbreak MB’s particularly satisfying when they occur.

Elvis strikes a nice balance of challenging tight shots and great game flow but I had two minor problems with my game. When the game is clean and playing fast, balls bounced out of saucers too often and that the magnet/inner loop shot was overused. Both of these were easily fixed, the first by tweaking the deflectors and the latter by altering the amount of magnet use in the game adjustments. Once sorted out this game played well at all levels.

If you’re interested in either Elvis or pinball then you won’t be disappointed as it is a great game to own. It is well made, with an original and exceptionally well designed playfield. I whole heartedly agree with SR’s assessment when he said “the game plays pretty darn good”. If a retro theme means you get drop targets and spinners, together with up to date rules and programming, then give me more. Stern’s more recent offering The Rolling Stones hasn’t been well received, which means that if you want a decent dot matrix, music themed pin you have the choice of Guns and Roses, Tommy or Elvis. People can and will argue long and hard about which is the best.

+1 Screaming Elvis Fan here!

The full version of this work appears in the Pinball Owners Association. Pinball Wizard Magazine.

Information comes from my own playing experience, Stern's web site and Michael Shalhaob's The Pinball Compendium, 1982 to present.

Eddie Mole 2011-11-11


8 years ago
great review, i like how you give details on the rules to some overlooked stern titles, makes me reconsider the games you've reviewed, well done!
8 years ago
Thanks, I love "discovering" games and there seems little point about writing about games that already have a good fan base. Many good games are often overlooked because of looks or theme. JM, BSD, JD and Congo are examples of Bally Williams games that suffered from lack of recognition in the past but whose good points are recognized now.
Another reason why games fail to shine is because the owners fail to set them up right. A BSD, CSI or Congo set up easy on 5 balls is boring to all but novices and kills the game. T3 can kick the ball straight down the centre each time if not levelled correctly. If you played one of those poorly set up you would think it was a terrible game, where it isn't the case.
8 years ago
Great review - I also think Elvis is the best music themed pin ever! We must be the minority because GNR is at #19 in the rankings...

Under-rated, over-looked and yet bloody brilliant stern machine.

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