Name: Sonic Spinball
Region Reviewed: Pal
Year of Release: 1993 (uk)
Yes it's a Sonic review. It is nothing new and probably something most of you lovely retro readers are very familiar with. This game holds a special place in my retro heart as it was one of the first that was ever brought for me as a present. This was very significant for me as a youngster, generally I had to earn money to afford every game that I wanted to play and It would take me weeks and weeks of chores to be able to rustle up enough coin to afford a pre-owned copy of a game. So to be given a game, and a brand new one at that, was huge for me. When I played this back in the day I loved it to bits in fact, Sonic Spinball got me into pinball in general. Leading to a long lasting love affair with searching for and playing real pinball tables even though they are pretty hard to find in the South of England. I replayed this recently so lets see if it still holds the same charm as it did back in the day.
Sonic Spinball to many gamers is considered the first lazy entry in the game series as most gamers were eagerly awaiting the release of Sonic 3 and to receive this instead back in 1993 seemed a bit of a slap to the face of the fans. This game however does have a hardcore fan base even today and it's definitely worth mentioning that this was released in Europe first even before it came out in America or Japan.
Sonic Spinball's story is pretty straight forward. You are Sonic flying on top of a plane that your buddy Tails is controlling when uh oh old Robonik shoots you down from his giant fortress and Sonic falls into the watery abyss. This is shown in a very cool cutscene telling you all you need to know about the game, no text subtitles required here. Then the awesome title screen loads which is Sonic bouncing around followed by an awesome tune. After pressing start Sonic emerges at the bottom of the fortress ready to hunt down the fat man and once again take him down.
The game is a platforming pinball hybrid set across four long levels. The core of the game is pinball. Sonic acts as the ball and pressing the C button on the Mega Drive controller will flip both flippers at once, which, I found the easiest way to play. If you choose, A and B will flip the left and right flippers individually. The controls are pretty solid and fans of video game pinball ports should be happy with the translation of Sonic into a game of this genre. If your a hardcore pinball player with real tables the mechanics in this will will not feel like the real thing, due to this game running a lot slower than an actual table. The speed can be adjusted from normal to fast but I didn't feel this made much difference to the games difficulty, if any at all.
In the occasional scenes where you are on platforms Sonic controls similar to previous games in the series just a lot slower. Any button on the controller will make him jump and pressing down and mashing the button will cause Sonic to super spin. The platforming segments feel rather clunky and awkward though they do give the game a little personality making it stand out from other pinball games and of course remind you that you are playing as Sonic, face time people.
The problem with the gameplay mechanics is the game is stuck between two very different audiences, the Sonic fans will probably dislike this game as it is not like the other platform games and the pinball fans will probably dislike this game because its not as mechanically similar. This may explain why this really only has a niche fan base.
Music is great, the tunes of each level and the bonus levels leave a lasting impression and feel well suited to the pinball vibe. Sound effects are solid from the sound of the flippers to the joyous noise of the score bar lighting up when you get a chaos emerald.
The level designs are pretty unique. You essentially have four massive area's and your aim in each is to find the blue chaos emeralds, which are obtained by fulfilling certain tasks such as swinging round loops a number of times, busting barrels and hitting targets. This design is very similar to real pinball tables just obviously dressed up more since your playing a video game. The problem with this though, is that those who are not familiar with pinball will find these tasks incredibly frustrating as it can take you several minutes and possibly cost you lives to try and achieve these goals, causing many to possibly rage quit. The levels themselves though are vibrant with colour and the character sprites for enemies and Sonic look great.
At the end of each level is a pretty epic boss battle which usually requires you to hit a target multiple times using the flippers. After the boss makes a satisfying boom you are treated to a fun little bonus level which is a mini pinball table that uses a real ball instead of Sonic for a change. There is just one goal on each mini table release the animals and knock Robotniks teeth out. I found these bonus parts to be my favourite aspect of the game though they are quite challenging.
This game is difficult from level one and like real pinball you only have three lives but if you get 20 million points you will obtain another life. There are no continues, many newbies will be lucky to get to the third level of this game. The persistent players will soon learn the route and technique of each table and fly through the game. Unlike how I usually recommend games like this for a quick bash, in this case unless you have invested a lot of time already into it this really isn't a pick up and play experience. It is worth mentioning that you can play this with up to four players much like real pinball you pass the controller to each player once a ball is lost. You are essentially going for a high score but it's unlikely you will be busting this out any time soon to play with buddies unless they all have experience playing the game.
If you do manage to complete this and yes there is an ending it probably means you enjoyed it and your drive to play through again will be to get high scores or show off to friends. Dedicated players to Sonic Spinball can actually complete it in less than a hour.
Verdict:- Sonic Spinball was an interesting experiment in trying something new with Sonic. The problem is it is stuck in a very fragile place that will unlikely please Sonic fans or pinball fans. To this day I still love this game for the nostalgic memories I have for it and anyone who invests a lot of time into the game will get a buzz from flying through each level quicker with each playthrough. This game will always have its little fan base but its unlikely it will ever grow any larger than it already has.
The game is still to this day a unique pinball game that successfully mixes platforming with pinball. The obvious criticism is both elements are slower than what is expected of pinball and Sonic. Die hard Sonic fans will own this game already but my advice is to give it a shot and see if it sticks. It's only a average game today but like me maybe this will be the start of a long love affair with real pinball tables. (Sidenote: still waiting for a real Sonic Spinball pinball table to be released)
Second Opinion:- This is one of those let's take our character and put him in everything moment for Sega, something Nintendo have done a million times with Mario and even Sony have done with Crash Bandicoot.
In this instance however it kinda worked, a fast moving pinball makes sense if it's Sonic as he spends most of his life in a curled up dash spin anyway, i'm not saying I love the game, far from it as for me it's incredibly meh however the concept worked, controls were tight and as a game in itself it was alright.
I have to disagree with the sound which for this robot blows but that's the only really bad thing about it as the rest is perfectly fine, average was a word created for games like this.
Transbot Scores:- 5 out of 10