Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball
  • Genre:
    • Pinball
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publishers:
    • Sega
    • Brazil Tec Toy
  • Released:
    GEN
    • UK 11/15/1993
    • US 11/23/1993
    • JP 12/10/1993
    • Brazil 1993
    GG
    • UK August 1994
    • US September 1994
    SMS
    • UK 01/25/1995
    • Brazil 1995
Score: 75%

This review was published on 07/11/2013.

Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball is a pinball game developed by Sega and originally released for the Sega Genesis and Sega Mega Drive in 1993. There was also a downscaled version of the game released for the Game Gear and Sega Master System in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Sonic Spinball is a spinoff of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. In his own games, Sonic is a blue hedgehog that can run really fast and curl up into a ball to roll around town. The thinking was that Sonic's game play would lend itself really well to a pinball game, and thus, Sonic Spinball was born. It's basically Sonic the Hedgehog combined with pinball. This isn't exactly something anyone was asking for, but it's not half bad. An interesting thing to note about this game is that it's one of the few Sonic the Hedgehog games based on the TV shows, featuring characters that only appear in the cartoons. I'm not sure what that was all about. In any case, Sonic Spinball isn't too shabby.

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Dr. Robotnik, the fat, mad scientist who always causes trouble in the Sonic games, is again up to no good. This time he conquers a mountain called Mt. Mobius and converts it into a mechanical fortress of solitude, minus the solitude. The fortress is then named the "Veg-O-Fortress," whatever that means. The mountain is actually a volcano, and Robotnik uses the magma to power his powerful base. What does Robotnik do with this new base of his? Why, transform hapless animals into his robotic slaves, of course! It's more or less the plot of the first Sonic the Hedgehog game. The intro shows Sonic and Tails launching an assault on the fortress aboard an airplane, but they are quickly shot down. Sonic ends up falling into the water and washes onto a gross part of the fortress. Now he must make it through the aptly named "Pinball Defense System" to get to Robotnik and ultimately destroy the fortress. And that's why Sonic essentially becomes a life sized pinball. It's funny how the story actually tries to explain the pinball element using some form of logic. Nice try, story, but you aren't fooling me. This game's story won't be winning any awards, but nobody expected it to. At least it quickly sets up the premise without pestering you with annoying dialogue about exploring Pinball Land.

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As you've no doubt noticed by now, Sonic Spinball is a pinball game. It does have minor Sonic the Hedgehog elements, but this is mostly a pinball experience. It's possible to walk around, jump, and perform a Spin Dash as Sonic, though most of those maneuvers are completely useless in this game. The ground really is just a starting point for you to get your bearings before jumping headfirst into a chaotic pinball machine. In addition to controlling Sonic, you can control any nearby flippers, just like in any good pinball game. The main things you'll be controlling are the flippers, since Sonic will be too busy bouncing about like a ball. What separates Sonic Spinball from other conventional pinball games is that you can actively control the ball even while it's bouncing around. Other pinball games have a feature where you can shake the board a bit to influence the ball's trajectory, but Sonic Spinball goes a step further by directly allowing you to control the ball. While the control is by no means fantastic, you do have far more control over your fate in this game than in other pinball games. That's actually really cool and the best part of Sonic Spinball. Losing is actually kind of your fault here, as you not only control the flippers, but also the ball. There is still an element of luck involved, like any pinball game, though it's been reduced by a good amount. If you're a pinball purist, then this might be too sacrilegious for your tastes. Sonic Spinball is a pinball game, sure, but it's far from a conventional one.

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There are four levels in the game, all with their unique themes, gimmicks, and enemies. That might not sound like much, but these levels are all fairly long and hard. The objective of every level is to collect enough Chaos Emeralds to open the path forward. In other Sonic the Hedgehog games, there are usually seven Chaos Emeralds and they transform Sonic into the invincible Super Sonic when he gets them all. That's not the case here. Unlike those games, the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic Spinball are mandatory to progress in the game, and they bear no Super Sonic reward. The general flow to the game is that each level is divided into small sections where you look for emeralds. You sometimes have the choice of transitioning into other sections by going through certain holes or passages, but sometimes you have to do something before the next section opens up. There is a degree of exploration here, as you can revisit previous sections to get anything you missed. Typically, however, you'll be revisiting sections on accident, because this is pinball and it can be hard to control where you're going. It can be tricky to figure some of the gadgets in the game, at times. Like you might need to pull a lever somewhere in order to open a door, but the game doesn't really make it clear that you need to do anything of the sort. Many of the strange contraptions exist merely to give you points for a high score, which makes it difficult to figure out what opens doors and what's just there for points. There is some helpful text at the top of the screen that will occasionally tell you what to do, but it tends to be cryptic. I do like the goofy contraptions, though, because they're very creative and there are so many of them in each level. For the most part, enemies are strictly score boosters, since Sonic can't be harmed while in ball form. The only threat enemies provide is that they can push Sonic into unwanted areas with their metallic bodies. At the end of every level awaits a boss, and while they're not anything special, they're all fairly decent. Levels in Sonic Spinball can be confusing and hectic, but they're actually pretty cool.

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The biggest problem with this game is that it's ridiculously hard. It may not seem that way at first, as the first three levels in the game range from easy to moderately challenging, but the final level changes all that. First of all, the final level is actually really good. It starts at the bottom in a deathly inferno, launch type area, and you slowly progress your way to the top until you reach Robotnik's rocket, which is floating high up in the air. You then have to break into the rocket in order to initiate the boss fight with the fat man himself. If you fall, and you can fall, you might find yourself all the way back at the bottom. It's possible to recover before falling that far, but only if you're good. The level is very inventive, with lots of creative ideas all over the place. The issue is just that it's nearly impossible to complete. It's by far the hardest level in the game, and quite possibly the hardest level of any game ever made. Okay, maybe that's going a bit too far, but this level is tough. Most levels have safety nets that prevent you from dying if you fall into a pit, at least for a certain amount of times. This level has next to none. You fall, you die, and there are many places to fall. I welcome a challenge, but this is too unforgiving. Once you lose all continues and get a Game Over, you go all the way back to the beginning of the game. It's a fun level, but nobody really has the patience to get good enough to finish it.

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Sonic Spinball is a strange experiment, and whether it went horribly wrong or delightfully well depends on your outlook. For a pinball game, Sonic Spinball is pretty good, as it adds a lot of cool mechanics to an otherwise mundane game of pinball. The varied levels with tangible objectives, the boss fights, the graphics, the music, and being able to control the ball directly; these are all things that spice up the doldrums that is pinball. For a Sonic the Hedgehog game, however, Sonic Spinball is well below average. It's too short, too hard, and not too fun. The game alleviates the common problem pinball games have of getting old too quickly, though, and that should be commended. Sonic Spinball is one of the best pinball games, but one of the worst Sonic the Hedgehog games.

Word Count: 1,484