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Sonic Spinball (Genesis Version): Looking Back at the Hedgehog’s First Pinball Game

A lot of the Sonic the Hedgehog games released for the Sega Genesis were brilliant: they offered plenty of high speed action, excellent game play, fantastic music and graphics.

A lot of the Sonic the Hedgehog games released for the Sega Genesis were brilliant: they offered plenty of high speed action, excellent game play, fantastic music and graphics, and of course, a memorable character who has gone down in history as one of the most famous video game mascots of all time. In 1993, Sega decided to place the hedgehog in a game from a genre other than platforming for the first time, and the result was Sonic Spinball, a pinball game. I have fond memories of this game, which was from my childhood, but looking back at it, I have discovered that it is actually one of the weaker entries in the Sonic series. It is not bad per se, but despite some neat features here and there, its difficulty keeps it from being truly grand. Allow me to explain…

Once again, Sonic and Tails head out to stop the wicked Dr. Robotnik This time around, the mad doctor has built a volcanic fortress, within which he plans to turn captured enemies into robots in order to help him carry out his wicked plans. Our heroes approach the fortress aboard their plane, the Tornado, only to have it be struck by a laser beam. Sonic falls into the water, but still manages to infiltrate the fortress, where he hopes to put an end to Robotnik’s schemes. Not much of a plot, but then again, Sonic games did not yet have strong stories at the time of the game’s release.

Getting through the volcanic fortress is no simple task: to do this, Sonic will have to deal with its pinball defense system. You see, this game is filled with pinball mechanics, with Sonic as the ball being hit by flippers and bouncing off bumpers and enemies to score points. These mechanics also help our hero reach other parts of the game’s four levels, and each stage has its own unique features. One stage has mine carts that you can ride on and a mechanical beast that will swallow you whole unless you press the buttons rapidly. Another one has cannons that will shoot you towards walls that can be broken and an area where you can use steam to propel yourself to higher places. There is a lot to discover, and Sonic fans are sure to look forward to finding every secret.

One thing that Sonic has to find in every level is the Chaos Emeralds, the elusive gems that are said to have unlimited mystic powers. Unlike in earlier games in which grabbing all of the emeralds was optional for those who wanted to simply beat the games, this time it is mandatory to collect all of the emeralds in a stage because you cannot enter the boss rooms without them. Thus, you will spend most of the time in each stage searching for the powerful gems. The first two stages each have three emeralds, while the other two stages each have five emeralds. Once you have them all, you can then take on a boss for a chance to travel to the next level.

Finding the emeralds is easier said than done, however. The stages are full of hazards, and falling into a hazard like slime or lava will result in having you lose a life. The controls are not very precise, and it can be hard to guide Sonic to where he needs to go. The emeralds are well hidden, and it can take a long time to find them all (though there is no time limit). On top of that, while the other bosses are not too difficult, Robotnik is virtually impossible to beat here. There is no clear indication of when you can and cannot him, so be ready for a lot of frustration if you manage to get that far. This is one of those games that require you to complete in one sitting, though its high difficulty makes it so that some players may give up before they even reach the final boss.

Not every aspect of the game is bad, however. By completing the levels, you can play some pretty fun bonus stages that require you to use up to three balls to destroy such things as capsules that hold Sonic’s friends captives and Robotnik’s teeth. A notable part of these stages is that they include cameos from characters taken from the Archie Sonic comic and the Sonic SatAM animated series. This would be the only time that these characters would appear in a Sonic game, though there was going to be a Sonic SatAM game for the Genesis. I have written a separate article about that game, so you can check it out at your leisure. Seeing characters such as Princess Sally and Bunnie Rabbot here is a joy, and makes me wish that they could appear in other games.

As for other positive aspects, the boss battles are quite cool aside from the final fight, and the various features of the stages are pretty neat…provided you can utilize the somewhat iffy controls to reach them. The graphics are decent, although they seem a bit worse than previous games. Still, Sonic is given more animations than ever, a feature that would be carried over to Sonic 3. The best part of the game, however, is the soundtrack. It is filled with a lot of catchy rock-style tunes, with the Lava Powerhouse, Machine, and Options songs being particular standouts. In fact, you could just look up each track on YouTube and listen to them without having to play the game. One wishes that the Game Gear version of Sonic Spinball had an equally great soundtrack instead of being filled with boring songs that do not seem to fit the stages at all.

I have something of a love-hate relationship with Sonic Spinball. On the one hand, it has some neat features in each stage, excellent bonus levels, awesome boss battles (for the most part), and the first and only appearance of the Archie Sonic characters in a game. On the other hand, its high level of difficulty, somewhat iffy controls, and truly frustrating final boss fight leave a lot to be desired. As such, the game is rather mediocre…certainly not the worst Sonic game on the Genesis (that dubious honor belongs to Sonic 3D Blast), but it still could have been better. Still, I recommend that Sonic fans try it out at least once, whether they play the original cartridge, a version found on one of numerous compilations, or the version that can be downloaded from the Wii Shop Channel. As far as pinball games go, Sega could have done worse, but they could have also made the game a little bit better.

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