Sonic Spinball – Review

In a bid to cash in a franchise’s success, creators will often produce spin-off games that are usually inferior in quality to the main releases. Many would argue that these games are simply cheap and awful. However, occasionally you will find spin-offs such as Dr. Mario (1990) and Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (1993) that are actually worth owning (although this is likely because the Tetris (1984) like format had already been tried and tested and found to be successful). How would a Sonic themed pinball game fare?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball is cross between a platformer and a pinball game. It was developed by Sega Technical Institute and published by Sega. It was released in 1993 for the Sega Mega Drive and in 1994 for the Game Gear and Master System. It has also had multiple re-releases on the following:

  • Sonic Mega Collection (2002) – GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC
  • Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) – PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
  • Sega Smash Pack – PC (1999), Dreamcast (2001), and Game Boy Advance (2002)
  • Sonic Gems Collection (2005) – GameCube and PlayStation 2
  • Wii Virtual Console (2007)
  • iOS and Steam (2010)

For this review, I played the Mega Drive version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Sonic acts like a pinball throughout most of the game (screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

On the Planet Mobius, the evil Dr. Robotnik is putting his latest dastardly scheme into action. He has created the Veg-O-Fortress, a monstrous machine built into Mount Mobius so that it can draw energy from the volcano via the lava flow. His plan is to entrap the wildlife of Planet Mobius and convert them into mindless machines. Knowing that Sonic and his friends may soon try to foil his plans, he has created a Pinball Defense System to protect his latest invention. As Sonic and Tails approach the mountain in their plane, they are shot down. After escaping a watery grave, Sonic must play the Pinball Defense System to destroy the Veg-O-Fortress and save Planet Mobius.

Although I think Sonic’s moving reflection is good, these bonus stages are a bit pointless (no pun intended) (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

The levels are designed to simulate a pinball machine. You control Sonic and although he acts like a pinball for most of the game, there are times when you can walk/run. The aim of the game is to collect the Chaos Emeralds which will destabilize Mount Mobius and destroy the Veg-O-Fortress. After gaining all the Chaos Emeralds from one level, you must then fight and destroy one of Robotnik’s many boss machines.

There are only four levels:

The Toxic Caves – This is where Robotnik dumps his industrial waste. When you gain the Chaos Emeralds, Scorpius awaits. 

Lava Powerhouse – The heart of the Veg-O-Fortress where the lava-powered generators lie.

The Machine – This is where the inhabitants of Planet Mobius are held captive and where they are transformed into machines.

Showdown – Grab the last of the Chaos Emeralds and flee before the Veg-O-Fortress explodes.

At the end of every level, Sonic will enter a bonus stage which is also designed like a pinball machine. but where the view is different, and the object is to simply score as many points until you lose all three balls.

Up to four players can join in the fun but like pinball machines in real life, each player must wait their turn until the previous player loses a ball (Sonic dies).

The game also features some play firming elements too (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

Sonic’s move set is the same as it would have been in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, in that can still do the Spin Dash. However, when falling off an edge, Sonic will perform a Cliffhanger Flip that allows him to pull himself to safety. You can even control Sonic’s trajectory to a certain extent. For example, if he is falling back to the flippers, you can press left or right to make him veer in that direction which is incredibly helpful at times.

One incredibly annoying aspect to the game is that if Sonic dies, the level is reset and so you have to go through the whole rigmarole of pulling levels or opening doors again. I understand that arcade pinball machines are like this, but I think the realism actually is a detriment to the video game.

Graphics

I think the game looks great! The levels and sprites are colourful and very detailed. I particularly like the bonus stage where you can see Sonic move in the reflection which is a nice touch. However, when you defeat a boss and they begin to explode, the explosions can make the game slow down and blocks of exploding graphics can disappear.

Music & SFX

The music is pretty good and fits the game well. The funky music of first level in particular is distinctive enough to get stuck in your head.

Oddly, the sound Sonic makes when he performs a Spin Dash has changed. It no longer sounds like a bandsaw speeding up but more the sort of sound one would associate with a jumping action. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it.

Replay Value

This game does have some replay value. As well as the multi-player option, you can also change the speed of the game. I also find myself returning to this game generally. There is something about it which draws you back.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, I haven’t yet gotten past Level 3.

What The Critics Said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Sonic Spinball is definitely a new setting for the hedgehog and there are points for originality, but the overall execution of the game seems like an afterthought. The scrolling of the pinball boards is choppy and it’s hard to control what you want to do. As a plus, the boards are huge with lots of nooks and crannies with items to seek out. It’s worth a look. Overall 28/40.[1]

GamePro: “Some animals just refuse to walk out into the roadway when their time is up. Sonic is one of those critters, but, fortunately, the wizards of Sega have come up with a fun, fast and frenetic pinball game to offset all that running and jumping. Overall 17.5/20.[2] 

Mean Machines Sega: “Eminently playable, and full marks for the ingenious approach to pinball, but Sonic Spinball is not the Twix of Megadrive games. One bite and it’s gone. Overall 81%” .[3] 

Electronic Games: “Spinball’s graphics and sound, while not as impressive as Sonic 2, are very good…The sound and music effects not only maintain the game’s internal rhythm but also provide audio game clues. No Rating.[4]

Entertainment Weekly: The first, a video pinball game in which Sonic is the ball, boasts a terrific concept but an ultimately flawed execution — Sonic often moves like a leaden marble. Overall C.[5] 

MegaTech: “Sonic Goes Pinball with five huge levels and a good feel from the flippers and Sonic-ball. Fun and very addictive – the first four levels are pretty easy, but the last one’s dead hard. Not really enough there to warrant the asking price. Overall 86%”.[6]

My Verdict:

“I must confess, I actually like this game even though I can’t complete it and find it incredibly frustrating and cheap at times. It looks great, sounds great, and although the scrolling isn’t as smooth as it could be, I find that this game draws me back again and again. It has a certain charm that warrants a better reputation.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic Spinball? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Sonic Spinball’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (December 1993). Number 53 Volume 6 Issue 12:48.

[2] Scary Larry. ‘Genesis ProReview – Sonic Spinball‘. GamePro. (January 1994). Volume 6 Number 1:48-9.

[3] ‘Megadrive Review – Sonic Spinball’.  (December 1993). Number 14:70-2.

[4] ‘Video Game Gallery – Sonic Spinball’. Electronic Games. (January 1994). Volume 2 Number 4:90.

[5] Strauss, B., (February 11, 1994). Entertainment Weekly. (https://ew.com/article/1994/02/11/sonic-cd-sonic-chaos-sonic-spinball-sonic-3/ Accessed 13th January 2022).

[6] ‘Game Index – Sonic Spinball’ MegaTech. (May 1995). Issue 42:30-1.

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Sonic 3D Blast – Review

By the end of 1996, the Sega Mega Drive was nearing the end of its life. The PlayStation, Sega Saturn and N64 were leading the way to the future of gaming and were far more powerful machines and after 1996, the number of games released on the system would be greatly reduced as creators focussed more and more on the newer systems. Sega decided to release one more Sonic game for the Mega Drive. Sonic 3D Blast was that game.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic 3D Blast (Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island in Japan) is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Sega Mega Drive and Sega Saturn in 1996, with a Windows port being released in 1997. The Mega Drive It would be re-released as part of the following compilations:

  • Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the GameCube
  • Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2002) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Windows
  • Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
  • Wii Virtual Console in 2007
  • Steam in 2010

For this review, I played the version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

Plot

Whilst ever pursuing the elusive Chaos Emeralds, Dr. Robotnik discovers Flicky Island. The island is home to the Flickes, a genus of birds that are able to teleport using Dimension Rings. As is his usual custom, Dr. Robotnik proceeds to capture the Flickies and encase them inside his evil machines known as Badniks. He plans to use them to help him capture the Chaos Emeralds. It is up to Sonic to rescue the Flickies and defeat Robotnik’s evil machines yet again before they can find the Chaos Emeralds.

Perspective has now changed from 2D side-scrolling to 3D isometric (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

Thus far, all Sonic the Hedgehog games in the franchise have been 2D (which the exception of some of the bonus stages which ventured into 3D). Sonic 3D Blast moves from side-scrolling platformer to isometric platformer. You still need to collect rings (which act like health). If you take damage without any rings, Sonic dies. Collecting 100 rings will gain Sonic an extra life.

Sonic must navigate his way through the following levels:

  • Green Grove Zone
  • Rusty Ruin Zone
  • Spring Stadium Zone
  • Diamond Dust Zone
  • Volcano Valley Zone
  • Panic Puppet Zone
  • The Final Fight

As with all Sonic games, there is a boss battle at the end of each zone consisting of one of Dr. Robotnik’s contraptions.

To progress through the stages, you need to rescue the Flickies that are trapped inside the Badniks. Once you destroy a Badnik, a Flicky will jump out. When you run near them, they will latch on and instantly start following you. You must then escort them to the Dimension Ring. You will need to find five Flickies in total per Dimension Ring. You can then progress to the next part of the level or the next stage. Beware, if you take damage, not only will you lose rings, but the Flickies will stop following you, so you’ll need to round them up again.

Throughout these levels, you will encounter Knuckles and Tails (sometimes in secret areas). If you hold 50 rings when you approach them, you will be transported to a special stage where you can win a Chaos Emerald. I was interested to not that the special stages have reverted to a similar style found in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). Only this time, Sonic is not running along a halfpipe, but a simple platform. You must still evade bombs and collect rings to progress to the next stage and win a Chaos Emerald.

The Chaos Emerald stages have reverted to a similar format as Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) (screenshot taken by the author)

There are also plenty of items for you to pick up along the way to assist you:

  • Rings – Necessary for health, extra lives and to access special stages.
  • Super Ring Box – Gain 10 rings.
  • Invincibility Box – Makes Sonic invulnerable for a short period of time.
  • Power Sneakers Box – Makes Sonic extra quick for a short period of time.
  • Red Shield Box – Sonic gains a shield that makes him impervious to heat.
  • Blue Shield Box – Sonic gains a shield that makes him impervious to electrical attacks.
  • Gold Shield Box – Protects Sonic from one normal attack and allows Sonic to use the Sonic Blast attack.
  • 1-Up – Gives Sonic an extra life.
  • Sonic Icon – Gives Sonic a continue.

Hint: When Sonic has the Flickies following him and he jumps on a spring, you’ll notice that the Flickies will fly even higher. Use this to gain difficult to reach goodies.

For those of you who have played the arcade games Marble Madness (1984) and Flicky (1984), will recognise that the two games have basically been amalgamated to create this game, and that is not a criticism.

You need to rescue to the Flickies and take them to the large golden rings to progress (screenshot taken by the author)

How does the game handle?

The controls are very difficult to get used to. Sonic is very fast on screen and the camera angle is zoomed in so far that one is reluctant to use Sonic’s speed because you cannot see enough around you. Not being able to use Sonic’s speed defeats what gamers love about Sonic. Once you memorise the levels, I’m sure you can increase your speed and whizz through the levels. The Isometric view also makes it incredibly difficult to judge when Sonic is jumping. The shadow that Sonic casts doesn’t help either. A part of the game I found particularly frustrating is when Sonic must jump on platforms whilst trying to ascend a steep ramp or cliff. The physics of the game make this incredibly difficult to judge where Sonic will land before it is too late, and you fall to the bottom of the slope/cliff again. I’m afraid I may have dropped the C-Bomb once or twice during these parts of the game.

If you take damage while guiding the Flickies to safety and they scatter, you’ll need to round them up quickly as they have a habit of wandering off and are not easy to find again.

Graphics

Graphically, I think the game looks great. I’m pleased to see the creators try something different, although it is easy at first glance to recognise this is a Sonic game. I think it was a good idea to alternate the colours of the ground, making it look more like a chess board as this is more pleasing to the eye. I also think that the theme of each level was very distinctive, if a little predictable as with previous Sonic games. The addition of an ice level allowed the creators to really utilise the slipping and sliding mechanic. Interestingly, the platform that Sonic runs along during the special stages has been created in Mode 7 style.

Music

I think this game is also let down by the music. The main theme and the in-level pieces of music are just very…”meh!”…and fail to be as memorable as the music from previous games.

Did I Complete The Game? (Spoiler Alert)

Yes, I completed the game twice. Once with all the Chaos Emeralds and one without. The so called “Good Ending” is very poor! It is simply four or five slides showing Sonic and his friends free from the clutches of Dr. Robotnik. It is very underwhelming. Oddly, the bad ending is animated and has much more about it.

What The Critics Said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Blast has some of the best, most colourful graphics this old machine has ever seen. The action is fast, yet smoothed and refined. The levels are a bit too similar in design for my taste, but a couple of them will surprise you. The control takes a little bit of getting used to, but so are most games that are viewed from three-fourths perspective. I would’ve liked a map of some sort (I know – Sonic games don’t need a map), but the levels are bi; I’ve gotten side-tracked on a couple of occasions. Is this the Genesis’ last call? Overall 25/40.[1]

Entertainment Weekly: “Sonic the Hedgehog, whose sequel-spawning cartridge ignited sales of the 16-bit Genesis in the early ’90s, has been a conspicuous no-show on Sega’s 32-bit Saturn system. He’s back in Sonic 3D Blast, but he’s showing his age. The Genesis and Saturn versions are essentially the same: Rescue birds called flickies, collect golden rings, and bring down Dr. Robotnik. Problem is, while 3D Blast is super by 16-bit standards, it falls flat on Saturn, where 32-bit games with far more sophisticated 3-D graphics and gameplay are the norm. Genesis: B”.[2]

My Verdict:

“I actually quite like this game. It’s Marble Madness meets Flicky. A fun concept which is only let down by the physics of the game. Impressive graphics and a thumbs up for trying something new.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic 3D Blast? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Dan., ‘Review Crew – Sonic 3D Blast’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (November 1996). Number 88:90.

[2] Walk, G.E., (December 13th, 1996). ‘Sonic 3D Blast’. Entertainment Weekly. (https://ew.com/article/1996/12/13/sonic-3d-blast/ Accessed 12/01/2022).

Sonic & Knuckles – Review

I’m sure we’ve all said at one point in our lives, “Wow, we have reached the pinnacle of videogaming,” only to be proved wrong a year later. Innovation is the key to ensuring that gaming franchises don’t become stale. The introduction of new characters, new features and gameplay styles are all used in attempts to keep games fresh. But what if you could add new characters to older games? Well, that’s just what the creators of Sonic & Knuckles did.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic & Knuckles is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1994 and later on various compilations including:

  • Sonic Jam (1997) for the Sega Saturn
  • Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997) for the PC
  • Sonic & Garfield Pack (1999) for the PC
  • Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the GameCube
  • Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC
  • Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
  • Sonic Classic Collection (2010) for the Nintendo DS

The game would also become available on the Wii’s Virtual Console, Xbox 360 Live Arcade, and Steam. For this review, I played the version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

No sooner had the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) been concluded, where once again Sonic thwarted Dr. Robotnik’s evil plans to steal the Chaos and Master Emeralds causing DeathEgg to crash land on Floating Island (Angel Island), Sonic must again act quickly to seek out the emeralds and recover them before Dr. Robotnik can find them. However, Sonic is now fighting a war on two fronts. He also needs to beat Knuckles to Echidna to them too. Knuckles is the Guardian of Angel Island and the Emeralds, and his mission is to stop any invasion by any means necessary.

You cannot fault this game’s beauty (screenshot taken by the author)

You can choose to play as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles in this game. Sonic and Tails have the same skill set as before. However, if you play as Knuckles, you may not be as fast or be able to jump as high as Sonic, but you do have your advantages. For one, you can glide! Secondly, you can climb walls using the spikes on your fists.

As is standard for Sonic games, you collect rings along the way. When you gain 50 rings you can enter the special and bonus stages. These are identical to those found in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) in that you must run around a globe and collect small blue spheres. The more you collect, the faster your run making it more difficult to control.

Another bonus stage is similar to the emerald stages of Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) in that Sonic is curled up in a ball and must navigate a rotating stage. The aim is to stay as central as possible and enter a slot that spins fruit machine reels to win rings. This continues until you touch the outer edges a few times revealing red circles in the wall that make you exit the game when you land on them. As before, every 100 rings you collect gains you an extra life.

A third bonus stage sees you use glowing electrical spheres to catapult yourself up the screen. However, you need to be quick. A horizontally spiralling laser beam slowly moves up the screen. if you fall into it, you will exit the bonus stage.

The special stage where you can win the Chaos Emeralds (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic & Knuckles must traverse the following levels:

Mushroom Hill Zone

Flying Battery Zone

Sandopolis Zone

Lava Reef Zone

Hidden Palace Zone

Sky Sanctuary Zone

Death Egg Zone

Doomsday Zone

Throughout the levels you must try to find the Chaos Emeralds. As with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994), these are found in hidden locations. Once you obtain all the emeralds, you gain access to special abilities.

The power-ups are exactly the same as found in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994). The boxes contain:

  • Super Rings – 10 rings
  • 1-Up – Extra life
  • Invincibility – Invulnerability for a short time, however, you can still die if you are crushed.
  • Water Shield – Allows you to breathe underwater as well as bouncing on the heads of the badniks.
  • Lightning Shield – This magnetic shield attracts rings when nearby, can absorb energy ball attracts, and allows you to gain a little extra height with a double jump.
  • Flame Shield – Makes you impervious to lava and fireball attacks. You can also briefly turn into a fireball that will destroy badnisk.
  • Super Shoes – You can run at hyper speed for a short period of time.
  • Robotnik – Avoid these as they spell instant death if you break them.
Knuckles has the ability to climb and glide (screenshot taken by the author)

One of the biggest selling points of this game was that the cartridge was designed for you to attach Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) onto the top of the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge allowing you to play the previous games with Knuckles. This isn’t just a quirky feature either. It actually allows you to reach previously unattainable areas of the levels.

This is the title screen that appears when you attach the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) cartridge to the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge.
This is the title screen that appears when you attach the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) cartridge to the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge (screenshot taken by the author)

Although the gameplay is unchanged from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the game has added a few nice touches to make the gameplay a little more interesting. An example of this can be found in Sandopolis Zone 2 where you need to pull down bars to light up the level. When the lights start to dim, you will begin to be attacked by ghosts and so you need to find more levers to pull down to scare the ghosts off.

Graphically, you can’t fault this game. Colourful, vibrant and detailed backgrounds, and gorgeous looking sprites. The levels have some nice touches too, such as Mushroom Hill Zone when you land on the green ground and what looks like yellowish pollen balls fly up.

The theme tune is the same as Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994), and the music throughout the levels continue to be of a high standard as we have with previous Sonic games.

The replay value of the game is certainly there too. Not only do you have to ensure you gain all the Chaos Emeralds to earn the good ending, but some of bosses are different depending on if you play as Sonic or Knuckles which certainly warrants a play through as both characters.

My only criticism of the game is that I question whether the format is now becoming a bit stale. This is Sonic’s fourth instalment, ignoring Sonic Spinball (1993), and it feels like it’s the same game being rehashed over and over again. I appreciate that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) and Sonic & Knuckles (1994) were originally meant to be one big game, but one could be forgiven for wishing Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) had added something to differentiate itself more from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). Whilst the adding of a new character and creating a system where it can be played on older Sonic games is ingenious, I just think the format of the game needs a good shake up.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed the game with both Sonic and Knuckles and with both obtaining all the Chaos Emeralds.

What the critics said:

Computer & Video Games: “It’s over a year old now and you need to buy both Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles to fully enjoy it. That’s why it’s here at the bottom. But in truth, Sonic 3 and Knuckles is the best platform experience ever. It’s what video games were invented for. Overall 97%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Sonic and Knuckles is the ultimate Sonic game. This is the best game of the series and the lock-on technology offers new life to older games. Many new games can be plugged in, too. Fantastic graphics, sound and game play make this Sega’s ultimate game and it gets my vote for Genesis Game of the Year! Overall 37/40“.[2]

Game Pro: “Sure, sure, it’s just another Sonic game. But this one’s got some revolutionary elements that make it another ground breaker for Sega. Overall 20/20.[3]

Next Generation: “A slot in the top accepts previous Sonic carts and enables you to play them starring Knuckles instead of (yawn) Sonic. Does this make Sonic 2 less Tedious? Well, no. But it is an impressive technical feat and if it points to a future where old games can be given a new lease on life with “mission carts” similar to the expansion disk that have long been available for PC titles, then NEXT Generation is all for it. Overall 4/5.[4]

Sega Magazine: “Slick and accomplished platformer which doesn’t quite catch the edge over the younger, fresher Headdy. Overall 92%.[5]

Sega Power:Excellent ideas, great game. A change in gameplay is needed soon. Overall 90%.[6]

My verdict:

“Another winning instalment from Sega. Fun, fast and furious, with great new bonus stages, plenty of replay value, and stunning graphics. I just fear that the format is begininng to grow stale. Let’s try something different next time.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic & Knuckles? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘The Computer & Video Games Christmas Buyers Guide’. Computer & Video Games. (January 1996). Issue 170:9.

[2] ‘Review Crew – Game of the Month’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (December 1994). Issue 65:34.

[3] ‘ProReview – Sonic and Knuckles’. Game Pro. (November 1994). Issue 64:72-3.

[4] ‘Rating Genesis – Sonic and Knuckles’. Next Generation. (January 1995). Issue 1:101.

[5] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic the Hedgehog’. Sega Magazine. (October 1994). Issue 10:81.

[6] ‘Mega Drive – Sonic and Knuckles’. Sega Power. (November 1994). Issue 60:35-6.