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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