What’s particularly irritating about Sonic Spinball is that I want to like it. Sonic and pinball go together. As I said in my Sonic the Hedgehog 2 review, Casino Night Zone laid the foundation for Sonic Spinball and was a slice of gaming bliss. Sonic Spinball is the opposite of bliss — a real pain in the ass.
When’s he’s not balled up, Sonic looks a bit squashed in Spinball, a design choice that, unfortunately, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 would adopt. Unlike the first two Sonic games, Spinball animates sluggishly. This is especially noticeable when Sonic is launched as a new ball. Even worse, the visual effects are sleep-inducing. A pinball game should pop you in the eyes when you do something right; the first stage of Spinball drains sewage. Shitastic.
Spinball would’ve been better off remixing tracks from the first two Sonic games. The music from the first stage, for example, is annoying but catchy, an unpleasant combination that might stick in your head after you stop playing the game. The sound effects are standard Sonic stuff, except for that vile sound you hear when you fall between the flippers and have to jump back up before a monster in sewage swallows you.
The premise of Sonic Spinball is cool. You flip the balled-up hero through a pinball board. The goal is to open up new areas of the board so that you can collect Chaos Emeralds and eventually fight a boss. When you’re flipped into the air, you can use the d-pad to influence Sonic’s movement. In some cases, you can survive a fall between the flippers by landing on things.
Spinball’s tweaks to the pinball formula are neat. The problem is that the game forgets the concept of extra balls. When arcades were prevalent, I would play pinball here and there. I wasn’t that good at it, but even I could rack up enough points for extra balls. In my last game of Sonic Spinball, I got all the way up to 11,000,000 points but didn’t receive one extra life.
This is when the concept of a complex pinball board becomes more annoying than intriguing. Let’s say you advance through a long pinball stage full of twists and turns while scoring a ton of points in the process, but you run into some bad luck on the next stage and lose your lives. You gotta start all the way over. Sure, Spinball only has four stages, but no extra lives? Maybe it does give you extra lives after you score 30,000,000 points, but I didn’t play the game long enough to find out. There’s not even an option to give yourself more lives at the start.
Replaying the stages in Spinball is tedious. Once you figure out the tricks to beating a stage, there’s no mystery or skill involved; you just have to work your way through again. The fact that the first level is a sewer says everything. This game wants you to spin through shit.
Sonic Spinball is a good concept marred by substandard presentation and “Three strikes and you’re out” logic. Don’t get excited about (re)playing this game — you’ll get blue balls.