Oh, fuck me. I’m sorry, I’m honestly not doing this on purpose, I actually love Sonic. YOU DON’T KNOW HIM LIKE I DO.
Bear with me, I honestly had no idea that Sonic Spinball had a plot, so I’m piecing this together using the power of lies on the internet. Let’s see here….Dr Robotnik…evil plan….Veg-O-Fortress?! What?….chaos emeralds…yep, that’ll do – put some red sneakers on it, and push it out the door!
So at the time, Spinball was praised for it’s graphics – I have no source for this beyond this being the second ever Mega Drive game that I ever owned. My (somehow senile, apparently) little mind was in awe of Spinball’s…well, I’m not quite sure really. The character models are fine, but the levels are just an absolute misery to behold, and the silver/grey/purple/green colour palette is about as unpleasing to the eye as you’d imagine. It’s not awful looking, just a bit drab, really. That being said, there are some occasional hellish framerate issues that are tough to get past.
Wait, is this a pinball game with Sonic happening in it, or a Sonic game with pinball happening in it? Anyway, the crux of the matter is that Spinball is effectively a pinball game with some platforming elements, with the goal of each level being to grab the chaos emerald. The problem lies with Sega seemingly being unsure in which direction they’d rather lean. Sonic controls as though Spinball were a platform (albeit incredibly sluggishly), but the levels are designed with pinball in mind – and my stars, does the platforming ever suffer as a result. Requiring some of the most infuriating pixel perfect jumping ever designed, you’re gonna get really well acquainted with the game over screen before all is said and done.
Possibly the worst instance of this is the metal drum you need to land in and use as a boat in the first level, which honestly seems to have a hit-box smaller than the drum itself. Missing it means you’ll bin it into the green sludge and lose a life, and there’s no way out of the chamber. What rollicking fun. The hit-box issue wouldn’t be so bad were it not for how poorly Sonic controls. For clarity, imagine playing any other Sonic game, but Sonic has a shit-ton of rocks in his pockets. It’s not fun, and it certainly isn’t easy. Couple this with the fact that Sonic doesn’t even behave like a pinball when he hits a bumper, and it’s just a bit of a disaster.
It’s not like Sonic Spinball is unplayable, or even a bad idea. In fact, it’s a very good idea, and I would argue that the bare bones of a good game are here, it’s just poorly executed. Frustrating, clumsy, unforgiving and a real shame.
Pros : It’s a genuinely good idea, and a decent little fan service.
Cons : Moves sluggishly, miserable colour palette, hideous hit detection, tedious boss battles
Back In The Day
Sonic Spinball was developed in an astounding 61 days in order to rush a Sonic game to market in time for Christmas 1993, whereupon it received mixed to poor reviews – mainly due to it’s poor controls and gameplay. So it’s not that astounding, really.