Tired of being constantly trounced on the head by our little blue friend, Robotnik takes a new approach in his ongoing struggle to cause mayhem and to generally immobilise all things cute and fluffy. The evil maestro's latest plan has seen the ovoid villain build a huge fortress in the style of a massive pinball machine - surely, Sonic should now succumb as he is bounced from pillar to post by huge flippers?
Each of the levels in Sonic Spinball is built around a pinball template. However, unlike conventionally-themed games of this nature, this perhaps became the first 'goal-based' pinball titles and also contains a few deft touches of platforming action. Specifically, the goal of each level remains in line with previous Sonic titles - that being to seize the Chaos Emeralds. Though players must now go about this in a far different way than before.
Table design in Spinball is of an excellent standard with a great deal of imagination being poured into the different levels. Each specific area consists of multiple routes, which in turn lead to the scattered Chaos Emeralds. The tricky part is, after you lose a life all switches and levers are reset, meaning everything has to be reactivated in order to progress. This can prove frustrating, but is uniquely counterbalanced by a high level of fun, which soon wards off anxiety. Each map is a huge puzzle hybrid rather than just a simple pinball table. This helps to raise the standards of brilliance.
Graphically, the game is not as memorable as you would like it to be, though this has more to do with limitations of the console and thus can be overlooked, especially when the game plays so well. Limited by its colour palette, the 16-bit graphics do the job well and you can clearly see everything that is meant to be seen - there is even a touch of background detail thrown in for good measure. Even more impressive is, that whilst Sonic is being thrown around the screen at a ridiculous pace, the image never blurs or slows down which means you are always in control of the little hedgehog as he remains more or less in the centre of the screen throughout.
If there is something that does tarnish the finish a little it is the difficulty. Initially when starting a level, you will have no idea what you are meant to be doing. The player is simply expected to launch Sonic about until the direction finally clicks into place. Because of the speed you are moving at, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge what needs to be activated, while simultaneously keeping Sonic safe from harm. This coupled with the fact that when you lose a life you have to activate everything all over again (and when all your lives are expired you have to restart from level one),could lead to players giving up early on.
Overall, Sonic Spinball is an imaginative and ingenious use of the licence. It's clear the game is much more than just a cynical cash-in on the name and indeed is right up there with Sonic's more traditional adventures. Still fairly easy to acquire, anyone who is a fan of pinball games - or Sonic in general - should pick it up at the first opportunity. A timeless, playable release which speaks to the countless character-based iterations that followed (such as Kirby Pinball and Pokemon Pinball), this simply reinforces the indefatigable influence of Sonic.