……..Man, that’s a lame title. Merry Christmas bitches!

When it comes to Sonic the Hedgehog, the one thing that everyone has to keep in mind as to what it’s all about. No, it’s not about the speed. It’s not about the platforming. It’s not even about Chaos Emeralds. It’s all…. about this.

Pinball. Pinball is, in actuality, the life blood of Sonic the Hedgehog. The secret ingredient that kept people wondering why it tasted so great. Pinball was what gave way to the many gimmicks and features you see in Sonic games of old and today. Every spring you bounce on is plunger rod meant to send a ball into play. Every hole you enter that propelled you through to another part of the level was simply a tube with 2 spinning wheels that propels a ball from hole to hole. The twisty bridges of Emerald Hill were merely the wire ramps a ball traverses through on a board. Sonic’s world, the very planet of Mobius, is but a giant organic pinball machine. And Sonic is a living, breathing organic pinball.

Playing with himself.

The reason why 2D Sonic games of today feel sluggish and “off” is because the people making the games do not understand pinball. The physics of 2D Sonic is based on pinball. Without studying pinball, the significance of Sonic is lost in translation. Without studying pinball, you get low acceleration in Sonic 4. Playing Knuckles Chaotix, it was evident that Sega started to lose sight of what the first 4 games play so well, so by the time we get to Sonic Adventure 2, it abandoned the Pinball aspects completely in favor of automation. Hell, Casino Park and Bingo Highway make me cry, they play like ass.

The nature of Sonic games being pinball is significant when you consider how difficult it must’ve been to translate Sonic’s world into television form. Since no one really got Sonic back then, tv producers had to make due with loony toons crap to “justify” the pinball world… or ignore it and make something fucking awesome like SATAM.

Casino Night Zone was Sonic in it’s most purest form. The flippers, the bumpers, the flashing lights, the jackpots, everything. Twas a very popular level that created nostalgic memories for years, so much so that Sega included it as one of Sonic’s many level tropes.

Then, some guys at a company called STI said “fuck it, lets just make… a pinball game!” “Fuck yeer, it’s gonna be sweet! We gonna put like a big scary ass dragon in a lake, then you can kill that stupid bird cluck, and then you can smash into like 3 different dragons, and then we gonna have like 16 chaos emeralds, it’s just dope!”.

Today, we call this game one of the many unfortunate examples of experimentation with the Sonic series, along with 3D Blast and countless spinoffs of the modern era. It’s unfortunate because it shows that we as a whole… don’t understand pinball.

The nature of pinball is basically a gambling machine with less risks involved. When people describe Sonic Spinball being a “hard” game, what they really mean is “God, this is so stupid!”.

 

If you were like me, you rented this baby from blockbuster, and those assholes could never keep a manual in tow. If you were that unfortunate, chances are you’d never know how to get passed level 1. If you did, you’d give up, feeling the tedium of the game.

The basic idea of making a pinball spinoff would be to do something like Sonic Pinball Party. But because STI wasn’t gay, we got a much bigger beast. We had one of the darker themed Sonic games of the classic era for no other reason than atmosphere, we had 4 maze like pinball boards to navigate, and we had an actual objective which (unfortunately for me) involved a glorified fetch quest. Combined with that was a physics engine that made us all vomit. Which is kinda odd as despite all that, it mimics an actual pinball machine rather well despite how poorly it runs.

Because the game was a giant pinball machine, the goal of completion was obnoxious. As I sad before, the game is a fetch quest in which you have to find 3-5 different chaos spread out thinly through each level. And was one of the most tedious objectives to complete. One, you had to know where fuckers were, and that involved exploration. Exploration which is dependent on the direction the ball is hit… which could take forever if you don’t time your flippers right. Oh, and once you know where they are, you have to contend with several obstacles blocking your path. Before you can get one emerald that is submerged in acid, you have to pull 2 switches located beneath the emerald. Then, you have to travel into an upper level and find your way to that emerald via 2 chutes that are blocked off by 3 barrels that you have to re-enter 4 times just to clear out the blockage. Then, you might have to drive a minecart left or right and hope to hell you find an emerald along the way. Rinse and repeat. And then fight a boss at the end.

All the while avoiding THIS asshole!

This one level can take as long as 10 minutes. And that’s the entire game. The way the goal is handled kills the entire game. For a title with only 4 levels, you’d think it would be less evil about how you could progress. I have yet to get passed level 2.

Spinball is a very stupid game because it has a very stupid objective. Whoever thought making a pinball game centered around a fetch quest deserved to be fired. It’s unfortunate because it had a lot of cool concepts. Every level is based on an elaborate defense system which serve as important landmarks in dismantling Robotnik’s base. They weren’t just some random levels the creators thought of. The game’s enemies had a more sinister feel to them, especially Rexxon.

And this creepy ass boss epitomizes the horrors of the veg-o-fortress.

The game had a much more terrifying feel to it than every other Sonic title at the time, and certainly felt like every other Genesis game too. Grainy rock music and all. And hey, it didn’t hurt to include some SATAM cameos. Though it’s a tad unoriginal to have the bonus rounds be normal pinball games, they’re certainly a helluva lot more fun.

Spinball, for all it’s faults, was a pretty ambitious game, when you get right down to it. Having this story of completely destroying a volcano fortress, pinball levels with different rooms, fucking dragons. You honestly get a sense that STI wanted to go big with this title. Hell, Sega in general seemed really primed for this game to win awards. The advertising campaign for Spinball was unbelievable. Course, it was also included with 2 other games (CD and Chaos) as some “Trinity of consumerism” called Sonic Mania . 3 major releases all on the same day. And with Genesis being the most popular and accessible of the 3 current devices, Spinball was obviously the attention grabber. And this was just a spinoff.

If anything, we could say that Spinball was the lesser of several evils. The only spinoff that didn’t erode any of Sonic’s popularity and in actuality made it… even cooler. Had the game not been stupid with it’s goal, the game might’ve been much more enjoyable to play and not feel like some pain in the ass grind.

Now, how I would’ve done it would be to have the goal of each level be score based. You have a set score to achieve, and you have at least 5-7 minutes to reach this score or you lose. IE everytime you hit a bumper, or killed an enemy, you gain points. Going into different areas of the level would apply some score multiplier, and finding any of the chaos emeralds along the way would dramatically increase your score. That way, it feels like your basic pinball game, but with the time limit, there’s an added amount of tension to keep things interesting, and there would be actual incentive to finding the emeralds. Because no one likes to search for things unless there is a benefit that MATTERS to the player. The whole point of scavenging for items in games was to gain benefits during the course of the level, so when you have Chaos Emeralds that boost your score in under a short time frame, you better believe yo happy ass would be looking for them. So while the same basic idea is there, it’s not the main goal of the game. Someone should DEFINITELY hack the fuck out of Spinball’s rom and put that idea in.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck I sounded like a nerd. 😦

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