Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball
European cover art
|Developer(s)||Sega Technical Institute|
|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
|Release date(s)||Sega Genesis
Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (known as Sonic Spinball in Japan) is a pinball video game developed by Sega Technical Institute and published by Sega. It was originally released for the Mega Drive/Genesis in North America and Europe in November 1993, and in Japan the following month. It was later ported to the Game Gear and Master System in 1994 and 1995, respectively. The game has been re-released on a total of eleven different consoles since, with many of them being Genesis-related compilations. The game's plot revolves around series antagonist Doctor Robotnik's desire to enslave the local population via a machine powered by pinball-like mechanisms. Unlike most other Sonic games, it is set in the universe of the Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon.
The game is essentially set in pinball-like environments, where the player controls Sonic the Hedgehog, who acts as a pinball for the majority of the game. Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball was commissioned by Sega when it became clear that there would be no Sonic the Hedgehog game in time for the 1993 holiday season, as the majority of staff were occupied with developing Sonic the Hedgehog 3. The game was hastily designed amid extreme time constraints, and was developed in a total of 61 days. It received mixed reviews upon release, with most critics praising the game's novelty and graphics, although its control scheme was considered a negative factor. Despite the mixed reviews, a second pinball game, Sonic Pinball Party, was released in 2003, and a spinning rollercoaster of the same name opened in Alton Towers theme park in 2010.
Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball is a pinball game in which the player controls Sonic the Hedgehog, who acts as a pinball. The majority of the game takes place within the "Pinball Defence System", which resembles a series of large pinball machines. The game is split up into four levels, each containing numerous sets of flippers that can be used to aim Sonic's trajectory and launch him upward through the level. While Sonic is moving, he can be moved left and right with input from the directional pad, which can be used for better positioning following an impact with a bumper or target, or when Sonic is descending toward the drain, bumpers or flippers.
The goal of each level is to collect all of the Chaos Emeralds that serve to stabilise the volcano and subsequently defeat the newly-accessible bosses located at the top of the level. Some Chaos Emeralds are blocked off by obstacles which requires certain switches or bumpers to be hit in order to be alleviated and create a clear path to the Chaos Emerald. The boss enemies at the top of each level require a specific strategy to defeat. Hints toward such strategies and encouraging messages when progress is made are displayed on the "status strip" at the top of the screen. The "status strip" also tells the player how many Chaos Emeralds are left to collect in a level. Following the defeat of a boss enemy, a bonus round is initiated. These bonus rounds are depicted as regular pinball machines with Sonic at the controls. The player is given three balls to shoot around the board with the purpose of accumulating points by hitting as much bumpers and targets as possible. At any point in the bonus round, the player may trigger a tilt shake that rattles the table and affects the ball's trajectory. However, if the tilt shake is used too often, the flippers will lock and a ball will be lost. When the given goal of the bonus round is fulfilled or if all three balls go down the drain, the bonus round will end and the next level will commence. When all of the game's Chaos Emeralds are collected and all four boss enemies are defeated, the game is won.
Sonic starts the game with three lives. A life is lost when Sonic falls through a drain. An extra life can be earned by accumulating 20,000,000 points, which can be built up by hitting bumpers, navigating through loops, collecting rings and destroying enemy characters.
The evil scientist Doctor Robotnik has built a large contraption, the Veg-O-Fortress, on top of the volcano Mt Mobius for the purpose of transforming the animals of planet Mobius into robot slaves. The magma within the volcano fuels both the fortress and the pinball machine-like defence systems that act as fortifications. Additionally, the volcano is kept in stable condition by a series of Chaos Emeralds. In response, Sonic the Hedgehog and his friend Miles "Tails" Prower mount an aerial assault on the fortress, only to be ambushed by the fortress's cannons. Sonic is knocked into the deep waters that surround the volcano, but manages to avoid drowning and surfaces in the caves below the fortress. From there, Sonic infiltrates the fortress's defences, absconds with the Chaos Emeralds and frees the animals of Mobius. In the absence of the Chaos Emeralds, a massive eruption destroys the Veg-O-Fortress.
The game was developed by mostly American staff from the Sega Technical Institute, whilst the Japanese side of the studio were pre-occupied with developing Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles (then conceptualised as a single game). The 1992 holiday season saw the success of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which was credited with boosting sales of the Sega Genesis as well as asserting superiority over its rival, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The management at Sega of America realised that the next Sonic the Hedgehog title would not be ready until the upcoming holiday season, and decided to quickly commission another game that would be released in time for the 1993 holiday season. According to Peter Morawiec, the game's designer, Sega's research team suggested that the "Casino Night Zone" of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was among the favourite levels, thus providing the general direction of what the upcoming game should centre around. With an idea established, the developers had to envision a way of extracting the enjoyable aspects of a single level and expanding on them broadly enough to form a concept around which an entire game could be based. Morawiec reflected that he took inspiration by Pinball Dreams, a game released for the Amiga in 1992, and realised how he could combine pinball mechanics into the gameplay of Sonic the Hedgehog. Collaborating with three other teammates, Morawiec designed basic animations to showcase the idea of Sonic acting as a pinball. The animations were shown as a demonstration to Sega's senior management, and the project was given a green-light.
The development team understood that the game would have to be completed in under a year if it were to be finished in time for the 1993 holiday season—a factor which Morawiec considered "tight" for a game which needed a pre-requisite level of quality. Morwiec recalled that there was no interference from the Japanese division of Sega during development, as it was solely Sega of America-commissioned title. Morwiec, along with the rest of the team, also recognised the possible effects that a failure to capitalise on the new-found popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog had in North America would have on Sega, in the event that the game would not be well received. In order to help speed up production, Sega sent veteran staff from Japan to assist in development—among these included regular Sonic the Hedgeghog artist Katsuhiko Sato. Despite the transferal of numerous staff, the game was still not predicted to be complete in time. As a result, Sega Technical Institute staff took the decision to change the game's programming language from assembly to C—an unusual choice for Genesis games at the time. In retrospect, Morawiec admitted that the choice to move away from traditional assembly language caused frame rate and optimisation issues, but later proved to speed up the development process exponentially. Between mid-June and August 1993, the project evolved from being a roughly playable build with no collision detection systems or character animations, to a fully completed game. The entire process took 61 days.
After the game's development process was complete and was ready to be shipped, the team realised that Sega did not own the rights of the Sonic the Hedgehog theme tune. Morawiec recalled that the realisation caused "quite a fiasco" when Hirokazu Yasuhara, the lead designer on Sonic Team, informed them they could not use the theme tune as it was owned by Japanese band Dreams Come True, and that a new one would have to be made before the game could be released. As a result, Morawiec tasked the team's composer, Howard Drossin, to create a new theme that had to be ready in approximately two hours at the time.
Upon release, Morawiec understood that the game would face "acceptance challenges" from both fans and the gaming media due to the fact that Sonic the Hedgehog Pinball strayed away from the traditional platforming genre. After returning home to the United States from Europe, Morawiec was surprised to find that the game had sold well, and was pleased that it benefited from the franchise's popularity. He did, however, regret that the team did not have enough time to "polish" the game properly.
The game has been re-released on eleven different platforms. The Genesis version of the game has been re-released on the Sonic Mega Collection compilation for the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox and PCs, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and multiple iterations of the Sega Smash Pack series of compilations. The Game Gear version appears as an unlockable game in Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut for the GameCube and PC, as well as Sonic Gems Collection for the GameCube and PlayStation 2. The Genesis version was released on the Wii's Virtual Console on 12 March 2007 in North America and 5 April 2007 in Europe. The game is also available for iOS devices via Apple's App Store. On 13 September 2010, it was released on Steam.
The graphics were generally well received. A reviewer from Electronic Gaming Monthly thought that the idea of the game being set inside of a pinball machine was a novel idea, and also labelled the game's visuals, music, and sound effects as "top notch". In the same review, another reviewer opined that the graphics were not as "sharp" as other Sonic the Hedgehog titles, and also thought the sound was unimpressive. In a retrospective review, Lucas Thomas of IGN felt the game's graphics matched those of later Sonic games on the Genesis, and also considered Spinball's mini-games to be visually distinct and well-done. William Avery GameSpot noticed that the game contained some slowdown which he thought was a characteristic aspect with other Sonic the Hedgehog video games. A reviewer from Jeuxvideo.com thought the graphics were "generally good", but indicated that there were other visually superior games for the Genesis. Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead criticised the game's sluggish frame rate and slowdown that occurred when "things threaten to get hectic" in-game, noting that it suffered from "the old Mega Drive problem".
Various aspects of gameplay received mixed opinions from critics, with the game's control scheme receiving particular criticism. A reviewer from GamePro criticised the control configuration and felt that the game was a mediocre example of a pinball game, but admitted that it had a similar feel to previous Sonic the Hedgehog titles. Jeuxvideo.com's reviewer enjoyed how Sonic the Hedgehog himself acted as a pinball, but noticed that the controls were less precise and responsive as opposed to other platformers. Whitehead asserted that the game's controls were "muddled by the half-and-half approach" and criticised its "clunky" game engine, saying that the game's control scheme ruined the pinball environments. Thomas also condemned the controls, claiming that they could have been "tighter" and also noted that its level of difficulty could have been too extreme for new players. Damien McFarren from NintendoLife said that the game comes across as both a poor platformer and pinball game combined due to its unconvincing ball physics and frustrating platform elements. Bob Strauss of Entertainment Weekly felt the game initially boasted a "terrific" concept but had an ultimately flawed execution—saying that Sonic, acting as a pinball, often moved like a "leaden marble".
Despite the mixed reception of Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, a second pinball game in the series, Sonic Pinball Party, was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 to generally favourable reviews. In 2010, a spinning rollercoaster of the same name opened in the Alton Towers theme park in Staffordshire. Although the rollercoaster was not originally designed with a Sonic the Hedgehog theme, the ride became part of a sponsorship deal between Sega and Alton Towers, as well as a Sonic the Hedgehog-themed hotel room.
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