It is so easy for me to get caught up in nostalgia as I reminisce about some of my favorite eras in gaming. I talk often of the Super Nintendo era, as many of my favorite games were featured on Nintendo’s SNES.
But a system that is almost as near and dear to my heart, is the Sega Genesis – with my favorites including Streets of Rage, Ecco the Dolphin, Mutant League Football, and so much more. But of course, at the top of the Sega list comes one of the most iconic names in video game history: Sonic the Hedgehog! And what Sonic game would you think was my favorite? Well, if you were perceptive enough to read the title, then yep, you guessed it, it’s Sonic Spinball!
Okay, I know that this might be a slightly obscure title, and one that admittedly got some mixed reviews, but man did I LOVE playing this game when I was a kid. For the time I felt like the graphics were tremendous, the gameplay was unique and interesting, and the music and overall sound quality was truly top notch. But at the end of the day, Sonic Spinball really intrigued me because it was challenging and damn fun to play. I’m here to break down just a handful of reasons you should get your hands on this game, whether it’s by dusting off your Sega Genesis or Game Gear, or downloading it onto your PC or iOS.
The pinball gameplay was difficult, yet satisfying: I grew up loving the arcade environment, and one of the games that I always enjoyed was the pinball machine (personal fave will always be the Terminator 2: Judgement Day machine at my old stomping grounds). So when I was first introduced to Sonic Spinball I fell in love immediately with the overall aesthetic and gameplay. But then I realized something… This game was legitimately challenging. You start off with three lives that go by really fast and can only be replenished after accumulating a number of points, and you receive very little guidance or support other than a little text strip on the top of the screen that would provide short and sweet tips, advice on certain mechanics, or to let you know that you weren’t even remotely close to where you needed to be. It took me several resets before I was even able to get my hand on the first Chaos Emerald, a mainstay in the Sonic franchise, and the items you were seeking to unlock the bosses in each of the four levels. These levels get increasingly more difficult and pose serious challenges that threaten to wipe out your lives and send you all the way back to the beginning – how very pinball arcade game of them (only you don’t lose out on your precious quarters this time around!), but that feeling you get when you finally snag the last Chaos Emerald and take on the zone boss is a really gratifying gaming moment I remember fondly, and feels similar to overcoming a difficult boss in a game like Dark Souls.
The bosses were fun and refreshing after hectic levels: It’s not very often that I make a statement like this, but, the bosses at the end of these levels aren’t especially difficult or complicated to beat (and that little text strip thing at the top of your screen I mentioned actually gives you tips to make them even easier), but I actually appreciated that they were a little less hectic and complex than the levels themselves, because while I do appreciate a challenge in games, I do sometimes enjoy a little more of a leisurely experience from time to time, and at the end of the day the boss fights are super fun (and one of them, in particular, allows you to stop an evil machine from hurting cute little bunny rabbits and stuff! Who doesn’t like that?). The fights were interesting, they were visually fun to look at, and overall they are an enjoyable reprieve from what is overall a pretty intense game.
Cheeky and fun mini-games: If you complete a level, capture all those Chaos Emeralds, and take on the zone boss, you are met with some really fun mini-games that are less intense than the rest of the game and feels a lot more like your typical arcade pinball machine. One of the mini-games sees you using a small pinball machine to knock around a Robotnik in a go-cart, another has you smacking the teeth out of a weird Hungry, Hungry Hippo Robotnik mouth, and another that has you taking down robot chickens defending a cage full of cute little woodland animals. These mini-games weren’t super challenging but did require some patience and coordination to rack up a high score, which could benefit you greatly as it was an easy way to help rack up points for those valuable extra lives! And at the end of the day, all of these challenging and interesting levels, bosses, and mini-games all added up to the main reason I loved playing Sonic Spinball…
It was a fun change of pace for me as a gamer: Something that I found myself getting really embroiled in early on in my gaming career, was taking the games I was playing way too seriously. From RPGs to platformers, sports games to fighting games, I really cared about being successful, and I really cared about being good. Sometimes I’d find myself grinding out a game or finishing something because I almost felt obligated to – but that wasn’t the case for Sonic Spinball. And honestly, the game itself is a total departure from the other Sonic games, and that ended up being really important to me, and in playing the game again in preparation for this short piece about it, I’ve realized that I wish there were more games I could play like Sonic Spinball – games that can be from franchises that I love, but games that are just really damn fun to play, and if it’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then maybe I shouldn’t either. And while it was challenging, and in the end fulfilling, to finish, it’s a game that made me feel like a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid again, who didn’t care too much about winning or losing, but was just there to play the game.