Re(?)Considered: Sonic Spinball
Tilt! Insert Coin! Er, Hold/Nudge?
Sonic Spinball is the best idea for a video game ever. No, scratch that; it's the best idea for anything ever. Not since Toru Iwatani said "Why doesn't Pac-Man eat the dots instead of just looking at them?" have the pieces clicked into place so efficiently. Someone at Sega went "you know that Casino Night Zone in Sonic 2? That, but the whole game."
You're Sonic (the Hedgehog), thrown into an alarmingly cheap-feeling engine, where everything is just that little less responsive than it should be. Your aim, as ever, is to gather Chaos Emeralds - though this time there are more than seven, which is INCORRECT. The stages are less pinball tables and more pinball networks, or complexes. Each one consists of several threaded-together pinball challenges, with a traditional scoring system on top of a relatively unique (for the genre) goal-oriented A-to-B linear progression.
The vast majority of your time is spent pinging Sonic off your standard flippers to achieve said goals - breaking barrels to clear a path, flipping switches to redirect minecart tracks, destroying Badnik enemies. Every level (table?) is a matter of finding out where the Chaos Emeralds are, grabbing them, then making your way to the boss and kicking its head in. Pinball crossed with (stunningly) rudimentary platforming.
The game puts its best foot forward with the opening stage, Toxic Caves. The music and graphics are excellent in a grungy sort of way, which seems like a deliberate and brilliant aesthetic choice. Set pieces are a boost for Spinball, and allowing Sonic to fall to the centre of that very first pinball arena sees him assaulted by a large robotic sea monster who can grasp the hedgehog in his jaws, forcing the player to button mash in order to escape. There's a lot of character in moments like this and a faux-LCD screen displaying pertinent messages at the top of the screen, such as "Cluck Alert!" which I refuse to explain.
I've beaten Sonic Spinball several times - it's only four stages in total, though they're not short and the somewhat chance-based nature of pinball means you can occasionally get hung up for ages on the same segment you breezed through before. The stages escalate nicely and all have a distinctive identity. There are traditional-style single-screen bonus stages between levels in which you liberate the cast of the Saturday morning Sonic cartoon from little prison pods. You can see Sonic's reflection in the table, which is a really nice touch and another bit of unncessary extra character that the devs cared enough to include.
Sonic Spinball is short, but good, and certainly replayable. I find it compelling and rewarding and it's definitely essential if you're a Sonic fan. Even if you don't dig it, you have to concede it's a fascinating piece of software.
It's available right now as part of the current Sega Genesis Collection for PS4, XBox One and PC/Steam. Wait a second – Sonic Spinball – Sonic’s Pinball. Good lord.