As the name indicates, Sonic Pinball Party is a collection of Pinball-related games focused on the characters of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, along with guest appearances by NiGHTS and Samba de Amigo. There are five distinct game modes in all:
- The core of the game is "Story Mode", where Sonic must play through a pinball tournament to confront Dr. Eggman and rescue his friends.
- "Arcade Mode" lets you play pinball on three separate tables, one for Sonic, NiGHTS, and Samba De Amigo.
- "Party Mode" has three pinball-style games for one to four players, including Hot Potato and Hockey.
- "Tiny Chao Garden" is a Raising Sim, where you use rings won in the other games to nurture a Chao.
- "Casinopolis" has three casino-themed pinball games where players can win — or lose! — rings.
In addition to standard playfield obstacles, the pinball tables embraced their video game heritage with wandering enemies, collectable items, and bosses to battle. The game as a whole was highly rated by players, who praised its variety, action, and excellent music. If there is a complaint, it's that the ball physics are a bit too floaty and light, making it sometimes difficult to trap balls with the flippers.
In North American markets, the game was originally released as a Target store exclusive — which stymied gamers in Canada and Mexico, where Target did not operate. The game was later re-released as part of several compilation packs, increasing its availability.
Sonic Pinball Party demonstrates the following tropes:
- Betting Mini Game: All of the games in Casinopolis.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: At the start of Story Mode, Dr. Eggman has kidnapped and brainwashed Tails and Amy and turned them against him.
- The Cameo: Tikal appears on the Angel Island Zone of the Sonic table.
- Cut-and-Paste Environments: The main "Sonic" table has several Zones to be completed; the only difference between the Zones are the colors, music, and some of the playfield graphics.
- Defeat Means Friendship: In Story mode, the player must defeat Sonic's various companions, Tails and Amy, in pinball to rescue them from Eggman's hypnosis.
- Evil Knockoff: Metal Sonic.
- Excuse Plot: The Story Mode. Eggman has taken over Casinopolis and has brainwashed Sonic's friends, namely Tails and Amy, into...competing against him in a game of pinball. Go stop him!
- Fake Crossover: While NiGHTS and Amigo are prominent guest stars in this game, they don't interact with the Sonic characters at all.
- Inevitable Tournament: The plot of the Story Mode.
- Kaizo Trap: The 10,000,000 points bonus for defeating Egg Mode doesn't get awarded until the Stage Clear frame appears, so you can beat Eggman three times and time out during Eggman's death animation.
- Mission Control: Cream the Rabbit and Cheese are your guides in the Casinopolis mode
- New Jack Swing: Mostly by virtue of porting over new jack-inspired tracks from Sonic the Hedgehog and Ni GHTS Into Dreams.
- Nintendo Hard: The story mode. The number of points you have to get to complete each table is ludicrously high and the tables are no slouch to beat.
- Party in My Pocket: In the Sonic table, shooting the Big Target Hole three times changes the current character between Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose). Different characters enable different minigames on the table.
- Pinball Spin-Off: A three-fer for Sonic the Hedgehog, NiGHTS into Dreams..., and Samba de Amigo.
- Plot Coupon: The NiGHTS table requires players to collect Ideyas before he can challenge the Nightmaren of that level.
- Raising Sim: The Chao Garden.
- Rhythm Game: Invoked twice in the Samba de Amigo pinball table:
- During "Song Play", the player must shoot balls in specific directions in time with the music.
- Then there's "Fever mode", a minigame where the player must press the flipper buttons to shake maracas in time with the onscreen action.
- Spelling Bonus: Each of the three main tables has several Spelling Bonuses:
- The Sonic table has S-O-N-I-C to light kickbacks, R-I-N-G to temporarily collect rings on the playfield, and E-G-G to activate Egg Mode and challenge Eggman.
- On the NiGHTS table, F-L-Y activates Acrobat Mode, and D-R-M-Y raises the bonus multiplier.
- The Samba de Amigo table has F-E-V-E-R to start Fever Mode, while Letter Collect Mode requires spelling the names of various Samba characters.
- Spiritual Successor: To Sonic Spinball, a pinball-themed Sonic game released for the Sega Genesis in 1993 (and was also ported to the GBA in Sega Smash Pack in 2002).
- Unlockable Content: Most of the games' modes must be unlocked by playing through the main Story.
- Wizard Mode: The secret Twin Seeds level and Wizeman fight on the NiGHTS table.