Sonic Spinball, sometimes called Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, is a pinball game Spin-Off (no pun intended) of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. It was originally released for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive in 1993 as a hold-over for Sonic the Hedgehog 3, along with a Game Gear (and Sega Master System in Europe) version. Notably, this game was not produced by Sonic Team but by the U.S.-based Sega Technical Institute, the same team who developed games such as Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Kid Chameleon, Comix Zone and The Ooze.
The plot involves Sonic and Tails on a mission to stop Dr. Robotnik's Veg-O-Fortress, a Volcano Lair built on Mt. Mobius which is turning animals into robots on an industrial scale. Per usual, Tails' plane is shot down, and Sonic is forced to go in solo.
Its gameplay is derived from the requisite pinball-themed level found in most Sonic games. There are four levels to the game, each reminiscent of giant multi-tiered pinball tables, with Sonic as the ball. The standard platforming action used in most Sonic games is severely- limited here, as the blue hedgehog's movement is mainly controlled by flippers. Sonic only stands upright when on a flat surface, although the player can still use his jump ability and Spin Dash to reach some areas in a hurry. In each level, Sonic must collect all of the Chaos Emeralds, which will give him access to the Boss Room.
Incidentally, this is the closest fans of Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) ever got to a licensed game based on the series: it has the cartoon's characteristic Darker and Edgier tone, and explicitly animated roboticization directly modeled on the method Robotnik used in the cartoon. In the Bonus Stages, Princess Sally and several other Freedom Fighters make cameo appearances alongside, oddly enough, Scratch, from the Lighter and Softer Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. This makes it one of only two Sonic games to feature any characters from an animated adaptation, the other being Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine which explicitly follows the canon of Adventures.
Not to be confused with the roller coaster at Alton Towers that operated as Sonic Spinball from 2010 to 2016, Spinball Whizzer.
Tropes used in Sonic Spinball:
- Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: The opening level, the Toxic Caves.
- Animated Adaptation:
- The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode "Attack on Pinball Fortress", in which Sonic, Wes Weasley, and Sergeant Doberman break into Robotnik's fortress to get their hands on Robotnik's stupidity ray gun. Plotwise, it actually isn't anything like the game, but they do include a boss fight with a Scorpius wannabe from the game's first level.
- The SatAM episode "Game Guy" had a pinball-themed deathtrap with a one-way ticket to The Void. Sonic was put into a transparent ball, set onto the playfield, and told that hitting his bumpers would keep the Void sealed, but hitting the Robotnik bumpers would open it. Naturally, Robotnik himself took control of the flippers...
- Anti-Frustration Features:
- The ball savers in the beginning area of Lava Powerhouse are always activated when you enter the stage, meaning Sonic can only die if he falls directly between the flippers. Of course, they'll turn off when they've been used once, so you'll have to re-activate them after.
- Entering the death chutes in the central area in Showdown from either side (i.e. not directly above) will always save Sonic, preventing cheap deaths.
- Autobots, Rock Out!: All of the game's music is very industrial. This is probably the most bass heavy piece of music in the history of the series, and the last level's music is pretty hardcore, even for a Sonic game.
- Beware My Stinger Tail: Scorpius, the boss of the Toxic Caves, has a tail that drops toxic goo on the player.
- Bonus Stage: You are taken to a bonus stage at the end of every level, and there are more within the levels themselves if you are able to collect all of the rings.
- Boss-Arena Idiocy: The entire game. All those convenient pinball mechanisms? Part of Robotnik's Pinball Defense System, as stated in the manual. Which he designed and built despite the fact that Sonic's signature ability has been curling into a ball since the very first game. Even official sources, namely the Museum section of Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, snark at Robotnik's reasoning.
- Button Mashing: The game tells you to do this when Sonic is about to be eaten by Rexxon. To be specific, it says:THE BUTTONS!
- Canon Welding: Though the game is a standalone title, it was clearly designed to reference the entire franchise as it existed at the time. That said, the game's art style and general presentation are primarily based on Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), while characters from that cartoon and Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog make cameo appearances in the bonus pinball rounds.
- Chekhov's Volcano: Mount Mobius is a volcano in a video game. You should know that it's going to erupt.
- Collapsing Lair: After the final stage, Robotnik's Veg-o-Fortress collapses as Mount Mobius erupts.
- Comic-Book Adaptation: In issue #6 of the Archie comic. The pair of kangaroos (featured in the Lava Powerhouse) reappeared in a later issue as a literal Kangaroo Court.
- Composite Character: Robotnik looks no different than his appearance in the games, if not for the fact that his uniform takes inspiration from his SatAM counterpart. This is even clearer in this concept artwork◊ for the game.
- Convection, Schmonvection: Like other games in the series, Sonic can hang out near lava just fine so long as he doesn't fall into it.
- Darker and Edgier: Taking cues from Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), Spinball is noticeably darker than the rest of the Sonic games, bordering on nightmare-inducing at times. The actual process of animals getting roboticized is shown more explicitly here than any other game by far, and it looks incredibly painful. Additionally, many enemies are very creepy, such as Scorpius, the first stage boss. It's a giant robotic scorpion with Robotnik's head, that lets out inhuman screams every time you hit it.
- Death Throws: If Sonic falls into lava, toxic waste, spinning gears or anything else that causes him to lose a life, he'll slowly fall off the screen with his hands in the air as creepy mechanical laughter plays.
- Developer's Foresight:
- Normally you can only access the upper area of Toxic Caves when you drain the slime. However, if you manage to get up there through glitches or cheating, trying to grab the Emerald before the slime is drained will kill Sonic.
- There's a bit in the first level's minecart area where you could put Sonic on an endlessly looping track for infinite points... but after a few loops, he'll halt the minecart and yell at you (through the score display) to cut that out.
- Disney Villain Death: Both Sonic and Robotnik end up free-falling through the sky at the end. Tails catches Sonic with his newly-repaired plane, leaving Robotnik to plummet into his exploding fortress. This is subverted since Robotnik has famously survived worse.
- Down the Drain: The Toxic Caves, the first level of the game.
- Early-Installment Weirdness:
- There are sixteen Chaos Emeralds in the game. At the time, the Chaos Emeralds were only gameplay gimmicks: in Sonic the Hedgehog there were only six of them, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 retconned another one into existence, Sonic the Fighters (which was directly approved by Yuji Naka) featured eight, and Sonic CD features seven Time Stones, which look exactly like Chaos Emeralds, which were retconned again to have time-altering powers in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
- Spinball remains one of the very few games to feature characters from a non-game medium: in this case, the cast of Sonic The Hedgehog SATAM. Most games released afterwards very rarely reference the non-game universes, with the next game to feature non-game characters, Sonic Forces: Speed Battle only coming 25 years later.
- Eternal Engine: The entire fortress is nothing but a massive Roboticizer guarded by a massive pinball machine.
- Evil Laugh: Somewhere offscreen, Robotnik emits a digitized, Kefka-esque cackle whenever you lose a life.
- Evil Overlooker: The North American and European box art depict Robotnik looking down at Sonic angrily from the inside of his Eggmobile.
- The Machine stage was created based on concept art for Cyber City Zone (or more famously, Genocide City Zone), a zone cut from the development of Sonic 2.
- Assets from the infamous Hidden Palace Zone from Sonic 2 were reused in the Toxic Caves, according to this interview with Craig Stitt, a level designer in both games. The geometric rock pattern◊ which makes up most of the structure of Hidden Palace is very similar to a pattern of rock structures◊ which appears in the background of the Toxic Caves.
- Final Boss: Of course it's Robotnik. Similar to Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine and several games from the Sega Master System and Game Gear era, Robotnik is only fought as the Final Boss and not several times beforehand.
- Goomba Springboard: You're required to bounce off the heads of Clucks in Lava Powerhouse to progress. Thanks to the game's questionable hit detection on this matter, it's nowhere as easy as it should be.
- Gotta Catch 'Em All:
- The goal of each level is to collect all of the Chaos Emeralds. Doing so shuts down the factory's power and ultimately destabilizes the volcano the Veg-O-Fortress is built in, causing it to explode.
- There's also the optional side challenge of collecting all the rings in each level for a big point bonus.
- Have a Nice Death:
- "TOO BAAAD", which is triggered by Sonic dying. Unless that was his last life (or as the manual says, when Sonic is "headed for Hedgehog Heaven"), in which case you get "GAME OVER".
- If you fall down a death chute and don't have the ball saver activated...Lava Powerhouse: "BOGUS DUDE..."
The Machine: (Scare Chord) "BIG MISTAKE"
Showdown: (Scare Chord) "READY TO FRY?"
- In Case of Boss Fight, Break Glass: The final bosses.
- Lethal Lava Land: The Lava Powerhouse and Showdown levels.
- Load-Bearing Boss: Defeating each boss causes the Fortress to sink a bit further into the sea. At the game's conclusion, the entire volcano waits to explode until the exact moment Robotnik falls into it.
- Logo Joke: In the Genesis version, Tails flies his plane past the Sega Logo twice. In the Game Gear version, Sonic spins back and forth, building the Sega Logo, and lying under it when it is finished.
- Minecart Madness: In the Genesis version, the first stage, Toxic Caves, has a segment where Sonic must ride a mine cart that will take him to rooms where the second and third Chaos Emeralds are held. To access them, Sonic must first pull the switches that unlock the paths to these rooms. There are also pinball flippers that act as switches by changing the direction of the mine cart. If Sonic collects the second and third Chaos Emeralds before he collects the first, the mine cart disappears and Sonic falls straight into the slime vat where the first Chaos Emerald is held.
- Never Say "Die": The manual refers to Sonic losing his last life as him being "Headed for Hedgehog Heaven".
- Nintendo Hard:
- The game is basically four gigantic pinball tables (all of them tough as hell, especially the last one) that all have to be beaten with no continues or passwords. Good luck with that.
- The port included in the Game Boy Advance iteration of Sega Smash Pack is almost exactly the same as the original version (the only difference is the sound). This means the levels have not been adjusted for the GBA's smaller screen resolution. Also, the ending is slightly glitched.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder: Rings in this game do not give you anything other than points. If Sonic falls into a death pit and there aren't any Ball Savers in play, he's toast. Justified, since it's a pinball game, and having rings save you would defeat the purpose of a pinball game.
- Pinball Scoring: Duh.
- Pinball Spin-Off: One of the more fitting examples, considering Sonic's ability to roll into a ball.
- Pinball Zone: Pretty much the whole game.
- Plot Coupon: You can't take on the bosses until you find the Chaos Emeralds. There are three in the first two stages, and five in the last two.
- Progressive Jackpot: Clearing the bonus stages after each level adds to a "Rising Jackpot" that adds a huge score bonus if you manage to defeat Robotnik in the Showdown level.
- Reformulated Game: The 8-bit version is largely this. It has only has one type of Bonus Round replacing the multiple minigames, and the level design has been truncated and rearranged — the Toxic Caves and Showdown in particular have changed so much that they've been renamed Toxic Pools and the Final Showdown, complete with their bosses being replaced. For the most part, the game still plays like a downgraded port of the 16-bit version, unlike the wholly original previous titles.
- Replaced the Theme Tune: Sega Technical Institute, who developed the game, used a remix of the Sonic the Hedgehog theme for the title screen, assuming it was owned by Sega. In reality, the first game's music was owned by the game's composer, Masato Nakamura, and the team likely would've been sued had they used it. The team found this out shortly before the game was scheduled to be shipped, so Howard Drossin quickly (as in, that night) made a replacement tune and re-dumped the cart. However, this was done during the manufacturing process, resulting in the original version accidentally seeping into the North American market in very limited quantities.
- Scare Chord: One plays when something disastrous happens, such as when the sewer monster in the Toxic Caves is about to eat you, or when you fall down a death chute.
- Scary Scorpions: The boss of Stage 1, Toxic Caves, is Scorpius, a giant robotic scorpion with Robotnik's face and a tail that sprays poisonous goop to attack with.
- Sensory Abuse: The notorious Options Menu theme, and Scorpius' high-pitched shrieks as it takes damage.
- Smashing Survival: If you get caught in Rexxon's mouth, you have to rapidly smash the buttons to break free. If you succeed, you return to play with a "GREAT ESCAPE!" message. If you don't, you get chomped and lose a life.
- Stationary Boss: All four of the game's end-of-level bosses do not move from their spots. Sonic must use his pinball-like abilites to propel himself up to them without falling out of the boss arena.
- Super Drowning Skills: Sonic infamously cannot swim, and is fortunately saved from drowning when he gets knocked off Tails' plane and into the sea at the beginning of the game. Fall into there again, and he won't be so lucky. The sprite of Rexxon appearing as Sonic falls into the water hints he was probably eaten.
- Swallowed Whole: Fall between the flippers in Toxic Caves, and Rexxon will gulp you down if you don't mash the buttons enough. His sprite appearing when Sonic falls into the water also suggests this. TOO BAAAD.
- Take Your Time: While the banner in Showdown warns you that Robotnik is getting away, he'll never actually escape. Needless to say, given how huge and complicated the level is? It's not a bad thing.
- This Is Gonna Suck: Even though it's not a done deal, Robotnik panics in his cockpit when you reach him, in contrast to his other appearances.
- Totally Radical: The top banner's lines, like "BOGUS DUDE" and "ULTRA COOL SLIDE".
- Unwilling Roboticization: As per his usual modus operandi, Robotnik is turning animals into a robot army. The process is shown in far more detail than in any other game in the series.
- Villain: Exit, Stage Left: After the usual task of nabbing emeralds, the final objective of "Showdown" is to prevent Robotnik's ship from escaping.
- Volumetric Mouth: While in the main 2D games Sonic does this after drowning, here he always does it regardless of cause of death.
- Your Size May Vary: Robotnik looks like a giant in the final fight, being several times larger than Sonic, but in the ending they're around the same size. One can infer the protective glass of Robotnik's vehicle was magnifying his image, but it isn't directly explained.