Back when Sonic the Hedgehog was the hottest mascot around, people would constantly write letters to enthusiast magazines begging Sega to produce a pinball game done in the same style as the Spring Yard and Casino Night zones from the first two Sonic games. Executives at Sega listened, and in 1993, the company released Sonic Spinball for the Sega Genesis. Sonic fans rushed to bring the game home, but they soon discovered that it was nothing like their favorite zones from the traditional Sonic games. However, of those who played through their initial shock, many grew to like the unique twist on pinball that Sega concocted. Fourteen years later and 40 dollars cheaper, Sega has made Sonic Spinball available for play on the Wii's virtual console.
Sonic Spinball is a loose interpretation of pinball, with Sonic filling the role of the ball. He spends most of the game in a perpetual spin-dash and smacks off of flippers and bumpers just like a ball would, but you can also steer him to some extent by pushing on the directional pad. The game's four tables each have multiple sections outfitted with flippers, bumpers, and the usual sorts of pinball targets. However, instead of merely hitting targets to rack up your score, you're supposed to make an effort to bash the switches that unlock the paths leading to the chaos emeralds. Collecting the chaos emeralds lets you access the portion of the table containing the boss, which you have to defeat to advance to the next table. Boss battles are amusing and generally involve looping around the table while repeatedly bashing the robotic contraptions' weak spots. Losing a ball here is just like in other pinball games, so you'll need to keep Sonic from falling into the muck situated below the flippers. The turn-off point for some people will be the game's difficulty. All of the tables are challenging, there are loads of chaos emeralds to collect, and you're only given three lives to get through the whole game. Throw in a few mine-cart rides and cannon launchers, and you have a good idea of what Sonic Spinball is like.
The graphics don't flaunt much in the way of visual effects, but the character animation is fluid and the tables are intricately detailed. As a Sonic game, Sonic Spinball isn't a looker. Compared to the majority of video pinball games, though, it's a Picasso. Similarly kind words can't be said for the audio, unfortunately. The familiar Sonic themes you know and love are nowhere to be found. Instead, the music is a bunch of generic tunes that try to be peppy but are mainly just shrill. Worse than that, the hissy sound effects are a throwback to the Genesis console's early days.
On the Wii, the Virtual Console handles the game just fine. The display occasionally slows down when Sonic bounces around too fast, but that also happens when the game is played on an actual Sega Genesis. It would have been nice of Sega to fix the slowdown, or to at least include some extra control-mapping options. It's worth noting, though, that one setting lets you set the left flipper to the A button and the right flipper to the C button, which, when using the Wii Remote horizontally, lets you use your left thumb to trigger the left flipper and your right thumb to trigger the right flipper.
At 800 Wii points ($8), Sonic Spinball may be worth it to you if you think pinball with a Sonic twist would be right up your alley. Just don't go in expecting a pure pinball game or a game that duplicates the freewheeling spirit of the Spring Yard and Casino Night zones from the side-scrolling Sonic the Hedgehog games.