Review: Sonic Pinball Party (Game Boy Advance)


Game: Sonic Pinball Party
System: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Pinball
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Released: 6/1/03

Video game mascots seem to have this tendency to venture into uncharted territories in between the action/adventure games they are usually associated with. The Mario franchise alone has branched out into kart racing, interactive board games, golf, tennis, and even a couple of RPGs. The Sonic franchise has done some of this as well, such as racing and board games, but neither seemed to capture the same feel other games of their ilk had. (This isn’t saying that these games didn’t have their charms, however.)

Enter Sonic Pinball Party, the latest Sonic offshoot game, and his first for the GBA. Unlike its Genesis predecessor, Sonic Spinball, SPP is simply a collection of pinball tables featuring three of Sega’s favorite franchises: Sonic, Nights, and Samba De Amigo. Not many people felt the game was going to be good before the release, but I still went to my local Target (the ONLY place it’s available, stupid exclusive deal) and picked up a copy. And let me say, I was pleasantly surprised”¦

GAMEPLAY

As one would expect, this game plays exactly like a pinball game should. For each table, you get three balls, and by using the Left and A buttons for your left and right flippers, you must stay alive enough to score as many points as possible. (Other buttons, such as L, R and B, are used to tilt.)

What separates this pinball game from the rest is that each table has plenty of specific objectives within it that make them unique. You’ll get a choice of two tables initially: Sonic and Nights. A Samba de Amigo table is also available, but you’ll need to play through Story Mode a bit in order to get it.

The theme to the Sonic tables is just like any of his adventures: collect rings, find Dr. Eggman, and beat him. To “fight” Eggman in any given stage, you’ll need to shoot specific ramps to access the “Egg” bonus. Once activated, Eggman will appear on the screen, and you must hit his target within the time limit. Doing so will net you a HUGE point bonus, and let you go to the next stage. (Each stage theme is taken from Sonic Advance 1.) There are other bonuses as well, such as “Ring”, as well as pinball mainstays like Extra Ball and Multi-Ball.


The Nights table is my own, personal favorite in this game. Like Sonic’s table, the Nights table contains its own set of stages, each taken from the Sega Saturn classic. Progression in this table is exactly like it was in the Saturn game. You’ll need to shoot ball through the “Ideya Capture” in order to become “Dualized” and form Nights. Once that is done, you’ll have a time limit to collect different colored “Ideyas”. Collect four of them, and you’ll have to face the boss of that level. The cool thing about the boss battles here is that you can hurt them in one of two ways: hit them dead on to “Drill Dash” them, or shoot the ramp around them to do even more damage. This was exactly how you defeated bosses in the Saturn game. I nearly shed a tear at how perfect the Nights experience was translated into pinball form. Special bonuses, such as acrobatics and such, round out this table very well.

The Samba de Amigo table is very different from the other two, and a bit harder as well. The table itself is half the size, but assuming you fulfill the right conditions, you can activate the “Song Play” bonus. Activating it will allow you to play a Samba de Amigo music mini-game that offers tons of points. Actual music will be mentioned later in the review.

I’ve noticed a few odd things during pinball sessions. For one, the point totals seem rather low 80% of the time. Assuming you don’t hit the Eggman bonus repeatedly, or something of the ilk, you’ll wind up with a very low score overall. In other REAL pinball games, I found myself in the millions after several seconds, but in this game, getting in the millions without beating the bosses is damn near impossible.

Another interesting thing is the length of the “Ball Savers” found in the game. (i.e. If you lose the ball and the Ball Saver is on, you get another try.) The Ball Savers last an incredibly long time, and can be activate with no real effort if you know what you’re doing. Perhaps this was intended to add to your playing time and get more points, but I’m not exactly sure.

GRAPHICS

Usually a pinball game has heavy restrictions in the visual department, given that the pinball table itself isn’t very animated outside of flashing lights, and the only real animations you see are at the top of the screen in the score display. Not so with SPP. Each of the three tables are animated beautifully, and constantly changing depending on how well you do. For example, in the Sonic and Nights tables, there are multiple stages to go through. When you advance to new stages, the background of the table will change into what that stage is comprised of. In the Samba de Amigo table, the middle of the screen has the constant dancing motions of the “pose” icon.


Aside from the tables themselves, there is plenty of quality artwork to be found when you achieve a bonus, such as “Egg”, “Ring”, “Dualized”, etc. The menus are also well done, with little pictures of famous Sega characters in the bottom corners if you pay attention. The visuals are truly well done.

MUSIC & SOUND

Very rarely will I give a sound category a perfect score, especially on a handheld game. But the fact is, this game deserves it. Not only for the music itself, but also for the memories it brought back of my old Saturn / Dreamcast days.

To begin with, each table has it’s own theme music. In Sonic’s table, the main music we hear is taken directly from the first Sonic Advance game, much like the stage names. However, there are plenty of remixes thrown in from older Sonic titles. When you fulfill certain conditions, you might get to hear music from the Spring Yard Zone or Star Light Zone from the original Sonic the Hedgehog game. During the boss battles, you’ll hear the Sonic 1 boss music. When you beat the boss, you’ll hear “Super Sonic Racing” from Sonic R. And if you manage to hit the Multi-Ball, you’ll be treated to an “Open Your Heart” remix from the original Sonic Adventure. These tunes sound very good coming from the GBA hardware, and don’t sound butchered at all.

Then we come to the Nights table. If you’ve EVER played Nights on the Sega Saturn all the way through, prepare to be dazzled as nearly the ENTIRE soundtrack has been reworked for this cartridge. Come to think of it, if you can compare the two, the music is almost identical to its Saturn counter part. Each stage has its original music to accompany it (although some might have been switched around form stage to stage). When going up against the stage boss, you’ll hear the “Nights VS Reala” boss music. And when you beat the boss, you’ll be treated to “Dreams, Dreams”, the Nights theme song. It nearly brought a tear to my eye to hear that song again after so long.

Finally, at the Samba de Amigo table, the “Song Play” option will allow you to play some of these songs I mentioned earlier at random, including music from Phantasy Star Online (DC / GC / XB), Chu Chu Rocket (DC / GBA) and BURNING RANGERS (Saturn)!!! Yes, for those in the know, “Burning Hearts” has also been translated to the GBA. I can go on and on about the music, but then it would just get redundant.

Long story short, this is the only game where I spent a solid forty minutes in the Sound Test.

FUN FACTOR

There are plenty of things you can do outside of the main pinball game, which really is the only thing this cartridge needs. To start with, you have a “Story Mode” where you battle in a “pinball tournament” against other famous Sega characters in order to get to Eggman. However, the Story Mode itself seems very thrown together. All your opponents are predetermined (other Sonic universe characters), and all you’re doing is fulfilling requirements like “Pass X amount of stages” or “Get X amount of points.” Not to mention that the fact that the last task is practically impossible. I let you figure out what it is. Anyway, just go through the Story Mode to unlock things, and never look back. You’ll have more fun on the “Arcade Mode” where it’s just like a normal pinball game.

Like the other Sonic GBA games, there’s a Tiny Chao Garden just waiting to be discovered. It’s 95% the same as the gardens in the other two games, except for the fact that there are different mini-games that will earn you rings. In any case, you can still link it up with SADX or SA2B to transport Chao, rings, and items.


An interesting feature included within the game is the “Casinopolis”. Here you can take the rings you’ve earned in pinball tables or the Tiny Chao Garden, and gamble with them to possibly earn more rings. There are three games you can play: Bingo, Roulette, or Slots. Each game uses the pinball flippers for you to place your bets. For example, hitting the targets in Roulette within the time limit will allow you to bet on more numbers and increase your chances of winning. In Bingo, each target hit will get you a random number. Keep going until you hit Bingo! Or in the Slots game, hit the targets to add more lines and increase the chances of scoring a jackpot.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sonic game without multiplayer matches, not would it? The cool thing is, you only need one SPP game cartridge to take advantage of the multiplayer. There are three games you can play: Hot Potato, which you must not drop the ball, Hockey, where you must defend your goal from balls from your opponent, and Ladder Climb, a co-op game where you must get a ball to the top of the flipper ladder. These games are pretty fun, and add to the experience quite nicely.

Ratings
Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 9
Music & Sound: 10
Fun Factor: 9