It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and in the spirit of one of the most iconic balloons in the history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, let’s take a look (and listen) to a Sonic the Hedgehog game that might not be the first on everyone’s mind. It’s Sonic Spinball!
An interesting take on the pinball genre with some classic Sonic mechanics, Sonic Spinball is a spinoff of the main series based on the early 90’s cartoon The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. The game received mixed to moderately positive reviews, with problems cited mainly due to its clunky controls and shortfalls as both a Sonic game and a pinball game.
Sonic Spinball‘s soundtrack was composed by Howard Drossin, Brian Coburn, and Barry Blum. It features theme music for each of the four main levels, as well as tracks for boss rooms, bonus games, and high score display. There are also a few sound effects and transition tunes included here, but for the most part, we won’t go into detail about them.
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It’s worth mentioning solely because it’s the “main theme”. A little disappointing that it’s only a few seconds long, but to be fair, it normally wouldn’t play for long on the title screen anyway. It’s nothing special, but it’s certainly not the worst Sonic tune out there.
This peppy little number is the first song you’ll hear during actual gameplay. It’s upbeat enough to get the ball rolling (get it?) quickly, and sufficiently varied so that it doesn’t get terribly repetitive. The bass line, as in many Sonic the Hedgehog soundtracks, starts out strong and keeps the track funky. In addition, the lead synthesizer melody complements the driving low-end rhythm. Overall, it’s not bad for a first level.
This one might be a little polarizing; depending on how you feel about the buzzing synthesizer at the beginning, it might get on your nerves at first. However, if you can hold out past the initial forty seconds or so, the track really starts to get interesting. We get a brief reprieve from the droning (thankfully) and the song transitions into a more minimal melody and a simpler bass riff for a while. It alternates between chilled-out and in-your-face loud, and I’m not convinced that the dynamic range is entirely for the better.
The theme for Sonic Spinball‘s third level is much more mellow. Both the high and low ends get a little playful in areas, and some “futuristic” sound effects are thrown in for good measure. If nothing else, it’s a welcome change from the previous level. There are a lot of “non-melody” sounds in here, but it’s not busy in a frustrating way due to their sparseness. It helps, too, that there’s not really a main melody either; it lets some of the more interesting sounds come to the forefront without really detracting from the tune itself.
Being the theme for the final level in Sonic Spinball, you’d expect this track to build some tension and urgency — and it delivers. The simple bass line and not-too-complex melody evoke a sense of impending doom, and despite its relative repetitiveness, it sets the stage for, well, the final showdown with Dr. Robotnik. There’s some dissonance that helps make a player uncomfortable, which is great in a final level; it makes Dr. Robotnik seem like he should be much more serious than he looks and acts in the animated series on which the game is based.
Funky and driving, “Boss Room” gets a player in the mood for a good, old-fashioned fight. The problem is, fighting a boss as a pinball is significantly more challenging than the usual Sonic the Hedgehog fare. It’s hard to know how to feel about this tune, because the experience is so much different from what a player would expect. The music is okay, but it does get a little repetitive after a while, particularly upon hearing it more than once in a playthrough.
This happy-sounding song deviates from the rest of the soundtrack in its tone and sort of lack of a real connecting thread throughout. Its staccato notes and multitude of different instruments keep things interesting long enough to get through the relatively brief bonus stages. Its whimsical nature does match the departure from the (kind of) seriousness of the main levels that can be seen in the bonus stages as well.
This one’s a little shorter — which is nice, because the short amount of time spent viewing the high scores might as well be spent with the volume on mute. This track’s incessant buzzing is grating and unpleasant. There’s technically a melody to it, but it’s hard to listen to due to the instrumentation.
There are some pretty decent tracks here, but the egregious nature of “Lava Powerhouse” and especially “High Scores” (which, admittedly, isn’t really part of the main gameplay, but you’ll still hear it after every playthrough) really brings down the overall quality of the soundtrack. It’s not necessarily that the songs are poorly composed — on the contrary, the melodies are good and the dynamics of most of the songs keep things interesting. It’s just that the instrumentation, particularly the harsher buzzing noises, makes the two tracks mentioned above hard to listen to in a loop. Overall, Sonic Spinball‘s soundtrack is just…okay. Not terrible, but not great. I’m giving the soundtrack three Chaos Emeralds out of seven.