Saturday 27 April 2013

Head to Head Review: Pokemon Pinball vs Sonic Spinball

Game: Pokemon Pinball
Console: Nintendo Gameboy Colour
Developer: Jupiter (with Nintendo)
Release Date: 6th October 2000

Listen along to the game OST as you read

Pokemon Pinball is a pinball game for Gameboy Colour, featuring 2 tables at which the player can try their hand at catching and evolving Pokemon through the medium of pinball. Choosing one of the brightly coloured tables will start the game. As with the original Gameboy games (assuming you're not from Japan), your choice is between Blue and Red; both tables strikingly different in layout. I chose the blue table first of all, and for this you must get the ball up into the mouth of a Cloyster, to begin the Pokemon catching process.

An arrow shows which way the physics are imparting force on the ball and it appears to change randomly. Coupled with the fact that the ball physics can be somewhat odd for a pinball game, this makes progress somewhat slow. Once the Pokemon catching minigame has begun, you're instructed to hit the Shelders at the top of the screen, which act as bumpers, and uncover squares hiding the Pokemon which you'll be about to catch. Once that's done, 4 hits to the area with the Pokemon in will catch it, and repeating the process is the next goal.

Pokemon may be evolved through getting the pinball into Slowpoke's mouth and selecting which to evolve, and you can move onto the next area by catching three Pokemon from the current area. There's a Pokedex to fill out, in the menu by catching every Pokemon in each area but I'm not sure that I have the patience for that. The table layouts seem somewhat simplistic for a pinball game, most of the time, the ball going around the outside or anywhere but where you want it to, the physics another contributor to this problem.

As for the Pokemon side of things, I feel no real bond to the Pokemon I catch, unlike main series games as I cannot see them onscreen, save for a Pokeball icon. The catching and evolving processes are fairly laborious and sometimes downright frustrating. The game itself doesn't stand up as a Pokemon game, nor does it stand up to comparison with other pinball games. At times it can be fun, but I'm not sure that its the best way to experience the Pokemon world.

A redeeming feature, missing from many pinball games is the objective to catch all of the Pokemon, as opposed to just going for a high score, but you'll be playing for a long while before encountering every Pokemon in the game, and frankly if you're going to catch every Pokemon, it may as well be in a main series game; at least you'll get to train them up and grow attached to them.

This isn't a bad game by definition, it works, somewhat, the music is nice, as are the graphics, but I can't help but feel that ultimately its a redundant spin off that is fun to pick up and play for a while but has no real replay value in the long run, or completion value gameplay wise. If you're a fan of this game, then that's good, but I can't see anyone choosing it as a candidate for their favourite game ever.

Rating: 62/100
Grade: C
Nays High Score: 134,886,900

Game: Sonic Spinball
Console: Sega Mega Drive
Developer: Polygames/Sega
Release Date: 15th November 1993

There are plenty of well remembered Sonic games on the Mega Drive, after all, the first three games of the series are generally considered classics. Sonic Spinball then, is a somewhat strange addition to the games on offer, certainly it's a break from the 2D platformers of the time, but whether or not its a necessary addition to the Sonic franchise is debatable. 

Giving the game the benefit of the doubt for a moment, it plays nicely to start and the playable area in the game is huge, not to mention that there's several levels also. The goal of each level is to collect 3 chaos emeralds and defeat a boss. Just like Pokemon Pinball there are gameplay elements similar to the main series games, in a pinball setting.

Graphically the game looks good, as good at least as the other Sonic games for Mega Drive. There are varied environments and enemies, all set to an expectedly funky soundtrack. The gameplay has simple aims to achieve in order to get the chaos emeralds, although some of the more difficult ones feature in the first couple of levels oddly. There's plenty of ball savers, should you manage to let Sonic slip through the flippers, helping to extend play.

The bosses at the end of each level aren't particularly varied in the way they need to be beaten, although with pinball games this is hard to achieve, hitting the enemy with your pinball in a specified place being the main idea. Story-wise there's not much to go on, but at least there's something to raise it above the level of a simple "get the high score" pinball game. 

In all, it plays very nicely as a pinball game, with none of the physics problems of Pokemon Pinball, much larger environments and "tables", bosses and objectives more complex than Pokemon Pinball. Perhaps a lot of these differences are due to Pokemon Pinball being on the Gameboy and in a few ways this is an unfair comparison, but considering the 7 year gap between release of the games, its not too unfair to expect more from Pokemon Pinball. 

I am aware that there is a Pokemon Pinball for the Ruby and Sapphire games, which I will endeavor to review at some point, hoping that the physics will be better and for more expansive tables and features. Both games find it hard to stand up to pinball games in their pinball features and their main series games in story and level design.

Sonic Spinball has to be the winner here though, as there's more to do, and the gameplay feels smoother.

Rating: 71/100
Grade: C
Nay's High Score: 61,420,500

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