Rating: ★★★☆☆

Nostalgia is the lifeblood of remakes. We wouldn’t want to experience the same thing over again so readily for any other reason. “Hey, let’s rent Robocop, I remember it was great!” We all know the feeling. For some, the experience is, well, nostalgic. For others, eye-opening and proof that yes, I may have had bad taste back then.

Guess which category Sonic Spinball falls under?

It was back in 1993, as a child with a Sega Genesis (thanks to my dad needing a Terminator game with a light-gun), that I had the patience of a saint when it came to videogames. But even then I clearly remember the frustration I had with Sonic Spinball. I couldn’t beat it. It was way too hard. The levels were too long, and I wasn’t allowed to leave the Genesis on during dinner. I did a few times anyways, but it didn’t help. Another 20 minutes and I’d fall into a pool of lava or a tub of acid. A flailing Sonic slowly falling across my screen haunted my dreams:

Thankfully, nothing’s changed in 17 years. Well, I can do whatever I want during dinner, or so I tell myself. Sega hasn’t changed a thing with Sonic Spinball, except for removing the scene of Sonic’s plane crashing. You know, to give the game some semblance of story. But who needs that, it’s the iPhone version! Don’t worry, the game has a nice old 16-bit feel, from the soundtrack all the way to the blocky visuals. I’d say nostalgia at its finest, even going so far as to not optimize for the Retina display. But nostalgia only goes so far, and in this case Sega missed its mark and made the game even harder. What the hell.

I mean, I can’t beat it. I couldn’t beat it 17 years ago, and I can’t beat it now. I’ve never been huge on pinball, but I consider myself pretty good at videogames. I’ve been offered jobs as a game tester, to play competitively in competitions, and I’ve been playing videogames for nearly 20 years now. But no, Sonic Spinball just isn’t happening. At some point after my third day, I gave up. There are only 3 lives, period. There are no continues like in the original Genesis version, which at least let me start the same level from scratch. To make matters worse, the touchscreen makes it impossible to beat thanks to lag between tapping on the virtual buttons and the flippers actually moving. It’s slight, and noticeable. Point being, I’m not beating it, and I sure as hell am not going to do what I did so long ago and play until the controller buttons are completely worn down. The last thing I need is to get another iPod Touch because I turned the glass back into sand.

For anyone who somehow missed the original, Sonic Spinball is a simple pinball game with giant levels and a vast array of objectives, such as collecting chaos emeralds and opening up new sections of the levels. Four levels in all and 16 emeralds to collect, there’s good reason why the game is so damn hard: if it weren’t, you’d finish in just a few hours. I suppose Sega decided that it’s better to never let anyone win than letting them win too soon.

I enjoyed reminiscing the good ol’ days, as we all should on occasion. It’s certainly odd to do it through videogames…my parents do it through photographs, their parents through stories, and probably their parents through hieroglyphics. Who knows. But only a masochist would intentionally buy a game they know they have no chance of beating. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, because it is. You just won’t beat it. Expecting to is insane. Only an insane person does the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Einstein said that. Then again, we all played it as kids and kept trying anyways…I guess “We’re all mad here.”

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.