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  • Sonic Pinball Party Preview: Mind My Balls

    Sonic goes pinballistic as he graces the flippers yet again.

    Pinball. Ah, that craze during 1980s/1990s. How fun it was slotting in some coins (oi, easy!), shooting that last ball into the table and frantically trying to flip that bastard up to get that high score. Of course, when video game developers caught onto the coolness of this, they decided the inevitable. And hence, pinball video games were never really... well, any good really.

    screens-pinballparty-jan2003-01.gif screens-pinballparty-jan2003-02.gif

    All that looks set to change though, as Sonic Team have started work on another Game Boy Advance title. Sonic Pinball Party looks like the natural successor to Sonic Spinball, but the way the game is played is worlds away from the semi-platformer-come-virtual-pinball game.

    No, Sonic Pinball Party doesn't try out any gimmicks for their Sonic take on the genre (Sonic Team didn't make Sonic Spinball, remember), instead opting for the hardcore style of racking up points the good old fashioned way. In a similar fashion to Pinball of the Dead, there are themed tables, but there already seems to be more than the three available compared to the pinball game based on WOW's hit series.

    screens-pinballparty-jan2003-03.gif screens-pinballparty-jan2003-04.gif

    The groovy thing is, it's not limited to Sonic. There are tables that represent NiGHTS too, and even Samba de Amigo. Some of the cool aspects mentioned was the style and representation of each table - for example, on the Sonic table, Chao would help shoot the ball out into the main table, and you'll find certain zones such as the 'Eggman Lane' etc. NiGHTS supposedly has a similar thing with their NiGHTopians, and the wonderful backdrops of 'Splash Garden' and 'Spring Valley' will apparently be present.

    The funkiest feature must be on the Samba de Amigo table though - according to the source, the player will be able to change the background music of the table to such tunes as 'Burning Rangers' and 'Phantasy Star Online'. YOSH!

    screens-pinballparty-jan2003-05.gif screens-pinballparty-jan2003-06.gif

    Promising realistic ball movements, wicked looking tables, a four player mode (including a "Party Mode" and "The Hockey" - o_O), AND the now complimentary Tiny Chao Garden - to link with both Sonic Adventure 2 Battle and Sonic Adventure DX - it looks like Sonic Team will be getting the pinball genre right - only time will tell pending its release.

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    • Wraith
      Okay, and why do you think "It's Mario" is a thing you can just say to equate to unprecedented staying power? Do you think the brand is just magic or did Nintendo earn that momentum, somehow?   In the fighting game community we've got this term known as the 'mental stack'. To some it up, the more mechanics the game gives you to worry about, the less you're going to be able to meaningfully keep track of them all, which can cause frustration. When platformers went 3D, the stack went from moving in 2 directions, to a near infinite amount with a camera that also had to be nursed and the new problem of depth perception. It sounds trivial for those of us that had been playing 3D games for a while, but it was a legitimate issue for developers, critics and players alike. Even Mario Sunshine was getting dinged for it's shoddy camera. If Nintendo can't figure it out everyone's in trouble. On the flipside, aiming and shooting a gun is remarkably simple and easy to understand. Controlling the camera is now where the majority of the gameplay lies instead of something you have to keep in mind along with your character, so it's intuitive in 3D the same way platformers used to be in 2D. With 3D platformers, the stack had become large enough to shave their universal appeal down by to a noticeable degree. Most developers, including Nintendo at a point, saw the decline in interest and incorrectly assumed they needed features from those other genres to keep up. What Nintendo eventually found when they released New Super Mario Bros on the DS and it outsold every 3D mario game up to that point, and most of the ones that would come after, was that the opposite was true. A big part of a platforming game's appeal is that it's easy for anyone watching to understand, pick up, and start making progress in without much overhead. It's also why the Mario Galaxy and 3D World games take place on pockets of level design instead of open fields. They were scaling down when the genre as a whole was getting too big and too unfocused on what actually made it interesting in the first place. You can't appeal to that same market when your platformer is also a beat em up shooter RPG with the most epic story ever and 7 unique characters. There's definitely a large niche for that, but not as large as 'simply move right and avoid danger' So yes, you literally do not need more than running and jumping to be successful. You can add whatever features you think you need to stand out, but you have a better shot if yo stick to some core principles. If Mario's not enough proof for you, there's a whole 2D platforming boom from both big companies and indies in the 10s serving as evidence while 3D platformers remained a seasonal thing. No one was sick of 'running and jumping' from every metric we can measure. Even Sonic Team themselves are aware of this to a degree. The boost gameplay is an incredibly streamlined version of the 3D Sonic we know and love, with a lot of things peeled out to focus on simplified platforming challenges. Say what you will about Sonic Colors, but it found more success than the Adventure titles despite the fandom hangups. With Megaman I'd link back to the example above. I think there's a reason 3D Megaman games aren't so common The game stayed 2D where dropping additional elements on top of the player is easier without overloading the stack. 3D shooter-platformer hybrids in general were rare, with Ratchet and Clank deciding to focus more on the shooting as it went and Metroid Prime committing more to platforming with it's lock on system. It's more common now to see shooters that expect you to juggle complex movement challenges with precise shooting mechanics, but just look at what respawn decided to prioritize when it came to transforming Titanfall 2 to Apex Legends. 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I've had several ideas over the years on how to salvage most of the alternate gameplay styles, but that doesn't change the reality of what we do get. Maybe Sonic Team had the vision all along and just needed more time to execute it or maybe they never had a clue. We'll never really know for sure, but the games they did release are locked in. I'm not saying genre blending isn't okay. Of course it's okay. The original Sonic games are an eclectic blend of platformer and pinball. You just have to consider what concessions you're making to accommodate both of them and whether you can still a fun game around that. Since Sonic was already a unique mix of genres, adding more onto the top is going to be more challenging problem to solve than most. It would take a more discerning, precise designer and I don't know if ST's ever had that instinct.
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    • Wraith
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