Sonic the Hedgehog returned in Sega's 2003 Game Boy Advance release Sonic Pinball Party, a pinball-based game that challenges Sonic and friends to beat the evil Dr. Eggman at rounds of pinball. There are two main modes to the game, Arcade and Story, plus a number of mini-games and side quest-type options that will keep pinball fans busy for a while. Plus fans of more obscure Sonic Team franchises such as NiGHTS and Samba de Amigo will find some hidden featurs to look forward to with glee. The Sonic tables require you to shoot the ball through rings and other familiar targets in order to score points, while the NiGHTS table will make you shoot the ball through loops and at targets. Samba de Amigo's table is based on rhythm and movement. All in all, there's a lot of variety here and gamers are sure to find a table scheme they like.

Arcade mode is fairly straight forward as players must defeat Dr. Eggman on each of three tables. Before he can be defeated, however, he must be found. He can be found by hitting the appropriate target on the table, and to defeat him the ball must be sunk into the appropriate hole in the table. This game is not like Sonic Spinball in which Sonic himself is the ball and does damage to enemies by smacking into them. The ball in this game is a small white ball and cannot inflict damage directly. Each of the three tables are based on a classic Sonic level, such as the Green Hill Zone and so forth. As a bonus there are tables based on NiGHTS and Samba de Amigo as well. A tutorial mode teaches the rules of the game as well as how to effectively tilt the table and score big points.

In Story mode Sonic plays his way through a pinball tourament, taking on friends (such as Tails and Knuckles) and enemies in rounds of pinball. To win a game you must beat the target score. Working your way up the ladder unlocks secrets and mini games, plus it gets you closer to the evil Dr. Eggman. It's simple and straightforward, but it's more difficult than it sounds. There are a number of video pinball elements that can steal your eyesight for a moment, causing the ball to sink into oblivion.

If you want to party with your friends then you should unlock some of the mini games. Up to four players can participate in games such as Hot Potato, Hockey, and Ladder. Roulette, Bingo, and Slots, on the other hand, are casino-type games. Each plays pretty much like it sounds, but with little pinball elements mixed in for good measure. Only one cartridge is required to play multiplayer, but of course each player will need their own Game Boy Advance to join in the fun. If raising Chaos are your thing then you'll like the Tiny Chao Garden that, like its predecessors in Sonic Advance and Sonic Advance 2, can be linked up to the Nintendo GameCube titles Sonic Adventure 2 Battle and Sonic Adventure DX.

The graphics in the game are bright, colorful, and fast moving. This brings us to one of the key problems with the game: it's too fast. A white ball speeding around a white backgrounded table on a small screen leads to eye strain and plenty of lost balls. I feel that the ball should have been larger, a different color, slower, or something along those lines. This would have made the game a better experience in my opinion. The audio shines with some tunes returning from classic Sonic games as well as other favorite Sega franchises. The game automatically saves high scores and unlocked secrets as well.

Sonic Pinball Party is a fun pinball romp despite its ball-related drawback. Portable pinball has always been a passion of mine, so this game fits the bill for fun. With enough patience and practice this Sonic pinball game will make you the life of the portable pinball gaming party. Note that it's only available at Target in the USA, but internationally it should be easier to find upon release.


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