Pinball Mechanics: Adrenaline Rush

In Brief

  • In the classic games, the pinball mechanics allow Sonic to rebound upwards when attacking enemies.
    • classic_good.png This generats a jolt of speed, which produces a rush.
  • As with pinball, the player often has to target Sonic’s attacks.
    • This is difficult when running at full speed.
    • classic_good.png The pleasure principle of Fair Challenge However, the ‘tilting’ mechanics allow a chance to correct Sonic’s trajectory.
  • The tilting mechanics allow consecutive attacks of enemies, which extends the rush.
  • In the modern games, the homing attack has replaced the pinball attack system.
    • modern_good.png This has several advantages, particularly as it solves the problems of aiming in 3D space.
    • modern_bad.png However, it also lowers variety, The pleasure principle of Realism and The pleasure principle of Contrasts.

Pinball and rebounding

In pinball, rebounding the ball off a surface generates a jolt in its acceleration. However, as the pinball player is detached from the pinball (s/he is manipulating the pinball table and not the ball itself), the jolt only has a limited impact on the player.

The rush of rebounding

In the classic games, destroying an enemy causes Sonic to slightly rebound upwards. When moving at normal speed this rebound is usually insignificant.

If Sonic, however, is moving at top speed, the rebound action produces the same jolt of speed a pinball experiences when it rebounds off an object on the pinball table. They key difference is that the Sonic player is not detached from Sonic (for s/he controls Sonic directly) and so the jolt produces an adrenaline rush.

Creating a challenge – targeting and tilting

In pinball, rebounding the ball can have a negative effect. It makes the ball move unpredictably, which increases the likelihood of falling through the exit. As a result, the player has to carefully target the ball’s trajectory. If it does spin out of control, the player can still avoid the exit by ‘tilting’ the table.

These mechanics are mirrored in the classic Sonic games. Rapidly hitting the jump button will most likely cause Sonic to bounce into danger. Many obstacles, such as sets of spikes or particular enemies require the player to carefully target Sonic’s jumps.

The pleasure principle of Fair Challenge Targeting jumps when moving at high speeds is tricky. However, similar to the tilting mechanism in pinball, the player can manoeuvre the airborne Sonic allowing his trajectory to be corrected.

Extending the rush with targeting and tilting

When rebounding off an enemy, the player can use the ‘tilting mechanism’ to target Sonic’s descent in order to bounce off another nearby enemy. This allows the player to earn extra bonus points for consecutively destroying enemies.


▲ Attacking multiple robots shares similarities with pinball

Seeing the score rise for hitting multiple enemies is similar to gaining extra points on a pinball table for hitting bonus bumpers. In the classic games, the score numbers are placed above the destroyed enemy. The speed at which the score numbers increase is understood as a positive action and this in turn intensifies the rush.

The pleasure principle of Fair Challenge Hitting enemies consecutively is an advance skill that takes practise to master. As a result, the classic games do not punish the player for failing to perform the technique, as this would cause frustration for beginners.

Rebounding mechanisms in the modern games

The pinball system of attacking has been replaced with the homing attack, which has several dis/advantages.

Advantages of the homing attack

It reduces frustration: In a 3D space, aiming is difficult. The homing attack effectively provides automatic aim.
It maintains speed: Sonic no longer has to slow down to perform precise targeting.
It makes it easier to attack consecutively: After attacking, pressing the jump button again will cause Sonic to automatically home onto the nearest enemy.

Disadvantages of the homing attack

It removes variety: The enemies in the classic games often had unique weakness and attack patterns:

The caterpillar robot could only be defeated by jumping on its head
The mechanical bug could only be defeated when not flashing
The spike enemies could only be defeated with a spin dash
The pyramid bots could only be defeated when their mace was facing away from Sonic

With the homing attack, including such variety is difficult as Sonic darts towards the enemy before the player has had a chance to understand its mechanics.

It lowers realism: The pleasure principle of Realism Being able to automatically fly towards an enemy violates the player’s understanding with reality. This lowers engagement. It removes contrasts: The pleasure principle of Contrasts As the player no longer has to slow down to attack there are no contrasts to the speed. This increases repetition.


As the homing attack solves the problems of targeting in 3D space it should be retained. However, there should be slower paced sections where Sonic cannot use the homing attack and instead has to utilise the pinball mechanics of attacking. In these sections, the enemies could be made larger to rectify the problems of aiming in a 3D space. Such a change will restore the benefits of the pinball mechanics.


  • Modern games should retain the homing attack as it solves the problems of aiming in 3D space.
  • However, they should include sections that replace the homing attack with the pinball attack system.
    • This will add variety, fair challenge and the rush of rebounding.
    • In these sections, the enemies could be larger to solve the problems of aiming in 3D space.
    • (As larger targets allow more scope for error when aiming)

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Pinball dynamics Rush and Spectacle Mechanics Pinball: Invulnerability


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