Sonic’s “Special” Stages Pt 1
Remember when games had “Special Stages”? Those secret little areas tucked away in a level somewhere or locked behind some kind of often arbitrary goal or requirement? Remember the immense wonder and satisfaction at first discovering a game’s Special Stage? I remember the first time I leapt into that big floating ring at the end of a level in Sonic the Hedgehog. I can almost remember thinking…WHAT. THE. FUNK?!?
Ok, so many “Special Stages” or “Bonus Stages” in games were merely extra screens that allowed you a set amount of time to rack up some extra points. Pretty basic stuff designed with that arcade mentality of trying to score as many points as possible. There wasn’t really a greater purpose or goal that affected your game other than to make the little number counter on your screen jitter with joy.
Now Sonic the Hedgehog, well he decided he needed some greater goal or purpose when he jumped into those giant floating rings that only appeared if you got to the end of a level with 50 or more rings. See, in Sonic the Hedgehog each Special Stage contained a Chaos Emerald, six in total. If you managed to collect each one of them by the end of the game, you got the “Good Ending” but if you missed even one, you got the “Bad Ending” and the game told you to try again. Yeah that’s right, TRY. AGAIN. It’s like New Game Minus all over again, but I already wrote about that. Today’s circuitous topic is Sonic the Hedgehog’s Special Stages themselves. They certainly are… “Special.”
When you are dropped into a Special Stage in Sonic the Hedgehog, your first reaction will likely be one of sheer confusion. Where am I? What is this? Why am I falling? What is that in the background? Birds-no-fish-no-turtles-no-WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE!?! AM I ON ACID?!? First off, no you’re not on acid. (Though Hirokazu Yasuhara may have been.) Second, these Special Stages are essentially giant, rotating, 2D, Marble Madness-esque mazes with Sonic acting as the ball. Sonic pretty much freefalls through these mazes with only the walls and various bumpers preventing him from descending into psychedelic oblivion. In these acid-tripping freefalls, you don’t control the maze itself but instead have very limited control over Sonic; you can make him hop and attempt to “steer” his infinite freefall. This may sound simple, but when the maze is continually rotating and touching various blocks will either cause it to reverse, slow down or speed up it quickly becomes an exercise in frustration. Then add in blocks that, when touched, immediately end the Special Stage. THEN, add destructible blocks, often blocking the Emerald, which you have to keep hitting to make them disappear. AND THEN, add the constantly scrolling checkerboard background of color-cycling, morphing animals and you have one of the most rage-fueling, seizure-inducing games this side of Robotron 2084.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s Special Stage is one of my least favorite Special Stages in all of gaming. I love the rest of the game, but the only way I’ve managed to collect all the Emeralds is to turn on debug mode, move Sonic over to the Emerald and drop him on top of it. Cheating, I know, but what do you want from me? What’s even more frustrating is that in the recent Sonic 4 (which is almost a point for point remake of Sonic the Hedgehog) they bring the float-y, psychedelic-seizure mazes back, but this time you directly rotate the maze in which Sonic is in a constant, uncontrollable freefall. Nice idea, but this time they added an extremely stringent time limit in which you have to complete the maze and find the Chaos Emerald. Needless to say, even if Sonic 4 had been a halfway decent remake/reboot, the Special Stages are just as annoying if not more so than Sonic the Hedgehog’s.
So that’s my little rant. Agree? Disagree? Hate me in the comments and stay tuned next time as I delve further into Sonic’s “Special” stages.