Sonic’s “Special” Stages Pt 2
Welcome once again, Retro Ladies and Old School Gents, to RetroHate. I wasn’t expecting this to become a series but once I started writing the first part, I realized the scope was just too big for a single article. So here we are again, the part where I recount the dreadful atrocities that Sonic calls his “Special” Stages.
Previously, on RetroHate: “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?!?”
“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.”
So after Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega began creating completely unique Special Stages for every subsequent Sonic game. Maybe they realized that the stages in Sonic 1 were absolute acid vomit because the “water slide” Special Stages in Sonic 2 were actually pretty fun and mechanically simple. Sure, they still had the psychedelic colors and fancy, quasi-3D perspective dips and tricks that could potentially cause illness in the very faint of heart. But I’m not going to talk about Sonic 2’s Special Stages because I think they were pretty good and you’re not here to hear what I like, are you? Thought so. Let’s move on to Sonic 3.
Oh-ho-ho, man. Sonic 3. (Sonic 3 & Knuckles to us purists) After the beautiful and entirely enjoyable Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic 3’s Special Stages took things backwards to a completely new, quasi-3D, stomach-wrenching level. See, in Sonic 3’s Special Stages, you are placed on a giant, checkered sphere and laid across this giant sphere were smaller, hedgehog-sized spheres of varying colors. The object is to collect all the blue colored spheres while avoiding the red colored ones. Simple enough, except when you “collect” a blue sphere, it turns into “bad” red sphere that you have to then avoid and the more blue spheres you collect and with each subsequent Special Stage, the speed at which at which Sonic “moves” increases. Add onto that, once you start moving forward across the giant sphere, you can’t stop. Once started, you can only change directions by turning left or right and jump. (Or moonwalk backwards if you happened to run into a bumper)
On paper, this merely sounds challenging but in practice, it’s sickening. You see, Sonic doesn’t actually “move” during these stages; (you’re supposed to think he does, but he doesn’t) rather the entire stage rolls forward and swings left or right as you “run” around collecting all the blue spheres and avoiding the red ones. As the stages move faster and become more littered with red spheres, you have to constantly be turning left, right or do full 360s on a dime. The jerky camera swing, rolling horizon, the “colorfully” checkered ground (which you have to focus on if you want the required pin-point precision in your turns) and the blinking foreground beyond the horizon line that scrolled with the sphere made the whole thing feel like some fevered disco-ball nightmare. It actually made me physically ill as a child. Did you hear me Sega? Your game made me PHYSICALLY ILL as a CHILD.
As I grew older, I was able to better tolerate the gut-wrenching, disco dream that was Sonic 3 Special Stages but they still leave me just a bit uneasy, especially the later ones when the rolling, turning and swinging really ratchet up. This was and still is extremely sad and frustrating because Sonic 3 & Knuckles is an amazing game, but there was no way I could collect all seven Chaos Emeralds without debug codes or a cheat device. (Game Genie FTW) So yeah, I hate Sonic 3’s Special Stages about as much as Sonic 1’s. They may be more mechanically sound and offer more a challenge of skill rather than luck, but when they make me PHYSICALLY ILL, well, I think I am justified in my hatred.
So that wraps up part 2 of Sonic’s “Special” Stages. Agree? Disagree? Hate me or comfort me in the comments. Also let me know if you think I should keep this going. There are plenty more Sonic games with some very “Special” stages.