The Special Stages (スペシャルステージ Supesharusutēji?), also referred to as Special Zones, and Secret Zones, are locations that appear in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. They are dimensions separate from Sonic's world, where one can obtain the Chaos Emeralds or, in some cases, other mystical items. Special Stages can be accessed via various means from Sonic's world and, in other cases, from planets, floating continents, and different dimensions.
There is no consistent layout of the Special Stages, as their appearances has changed over time. They can be accessed through a variety of means, most commonly through Giant Rings. However, in other cases, such as during the Sky Base Zone incident, they can be entered through other means, such as Goal Plates.
Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)
The Special Stages first appeared in the original Sonic the Hedgehog, in which it was depicted as a somewhat psychedelic rotating maze, with the Chaos Emerald ready for collecting in the center, guarded by barriers. It can be accessed through a Giant Ring, which appears at the end of an Act if the player has fifty or more rings at the end of the Act. The player can collect Rings in these Special Stages, but collecting Rings does not contribute to completing the stage: they only provide points, lives, and Continues, if enough are collected.
Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit)
In Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit), the Special Stages did not contain Chaos Emeralds; the gems had to be found in hidden areas around the normal zones. Special Stages simply served as a means to acquire Continues and Extra Lives. They were accessed by passing the Goal Signpost with 50 or more Rings. The 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog sported Special Stages filled with pink blocks, extra-powerful springs and green and yellow coils that acted as bumpers. Only a limited amount of time was provided to collect as many rings as possible.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
In Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and the lock-on game Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Special Stages take place in a curving half-pipe tube, where the player has to collect Rings while avoiding bombs. There are three sections to each Special Stage, and the player has to collect a sufficient number of Rings in each section to advance to the next and eventually collect the Chaos Emerald. In this game, the Special Stages are accessed by passing a Star Post with fifty or more Rings collected, and then jumping into a Star Circle above the Star Post.
Sonic the Hedgehog CD
Sonic the Hedgehog CD saw the return of the first game's end-of-act Giant Rings, with the same requirement for entry (having 50 or more rings at the end of an Act without a Boss.) In these special stages, Sonic ran across a Mode 7 style track. To obtain the stage's Time Stone (the game's equivalent to Chaos Emeralds), Sonic had to destroy six UFOs hovering across the track within a time limit. The player could also collect Rings in these Special Stages, but they only gave the player bonus points at the end of the Special Stage; they did not contribute to the completion of the Special Stage. Hazards like bear traps and water would often slow Sonic down or speed up the timer (or sometimes both). If the timer was depleted to 20 seconds or less, a seventh, blue UFO would appear in the center of the stage; breaking this one would not count towards stage completion, but would restore 30 seconds to the timer, giving the player more time to hunt down and destroy the remaining UFOs.
A secret special stage unused in the main game can be played if the player enters 07, 07, and 07 into the Sound Test menu. The original purpose of this stage was to change powerup monitors into "S" monitors- enhanced speed and invincibility.
Sonic Chaos featured a unique kind of Special Stage. Accessed by collecting 100 rings in the main game, the Stages were simple platforming levels, though considerably more labyrinthine than the game's main stages, with the Emerald hidden somewhere within. The player had to find the Emerald within a strict time limit. These stages are notorious for their difficulty; except for the first stage, in which the emerald is simply at the end of a long void crossed by using the game's Rocket Shoes, the emeralds were always hid in obscure or subtle ways, making it especially difficult to find them without the aid of a game guide. Also, though the game featured both Sonic the Hedgehog and Miles "Tails" Prower as playable characters, only Sonic could access the Special Stages. Accessing the Special Stages also automatically ends whatever act the player was in, although no end-of-act bonuses would be earned this way.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles
In Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Sonic & Knuckles and the lock-on game Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, Special Stages can be entered through Giant Rings. However, in these games, Giant Rings are scattered throughout the Acts rather than left at the end, so a player can play multiple Special Stages in each Act. Once again, the format of the Special Stages changed. This time, the player has to run along the surface of a checkered, planet-like sphere and collect all of the blue spheres while avoiding red ones as the Stage will end in failure if touched (blue spheres turn to red spheres when collected). White spheres with a star on them push the player back, and orange spheres send the player forward five spheres. Rings can also be collected to obtain different awards. Rings may be found in the open or can be made to appear by surrounding at least one blue sphere with a perimeter of red spheres. The speed of the stage will gradually increase the longer the player takes to complete it.
In Blue Sphere, the Special Stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles serve as the main and only setting of the game.
Sonic Triple Trouble
Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble Special Stages were accessed by hitting an item monitor displaying a Chaos Emerald whilst carrying 50 or more rings. The game's five Special Stages came in two varieties: the first, third, and fifth were similar to those of Sonic Chaos, in which the player had to navigate a maze-like level in order to reach the Emerald - all within 90 seconds. Though the Emeralds were hidden less obscurely than in Sonic Chaos, the mazes were much harder to navigate, as there were springs and invisible ledges that could only be crossed through a process of trial and error. The second and fourth stages featured Sonic/Tails in the series' trademark biplane, the Tornado, collecting 80 rings in a short flying course. These stages were considered much easier than the 2D mazes.
What sets this game's Special Stages apart from all others is the fact that at the end of all but the first, the player had to fight a mini-boss in the form of Nack the Weasel. The greedy treasure hunter attacks on the Marvelous Queen, his hoverbike from Sonic Drift 2, each time modified with a different weapon attachment. Amusingly, Nack rarely seemed to understand quite how to operate the weapons at his disposal. Unlike Sonic Chaos, both Sonic and Tails had access to these Special Stages.
The obscure 32X game Knuckles' Chaotix featured a strange type of Special Stage. Though it had the same basic formula as the Special Stages of Sonic 2, it had many odd quirks that made it very different. Accessed in the same manner as Sonic the Hedgehog/Sonic CD, these stages featured a hexagonal tube that the player ran through. The player could run across all six sides of the tube. The object was to collect a certain number of Blue Spheres scattered across the tube in order to reach the Chaos Ring at the end. Unlike Sonic 2's Special Stages, reaching a checkpoint without having all the required Spheres would not end the stage, but would simply repeat the section. The catch was that your Ring count steadily depleted as you remained in the stage (in a manner similar to Super Sonic), and the stage would end once you ran out of rings. You could find some rings in the stages, but the primary source of rings was those you had brought into the Special Stage. This made Chaotix's Special Stages unique in the respect that the more rings you were carrying upon entering the Special Stage, the easier it was to successfully complete. However, no matter how many rings you held, if you fell out of the tube through one of the stage's many pits, the stage automatically ended.
Sonic 3D Blast
In Sonic 3D Blast, the Special Stages were accessed by searching the regular stages for either Tails or Knuckles, who made cameo appearances in the game precisely for this purpose. After handing over at least 50 rings to Tails or Knuckles, Sonic would be transported to the Special Stage.
The design on Sonic 3D Blast's Special Stages was somewhat different on each of the game's three platforms (Mega Drive, Saturn, and PC), although the gameplay and premise was basically the same: similar to that of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit). Sonic had to run down a three-dimensional level collecting rings and avoiding spiked traps. In the Mega Drive version, the level was simply a narrow bridge (suspended above molten lava in Knuckles' stages, and high in the sky for Tails'). On the PC and Saturn, the levels were multicolored half-pipes, even more like those of Sonic 2. The PC version is a very different layout and is greatly simplified (both graphically and gameplay-wise).
Knuckles and Tails both appeared in Acts 1 and 2 of the first five Zones (Green Grove to Volcano Valley), meaning there were 20 opportunities to collect the 7 Chaos Emeralds. All seven Emeralds were necessary to access the last boss of the game, in The Final Fight.
Sonic Blast featured a rather horrid take on Sonic 2's Special Stages. Accessed by finding a giant ring hidden within the first and second acts of each zone (similar to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles), the player had to navigate a short obstacle course, collecting 50 rings before reaching the end. Like Sonic Heroes, the first acts were for extra lives, while the second acts were for an Emerald. The problem with these stages lay in the awkward pseudo-3D perspective, and the fact that there were hardly enough Rings in the stage itself to meet the quota. As the game's character sprites appeared larger than the actual area of influence, jumping at rings would often cause the character to simply pass through them. Also, you only got one shot at each stage, so if you messed up, you couldn't retry the stage.
Sonic Pocket Adventure
In the Neo Geo Pocket game Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure, the Special Stages are almost identical to that of Sonic 2 for the Mega Drive. However, there are only six, as Dr. Robotnik holds the last emerald.
Sonic Jam (Game.com)
The Game.com version of Sonic Jam featured its own special stage, based on the Sonic 3 & Knuckles Special Stages. Due to the black and white screen on the Game.com, the player must collect black balls and avoid white ones. Outlining an area of black balls turns them to rings. There are no Chaos Emeralds in this game, so the Special Stages only serve to give the player extra points.
Sonic Advance used Special Stages where the player's character fell down an apparently infinitely deep hole while riding on a board. The player had to collect rings and avoid bombs much like in Sonic 2, and there were also special rings that could boost your speed. The player could perform tricks on the board to gather groups of rings or receive bonus rings when passing through a glowing section. The stages were accessed by finding a large hidden spring in certain stages and jumping on them.
Sonic Advance 2
Sonic Advance 2 featured an odd take on Sonic CD's Special Stages. Taking place in the same Mode 7 style arenas as the aforementioned game, the player was required to collect 300 rings within 120 seconds. However, because each stage barely held that amount, the player was required to collect several rings in rapid succession; doing so would steadily raise a multiplier that would increase the worth of the collected rings (so a ring collected while the multiplier was at x4 would make that single ring worth 4). All the while, the player had to avoid the Robot Guard, who patrolled the stage and would cause the player to lose rings if he hit them. To access these Special Stages, the player has to collect seven Special Rings hidden in each act.
Sonic Heroes marked the return of the Special Stages in a 3D Sonic game. This version is fairly similar to the Sonic 2 and Knuckles' Chaotix Special Stages. The player needs to collect a Special Stage Key (which is lost if they take damage or lose a life) in a particular stage to enter a Special Stage. There are two types of Special Stages which varies on the stage being completed with a Special Stage Key in possession:
- Odd-numbered stages (Stage 01: Seaside Hill, Stage 03: Grand Metropolis, etc) lead to Bonus Challenges, where the player tries to reach the goal at the end of the stage within a time limit.
- Even-numbered stages (Stage 02: Ocean Palace, Stage 04: Power Plant, etc) lead to Emerald Challenges, where the player chases the Chaos Emerald before it reaches the end of the stage.
The player(s) has to run through a circular tube, whose scenery changes depending on the stage theme. The player can collect the numerous spheres in the stages which fills the Power Dash Meter, allowing the player to use the Power Dash to speed through the stages more quickly. In Bonus Challenge stages, collecting spheres also extends the timer. The player must also avoid bombs which slow them down. There are also gates that change formation in bonus odd-numbered stages.
Once 40 Emblems are collected, Emerald Challenge Special Stages can be played in 2-player mode. The player who reaches the Chaos Emerald first wins. If the Emerald reaches the end of the stage before either team reaches it, the team that was the closest to the Emerald (ahead in the stage) wins.
Sonic Advance 3
Sonic Advance 3's Special Stages were very similar to the ones from Sonic Advance, and also to the biplane stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. In the stages, the character is standing on the wings of Tails' biplane, the Tornado 2, which has to be flown around while the character walks back and forth in order for the character to collect a number of rings while dodging enemies and obstacles. Like with Special Stages in the previous games, the player must collect a certain number of Rings upon reaching both checkpoints or be expelled from the stage empty-handed. There are also special rings that transform the plane into its speedy X-shape, boosting forward quickly while doubling the number of Rings the player can collect.
To access the Special Stages in Sonic Advance 3, the player has to find all of the 10 hidden Chao scattered across each Zone's multiple stages and once all are found in a Zone, the player will need to collect a Special Stage Key that appears in any Act of the Zone. The keys, once found, are used to activate the Special Spring (returning from Sonic Advance 1) which transports the player to the Special Stage. After clearing all Special Stages, a hidden 'Special Stage Mode' is available, in which the player can play through all seven Special Stages consecutively to collect as many of the seven Emeralds as possible.
Sonic Rush has Special Stages similar to those in Sonic 2 where the player has to move the stylus across the touch screen to guide Sonic to collect rings, avoid mines that would cause the player to lose 10 Rings and defeat enemies which gave a ring bonus. Trick Springs can launch Sonic into the air and the player will have to touch the numbers in their respective order to get bonus Rings. To access a Special Stage, the player needs to use a Special Generator in any of the Zones. The player can replay the Special Stages as many times as they like, so long as they have enough Tension left. However, like the Advance series, the Special Stage accessed determines which Zone Sonic entered it from. (For example, if the player enters a Special Stage in Altitude Limit, Sonic enters Special Stage 6.) If the player got enough Rings before reaching the half-way point, they would be given a higher Ring count and would then have to collect that many by the end of the stage to obtain the Chaos Emerald. In order to keep the Emerald, the Act needs to be completed.
After Sonic collects all seven Chaos Emeralds, and both stories are completed, the Extra Zone Exception becomes available, where both Super Sonic and Burning Blaze fight both Dr. Eggman and Eggman Nega in the Egg Salamander.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games
In Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, the Dream Bobsleigh event is based on the Special Stages of Sonic Heroes, despite taking place in the Nocturnus Gate. The objective is to reach the goal in 1st place. Players can increase their speed by collecting the spheres scattered throughout the stage while bombs will slow down the player. Item boxes are also found throughout the stage and can be used increase speed and attack opponents. Unlike Sonic games, star points are awarded instead of Chaos Emeralds. They can be used to buy items in the shops.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4
The Special Stage in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is very similar to the Special Stage in Sonic 1; it is a rotating maze with bumpers and blocks and a Chaos Emerald hidden somewhere on each stage. However, it is not a direct copy. Instead of Sonic 1's gameplay, where the player moves in the maze, the player moves the maze itself, while Sonic falls constantly. A strict time limit is also enforced, which can only be extended through the collection of Time Bonus items throughout the stages. Also, there is an option in the Options menu to control the maze by tilting the Wii Remote, as well as the six-axis controllers for the PlayStation 3. The mobile versions allow either tilting or swiping to control. Swiping allows for much more precise control as the stage's rotation corresponds with the player's finger movement.
The Special Stage in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is similar to the Special Stage in Sonic 2 and Sonic Colors (DS) special stage; as if the player reaches the right or left ends of the tube Sonic and Tails jump. It is entered the same way as in Episode I. It is a curving half pipe tube where rings must be collected in order to progress. Unlike Episode I, there is no time limit, but rather a time bonus is given at the end depending on speed. Obstacles include green, plasma bombs that slow the player down but do not take away rings, and red bombs that take away rings on contact. Pressing the secondary button allows Sonic and Tails to perform a gimped boost, which makes them move faster and does not have any limit. They can also attract rings in (like the Boost). There is also a special item that can be obtained only in the Special Stages which creates a rope between Sonic and Tails, allowing them to collect more rings. Other stage gimmicks include speed pads that boost the player along a set path, springs that take the player to a different half-pipe, and yellow arches. The yellow arches activate a mode where if Sonic collects enough rings, he will get a bonus. Unlike Sonic 2, Tails can collect rings but not lose them in single player.
In the Nintendo DS version of Sonic Colors, the player must have 50 Rings at the end of the stage to enter a Special Stage, where the player has to go through a track (similar to the ones in Sonic 2) 3 times to collect a Chaos Emerald. The player must collect Red Orbs in the first round, Blue Orbs in the second round and Yellow Orbs in the last round. When all emeralds are collected, the player unlocks the secret Final Boss, Mother Nega-Wisp. (Unlike the Wii version, the player cannot use Super Sonic in the regular stages.)
Special Stages only appear in the Nintendo 3DS version of Sonic Generations. To unlock them, the player needs to complete both acts of a Zone. They use the same concept as the Special Stages in Sonic Heroes, but has better control than in the Special Stages from said game. Modern Sonic needs to use the Boost to catch up to the Emerald within one minute and thirty seconds. Like in Heroes, the player needs to collect Spheres to fill your Boost Gauge and avoid Bombs that slow the player down. There are Rainbow Spheres which completely refill the Boost Gauge if touched. The added spice to itself were Dash Panels that force Sonic into his Spin Mode (which prevents Sonic from boosting) and Electric Gates that need to be avoided. Sonic's Spin Jump and Jump Dash are almost never needed. Collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds unlocks the Time Eater fight at the end of the game.
Sonic Lost World
In the Nintendo 3DS version of Sonic Lost World, Special Stages take place in a void where the player has to collect all the Spheres to remove the electric barrier protecting the Chaos Emerald and collect it before the time runs out. Collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds allows Super Sonic in normal gameplay. Once the player completes the first Special Stage, they will unlock World S, allowing them to replay any completed Special Stages in order to try for higher ranks.
The Special Stages make an appearance in Sonic Mania, and its expansion Sonic Mania Plus. Here, the player character runs along a stretch of roadway suspended in a strange dimension. Ahead of them a UFO is attempting to distance itself while the player's time limit diminishes with each passing second. If the time limit hits zero, the stage ends. The objective is to catch the UFO and take the Chaos Emerald, which is accomplished by collecting blue spheres dotting the roadway. As spheres are collected, they increase the character's speed, which is rated by a meter next to the Ring counter that says "Mach", increasing the speed to a new level each time it is filled. Rings can be collected to extend the time limit for the stage.
In other media
Sonic the Comic
In a rare departure from early Sonic canon's back-story, Fleetway's Sonic the Comic grouped the Special Stages into a single "Special Zone", depicted as a complete parallel universe, complete with planets and cities, although the bizarre cosmology of the games was adhered to. This Special Zone resembled Sonic's home planet of Mobius, even with similar anthropomorphic animal inhabitants, and the two planes had a great deal of communication due to the Star Posts and the intervention of the Omni-Viewer. The Special Zone's largest city was called New Tek City, capital of Planet Meridian, and it was protected by the Chaotix crew. Sonic was trapped in the Special Zone for an extended run after traveling there to stop the demonic Super Sonic, who had at this time been given independent existence.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
In Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, several areas appear that are based on the Special Stages of the games.
In the episode "The Mobius 5000", Sonic and his friends access an area called the Special Zone via a post in the Casino Zone, where they had to collect enough rings in order to escape the Special Zone and get to the finish line. This area appears in its curving half-pipe design from Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
In the episode "Fast and Easy", an area called the Secret Zone is similar to the design from the first Sonic the Hedgehog with an altar for the Chaos Emerald Ring, which allows anyone to sink sections of Mobius into the sea.
In the episode "Robotnik's Pyramid Scheme", in order for Dr. Robotnik's ancestor to access the tomb of Robotnikhotep, who had the Chaos Emerald of Immortality, just like in the Special Stage of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Scratch and Grounder had to grab enough rings to get to the tomb, or deal with spikes at the bottom of the pit.
The episode "Trail of the Missing Tails" introduces the Warp of Confusion, an alternate dimension apparently filled with fish. This is a reference to the fish background of the Special Stages in Sonic the Hedgehog (1991). The name "Warp of Confusion" is also a reference to one of the names of the Special Stages in the early Sonic canon, which was used in documents such as the Sonic Bible, promotional comic and UK 1991 Yearbook.
The first instance of a "Special Stage" happened in issue #4, where Sonic enters the Special Zone to become Super Sonic to stop the robotic Universalamander. It's more of a passing glance at the Special Stage than a huge plot point, but the scene resembled the Special Stages from Sonic 2.
In the Archie comics, there were many Chaos Emeralds, until Tails and Shadow created the Great Harmony, causing the Emeralds to be sent to the Zone of Silence. An inhabitant, named Feist, recreated the Zone using the Emeralds to create the Special Zone.
Early Sonic canon
The early Sonic canon developed by Sega of America (and depicted in the Sonic Bible and publications such as the 1991 edition of The Official Sonic the Hedgehog Yearbook and other UK books) referred to the Special Stages of the first Sonic game as "Warps of Confusion". These areas (referred to as "sub-orbital space warps") were regions of space in orbit around Mobius that contained the Chaos Emeralds. They either formed naturally around the Chaos Emeralds after the explosion of the Retro-Orbital Chaos Compressor expelled the gems into space, or they were created by Dr. Robotnik specifically to keep the Emeralds out of Sonic's hands.
The Sonic the Hedgehog promotional comic does not explain the nature of the Warps of Confusion, but does depict them without gravity, leading Sonic to become disoriented and nauseous when he enters one.