Within a Special Stage, the player has to chase down a single UFO. The player will then be rewarded with one of the seven Chaos Emeralds. Collecting all the Chaos Emeralds for each character unlocks their respective Super State. It also unlocks the good ending of the game for Sonic in Mania Mode, and for all the characters in Encore Mode.
The Special Stages are different in both Mania Mode and Encore Mode, with the Special Stages in Encore Mode being harder and cycling through the backgrounds in reverse order.
The Special Stages are ominous environments with winding roads suspended in midair. Each stage features a different layout and visual setting; one Special Stage may have a night setting with Greek architecture and floating fish while another may have a sky setting with clouds and strange planetoids. All of this is viewed from a parallax background.
Upon entering the Special Stage, the player arrives on a pseudo-3D board with a racing track. The track is designed like a circuit, meaning that after following the road for a while, the player will return to the starting point. There, the player is tasked to chase down a UFO holding a Chaos Emerald within a certain time limit. If the player has not caught UFO by then, or falls off the board, they will be expelled from the Special Stage.
The UFO will attempt to distance itself by traveling down the road ahead at high speed, so they player must run after it. During gameplay, the playable characters will be stuck in automatic run. Furthermore, the player can only turn left/right and perform the Spin Jump. Along the way, they can pick up different items to increase their parameters and take shortcuts by jumping across lanes. Certain objects will respawn when a lap is completed.
Running outside the racing tracks on the boards lowers the player's movement and speed significantly, allowing the UFOs to distance themselves further away. There is also the danger of falling down holes or off the side of the boards. The first Special Stage is hazard-free and has barriers lining the sides to prevent the player from falling off the board, but later Special Stages have an increase in hazards and fewer barriers surrounding the board. There are likewise Jump Panels set around the latter Special Stages that can be used to navigate and reach items. As the player progresses with the Special Stage however, the Jump Panels become a hindrance, and are best avoided to maintain speed. Should the player also try to turn the other way in hopes the UFO will run into them, the UFO will also reverse to trick the player.
Displayed on the top of the screen's HUD during Special Stages is an indicator of the player's parameters. The "Mach" icon and the number/bars next to it rate the playable character's current "speed level". The golden numbers with the Ring icon above the "Mach" icon shows the seconds that remain before the Special Stage's time limit expires. This one can be filled up by collecting Rings. The player starts with a small amount of seconds to spent when the Special Stage begins, giving the player time to increase their time limit. Finally, there is the "Gauge" on the left side of the indicator. This one can be filled up by collecting Spheres. By filling up the Gauge completely, the player increases their speed level, and thereby their playable character's speed, which makes it easier to gain in on the UFOs. However, by increasing speed, the playable characters become harder to control. The player starts at Mach 1, but can increase their speed to Mach 2, and then a maximum of Mach 3; while the player can continue to fill up the Gauge after that, they will receive a "Mach" point bonus each time the Gauge is filled instead of an increase in speed.
Upon catching the UFO, the playable character will Spin Dash into it (regardless of obstacles) and the player will be rewarded with its Chaos Emerald. The result screen will then be shown, which rewards the player with points based on their Ring count (Ring Bonus) and accumulated Mach rank (Mach Bonus), before the game deposits the player back into the Zone from where they entered the Special Stage. Receiving a total score of at least 10,000 points grants a Continue to the player.
In Encore Mode, the Special Stages themselves follow the same rules as in Mania Mode, but the background sequence goes backwards from each Special Stage, starting with what is the final background and ending with the first. The layouts are completely different and are much harder.
|Ring||Can be found along the roadway and in midair, either in the form of strings or small clusters. Collecting Rings increases the player's time limit in the Special Stages. Each Ring adds one second to the time limit. These objects will not respawn should the player complete a lap on the Special Stage's race track.|
|Blue Sphere||Obtainable spheres dotting the roadway in the Special Stages. These Spheres appear in specific formations and can even more around in certain patterns. Collecting Blue Spheres increases the Gauge on the HUD's indicator; collecting enough will raise the player's speed level, making it easier to chase down the UFO. These objects will respawn every time the player completes a lap on the Special Stage's race track.|
|Yellow Sphere||Obtainable spheres that do not appear until the player reaches Mach 3, at which point all the Blue Spheres will begin to flash between blue and yellow. Like Blue Spheres, Yellow Spheres will fill the Gauge, but instead of boosting the player's speed, a Continue will be awarded, up to one per Special Stage.|
|Sphere Capsule||Hitting this wireframe capsule increases the player's Gauge. These objects will not respawn should the player complete a lap on the Special Stage's race track.|
|Ring Capsule||Hitting this wireframe capsule increases the player's time limit by ten seconds. These objects will not respawn should the player complete a lap on the Special Stage's race track.|
|Bumper Capsule||Hitting this wireframe capsule makes the playable character bounce. They can also not be destroyed. These objects only appear in Encore Mode.|
|Mach Up||Hitting this wireframe capsule instantly fills the player's Gauge, thus advancing it to the next speed level or increasing the Mach Bonus if at Mach 3. These objects will not respawn should the player complete a lap on the Special Stage's race track.|
|Iron ball||These can be found in certain areas along the road. Touching iron balls slows the player down and decreases their Ring count, and by extension their time limit, by ten.|
|Bomb||These objects appear in the fourth Special Stage and above. They can be found in certain areas along the road in clusters. They are functionally similar to iron balls.|
List of Special Stages
|Stage no.||Screenshot||Starting no. of Rings||Chaos Emerald|
|Mania Mode||Encore Mode||Mania Mode||Encore Mode|
- The Special Stages for Sonic Mania combine several elements from past Sonic games:
- The Sphere concept from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.
- The open layout, abstract background design and UFOs of the Sonic the Hedgehog CD Special Stages.
- The floating fish and birds from the Special Stages and the palm trees from Green Hill Zone in the original Sonic the Hedgehog.
- The 3D gameplay from the scrapped Sonic Saturn and polygonal 3D model from Sonic Jam.
- The use of Rings to increase the time limit from the Special Stages in Knuckles' Chaotix.
- The hunt for a Chaos Emerald that floats down a course like in the Special Stages from Sonic Heroes.
- The collection of multicolored spheres to increase the playable character's speed like in Sonic Heroes. In Sonic Heroes though, the player must collect the spheres to fill the Power Dash Meter, while in Sonic Mania, the player must collect them to fill the gauge that raises the speed.
- If the player starts running in the opposite direction in the Special Stage, the UFO will also change direction (albeit it will not spawn for a while), making it possible to complete some Special Stages in this manner.
- In Sound Test, the player can play any Special Stage by playing a tune inclusively between 00 and 0D and then selecting "Special Stage 1" with each tune corresponding to the Special Stage (00 to 06 correspond to the Mania Mode Special Stages while 07-0D correspond to Encore Mode Special Stages.) After playing the Special Stage, the player will be returned to the title screen.
|"Dimension Heist"||Tee Lopes, Falk Au Yeong||2:37|
- Steven Page on Twitter (22 July 2017). Retrieved on 23 July 2017. "Only one UFO, has chaos emerald, Sonic needs to catch him, Sonic collects blue spheres to run faster"
- Sonic Stadium on Twitter (22 July 2017). Retrieved on 23 July 2017. "Collect rings for more time and Blue Spheres for more speed, all to chase down that UFO for a Chaos Emerald!"
- Steven Page on Twitter (22 July 2017). Retrieved on 23 July 2017. "Collect rings to increase time"
- Live Sonic Mania Developer Playthrough. Stealth (20 August 2017). Retrieved on 22 August 2017.
- Sonic Stadium on Twitter (22 July 2017). Retrieved on 23 July 2017.
- Sonic Mania OST - Special Stage ("Dimension Heist"). YouTube (23 July 2017). Retrieved on 29 July 2017. "Sonic Mania OST - "Dimension Heist" (Theme of Special Stages). Composer: Tee Lopes. Mixed / Mastered by: Falk Au Yeong"