6 – Oil Ocean Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)
There are many small elements in this level that mesh together to bring us one of the best stages in the Sonic franchise. Sonic has to traverse one of Robotnik’s oil refineries, but he has to do it in extreme heat. Off in the distance you can see the Sun, but you can also feel it burning. Being able to view heat waves over the sun, and a warm orange sky really bring the point home. Sonic sweats through the heat by wading through pools of oil that could suck him down and crush his body. Oil slides will cause Sonic to slip and slide, and other industrial equipment can work against Sonic, or help depending on how you utilize them. Top this off with a desert sounding theme and you have pure genius.
5 – Scrap Brain Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)
Scrap Brain Zone is full of traps and that definitely makes it my favourite stage from Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic has to conquer a variety of different obstacles such as saw blades, conveyor belts, fire, spinning platforms, and disappearing blocks; just about everything is thrown at you in Scrap Brain Zone. A little twist is even thrown your way in Act 3 when Robotnik drops you into a water labyrinth. This is one of the most punishing water sections in any Sonic game, and you will be grasping for air many times. Scrap Brain Zone’s futuristic theme son is also great, it makes the water section of Scrap Brain Zone even more surreal.
4 – Death Egg Zone – Sonic and Knuckles (Genesis)
The moment you hear this Zone’s music, you know the game isn’t messing around. Entire sections of Death Egg Zone will take place upside down. When Sonic is flipped upside down, it can be tough to get your bearings. SEGA still throws every obstacle imaginable at you without pulling any punches. Towards the end you will fight Robotnik a few times. First you will have to use gravity in your favor to hit his robot. A shield will constantly hover around the bot blocking your attacks, when flipping gravity you can distract it while damaging him with his own objects. Cap that off with another fight against Robotnik’s familiar looking mech weapon and you get a real sense of the word epic. An ominous theme and a view of planet Earth makes this level much more epic.
3 – Ice Cap Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis)
There are many reasons for Ice Cap Zone to be in the top 10, and especially in the top 3. First, you start off by jumping on a snowboard and racing down a snowy mountain. It’s one of the most bad ass ways to start a level. After reaching the bottom, and surviving a small avalanche, Sonic heads off into a crystal like ice cavern, which is quite an incredible sight. Inside, the walls are blue and crystal, both of which are magical to the senses. Bringing everything together is arguably the best music in any Sonic game. It holds a mysterious, wintry feel and can at times make you shiver. Personally, I’m a sucker for ice/snow levels, and Ice Cap Zone delivers on every note.
2 – Metropolis Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)
The moment this level starts, you immediately recognize that you’re in for a wild ride. Drums begin pounding through your speakers as an epic guitar riff starts to unfold. With such epic music, you know you’re headed for trouble. Metropolis Zone is both long and grueling. Many traps, combined with annoying enemies (starfish anyone?) make this a difficult stage. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in your surroundings, and before you know it, time over.
Besides its increased difficulty, there are a lot of unique gameplay elements thrown in this zone. Because of its factory setting, there are a ton of items that Sonic gets to use to his advantage. Giant screws that move up or down depending on Sonic’s movement and steam valves that can send Sonic spiraling sky high. It’s a fresh and entertaining level that offers a great challenge. Just don’t get stuck on those screws with exploding badniks nearby!
1 – Sandopolis Zone – Sonic and Knuckles (Genesis)
Ice Cap and Metropolis Zone were hard zones to top, but after playing through the long and great Sandopolis Zone, I instantly changed my mind. Oil Ocean Zone may have given a sense of warmth, but Sandopolis Zone will give you borderline heatstroke. Waves of heat are constantly emitting throughout the entire desert stage. Sonic speeds through several pyramid structures, but one quick look and you can see them all over the desert. All these pyramid sections are full of different traps that will keep you on your toes. New game elements also put Sandopolis Zone up front. Sonic can use sand to reach different parts of the level that would have been otherwise difficult to reach. It even includes epic moments such as when you need to climb down the side of huge pyramid structures with nothing but just a rope and Sonic’s bravery. It combines a lot of elements that you’d expect from a pyramid theme, including an Egyptian-like soundtrack. The reveal of Act 1’s boss is also madness at its finest. It’s a clever battle that sees you trying to trick the boss into jumping in a quicksand pit.
Act 1 sounds pretty epic, right? Well Act 2 just adds more brilliance to the mix. Now enclosed inside a pyramid, it will continuously darken if you don’t re-light the torches. If it darkens completely, spirits will appear and begin to attack. It creates a tense situation for Sonic, but it gets even tenser. At some points, Sonic will have to race against rising sand that will crush him if he isn’t fast enough. During these periods, you may have to stop and push switches and race into a new area that you’ve opened. Robotnik even gets in on some of the fun by battling you with his new Egyptian Robot. It’s a spectacular stage that is worthy to go up against any video game level.