This list was initially created to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. The idea was to go through each Sonic game and pick out my favourite zones. Well, last year I played through 52 zones spanning the classic Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, and Sega CD games. Out of those 52 zones, I managed to narrow this list down to 20. It was grueling to replay each game, but now I can proudly present you the Top 20 Sonic the Hedgehog Zones
20 – Jungle Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog (Master System)
This is a great zone for many reasons. First, it has an incredibly upbeat song worthy of any Sonic game; however, the jungle setting is its real strength. Sega was able to include many neat obstacles for Sonic to overcome in this zone, such as rolling logs, vines, and even waterfalls. My favourite aspect of this Zone is climbing the gigantic waterfall in Act 2. It’s a standout stage because it offers great platforming during your vertical ascent. Yes, this is a change of pace for Sonic, but the design is honestly a lot of fun and challenging, not to mention the cool waterfall backdrop. Sonic even fights Robotnik high above the jungle, which is also a nice touch.
19 – Scrambled Egg Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Master System)
Another well designed stage from the Master System games makes this Top 20 list. Scrambled Egg Zone consists of a series of tubes that run throughout a blue mountain chain. Making it to the end of this Zone can be tricky because these tubes form an interconnected maze. Go the wrong direction and you could end up back where you began, which is a total pain in the ass. Sonic also battles Metal Sonic at the end of Act 3. This battle has an epic feel, mainly because it’s located in the darkest depths of Scrambled Egg Zone.
18 – Aqua Lake Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Master System)
I’ll be getting away from the Master System games shortly, but for now let’s look at Aqua Lake Zone. Aqua Lake Zone combines the claustrophobic water level you expect from a Sonic game, but also throws in a few twists to keep things fresh. First off, you can actually skip across the water while rolling, which can completely cut off sections that you would otherwise have to navigate underwater. It’s a nice change for water levels as you can travel through most of Act 1 without going for a dip. Act 2 isn’t as nice. Act 2 brings back those tight water filled corridors you know so well. However, at certain points, when you’re not racing for an oxygen filled bubble to prevent Sonic from drowning, you can actually hitch a ride inside said bubble. You will need this bubble to get through sections of the Zone otherwise inaccessible.
17 – Green Hill Zone – Sonic The Hedgehog (Genesis)
What can I say about Green Hill Zone that you don’t already know? Perhaps one of the most familiar zones in the Sonic franchise, Green Hill Zone features many nostalgic elements. For some, it was the first time you ran through loop-de-loops, or admired the unique art style exhibited in Sonic games. Green Hill Zone also portrays how speed and platforming can mesh together and create a new experience. It’s also home to one of the most familiar Sonic themes in the series. One listen to this song and you will agree that its adventurous spirit perfectly accompanies your first steps on Green Hill Zone.
16 – Sky Base Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog (Master System)
This is probably the most epic of all the Master System zones. Sky Base Zone is a dark stage that occasionally lights up when electric beams are generated. Watch out though, these beams are hazards that will have no problem hurting Sonic. Time your moves correctly in this wait and go situation. In my opinion, the real highlight comes in Act 2. During the second act you will navigate a blimp that’s already in flight. As you navigate the blimp you will notice that there are no rings to collect, which makes dodging its cannons even more important. Some tense music and the occasional cloud add to the zone’s atmosphere. Miss a jump, or fall off the blimp and you will have to try again from the beginning.
15 – Carnival Night Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis)
One of the standout zones from Sonic 3 is Carnival Night Zone. Littered throughout the stage are tons of balloons that can help you bounce to a new location, and large spinning cylinders that Sonic can ride by holding on for dear life. Carnival Night Zone also includes barrels that are tricky to control. These barrels infuriated me as a kid, because no directions were given to the player. You try jumping up and down in an attempt to reach an area you know you need to access. It’s quite nonsensical, but as with a real carnival, not everything is as it first seems. Add a creepy carnival theme that loops while you try to pass that barrel, and you have true brilliance. This level will no doubt continue to clown many gamers for years to come.
14 – Star Light Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)
Star Light Zone really highlights a lot of the elements fans enjoy in the series. It is full of unbelievably fast stretches complete with loop-de-loops and springs, as well as a number of obstacles for Sonic to overcome. See-saws can be found throughout Star Light Zone and will help you access greater heights, and ultimately, new paths that give you multiple routes to travel. This zone is also host to an extremely charming theme that makes it really hard to dislike this zone. End it with a crazy Robotnik battle that forces you to utilize see-saws as a weapon, and you have a zone that feels complete.