- Sonic games require well-designed stages to accommodate fast-paced gameplay and prevent them from being stale or frustrating.
- Attention to detail and memorable music are crucial aspects of creating engaging and beloved Sonic stages.
- Several stages, such as Hydrocity Zone, Aquarium Park, and Studiopolis Zone, exhibit unique themes, challenging gameplay, and stunning visuals that contribute to their replayability and enjoyment.
Because the Sonic games revolve around fast-paced physics-based gameplay, it means that the stages themselves need to be designed in a way to accommodate this, rather than feeling stale, boring, or frustrating. While there are certainly a number of levels that many fans consider to be duds, there are also many that are now beloved thanks to how fun and exciting they are to race through as the Blue Blur.
The attention to detail also helps to make a stage that much more memorable, and of course, fans can’t forget about the music either, which has been a massive part of the Sonic franchise ever since the first entry on the Sega Genesis. In many ways, Sonic is going through a series revival right now, and since it looks like the games will only keep improving, it’s nice to look back on some of the stages that really helped elevate it to being one of the best platformers in video game history.
9 Hydrocity Zone – Sonic The Hedgehog 3
Hydrocity Zone has to be one of the most imaginative stages in the entire series, with the entire area being comprised of multiple underground waterways scattered across the Floating Island. Since Sonic will be spending a lot of time underwater, this is the first time players are tasked with prioritizing the Water Shields, which introduces a nice element of strategy that helps balance out the faster sections.
Players will also encounter plenty of unique enemies in Hydrocity Zone including the Jawz, Mega Choppers, and Pointdexters, and to accompany all of this is the amazing retro 16-bit music, which is a real standout in a series that is already admired for its music.
8 Aquarium Park – Sonic Colors
If there was any stage that demonstrated just how far graphics have come in the Sonic games, it would have to be Aquarium Park in Sonic Colors. After Sonic drops into the underwater tunnels, he eventually reaches the park itself after racing down a steep hill, which highlights the area in all of its glory.
The illuminated buildings, gigantic jellyfish, and traditional Japanese castles all help to bring this unique locale to life, but on top of its visuals, it’s also fairly challenging. So long as the player has a good grasp of the Wisp abilities and Sonic’s movement, they will be able to navigate this level just fine, but going back for a second run is always a ton of fun.
7 Windmill Isle – Sonic Unleashed
A good Sonic stage should be one that a player would enjoy returning to after they beat it for the first time, and the second act of Windmill Isle is a level that begs to be replayed, being packed with multiple pathways and plenty of Sun Medals to acquire. The stage also has a nice mixture of small platforming sections and long stretches where the player can make full use of the lightning-speed Boost system.
Of course, the stunning graphics and attention to detail on this Greek-inspired stage also have to be mentioned, and the now iconic melody accompanying the level only helps to make it even more replayable and memorable.
6 Studiopolis Zone – Sonic Mania
If players manage to catch a glimpse at the background of Studiopolis Zone while playing through it, it is a treat for the eyes, being full of dazzling skyscrapers, movie equipment, and flashing studio lights. The attention to detail here really goes a long way to make this feel like one of the classiest Sonic stages yet, and the groovy music leans into this aesthetic perfectly.
As an homage to the classic titles, there’s also plenty of Eggman propaganda littered across the map, including a few posters advocating for the “Eggman Empire” and “EGG TV” plastered on some of the buildings. Thanks to the Mania mode featured in the game, it makes Studiopolis Zone even more worth replaying thanks to the change in color palette and visuals.
5 Rooftop Run – Sonic Unleashed
Rooftop Run puts into perspective just how insanely fast Sonic is supposed to be as he races throughout an entire city without even breaking a sweat, traversing across the rooftops and empty streets before eventually reaching a gigantic clock tower. As long as players have mastered the Boost and drifting system, they’ll have a blast experiencing this stage for the very first time, but the beautiful setting and small shortcuts still make it just as enjoyable to replay.
The challenge presented by this stage has also made it very popular among speedrunners, especially because a revamped version of it was also released for Sonic Generations. As soon as players hear those striking violins kick in at the beginning of the level, they know they’re going to be in for a thrilling and exciting ride across one of the most beautiful stages in the series.
4 City Escape – Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Adventure 2 starts with a bang, with Sonic dropping from a helicopter into the city streets with nothing but a snowboard to save his landing. The mystery of why exactly Sonic drops from a G.U.N. helicopter makes this stage a great introduction to the story, and no one can argue that drifting through the streets on a snowboard isn’t an immense amount of fun.
It’s one of the few stages across the Sonic games that features lyrics as a part of the music, resulting in the now iconic track that has become synonymous with the much beloved Sonic Adventure 2. Bonus points for the gigantic G.U.N. truck that chases Sonic down at the very end of the level which is undoubtedly one of the most intense scenes in any platformer game to date.
3 Chemical Plant Zone – Sonic The Hedgehog 2
In many ways, Chemical Plant Zone was the first stage in the series that proved that Sonic games were so much more than simply running forward and jumping every now and again. As players navigate their way through Egmman’s very own industrial plant, they will be faced with a few very challenging platforming sections that require a good amount of patience to overcome.
The reason these sections work so well is that on a first playthrough, they test the player’s precise movement skills, but on subsequent runs, they are some of the most challenging areas to get through quickly. Luckily, there are still plenty of long stretches where Sonic can stretch his legs which provides a nice balance in terms of pacing. Aside from Sonic 2, this fan-favorite stage has also made an appearance in Sonic Generations, Sonic Mania, and Sonic Forces.
2 Stardust Speedway – Sonic CD
The bright and glamorous Stardust Speedway is by far the biggest standout of Sonic CD, not only because of the incredible atmosphere created by the level design and funky music but also because of how much freedom it offers the player. As soon as Sonic charges up to begin the stage, he will be met with multiple branching paths, all of which will take him in a completely different direction to the end goal.
Stardust Speedway also features a gorgeous star-lit background and a few moments when Sonic flies high into the sky where he can soar through sections of the level if the player is skilled enough with their movement and grasp of the physics. The alternating music that appears in the different zones provides a nice mixture of upbeat hip-hop and more of an ethereal melody, and who could forget that intense final race against Metal Sonic?
1 Green Hill Zone – Sonic The Hedgehog
Green Hill Zone is undoubtedly one of the most iconic stages in video game history, and for many fans, it was where their love for Sonic all started. Unlike a lot of levels in the series which tend to be quite challenging and require a few playthroughs to complete with a decent time, Green Hill Zone is paced in a way where the player can always see what’s in front of them with enough time to react.
Because of this, Green Hill Zone acts as the perfect introduction to the series, making this game which, at the time, seemed very intimidating feel far more accessible to a wider audience. That classic 16-bit era music, lush scenic level design, and first appearance of the menacing Dr. Robotnik combine to form a fantastic stage that has made a cameo in nearly every mainline Sonic game, and even a few of the spinoffs.
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